An interview I did

Melissa McDonnell talks to three time “New Zealand Fitness Instructor of the Year” as he discusses the challenges of his past and how they served to create his now energetic and passionate approach to life.  

He’s a part-time aerobics instructor, travels the world as an international group-fitness trainer, runs the odd marathon, and does the occasional modelling assignment. He meditates every morning, plays music a couple of hours a day and cycles everywhere. He leads two sports-fitness podcasts, is developing a group-fitness coaching business and has a 12 year old daughter.  All this - and time to chat - in a year that Bevan Eyles has dedicated to slowing down and taking time out. 

On a sunny, yet brisk winter’s afternoon, I sit opposite perhaps one of the most motivated men you might ever meet. He’s busy texting on his phone, but quickly despatches with the distraction to focus his attention on me. Our drinks arrive and he happily slurps through his bowl of hot chocolate with the aid of a teaspoon. “It helps it last longer,” he explains. 

His energy is infectious and he radiates health and exuberance. Like a Mills and Boon leading man, he has an athletic physique, tousled hair, chiselled features and a tanned face – the reason why he’s the poster boy for high-end fashion line, Untouched World.  Dressed warmly in a puffer jacket, his wrap-around shades deflect not only the glare of the winter sun, but any hint of his once chaotic and jam-packed life. Not that this now dominates. If anything, quite the opposite. The man who sits before me is a contented, yet focused man, happy to recount anecdotes of his past, present, and the journey along the way. 

Although confident, he’s by no means a prima-donna. He’s a popular and respected man, with a worldwide network of over 2000 Facebook friends who prescribe to his theories on health, fitness and everything else in between. As a former Ironman, triathlete, and marathon runner, Eyles now concentrates on being a group fitness trainer and motivational speaker. He has conquered a lot in his 32 years, which he attributes to “hard work, practice and commitment” and through the indulgence of his passions of “fitness, music and people”.

Christchurch born and bred, Eyles is a self-professed addict who does everything to excess, “Anything I do, I do at 110%.” Starting at Addington Primary and moving on to Hillmorton High, Eyles admits he was a “bit of a failure” as an academic. He asserts that the school system failed to teach him basic literacy principles. The upside of this, he claims, was the need to become a master of disguise and diversion. He developed excellent social skills to deflect attention from his scholastic weakness. As the class clown, he attracted a wide circle of friends who gravitated towards his cheeky nature, oblivious to the fact he could neither read nor spell. By the age of 15, Eyles had figured out how to work the system sufficient to hide his illiteracy, but it was obvious he was failing. He decided to leave, despite not having any formal accreditation under his belt – “not even School C”. 

At 16, he started a joinery apprenticeship, which he says was mainly for the reason he had no idea what else to do. Without the challenges presented by the school environment, especially sports, he lost all focus and embarked on a hedonistic lifestyle revolving around alcohol, drugs and recklessness. “I would drink until I was off my face – as much as I could. The aim was to lose myself,” he reminisces. But one night, something changed. After two years of aimless wandering, he had an “epiphany” that would change his life forever. After a customary evening involving a substantial concoction of drugs and alcohol, he retreated home to let the effects of his excess kick in. But rather than indulge his inebriated blur, he found himself in the midst of a defining moment.  He used a tape recorder to note his observations of the “potential” he saw in his friends, which he vowed to later declare.  This unexpected consciousness also motivated him to also conduct a self-analysis and take a long, hard look at his life and its purpose.  After an intense night of introspective consideration, he made a personal commitment and promised to lead his life in a more positive direction – to take control and focus towards a better existence. 

And so, Bevan James Eyles was re-born. 

At 20, he flicked the kill-switch on drugs and alcohol. Instead, he channelled his energies into fitness, which was to dominate his life for the next decade, and honing his guitar skills. After much practice and perseverance, his passion for the stringed instrument ripened to proficiency. Eyles refers to this period of self-discovery as his “second opportunity”. He believes the discipline invoked to master the guitar serves as a constant lesson which now influences his modus operandi in life, that is: “dedication of complete commitment of time and efforts towards your practice is what leads you to success.” 

Learning the guitar proved to Eyles that he was in fact competent. This new-found confidence inspired him to raise his standard of literacy to that of an 18, not an eight year old. In his own words, he started from scratch and forced himself to learn his ABCs.  “I had disguised all my life the fact that I could not spell, so it was such a liberating experience to overcome such a massive obstacle.”  This achievement empowered him to confront other problem areas, which gave him an awareness to allow other opportunities to flow. 

Although a keen sportsman at school, once he left that environment his sporting prowess was neglected. But upon the discovery of the gym, weights and fitness classes, he found his calling. That - and his disposition towards excess - soon took hold. Sports had substituted his addiction to drugs and alcohol, and he immersed himself in training and exercise without a single day of rest for close to four years.   

In 1999, he converted his passion for fitness into a job. He completed a personal training course at Les Mills Gym and became a part-time group fitness instructor, otherwise known as aerobics. Although he was satisfied with his chosen path, he felt the need for a further challenge. In 1999, he enrolled at Canterbury University, where he studied law and political science. Although he passed his papers, his propensity for a high energy environment enticed him back to the gym, fully conscious that his true talents lay in fitness industry. He left after only one year of study, however, has no regret of failing to complete his degree.  “Passing first-year made me realise that if I ever wanted to apply myself to that level of schooling, then I could do it.”  Rather, he views this chapter of his life as helping him eliminate options and provide him with opportunity. His full commitment to a career in fitness allowed him to nurture his sporting talent as well as his entrepreneurial instinct.  “I don’t have a degree or piece of paper to hand to someone to prove myself and my abilities. So, I have to think of other ways to impress them – I see that as a real advantage.” 

By 2000, he was a fully-fledged fitness professional, teaching up to 13 group fitness classes a week.  It also gave him an envious 20-hour working week, which provided flexibility to train, socialise, read and dedicate time towards personal development. After about five years of hard work and play, he concluded there was more for him to achieve. Conscious that an aerobics career was capped by age, he decided to take the reigns and shape his own future. By watching hordes of people grind their way through daily exercise, he recognised being fit and healthy was more than just a desired state. For many, the barrier to true fitness lay in their ignorance of the activity needed to keep them interested and motivated. “I saw a large number of people aimlessly come in and out of the gym each day, and although they really wanted it, a true level of fitness was an impossibility.” To him, it’s all about having passion. Eyles’ theory behind getting results lay not in doing exercise itself, but doing it because you love it.  “If you find that movement you are passionate about, it will be part of your life forever,” he says, eyes twinkling.  

He asks people to first identify a movement or activity that they love, then commit to practising, nurturing and developing it to its potential. He believes at least three solid months is needed to establish a routine and accomplish the basics. Once mastered, the gains become obvious and the enjoyment starts to flow. “Discover what motivates, challenges and fulfils you. Use that form of exercise as a means to achieving weight loss goals – whether it be ballroom dancing, mountain biking, aerobics, or running. Once you achieve fitness in this area, it will also give you a sense of achievement and overall well-being.”  

This writer knows it’s true: the number of times I have pledged myself to learning something new, only to have the equipment back in the corner a month later, collecting dust. Passion, practice, hard work, and dedication are the tried and true formulae for this man. Although the fitness industry is brimming with personal trainers willing you to run around the block, Eyles believes it requires more than just physical graft.

“It’s all about growth. Although the initial benefits are changes to the body and a new image, it’s also about the confidence that comes with it, and the setting and achievement of goals, which is the main motivator.” It’s his faith and personal demonstration of this theory that has given him a solid reputation in the industry. It’s no wonder he has been judged “New Zealand Fitness Instructor of the Year” three out of the past five years.  It’s on this success he now wants to capitalise to create as many business opportunities as possible. 

He recently created a fitness concept called ‘RaceTeam’ - a group-training model that invokes a more holistic approach to preparing for a half-marathon.  The programme not only involves physical training sessions, but offers nutritional advice, tips on technique, and motivational tools which helps push runners to their limit. It involves teaching people how to complete an achievable distance through the development of a tool-kit containing dedication, focus and a positive approach. 

Eyles is also involved with two well-received podcasts, “IMTALK” and “Forever Fitness”, which cater to all levels of the training spectrum. The podcasts provide motivational tips such as how to get out of bed to run on a cold winter’s morning, through to how to physically and mentally prepare for an ironman race. 

He continues to teach group fitness at Les Mills, and has graduated to being a trainer to the instructors – a job which has taken him around the world to spread the Kiwi way of working out. So, at 32, Eyles seems to have achieved much. However, after a decade of full throttle, he now realises his body must rest.   “For a while there, there was too much fitness in my life. I was exercising between six and eight hours per day. That was my life.”  

He recognises the insane imbalance of such a lifestyle and concedes it was a lesson needed to get him to where he is today.  “I soon realised I needed a balance.” 

His level of physical intensity has slowed over the past six months and, in terms of events, he decided to have this winter off. He has also been inspired by a change in priorities, with a current focus on personal growth, cultivating relationships and developing his other passion in life – music.  “I don’t care about being extremely fit at the moment, as there’s a purpose behind it. I am giving my body a chance to recover and get strong.” That said, he competed in the Routeburn race in Queenstown in May this year – a gruelling cross country event that he completed in a blistering 3:13:45. Probably faster than most people would ever hope to achieve.  

“I just did that for a bit of fun,” he says, with a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders. I guess that’s indicative of the levels of fitness we are talking about here. Although Eyles says he is taking it easy this winter, he still exercises about 20 hours a week through a combination of the odd run, weights, yoga and his job of teaching about 11 classes a week. Plus, he doesn’t have a car, which means he cycles everywhere. 

So, what does he do in his spare time?  “My life now gives me a lot of choice in what I can do – I have the best life in the world,” he believes. His current day typically involves meditating, playing the piano, teaching classes, doing yoga, having family time and exercising – “as and when I want to.” He has consciously structured his life to commit to five basic values: honesty, love, freedom, growth and health. He co-ordinates his daily activities to honour these values so to achieve his passions for fitness, music and people. His relationships are his current priority and to which his fitness goals are secondary. “Besides,” he says, “the achievement means nothing if you don’t have anyone to share it with.” 

So, where will this man be in ten years time?  “Who knows? If I compare who I was ten years ago and who I am now – I am a completely different person,” he muses. “I just want to be happy.” One thing he does know, however, is that it will revolve around motivating and inspiring others to achieve their goals through the discovery of their passions. He wants to share his own experiences to prove that anything is achievable if you set your mind to it.  “I want to show the world you can be successful by being different, and that you don’t have to follow the yellow brick road.” He takes this message literally, and packs up to hit the grey tarmac roads of Christchurch.  

As the winter sun dips behind the surrounding cafes, Eyles leaves to make a crucial appointment. He buttons up his jacket, adjusts his shades, and quietly saunters over to his bicycle. He’s off to collect his daughter from school – who he has quoted as being “the love of his life”, and his greatest achievement of all. 

Bevan Eyles