Claire and her husband Alan founded True in 2012. True Women’s Fitness and Well-Being was established out of a previous gym entity called “Contours Manukau”.
Claire and Alan bought Contours Manukau in 2007 and spent 5 years as part of a franchise. During that time they realised that the value provided by the “Contours” name above the door fell far short of the value of the franchise fees they paid each month. Nor did being part of a franchise allow them to improve the service and offerings that True provides today.
Claire and Alan’s background is in the equine industry. Both had a love for horses, Claire had ridden horses from a very young age and Alan had grown up working around horses. They met in Ireland in 2000 while working on a thoroughbred stud farm outside Dublin. They returned to New Zealand in 2001 to run Claire’s riding school.
Claire had been competing in eventing since she left school and she funded her sport by providing riding lessons to local enthusiasts. She discovered that “giving a few riding lessons” quickly grew into a thriving business. This grew and she soon hired extra staff to help her with the work load. After 4 years she took a sabbatical and moved to Ireland for 6 months and there she met Alan.
In January 2001 Claire returned to NZ and Alan immigrated with her. They continued to run the riding school and after 3 years, they found that the business had outgrown the farm in Drury. An opportunity arose and they moved to a larger farm in Takanini. From there they moved back to working with thoroughbred racehorses. The property they moved to was perfectly set up for this. While they were new entrants to the NZ racing industry, through some luck and some judgement plus a bit of hustling they found a client willing to take a punt on them. Long story short, 30 race horses moved onto the property the day before they did!
They quickly became established as experts in breaking in and pre-training racehorses for the local market. While the work was rewarding in many senses, it came with a hefty toll in work load. Getting up before sunrise and working such a physical job all day, 6 and a half days a week, takes a massive toll on your body. Things took a serious turn for the worse when Alan fell off and broke his wrist in several places. A brief hospital stay and 3 titanium plates later saw Claire being left to do all the work by herself for 8 weeks while he recuperated.
This got them thinking about their future and whether there was another “way forward”. They reassessed their objectives and decided to find something new, the only trouble was they had no idea what to do.
They embarked on a fact-finding journey and looked into buying any and all types of businesses and it’s a pretty hard undertaking when you have no clue what you are searching for. They scanned the herald listings each week (there was no Trade Me back then!) they spoke to myriad business brokers and a multitude of business owners, but nothing felt right.
Since she was 16 Claire had been a member of Contours Manukau. She had seen it’s beginnings at Westfield mall, its move and growth on Ronwood Avenue. Many times they returned to the idea of owning a gym and the opportunities it presented. Similar to many (if not all) of the people who work in the fitness industry they were attracted to the vibrancy and energy. They loved the idea that you could help people get fit and healthy. You could help people make good choices when it comes to being more productive and happier. And you could empower people through movement and achievement.
Claire, being an avid ‘Pump’er and ‘RPM’er had first hand experience of the empowerment you feel from fitness and well-being. Alan had always been an outdoorsy person and knew the gym was the perfect means for people to stay active so that they are able to do the important things in life.
When Claire and Alan finally took the unforeseen step away from the equine industry to the fitness industry they knew that they had to “walk the talk”. Fate sometimes deals you a funny hand and the irony was not lost on Claire working in sales and customer service at the busy times in the gym prevented her from attending her favourite Pump and RPM classes! So she maintained her strength and fitness by continuing to work with her personal trainers during off-peak times. Of course from Alan’s point of view, he couldn’t use the gym at all, it being women’s only, so he personal trained either before the gym opened or in the group fitness studio, when no classes were running. Nowadays they still train together weekly with a pt working specifically on core and strength.
Going from a completely physical job to a completely sedentary job had a massive toll on both Claire and Alan and both found weight gain to be an issue! They were still eating all the calories they needed for 12 hours on your feet, when they really only needed enough calories to get them from the desk to the bathroom and back!
This life change threw them into a world of off-road running, mountain biking and adventure racing. The ability to match up their love of all things outdoors with their need to exercise, resulted in them competing in some off road runs. At that time, these were few and far between (it seems now that there’s a new one popping up every weekend) and they found they had to take a little adventure into the country side together every Sunday to train. By accident one Sunday they entered into a “rogaine”.
Without the slightest idea what it was all about they turned up at the event, which was in the middle of nowhere. They were presented with a map and told to go off to some sort of treasure hunt to find hidden checkpoints in the bush. With the thrill of finding that first checkpoint stuck to the side of a tree, they were hooked.
What could be better than exploring the unexplored in the outback of New Zealand, running around getting lost, getting found again and having a great time! This wasn’t training – this was FUN!
In rogaining each checkpoint has a different value based on how hard it is to find. The idea is to arrive back within the time limit with the most points. So they stepped it up, unfortunately they had unwittingly gone from winging it to actually competing without putting in the time and effort to learn. The hours of frustration of being completely lost, not knowing which way was up and actually going backwards from where they started (physically and metaphorically) led them to start orienteering.
Through this sport they learned how to use a compass and how to read a map. It took a while and still they do get lost, but at least they can find themselves fairly quickly again.
Though a series of small wins they found the local rogaines led them to longer and more varied events. They started orienteering and rogaining on mountain bikes and in kayaks and over longer distances, each challenge becoming a new target to work towards.
Putting the 4 disciplines of navigation, running, mountain biking and kayaking together you get adventure racing. These are team events stretch from 3 hours up to 7 or 8 days. The most Claire and Alan have done is 24 hours.
According to them there’s nothing better than the morning when you’re nearing the end of a 24hr race. You can’t beat fighting off sleep deprivation, looking for your last checkpoint and watching the first glimmers of a new days sun rising above the trees.
To date Claire and Alan have won or been placed in many rogaining and adventure racing events The highlights being the Rogue 24hr Adventure Race in Australia where they won and the Nugget multisport race where in their age groups, Claire came 1st and Alan came 3rd.
Their next event is a 750km mountain bike race which starts in Rotorua and completes a return loop via Raglan and Taumarunui.