23W Members Spotlight: Debra Mcfall

This beautiful piece has been written by our long-time and always-will-be 23W member Deb, who has relocated to Perth but stayed in our hearts and our community!

Constantly inspiring and supportive of everyone around her, Deb has shared her journey throughout her time with 23W...


My 23W Journey

Being naturally skinny, with a penchant for boozy nights out and smoking dirty ciggies, I’d never considered exercise to be something crucial for my well-being. I would always ask perplexed questions to my ‘fit’ friends and acquaintances, like “So, you’re telling me that you get up BEFORE work to go and sweat in a gym? You’re actually mad”.

I had, over the preceding few years, attempted to get on board with this ‘exercise fad’ that I kept hearing about. But gyms made me so uncomfortable and self-conscious! I used to, strategically, sit at the far back corner of any class that I attended so that I could hide away from the trainer. Once, I attended a ‘Body Attack’ class (otherwise known as ‘hell on earth’) and, at the 4th team circle clap sequence, I breathlessly sprinted out the door, deserting my water bottle and towel. I never returned.

Although it’s a cliché, turning 30 was a game-changer for me. My relationship of 7 years started to break down, I was increasingly stressed and under pressure at work and I was missing my family (who were all in Perth or Ireland). I was faced, in many ways, with some huge, life-changing questions. My anxiety was peaking more than ever. I felt like the carpet had been ripped out from under my feet, and, for the first time in a long time, I felt very lost.

On top of this, I began to notice that friends and colleagues were increasingly anxious, struggling with their weight or experiencing heightened medical challenges. I paid more attention to fit, older people on my weekend trips down to the Coast. I started to think about my own health and mortality and the kind of life that I wanted to lead, along with the legacy that I wanted to leave behind.

In November 2018, I found a 28-day challenge with a new, local gym – 23W – and, after days of indecision, I bit the bullet, entered my details and prayed that my information would get lost in the system. Ange called me the next morning (much to my dismay). I had never spoken to anyone more selfless with their time, more eager to know and understand my fitness goals, previous experiences and current reservations. Her passion and energy were infectious.

I religiously watched Brene Brown videos leading up to my first class. And I continually reminded myself that learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is one of the most liberating things that we can do.

Anxiety and self-consciousness dominated my thoughts within the first few weeks of training – I had never lifted weights before and I was completely overwhelmed by the thought of it all. I remember looking at back squats and thinking “I will never, ever be able to do that”. But, the 23W team had created an inclusive, supportive and non-judgmental space which kept me coming back every week. The trainers worked at my pace. They never pushed me too far. They celebrated my successes and progress (however small). They altered movements to my level and focused on positive reinforcement and correct technique.

My initial goal was simple and achievable – to engage with consistent training, at least 3 times per week. I found the workouts incredibly difficult. I was out of puff within the first few minutes. I was frustrated when I would get movements wrong. But I started to notice small, yet consistent, improvements within my day-to-day life – I was falling asleep more quickly in the evenings, I had more energy throughout the day and, post a 5.30pm session, I was able to completely switch off from work and wind down.

It’s been over two years since I overcame my group training gym-phobia and joined the 23W community. With each session, each strength progression and each new struggle, I’ve learnt that your only limitation, often, is yourself and your own mindset. I’ve learnt to be kinder to myself – to accept the compliments given to me and not shrug them off, as women often do. I’ve internalized the concept of self-love and empowerment. I practice daily mindfulness and gratitude. My mental health and resilience are better than ever. Not to mention – my overall physical strength has improved insurmountably! Without 23W (and Lizzo), it would have taken me (and my eternally self-critical and anxious mind) many, many more years to get there.

The women at 23W inspire me constantly. Everyone is on their own journey, yet the warmth and inclusivity within the gym is like nothing I’ve experienced before. The trainers – Asha, Dee and Ange – emulate the values of empowerment, continual learning and vulnerability. They have created a space with no judgement. An environment where women not only lift weights but lift one another up. And, in contrast to many other aspects of society, a space where women being strong bad assess, who don’t apologize for it, are celebrated.

Wish me luck with trying to find this unicorn of a gym in Perth! (Current status = absolutely dismal).

For what it’s worth, it’s never too late, or in my case, too early to be whatever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again’

-F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Our founder

Ange Drake is an personal trainer, women’s empowerment coach and fitness blogger in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. She is the director of one of the few womens’ only strength training gyms in Melbourne, 23W. Ange helps women to learn how to use strength based training, nutritional strategies and a positive mindset to transform their bodies, relationship with food and mind.

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