Suffering chronic pain, depression and 35 kilos overweight, George Pappas had hit rock bottom. It was a turning point for the San Remo father of two. The realization that his life, his marriage and health were in jeopardy, he found the strength and courage to make a change to his life that would result in him being the best version (of himself) he could possibly be.
When I meet George today, just a year on from this crisis, it is hard to believe that I am talking to the same person. He is a beaming, fit and healthy 32 year old (now 35 kilos lighter) who just exudes positive energy. Literally bouncing with each step he takes, his enthusiasm for life and health is infectious. I can’t fathom I am looking at the same person when he shows me a picture of himself.
“I look back at that picture and just remember how sad I was,” he reflects. “I was treating myself terribly; eating all the wrong foods, no exercise . . . I did nothing for myself. I thought I was doing the right thing by everyone else, but I wasn’t. My wife was unhappy and my health started to spiral. I just neglected myself until it all came to a head. Ten years of anxiety attacks, depression, not looking after myself. Fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel, cholesterol, operations and weakened immune system, you name it, I had it.
It was a long way from the sensitive little boy that grew up in San Remo in the nurturing arms of his loving mother. “I was born into an awesome family. I had the best parents you could ever ask for,” he beams. However, George’s father was a local shark fisherman and the demands of his job saw him away from his family for long periods of time. This left raising their two boys to George’s mum Mary. “She did an amazing job as my brother and I were little terrors. She wrapped us in cotton wool to protect us, raising two boys pretty much on her own. She was doing the best she could, but it made it harder for us to find our way in real life.”
A sensitive child, George thrived at San Remo kinder and primary school. He says, “My school was 40 kids and there were only 2 boys in my grade, the rest were girls.” George was like a teddy bear to the girls and they’d dress him up, acting like big sisters. The transition from primary to high school, however, wasn’t an easy one. “I had massive anxiety attacks from a young age.” He struggled to adapt and didn’t go to school often in the first few months. “I was this short, chubby, Greek kid and I was being bullied.” He soon figured out that his personality and humour were his ticket to being accepted. “I wasn’t the fittest or strongest kid. All the guys at school were doing footy, riding motorbikes or surfing, and I wasn’t allowed out after 5, should the dew on the grass cause me to catch the flu,” he laughs. He became the school joker.
The serious side was that doctors had marked him as being prone to depression from a young age. Despite the first year and a half being very tough for George, he made some ‘very cool’ friends that helped pull him out of the abyss. “I started doing some hobbies that led me outdoors, and then I began to trim down and got into basketball. I got fit - came to life and found my confidence. All through school I relied on my personality to get through.” George treated school as a social, rather than a learning institution. “I never really connected to anything, I was always floating. I was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, but master of none. Because I had so much trouble trying to figure out how to be, how to fit in, I never really found my passion.”
He scraped through year 12 and moved to Melbourne at 17. “That was a wake up call. I was staying with a big Greek family and worked nights at a night club.” By his own admission, he was mixing with the wrong crowd. “I was this little country boy seeing the bright lights of the city for the first time – but it didn’t last long.” He studied public relations and legal studies, but nothing clicked. He was burnt out and came home. “I’d lost my way completely. I was overweight and I did nothing for about 6 months other than eat and I became depressed.”
His father stopped fishing and George and his family started a seafood company with a shop front, factory and import/export business. “It was a great job; I learnt and experienced so much, doing high level business all over the world. I was really challenging but then I realized I was still in this little bubble of a safety net, working with my family.” The business eventually sold and George worked with his best friend, building cooling towers on mine sites. “We worked all over Australia and made great money, but again, there was that safety net.”
Not long after, George met his wife Kate, bought a house and had two lovely, cherished children. “I bought the house through doing all this hard work but I started to question why I was feeling so lost. I felt like a passenger in my own life. I’d never really chosen anything for myself as I thought my goals were unattainable.” Music had been a big part of his life to date; playing gigs at the pub, managing bands, a recording studio, even a promising career as a solo artist in the hip hop industry. “Sadly I never stuck at anything because I was always questioning myself and could not find my try passion. I was always looking outwards. To this point I had never stopped to look inside and listen to my inner voice.”
“I had these two beautiful kids, but my wife was unhappy and I was struggling.” He had hit rock bottom. An epiphany came in a comment a close friend. He said ‘mate, you can’t complain, you’re the one that did this!” It stopped George in his tracks. “When you break down that sentence, the truth is there. Forever, I made excuses and blamed other people or things. I had that real victim mentality.” Then came a moment of clarity. “I looked to the future and saw this sick, miserable, overweight, depressed person who had given up on life.” It was a lightbulb moment when he accepted responsibility for his life and decided to change. “I was 31 years old, and it was a powerful moment.”
He began reading and looked deep into his heart in and effort to connect to his true self. He actively sought a psychologist to help clear the years of negative thought patterns that crowded his mind. “He was amazing. He said, ‘George, you’ve got to stop looking over your shoulder, stop being the victim, pick yourself up . . . you are more capable than you know!” He felt empowered and it gave him the momentum to take that one step forward, which led to another, and the momentum built from there. It was like a vaccum. “When you live outwardly and worry about what people say or think, or rely on others for your happiness, it just doesn’t work. You have to stop and put that effort into you, and I found all the other stuff immediately became better.” He noticed synchronicity and opportunities began to gain momentum. “Suddenly my children were appreciating me more, my friends, my family – things just began to flourish.”
He realized knowledge was key to making these changes in his life. “I had the information, and the tools to make my life better.” He started to learn about health and fitness, realizing that the mind, just like the body, is a muscle that needs to be exercised. “I wrote a list of all the things that needed to change in my life and then I started on one thing – acquiring knowledge. Then I started acting on the things I learnt and experimented. What works for one, doesn’t work for all, but you can modify. There is no magical solution to being fit and healthy, it’s like a jigsaw of diet, thought and exercise, and it’s about working out what works for you.”
George cut sugar from his diet and began to walk as it was low impact and meditative. “Thinking about your problems whilst doing a bilateral movement (like walking) redistributes them into the correct pigeon holes so to speak. Walking is great for that. Sitting on the couch, eating chocolate, thinking about your problems, not so great.” Then he connected with nature. “For the first 8 months of my physical journey, it was winter and nighttime. The kids had gone to bed, and I’d go out for a walk, sometimes for 2 hours. I’d rug up, walk and think. What a beautiful place we live in, to walk and think - by the sea.” After three months, the walks turned into jogs. “I’m naturally strong. To start, I could only do 7 push ups, 20 sit ups and 3 pull ups and a little bit of bike riding. Now I’m looking for someone to challenge me. That’s how fit you can get.”
The physical work began improving his mental state and the momentum made him feel unstoppable. “The whole mind, body, spirit thing was working together and I felt I could do anything.” He began learning on his own and quickly progressed to school to study personal training. “Your mental language is so important. I never thought of myself as fit or athletic, but that’s rubbish. You can be anything you want to be. I was a depressed, overweight, divorced father of two, and now I am a fit and happy personal trainer and fitness instructor that can slam dunk at 32!,” he enthuses. “Without the backdrop of my past life, the present makes no sense. I want everyone to know you can have an amazing, vital life.”
George talks with almost evangelical zeal about his fitness journey, and his desire to help others. “I feel like I’ve got this amazing gift to share, but it’s no secret. The world exists according to your minds version of it. If you feel trapped in your life, you have to take the courage to step outside of that and make the changes necessary to improve your life. The things that you wish for in life are not going to land on your lap, you have to work for it. Start small and work your way up. Be grateful for the good things in your life and create perspective. Think. Believe. Become. They are three words, but they are more than that, they have to become your life. A piece of carbon doesn’t become a diamond overnight. It requires heat, time and pressure.”
George has finally found his passion as a motivator and role model. “I have tried (so to speak) to make myself the shiniest diamond to prove to people that you can change you life. I remember the nights when I’d feel the familiar pains, but it’s the mental game that makes it all too easy to give up.” He wrote everything down and tried to distil his goals into key points. “I read that list morning, noon and night. It reaffirmed my goals and my intentions. Being human, we are so good at making excuses to each other, think how easy it is to make excuses for yourself. The day I made those rules I signed my name to it. 1. You are going to be the best dad. I thought about how I was going to do that, and the answer was, I have to be the fittest and healthiest version of myself. Then that filtered down to; drink more water, cut out sugar, eat healthy, start moving. To live, I need to eat, breathe, sleep and exercise. Now it’s part of my life. Finally after all these years I have found myself and I am healthy, strong and happy. The one thing I am most proud of, besides being a good role model to my kids, is being able to share my journey and what I have learnt, while keeping health and fitness at the forefront of my life. It not only helps others but it keeps me learning and evolving. It’s the first time in fifteen years that I am not on any pain medication. I feel like a 20 year old. I am so excited. I want to run through a crowd of strangers and grab them by the cheeks and say, this is so easy – it’s no secret, follow me!
George has created a 1/2hr exercise program called Xtreme Burn - with in-depth research that has given him maximum results. He has also started a blog at facebook.com/healthladder that is a forum to discuss ideas and share health and fitness tips. When asked what participants of his class can expect, George laughs, “I am like a good, infectious disease. People who come to my class are going to be around positive language. People may say, ‘I can’t do that, I’m so scared, I haven’t exercised for years . . . but it’s all fear. I can guarantee you will be around like-minded people, at your point in your journey. From the moment you join a class you are in a tribe. There is a family of us and you will be included and supported on your journey. We pat each other on the back for our achievements. For those just starting, I’ve modified the program significantly to adjust to their level of fitness. The workout, due to its flexibility, adaptability, time efficiency and results – it’s one of the best programs you can do for your health. We work our whole body, not just parts. Its postural correction, strength moves, a little bit of high intensity. Even though the class is called Xtreme burn, it’s not talking about the class, but the results. It might take you 6 months to get to high intensity, but guess what, I couldn’t do it at first, and now it’s easy. High intensity training is getting your heart rate up at a level, and then having a period of total rest. 3 minutes of that is equivalent of two hours of jogging. I am there to support you on your journey and you will get there. Come and try it. You will feel the support, positivity and team spirit. We are all on a journey and are there to support each other. The first step is the biggest one. I want to help people, whatever it takes.”
Footnote: We were so moved by George’s personal story that we decided to get motivated and try out an Xtreme Burn session with the man himself. We let go of the fear and excuses, and discovered a fun, supportive and positive exercise environment. We’re looking forward to our next session . . .