DRESSED in camouflage pants and combat boots, Johnathan Dang barks out orders into the crisp night air like the soldier he is during the day.
At his command his troops snap to attention and spring into action, breathing hard and spilling sweat and tears without complaint.
But this is no military exercise. This is a fitness boot camp at Parramatta’s Robin Thomas Reserve at 7.30pm on a Friday.
It’s unusual because it’s free and open to anyone.
And because Dang’s “militia” includes volunteers who previously possessed neither the will nor the money to set foot in a gym – students, stay-at-home mums and the unemployed.
They have a common goal: to change their lives. And they have put their faith in Dang and his volunteer trainers, who give up their time for nothing, to show them how.
“Team on one jog forward,” Dang shouts. “One.” The group marches forwards. Then follow barking instructions for sidesteps, press ups, planks, lunges and squats. Each order is punctuated by a shrill rasp of his drill whistle.
Dang often does not have time to change after leaving his day job at Holsworthy Base (?) to pursue his passion to help the unfit, unhealthy and unmotivated turn their lives around
Drinkers at the neighbouring pub do a double take at the sight of him and his soldiers. They can hear him over the sound of live music and clinking glasses. His voice is a bullhorn.
He emphasises each word, his motivational speeches sounding like the staccato of machine gun fire. “Whatever you do in life you have to pay attention. Whether you are a shop owner or a customer or just at home. You have one job to do so get it right. Now start again.”
From a humble start with a single Facebook post, the Parramatta boot camp has grown organically. People walking past the park have become participants. There are no joining fees or contracts.
Tonight 50 “soldiers” have turned up. Sometimes more than 70 arrive. Each session brings new faces and soon he may be pushing 100 in number.
“What we’re trying to do is start a ripple effect,” Dang says. “It starts here and will grow and spread until it affects the whole community. Everyone can live a healthier and better life.”
Growing up in postcode 2150, the heart of Western Sydney, Dang has seen too many excuses from people. Excuses about work. About life. And always lots of excuses about exercising.
“If you don’t know how to exercise, we can show you,” Dang says. “You don’t have enough money to go to the gym, it’s free. You don’t know what to eat, we will show you and write up a diet. There are no excuses left at boot camp. Just your own mindset.”
Perhaps the best example of this change from within Dang’s ranks is told through Elise Sing
a young, now single, mother of two children.
She was in a rut before she found boot camp through a friend. A troubling relationship, few employment prospects and an expanding waistline took its toll.
“I was going downhill,” Elise says. “I just had the attitude that I couldn’t do things.” Training with Dang has given her renewed confidence and turned her life around.
On the outside, Elise has also lost 20kg and lost three dress sizes but it is her mental change of which she is most proud of.
“Now I’m a proud single mum, I’ve got my own place and I’ve started studying business and business management. My change started when I started to look after myself.”
As a studying, single mother Elise doesn’t have the funds available to take up a gym membership let alone a personal trainer. “I’m very thankful that they started this program,” she said. “Every day I think of ways to repay them for what they have given me.”
But Dang and his trainers Jerry, Anthony, Chris and Dhwani are not looking for money. Or recognition. A fact that often leaves many people scratching their heads at why they would spend three hours a night for three nights a week doing this.
Dang says: “People always ask me, ‘Why it’s free,’ and I tell them, ‘It just is’. I think that you are able to help people, you should.”
The halfway mark for the training has been and gone and now the muscles really start to ache. Even the gym buffs and super-fit are complaining as lactic acid builds up.
People start to falter into wheezing wrecks, but they don’t stop. They draw on the support of their trainers and fellow “soldiers” to keep going.
Dang has memorised the story of each and every participant. He brings it out with surprising accuracy whenever needed. He reminds Joanne Nguyen of her upcoming wedding.
“You’ve got to fit into that wedding dress! Move it Joanne.”
Joanne is an account manager at LJ Hooker Parramatta. She heard about the boot camp through her Facebook feed and decided to give it a go but struggled at first.
“They kept assuring me that it was ok and not to be hard on myself. They said, ‘See it this way. You’re out here training while others are watching TV.”
Now she has noticed how the sessions have not just improved her physical appearance but her attitude to life.
“It’s not only my physical appearance that’s changed. I value not only the confidence I have gained from attending these sessions, but the constant positivity and ongoing support. Johnny (Dang) is always a phone call or message away.”
Back at training, after what seems an eternity, finally a long whistle signals the end.
A round of applause starts up and hands gather in the centre around Dang. Together they chant the motto of the Parramatta Free Bootcamp. “20 percent fitness. 80 per cent nutrition. 100 per cent mindset.”
When Dang started the boot camp, he didn’t know what he would achieve. “I just thought what am I doing,” Dang said. “But then I saw the change I was making on peoples’ lives and I knew I had to keep going.”
Parramatta Free Bootcamp runs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Robin Thomas Reserve in Parramatta. Everyone wanting to change their lives is welcome.
- Professional Speed Bag
- Exercise demonstration poster
- Exercise Reference DVD
Check out the lowest price – click here
- Made of tough & durable Everhide for a long life
- Curved design cradles punches for added comfort
- Raised palm grip holds mitts in place
Check out the lowest price – click here