The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
Lisa Raleigh, whose ancestor introduced tobacco and potatoes to Western Europe, is breaking fresh ground of her own. The Wellness Guru who is half of a South African power couple, has taken her successful local rebounding-based business into the UK – with plans to soon follow Sir Walter’s path to the USA. In this fascinating interview with Alec Hogg of Biznews.com, Lisa shares how her wellness-based business rocketed during the pandemic and has continued to mushroom ever since. Her story is an inspiration for any budding business creator, and everyone else too.
Lisa Raleigh on becoming an entrepreneur at 19
I have been in the fitness and wellness industry since I left school. I studied to do what I do, exercise science. I went overseas for about two years, got some experience working in some gyms over there, and then came back and started my own business, very young. I was 19 years old, so I’ve actually never worked for anybody in my life. We are an entrepreneurial family; every single one of my family members owns a business. None of us has ever been employed. It’s what we were exposed to when we grew up; hustling, working hard, the sacrifices that are required. It was what I surrounded myself with, and I’m just a very self-disciplined human being. Being a gymnast, ballerina in high school, it teaches you that you are your best and worst enemy. You’ve got to put in the hard yards. You can’t count on too many people. It sounds terrible, but that is what I did. I was a gymnast, ballerina, everything was about discipline, about showing up, about self-control and it was a one man show. All the sports I chose at school were ones around that, and my family are all like that.
From personal trainer to media personality through The Biggest Loser
It was a mobile personal training business. I had my little rusted out Corsa and I put home gym equipment in the back that were very easy to manouevre and move and not too heavy. I would travel to different clients’ homes around KZN and would perform a personal training workout in the comfort of their home. It was very niche at that stage. I mean, this was 20 years ago. I was one of the first in Durban doing this. I did it for about a year until the travelling became incredibly tedious. As a small framed woman, it was quite laborious and quite taxing on me. So, I got premises, and that’s when I kind of started my whole personal training thing. My first gym ever was in my home and then from there I went to a proper place. I had rent and all of those scary things, and that was at the age of 20. So after one year of doing it from home, I got the right space and that was my first gym. Then after a few years I got two and then I got three, and then I got a really big break, which not every personal trainer or fitness enthusiast gets and that was a big TV show for ETV called The Biggest Loser. For South Africa, I was chosen as the female trainer. There are only ever two trainers. There was Bruce – male trainer for the red team and there was Lisa – trainer for the blue team. That helped my career; it was a platform that I had only ever dreamed of.
We were shooting for about 12 weeks and we helped to transform these seven individuals from all over South Africa, of different races, different stages of life, different reasons why they were in that obese condition. They all came and stayed in this house together in Westbrook in Durban. I mean different races, sexes, ages, stages of life, cultures, religions and generally all of them had gone through some kind of trauma in order to be in that situation. Nobody wants to be that overweight. You’re looking at 130kg for some of the ladies, up to 170kg, really scary high risk patients. I say patients because they had all kinds of high risks, but we worked with an amazing team, a huge team and through all of our efforts, they did incredibly well. But we did go to extremes to make them lose weight, even overnight. You know, training through the night, training in the rain on the beach, putting black bags on them so they would sweat. We did slightly inhumane things because TV is dramatic and they wanted those dramatic weight losses for the TV cameras. However, it was not sustainable.
On starting a wellness and weight loss clinic in KZN
After the show, I was inundated with requests from people wanting that kind of weight loss and who would do whatever it took and would pay whatever; they would even move to Durban for 12 weeks if it meant they could lose weight. So, I started a wellness and weight loss clinic in KZN. My home became this wellness space for all the big clients. I offered lectures and personal training, sometimes twice a day. We did all the meal preparation for them, massage, colonic hydrotherapy, and we looked after these individuals from the inside out, psychology, all of that, and put them through their paces over 12 to 16 weeks. I did that for about two years. I had that sort of business and it was a sideline business to my main gyms. It was something that I was passionate about. I learned so much from these clients, and it prompted me to study further. I studied nutrition, behavioural kinesiology, DNA, life coaching, because health and wellness is not just linear. It’s not just about eating fewer calories, moving a bit more. That is a very sort of in and out way of looking at. It’s too simplistic. A human being is very complex and there’s a lot of elements at play. So, peeling the onion is very important if you want to get long-term results.
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