Susie Purcell on plant power and her female fitness mission

A SheCamp training session in Sydney Park. (Note: photo taken prior to Covid-19.) Photo: SheCamp Group Fitness for Women/Facebook.

Sydney fitness business owner Susie Purcell speaks to the Sentinel about her holistic approach to health and fitness, and how veganism and fitness can go hand in hand. By Elizabeth Usher.

Susie Purcell – the founder and owner of SheCamp Group Fitness for Women – recently won the accolade of ‘Best Eastern Suburbs Fitness Trainer’, which created an interesting dilemma for this long-term vegan.  

Firstly, she prefers not to refer to herself as a ‘fitness trainer’, instead using terms such as ‘fitness business owner’ to professionalise the industry and emphasise the fact that she runs her own business and is responsible for every aspect of the enterprise, from marketing and finances, to the website, communicating with clients, admin – and of course, in 2020, designing and implementing a comprehensive Covid-19 safety plan!  

Secondly, while being described as ‘the stand out winner’ was a nice boost, Purcell turned it around to highlight her clients, saying: “I don’t for a second claim to be the best trainer, as all fitness trainers and fitness businesses have something different to offer. But I am super proud of the fabulous fitness community we’ve all created and it’s lovely for SheCamp to be publicly recognised.”

Other vegans will no doubt appreciate Purcell’s consideration of the importance of specificity in labels and language. But what led up to this win in the first place?  

Purcell’s first career was in social work. She completed a social work degree straight after high school and then worked in related positions for around fourteen years, most recently in youth mental health.  

She explains: “I’d always been a firm believer in exercise for my own mental health, and completed my fitness qualifications in parallel with working in that position, and over a number of years I guess I gradually made the transition over into fitness. 

“I think I was also over sitting in an office 9-to-5, five days a week, really wanted a change of environment, and I guess with all of the skills I learned managing other people’s health services, I felt I could transfer over into managing my own fitness business.

“For me, it was also a way of continuing to work with people but in a different capacity so I still wasn’t really leaving that people-focused area that I went into social work for.”

Purcell has been running her business for over a decade, and the name SheCamp reflects her desire to create a space for women to come together in a supportive outdoor environment. 

“I wanted to create a space for women who may not feel comfortable going to a gym, or who go to a gym and want to mix it up with some outdoor training.  

A SheCamp promotional video. Video: SheCamp/YouTube.

“Or maybe they go to the gym and don’t find it very sociable and would like to exercise in an environment where they can meet other women and chat and talk and laugh and have a good time as well,” she says.

Due to demand from her swimming buddies, Purcell also introduced a mixed group option, open to everyone, but the majority of the group sessions are women’s groups. 

She also highlights that SheCamp is “a very LGBTQI friendly fitness business”.

We then discuss the way that much of the fitness sector is very focused on aesthetics, which is the opposite to Purcell’s approach.  

“Exercise doesn’t need to be about looking good in the mirror – it’s about being fit, healthy and strong, no matter what our body shape and size is.”

– Susie Purcell

“I’m a firm believer that fitness is for life, so it’s something we need to incorporate into our everyday routines forever, basically. 

“I take a biological, psychological and social approach to my fitness, as I did with my social work, in that they are all of equal importance and that exercise doesn’t need to be about looking good in the mirror – it’s about being fit, healthy and strong, no matter what our body shape and size is, and being able to do the things we want to do in our life and meet the demands we face each day, so we’re setting ourselves up to have a really good quality of life and good mobility into our 70s, 80s, and [beyond].”  

In fact, some of Purcells’ clients are in this age bracket!

Therefore, a philosophy central to SheCamp is that Purcell wants “to be available to women of all ages and fitness levels and abilities”.

This could involve modifying certain exercises or liaising with a client’s treating health professional.  

“I’m used to doing a lot of that when I’ve worked in social work positions in the past, so I can liaise with a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, a GP, and seek their advice around what they think the person should be avoiding or doing or modifying.  

“And people work at their own pace at SheCamp, so you never feel like you’re holding anyone else up or they’re holding you up. You do what you do, someone else does what they can do, and so people of all fitness levels can work out together.”

Wrapping up the interview with a good chat about veganism, Purcell says: “I haven’t eaten meat for well over 20 years now and I guess as someone who’s always been an animal lover, I started to really think about whether I needed to eat animals in order to live a healthy life.  

“I was brought up eating meat, like most of us are, so I took a long time to fully transition over into a non-meat lifestyle … but over the years I came to understand that I could live a fit and healthy lifestyle without consuming animal products,” she says.

Susie Purcell. Photo: supplied.

And while veganism doesn’t form any specific part of her marketing for SheCamp, and in fact most of her clients are not (yet!) vegan, Purcell talks about being a living example of the opposite of the meat-centric fitness stereotype that still sometimes persists in society.

“There’s such a focus on protein consumption in our society and people don’t seem to realise it’s pretty hard not to get enough protein by eating a good mix of [plant-based] foods …  I exercise five or six days a week myself, so I’m incorporating my swimming club training, cycling, weights, and in recent years I’ve returned to competitive swimming … so I like to think that people can see me doing that and not having any issues [being vegan].”

Reflecting the positive approach she brings to her business, Purcell is optimistic about the rise of vegansim.

 “I really don’t know what’s possible but I think things are moving in a good direction,” she tells the Sentinel.

 “I think over the last number of years, there’s definitely more awareness and more people eliminating animal products from their lifestyle, and realising that we don’t actually need animals to survive and live happy healthy lives.”

SheCamp offers a complimentary initial phone consultation and trial session for prospective clients.

For more information on SheCamp Group Fitness for Women, visit www.shecamp.com.au or phone 0409 780 867. SheCamp can also be liked/followed on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

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