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Body and soul fitness

Paris Winiata is a personal trainer who helps people strengthen their build and their souls.
Paris Winiata
Posted January 11, 2013

One of Paris Winiata’s favourite sayings is the classic, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’.

It’s a preferred phrase for the Wellington personal trainer who believes that being healthy on the inside is even more important than looking healthy on the outside.

This, despite his industry’s fascination with personal appearance. The only problem for Paris was, for many years, people were judging him by his healthy, well-built exterior and couldn’t see that what was on the inside wasn’t in such good shape.

For 21 years, Paris was all about the outside. Being strong and fit and having a great physique were all the 26-year-old focused on. He also had strong ambitions of playing rugby at the highest level.

While studying at St Bernard’s College in Lower Hutt, Paris was presented with an opportunity to study full time at Wellington tertiary institute Weltec by another local high school, Hutt Valley High. The school offered to pay all the tuition fees in return for Paris’ services to play for their 1st XV rugby side. It was an offer Paris couldn’t turn down.

‘When I got offered to study full time with all fees paid, I jumped at that straight away,’ he says. ‘I had always wanted to do something with my life that revolved around sport and fitness, so studying to eventually become a personal trainer was an awesome opportunity.’

After seven successful years of doing what he loves, Paris has become a sought after personal trainer. He sees between 45-50 people a week, coordinating around 30 sessions in that time as well as a couple of large group (involving around 16 people) morning sessions.

But Paris admits he wouldn’t be the success he is today if he hadn’t gone to see his own ‘personal’ trainer, who shaped him thoroughly on his inside—God.

Looks can be deceiving

About a year into his exercise studies, Paris started going to church. He had always believed in Jesus but just tended to go about his life the way he saw fit. He went to church consistently for a year, but continued living a life centred on sex, drugs and alcohol. Constantly feeling fake about who he was because of this lifestyle caused Paris to end up leaving the church.

‘I really liked church, but I felt like a hypocrite,’ he recalls. ‘I would always go around telling my friends, especially my non-Christian friends, about the bad habits in their lives that they needed to change. But who was I to tell them that, when I couldn’t even change the bad habits in my own life? It felt wrong for me to be in the church.’

After he left, there was a two-year window that Paris describes as a ‘bad worldly experience’, where he continued to do whatever he wanted and didn’t try to change his ungodly habits. He was working as a personal trainer and making quite a name for himself, but he felt empty.

‘I was physically fit, physically strong and probably in the best peak physical condition of my life. But I wasn’t happy. Then one day, I realised I’d lived 21 years and had nothing to show for it. Everyone thought I had it all sussed because I had a great job and looked good on the outside. They would say things like, “Paris is the man, he’s got it sorted.” But on the inside I was calling out and searching for help—I was a wreck!’

Turning things around

Around that time, Paris’ best friend—who had attended church regularly with Paris but had also lived something of a double life for a while—got married. When Paris had left the church two years earlier, his friend had stayed connected and experienced great spiritual change. This led to many blessings, including finding the woman of his dreams. Paris was best man at their wedding.

Standing at the altar and seeing his best friend bursting with joy really got Paris thinking about ‘what could have been’. The New Zealand touch rugby representative was suddenly hit with heavy regret. ‘I just thought to myself, “Man, if I had just stayed in church and given my life completely to Christ, I could be doing the same thing he’s doing right now.” I’ve always had desires to be married and have my life together, so being at my mate’s wedding was pretty much the last turning point for me.’

Tired of going around in circles in life, the Sunday after his friend’s wedding, Paris was back in church. He responded immediately to the invitation to ask Jesus to forgive him and come back into his life. That day, he also made a decision to clean up his act.

‘Asking Jesus back into my life was the best decision I had made in a long time,’ said Paris. ‘I was so happy and felt refreshed. It also led me to get rid of my bad habits. I didn’t have sex again until I was married, I cut drugs and alcohol out of my life, and I stopped swearing. I haven’t looked back since.’

Soul and character fitness

The next five years of Paris’ life as a Christian have been what he describes as a ‘solid straight walk with God’, with many things changing for the better. Not only was Paris able to maintain his good physical shape, he grew a much stronger and healthier interior through living like Jesus.

He explains that the Holy Spirit ‘trained him’ through the Bible’s teaching, encouraging him to do good deeds, stay in healthy fellowship with other Christians, and spend regular time in prayer with God. Paris was no longer just someone to look at—he was now someone people could enjoy being around.

‘In my first 21 years walking on this earth, I always had a good physique but not the greatest character,’ says Paris. ‘I’d achieved a lot, including playing touch rugby for my country in a World Cup, but there was always a gap on the inside of me that was never going to be filled until I came to Christ. I was once weak on the inside and unhappy, but God changed me to become a healthier happier person, filling that gap completely.’

Paris started to wonder if there were others facing the same scenario he’d once been in—of wanting to look good physically, but having a spiritual couch potato mentality. This eventually led him to approach his style of personal training a little differently, deciding to use the time he spent with clients to do a bit more than just exercising.

Paris explains, ‘Most personal trainers have their own way of going about their [exercise] sessions, but I can definitely say, more often than not, it’s just focused on the physical. But to me, personal training is much more than that. It’s counselling, it’s life coaching, it’s a shoulder to cry on—it’s everything in one.

‘Of course, I focus heavily on the physical as well ,but what I also try to do is find what makes [a client] tick. There’s always a reason behind what makes them want to achieve physical goals and look better. Nine times out of ten, it’s to do with something that’s plaguing them on the inside. If you go deep down and find the reason “why”, you’re already halfway there to achieving their goals.’

Paris says usually several of his clients will be going through some sort of personal trauma while he is working with them. Divorce, depression, family members committing suicide and post-natal depression are just a few of the challenges that clients have faced. But the two biggest issues he comes across are insecurity and lack of identity.

‘Unfortunately, people are quite good at putting on a front when internally they’re a mess,’ says Paris. ‘Many of my clients start off not knowing who they are. They are really sensitive about what they look like, which makes them insecure in other aspects of life like work and relationships. People come to the gym with a belief that getting a better body will solve these problems within, but regrettably, they are mistaken.

‘That’s why it’s a priority of mine to start training someone from the inside and work my way through to the outside. It’s a huge lie that being well built is going to make you completely happy. Believe me, I know!’

Simple encouragement is how Paris gets the ball rolling with his clients. He tells them how great they are and pushes them to believe they can achieve their goals. This not only makes people feel good about their physical progression, but it boosts their confidence about who they are. That inner self-belief starts to affect choices around their health and wellbeing, which soon flows over into their exterior appearance.

Personal training as a ministry

Paris is thankful to God for blessing him with the opportunity to do what he loves for a living. But he also believes God has put him in the fitness industry for another reason—to share the good news of Jesus.

He normally does this by simply showing his clients support and love as well as including Bible-related teaching in his sessions. ‘When encouraging my clients, I’ll say things like, “All things are possible if you believe” (Mark 9:23) in relation to their physical goals. That’s how I bring God into it, and just by being a living example. For a lot of them, these moments are probably going to be the only time they hear the Bible, but I also need to be the best possible reflection of Jesus so they can see that God is alive and true.’

The majority of Paris’ clients end up reaching their goals, a good reflection on Paris’ abilities as a personal trainer. Seeing that happen gives Paris a boost, but the greatest reward is seeing those he’s influenced to come to Jesus.

‘Some of the clients I’ve trained have come to Christ, which is awesome!’ he says. ‘Seeing that happen is the greatest reward for me, and it’s what keeps me going. It’s great seeing clients achieve their goals and the happiness it brings to them, but my ultimate goal is to see people come to Christ. That’s why I love meeting new people, because to me each one is another soul I can potentially influence into the Kingdom of God. I want to show them if God can shape me well on the inside, he can do that for them, too’

By John Lazo-Ron (abridged from War Cry 11 January 2013, p5-7)

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