Esmée Gummer’s energy is infectious. If you could only bottle the stuff and put it in your morning smoothie, the world would be a happier place. The former cheerleader for Crystal Palace Football Club is the sort of firecracker you want on your team. She always keeps our spirits high, whether it’s at a waterlogged fitness festival or during a punishing workout at 1Rebel.
When you’re training with Esmée, nothing in the world can bring you down. “Be the energy you want to attract”, roars out from her Instagram feed, in that tell-tale Esmée twang: “Do ya know what I mean?” Yes we do Esmée, and we love it…
It’s crazy to think that less than five years ago, this star trainer was told she may never walk again. An experience that left her with no short term memory, a speech impediment, compromised motor skills and paralysis from the waist down. But thanks to weeks of intense physio this fighter made a full recovery.
Esmée talks to us about the physical and mental battle of that recovery process, how her experience resulted in her helping others and her advice to anyone starting out as a personal trainer…
Tell us about that operation before you were due to start college…
When I was 18, six weeks before I was due to start college, I went to have a hernia repair. I had a reaction to the drugs which caused me to have a seizure for eight hours. As a consequence, I suffered short term memory, a speech impediment, lack of motor skills and paralysis.
After three days I started to recover, but I remained paralysed from waist down. The doctor told me I wasn’t going to walk again. I couldn’t accept this. I demanded physio but they wouldn’t move me. I eventually convinced them and started physio without being able to feel or move my legs. It was a long journey and took three weeks of intense physio, walking with the aid of parallel bars.
I was eventually allowed to leave the hospital once I could stand and take a few steps. I was in a wheelchair and continued therapy for six months.
How did you feel when the doctor said you might never walk again?
It’s a hard one to answer because in the moment he told me, it didn’t really sink in. My mind didn’t want to believe it. It was the times when I was completely on my own that I felt the depth of the emotion and those were probably my darkest moments.
It’s the horrible feeling you get when you’re inside your own head. You start saying things to yourself that are not productive in any way but you can’t help it. Strangely these moment were probably the best moments in the process because they helped me to get hungry and fight for what I wanted.
I didn’t want to feel the horrible emotions so if that meant pushing myself to walk to erase them that’s exactly what I would do.
How did being confined to a bed for such a long time affect your mental health?
Fortunately I had a lot of family and friends visiting me everyday which was an incredible distraction from the harsh fact that I couldn’t walk. I also hated the thought of people worrying about me so I was very quick to put on a brave face and even find humour in my problem.
This was my way of keeping myself sane but I suppose it essentially had the reverse effect because as soon as I was on my own I would feel it. I used to play music and try and meditate in these moments. I also would just lie still and try to wiggle my toe. That passed some hours by…
How did dancing and cheerleading help you through your recovery?
The hardest part of the recovery was the mental side of it. I had completely lost all confidence in dance, especially the fact that my friends had all gone to dance college and I was learning to walk again. It was a huge reality check, and all I did was compare myself to how I used to be.
I eventually had the courage to start cheerleading as a friend (Deanna Brash an instructor at Gymbox) introduced me to a group she was training with. I thought it was a really random thing to do as I had never heard of this type of cheerleading (dancing with pom poms NBA style) in this country. However, this was perfect because I’d never tried it before, so had nothing to compare it with.
It was a great way to ease me back into dance without taking it too seriously. How can you be serious with a pair of sparkly pom poms in your hands surrounded by an amazing group of girls laughing, cheering and dancing?
How has your experience helped you to motivate others?
I absolutely love my job as a fitness instructor. It really is a true passion that feels more like a hobby than a job. It’s been a huge part of my recovery because being able to motivate people through tough times helps me realise how far I’ve also come and how much I can help others.
I think I see it as I’ve done the hard part and almost took one for the team so I know the shortcuts. I know there is no shortcut to success but there are definitely quicker and more effective ways of doing things.
From my experience, I am a strong believer of training the mind not the body. I don’t change people’s bodies they do that themselves. I simply make people understand how much strength they already have. I help them find that person in them and watch them grow and become the best versions of themselves.
What are your 3 tips to anyone looking to become a personal trainer?
Take your time: All these crash courses that are available are not helpful. It can’t be something that is quick. I spent a year taking my Level 3 and at the same time was working in a gym environment and discovered the industry I was about to enter. I learnt so much more and truly understood everything I was doing.
Do it for the right reason: Just because you like working out does not necessarily mean you will make a good trainer. Personal Trainers have a huge responsibility when taking on a client and they need to make sure the client is taken care of throughout their whole journey. You can’t be complacent or more interested in your own journey.
Try everything: I fully threw myself into every type of exercise/gym/workout even if it wasn’t for me. Explore the industry and find something you really connect with then boost your skills in that area. By doing this you will be helping like-minded clients on their journeys and you will have a real connection.
What frustrates you most about the fitness industry?
Unqualified health “gurus” luring people in with the promise of a “perfect body”. Enough said.
If you weren’t a personal trainer what would you be?
I really enjoy management, leadership and operations. I suppose I would stay in the fitness industry but join the other side of the world and manage fitness studios.
How do you like to chill out?
I love taking a long walk to a pub or a restaurant and enjoying good food with wine and friends. I also use running to chill out rather than a workout. I just plod along really slowly and make up plans to take over the world.
Favourite bar/restaurant in London?
I love love love East London so I spend a lot of time here, the list could go on. The Hemmingway pub is a good shout for amazing food and good vibes with pals. I love Nobu – yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño come at me!