Move with the mob: How Mariah Torres is healing her country through fitness.
At Ryderwear, we’re big believers in the idea that lifting is for everyone. Whatever your size, your body shape, physical ability or identity, the gym is a space where everyone belongs.
To help everyone feel at home in the squat rack, our ‘Lifting is for Everyone’ series aims to amplify the voices of people in our community who don’t always fit the stereotypical ideal of what a lifter looks like (but absolutely should) - who work just as hard, lift just as heavy and are just as committed as anyone you’ll find.
With past generations suffering from chronic illness & mental health conditions, Alywarre woman Mariah Torres decided she wanted to heal her country. Through the power of fitness, she’s been able to close the health gap, connect with her culture and become one of the only Indigenous personal trainers in her city. This is her story.
RW: Can you tell us about your journey to where you are now? How would you tell the story of Mariah Torres?
MT: Growing up, I had always enjoyed sports. Coming from an Aboriginal heritage, I spent a large amount of my childhood visiting my family during school holidays in the Northern Territory. These trips consisted of going to my great Grandmother’s country ‘Atnwengerrp’, riding quad bikes, watching my family paint and being surrounded by the gorgeous red dirt.
My understanding and appreciation for our culture has grown with age and maturity, with this, it’s naturally grown my own passion for wanting to make a change and difference to our mob. They’ve become my why and have motivated me in ways words can’t describe. They’ve given me the fuel to knuckle down and complete my certificate 3 and 4 in fitness as well as completing my exercise science degree this year.
I’m extremely passionate about what I do. Our culture experiences a lot of pain from the trauma that has been passed down through the effects of the stolen generation. Exercise means more than just fitness to my clients - it’s a safe place for them, where they can become family.
RW: What does it mean to represent the Indigenous community within the fitness industry?
MT: I’m one of very few Aboriginal personal trainers in South Australia. By few, I mean less than 5 (that I’m aware of and have been in contact with) currently actively working. Being a positive role model to those in the Aboriginal community is something I hold in high regard, and I’m proud to call myself an Alywarre Woman. While I’m grateful to be in a position to represent my culture and inspire other mob, it’s a bittersweet feeling to know there’s only a few of us - I would nothing more than to have more of our mob represented, helping the community make positive life changes
PS: If any other Aboriginal personal trainers in SA do read this, please reach out. I would love to connect!
RW: Our community has been inspired & motivated by the fitness content you’ve shared. What role has fitness and the gym played throughout your life?
MT: Fitness has allowed me to be a part of so many incredible communities. Seeing and being part of the relationships that form within a gym setting creates a tremendous amount of happiness for me. Going to the gym wear and leggings is about more than physical appearance for me, it also allows me to keep my energy levels consistent, to sleep better, relieve stress and has also created a platform to form some of the strongest friendships I have come across in my life. When you surround yourself with people who have the same end goal as you, it makes a positive impact in your everyday life. I’m lucky enough to have been part of George Street Gym, which is not only a gym but a second home for me - my happy place. It’s free of judgement, open for all and full of kind, caring individuals who uplift and motivate each other in all areas of life.
RW: How did you get involved in the fitness industry?
MT: The more I became aware of the health conditions that Aboriginal people were facing daily, the more I wanted to help in my own way. I’d already seen firsthand the effects of these chronic conditions within my family, and it genuinely broke my heart seeing how sick some of my loved ones had become. I wanted to do nothing more than to play my part to help. This is when I became involved in the fitness industry.
Health and fitness for me is not just about looking good, if that at all. It’s about completely changing people’s lives, preventing chronic conditions within our culture and teaching positive lifestyle habits to pass down to the next generation. It’s the feeling of waking up full of energy, being able to run around with your loved ones and put your health first.
RW: How has fitness & lifting help you overcome challenges in life that you’ve faced?
MT: Lifting has allowed me to create structure and routine. Whatever challenges I’ve faced, it’s the one thing that hasn’t changed. I think almost everyone who enjoys the gym can agree it helps keep your mental health and sane, and it becomes a part of your everyday life.
RW: Could you give some more insight into your work for Nunkuwarrin Yunti?
MT: Nunkuwarrin Yunti is an Aboriginal health organisation providing a broad range of services to our Aboriginal community members. I work as a personal trainer in a program called Nunga Active which targets the Aboriginal community over 18 years of age. We specifically focus on reducing social isolation for our clients, preventing chronic conditions, changing lifestyle habits and increasing levels of physical activity for our mob.
For those not aware, the Aboriginal population has a much higher percentage rate than non-Aboriginal populations for things like chronic health conditions, physical inactivity and mental health conditions. Chronic diseases actually contribute to around 70% of the health gap that we see between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations, with Aboriginal adults being 26% more likely to be inactive. These are just a few examples of the gaps we are focusing on and a few numbers which shook me, and to this day remind me why I do what I do!
RW: How do you stay connected to your Indigenous culture and community?
MT: I stay connected by spending time with my family, my clients and through the forum of my family's artworks. My family are based in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, so any chance I get to see them, I’m there! I’m incredibly lucky to come from a family with some of the world’s most renowned Aboriginal artists. My sister continued our family’s legacy through the Pwerle Galley - do yourself a favour and have a look at the incredible artwork. Each piece tells an intricate story, and shares our incredible culture.
RW: Do you have any words of motivation or encouragement for those reading this who might be experiencing adversity right now?
MT: Be confident in who you are, be yourself and absolutely own that!
Step out of your comfort zone and into the unknown. Be a role model and know that you’re not alone - there are very high chances that those around you may be experiencing or struggling with the same issues. By overcoming, you can become a role model for these same people, inspiring them to follow your footsteps.
Connect and surround yourself with likeminded people. Surround yourself with people who make a positive impact on your life who don’t question your abilities but celebrate them.
RW: Are there any other causes you’d like to talk about or messages you’d like to share with the Ryderwear community?
MT: I want to utilise this profile as an opportunity to share the amazing culture in which I come from. If you’re reading this, learn one positive thing today about the Aboriginal culture that you did not know, or even just spark up a conversation with the person next to you!
RW: What can the health & fitness industry do to be more inclusive and represent a more diverse range of people?
MT: Be more inclusive by taking the time to understand different cultures. Speaking from my own experience, my clients love visuals - a simple acknowledgement to country placed in the room creates a culturally safe and welcoming environment. This can include an artwork or traditional symbols given to you by an Aboriginal person in your local community.
Educate your staff, do cultural awareness training, ask questions and want to learn more! This applies for all cultures, but from my personal experience there is a lack of awareness around the history of Aboriginal people and the intergenerational trauma that is being experienced. Something that is crazy to me is that while a lot of my friends' grandparents around me lived normal lives, my Nanna and even a few of my clients I train today, were experiencing life taken from their family and culture.
Be aware of cultural events and include yourself, your company or your gym. Here in Australia we celebrate NAIDOC week. This is a time to celebrate Aboriginal culture, it’s history and achievements. Be involved. Come together as staff, friends or as a community and understand the barriers different cultures face and work together to break these down. Education around what these are is extremely important.
RW: Do you have any favourite Ryderwear pieces or collections?
MT: I love all of my Ryderwear pieces! I’m currently loving my Hybrid sets, as they’re super comfortable!
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