Karen Yarrow has one of the best-known faces in the Northern Illawarra.
Operator of Body Balance, the Austinmer Beach-based outdoor exercise group, Karen is also one of the best loved, and most-feared!
Each week, this tiny pocket rocket and her team puts more than 100 locals through their paces on the grass, on the sand, and on the stairs. And they love her for it!
When a career in corporate sales was put on hold to have a family, Karen questioned the viability of returning to an office job. “I started working two days a week, but I hated going into the city.
“Then one day I was at the gym and watching a Personal Trainer do their thing. They looked really disinterested and I knew I could do it better.
Karen says it all started with a few supportive friends, and before she knew it, people were coming out of the woodwork, all keen to improve their health by exercising outdoors.
“It just kept growing,” Karen says. “Men started coming too, so we started doing classes at night and now we have something six days a week.”
Karen says it’s training in the fresh air that makes all the difference. “I love being outside.” she says. “It alleviates the boredom of a gym. There’s always something to look at, and there’s something new every day. We have whales, dolphins and tourists to keep it interesting,” she laughs, “so you forget you’re working hard!”
“The weather is not always kind, but we usually manage to find somewhere protected.”
Then two years ago, Karen was dealt a savage blow. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. The troops rallied round and with the support of her Body Balance family, Karen faced the following months with courage, strength and discipline.
“Exercise made me feel normal,” she says. “Everyone knew what I was going through but nobody dwelt on it. It was certainly a traumatic time, but going for a walk means you are outdoors and away from your thoughts. I’d highly recommend it!”
“People would ask me what they could do to help, but all I could think of was ‘just come to training’! It really helped me keep everything as normal as possible in a frightening and abnormal situation. “
Now in its 10th year, Karen says she’s beyond proud of what Body Balance has become.
“We have people of all ages and abilities coming together for training and a chat,” says Karen. “We are not competitive at all, there is loads of variety and everyone is welcome. It’s the perfect way to make friends and exercise at the same time.
“It’s also so great for stress relief,” she says. “I’m a firm believer in the value of exercise to kids doing their HSC. It’s all about balance- Body Balance,” she laughs.
“I feel really blessed to be doing what I do,” she says, “and I would never do anything else. I was so lucky to have a mid-life crisis just at the right time, and found a perfect little niche so I can be surrounded every day by fantastic people in such a beautiful environment. I certainly have found my Body Balance!”