Like many who pursue a career as a sports trainer, Grant Harris had dreams of working with elite athletes or being the next All Blacks strength and conditioning coach, but he's found his niche somewhere completely different.
The recent Bachelor of Applied Science graduate is Head Trainer in the ExPinkt™ (Exercise Training Beyond Breast Cancer) gym at the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences in Dunedin.
The ExPinkt™ programme has been directed for the past 11 years by Otago alumna Professor Lynnette Jones. Professor Jones established ExPinkt™ after a close friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had found that regular exercise reduces the effects of cancer treatments and improves the survival rates of cancer sufferers.
Today the gym accepts a wide range of people with cancer including an increasing number of men.
Grant was in his third year at Otago and Professor Jones asked if he wanted to volunteer and work with one of her clients at the gym. “I said yes, and I worked with him for the last year and a half that I did my degree.”
At the end of last year, the existing head trainer gained entry to Otago Medical School and Grant “jumped at the offer” to take the role.
Originally from Mosgiel he's now spent more than two years working at ExPinkt™.
“I think the Programme is great. It's a really positive atmosphere to be a part of each day. It's a safe place for people to come. Often, they've lost hair or gained or lost weight.
“There's no judgement here, you can be who you are. I like to think that the exercise gives a bit of confidence, strength and fitness back. There's always plenty of laughter and good humour going on too.”
Grant began studying the Bachelor of Physical Education degree at Otago, but transferred to the new Bachelor of Applied Science and he graduated last December.
“For me Lynnette Jones was the standout lecturer during my time at Otago. Through her classes she showed me the more clinical side of exercise – working with older people or groups who are often shunned or forgotten about in the exercise world.
“For me the truly rewarding and even more challenging part of exercise training is to work with older populations where you have balance, arthritis, strength or fitness deficiencies or medications that you have to work through.”
Grant left high school early and worked as a labourer and did a few other jobs before starting at University at 24.
“I really enjoyed uni, I treated it like a job, eight hours a day Monday to Friday and tried to keep the weekends free.
“The Otago degree gives you a “whole world view” of where sport fits. It's not just exercise, it's not just getting fit and strong, it's the social aspects of it, the advertising of it, and the history of it.”
So far around 380 people have taken part in ExPinkt™. You can help support the programme here.