HAS A TRAINER EVER MADE FRIENDS AS FAST AS JUSTINE SPURR? OUR FORMER ELITE SWIMMER HAS TAKEN TO COACHING AT BODIES BY RYAN LIKE SHE’S BEEN HERE ALL ALONG, WITH EVERYBODY FROM FORREST TO THE HIIT SQUAD QUEUING UP TO HANG OUT WITH JUSTINE. WHILE SHE PUTS US ALL THROUGH OUR PACES, LIFTING THE ENERGY AND CORRECTING FORM, SHE ALSO CRUSHES HER OWN WEIGHT SESSIONS AND DOES A SOLO TABATA STRAIGHT AFTER THE MORNING CLASSES COMPLETE THEIRS ON WEDNESDAYS (#MACHINE). WE ARE FASCINATED BY HER ELITE ATHLETE CAREER AND HOW SHE’S KNOWN RHINO FOR MANY YEARS BEFORE STARTING AT BBR, SO JUSTINE OPENED UP TO ALL OUR PROBING QUESTIONS AND SHARED ALL HER SECRETS…
What led you to be a part of the BBR superstar trainer line up?
I’ve followed Ryan’s progress since we used to work together and been in awe at all the transformations he produces – the guy definitely knows his stuff. I tried a few sessions over Christmas 2019 while I had 2 weeks off swimming and boy was it hard. I take my hat off to everyone who shows up rain, hail or shine, works their butt off and then comes back the next day (or afternoon for the crazy people) for more! Once my swimming career finished up, I was wondering what I was going to do to fill my time and also keep myself fit. I started to get back into running and doing my own gym work etc, but always had this urge to get back into the fitness industry after I came away from it in 2018. As soon as Ryan posted the job on Instagram, I was like yes, me, I want to do this. I could tell by the stories he posts that there is such a high energy in every single class and that everyone is there for their own reasons and working towards their own goals.
How did you first get into swimming?
Swimming for me started at the age of 6. Mainly due to the fact that mum had my older 3 siblings in the water already and couldn’t leave me at home, so she would load the 6 kids in the car and I would paddle up and down in the lanes next to the squad lanes. One day, the coach said to my mum “Mary, just throw her in here, let’s see how she goes”. I was still 6 when Mum entered me in my very first meet and I cried on the blocks and was too scared to race. I swam in so many different squads, each completely different to the next – I trained with a triathlon group, had Mum as my coach for a solid year or so, went through high school training with a coach who ended up being my part-time mum when Mum and Dad were busy running around sorting out the other 5 kids. Some days, Mum would drop me off at Melville Aquatic at 5am, my coach would take me to her house after training, feed me breakfast, take me to school, pick me up from school, would have a 3 hour block of training, and then have one of the older swimmers drop me home in time for me to shovel down dinner, get my school work done and get ready to do it all again the next day. No idea how I did it at the time, let alone how Mum felt being the swimming taxi (Dad got to be the boys’ cricket and tennis taxi).
Above: Baby Justine in early swimming days with proud mum, Mary.
What was life like as an elite swimmer?
I managed to rack up my entire log book hours while learning to drive just from travelling to and from training/racing(8-9 sessions a week and racing at Challenge Stadium which is at least 25-minutes from my house). Once I got my licence, I think Mum had a little celebration now she only had to taxi 2 kids around. Once I finished school, I moved to a squad that ended up being based at Christchurch Grammar (where I was convinced by the gym boss man to do my Cert qual and come work with him – which is how I met Ryan). At this point, I was working 2 casual jobs (Brumby’s and Back-To-School educational store) and completing uni as well as training a million hours a week (as well as partying because I was freshly 18 and thought I was invincible). After finishing my undergrad in 2016, my 2 jobs became 3 and I was running around like a headless chook. Swimming is not cheap, so I had to fund myself somehow! We would travel at least twice a year for our national champs, but between that, throw in a possible training camp somewhere interstate/overseas/down south, buy a new racing suit that sets you back between $250-400 depending on the suit, training bathers at $80 a pair when the chlorine chews through them and a gear bag with a kickboard, pull buoy, 2 sets of paddles, snorkel, band, fins and whatever other little gadget you have in there; it all adds up! Probably the reason why I’ve been using the same kickboard today from when I was 6.
Justine with swimming friend Holly Barratt and ‘chilling’ with her car in Flagstaff, Arizona (January 2018/October 2019) training at 2100m above sea level.
Were you on a strict STTP meal plan like us or do swimmers get to carb load?
Swimming works you that hard that you can pretty much eat anything and everything. Doesn’t mean to say that it’s junk food for breakfast/lunch/dinner, but you need a lot of fuel to get you through the sessions. Looking back now, I was eating insane portions of food. I was never focused on eating #tothegram or trying to eat to stay slim/toned. I have always tried to be healthy with my food, and running around all day every day makes you accountable for having your food ready to go for the day and avoid buying lunch or dinner. My portion sizes have definitely decreased since I stopped. This time last year, we went to Olive Garden on our last night in Flagstaff after a 3 week altitude training camp from hell, and I went for the $15.99 bottomless pasta and polished off 6 plates of glorious carbs. I have never been prouder of myself (yes I took photos of each of my bowls).
What were your biggest challenges in the pool?
Any challenges for me are normally all mental. I loved the training aspect of swimming, but always found it challenging to put it all together for 72 seconds of racing. I had a lot of self-doubt while I was swimming. I knew I would never be Olympic level, but it is mentally challenging when you train your ass off day in and out and for your racing might be just outside your pb or sometimes way off. That’s where the love of the sport comes in. Pushing past this mental barrier and commiting to training the day after a weekend of racing and thinking “what else can I do to make myself better”. Our sessions would get to a point during the set when you knew you had nothing left in the tank and you’re screaming at yourself internally to stop being a wuss and push through the pain (kinda like when the trainers are yelling at people on the ass bike to push and you lose feeling in your arms and legs). It’s amazing what your body can do when you have such high physical capability paired with a strong mindset.
What was it like for you when you retired from elite swimming? How did life change and how did you feel about it?
When I stopped swimming, I thought my life was over (I knew it wasn’t but I had a couple of days where I was very lost). I lived and breathed swimming my entire life, and when the time came in July, I was in a bit of shock because I had no idea what I was going to do next. It consumes you. Long story short, my coach had my best interest at heart and didn’t want swimming to be the centre focus of my entire life and to try ‘adulting’ (if anyone has any hot tips, send them my way). It was everything I thought about from the time I woke up until I went to bed. From the painful threshold set in the afternoon after a massive morning swim and heavy gym to the hours of work in between and wondering how the hell you’re going to back it up. Also that last race and what went wrong, or that feeling when you nailed a session and felt on top of the world. It’s those small individual achievements that you earnt or that little word of encouragement from your coach saying how hard you’ve been training or how strong you look in the water. It’s the people you see day in and day out, knowing that you’re all there for the same reason and you’re all just as committed as each other to bettering yourself every day. That’s what makes an individual sport a team.
After wallowing in my own thoughts for 2 days, I grew some lady balls and broke the news to Mum and Dad and think it somewhat broke Mum’s heart just as much as mine, but we talked it out and agreed that it was for the best. After realising I could literally do anything at this point, I booked a glamping trip down south and spent 4 days tasting amazing wine and eating pies for breakfast. I was still working at the back to school shop and swim coaching at this point and always had this thought that I should go back to uni at some point, but didn’t know what to do with a Sport Science undergrad. I decided to grow MORE lady balls and enrol in secondary teaching, create a new weekly routine for myself and attempt this adulting thing. I’m happy to say that I am super stoked with where I am at the moment. It’s weird looking back at the hours spent driving, training, eating, recovering etc. and how much I now enjoy being able to do the little things like go out for dinner on a Friday night, or be able to go and watch the sunset.
What is your training like now?
I would say that training is very different now. Coming down from 30-ish hours of training commitment a week (8-9x 2 hour swimming sessions, 3×1 hour gym, 2-3×1 hour cardio depending on the training block, plus 30mins activation before every session as well as travel time and recovery), it’s nice to be able to structure my week based on how I’m feeling and how busy I am running around everywhere. I have been able to work myself into a routine now that I manage to squeeze 4 of my own lifts in during the week and a solo Wednesday tabata. I try to fit a swim in there at least once a week. I can’t bring myself to not have a feel of the water. And once I’ve got all of that under control and uni holidays come around, I definitely want to get back into my running. But I am loving what I’m doing and love the days that I get to jump in on the classes and join in with everyone else and sweat the house down.
Do you still enjoy swimming and can you imagine any form of competition in the future?
I don’t think I’d ever not enjoy swimming. It is such a major part of my identity, and the community that you are involved with whilst full time swimming doesn’t stop after it’s all over. Swimming produces people that you’ll just stay in contact with forever. You get to see each other at the best and worst times of their lives, making it such a vulnerable sport, but the highs will always outweigh the lows. Whether it be people to reminisce about swimming with, people to convince you to sign up for open water events, people that would never touch the water again but you just have this weird bond from spending too many gruelling hours together that it becomes a bond for life. Probably no more pool racing for me for now. I’m definitely not as fit or fast as I use to be, and I don’t think my knees would hold up training for breaststroke these days. I’m hoping our 2021 Rotto team will go ahead, but will hopefully squeeze a few 2.5km open water swims in over summer.
What made you want to want to coach?
I think it started while I was swimming at Christchurch, our squad would put on a few clinics here and there to help fundraise money for our trips. The young ones look up at you as if you’re the king of swimming and listen to everything you say. It’s so satisfying from a coach’s perspective to see athletes put words into practice and help them move that bit closer to getting to where they want to be. I think coaching is seen as a gig that assists clients/athletes/people in becoming the best version of themselves in whatever they’re doing. Coaching swimming and gym at the moment is like having the best of both worlds. Not only do you get to pass on knowledge to others, but you learn so much yourself along the way.
What is it like coaching at BBR?
Is it weird to say that if I miss coaching a class because of uni or whatever other reason that I have a bit of fomo? Coaching at BBR makes the 4.13am wake up each morning worth it. Although Ryan is the big boss man, it barely seems like that. Each of us get along so well and we all try to stay on top of everything as best as we can and make sure everything is running smoothly. Ryan is definitely a cool boss; who else would choose a Friday afternoon of go karting as a staff outing. I’ve gotten to know so many of the members now and it just feels like one massive (sweaty) family. It’s so inspiring watching everyone push themselves every day and having a laugh while doing it. I love seeing the banter/wholesome rivalries that go on within the classes. Whether its Michelle and Janelle getting in trouble for their non-stop talking or them trying to better one another on the bike ergs, or Freddy’s non-stop encouraging fist bumps throughout the class or knocking Brenda over on her bear crawls. It’s things like this that make this crew so great.
Where was your first job and the biggest lesson you learnt from it?!
I think my first job was at Wooldridges when I was 15 (the OG back to school store) where 4 of us siblings were working together. Considering I’m now 25 and have done 10 Back To School seasons, I would say I have learnt a lot! I have learnt that people can be very grumpy and impatient sometimes and that not everyone has grasped the concept of organisation/time management and forget that their kids go back to school until the week before. Aside from that job, working in customer service and hospitality, you learn so many people skills it’s crazy. You pick up on the little things that can make someone’s day, or how to spark up a conversation over the smallest of things. You learn the ins and outs of every part of the business within a role and you just get better as you go. Balancing work, uni and swimming teaches you an insane amount. The level of determination, organisation, time management skill that you need is crazy to think about. Without either one of these, I don’t think I would’ve been able to balance everything the way that I did. I literally never stopped running around.
What are your regular health routines outside of training that keep you feeling your best? What are your non-negotiables?
During the week I try to be on top of everything as much as I can. I try to make sure I’m in bed before 9pm each night and have everything ready to go for the next day. Hydration is a big one for me. I can feel my body suffering straight away if I’m not drinking enough water so I always have a water bottle on me 99% of the time. Weekends tend to be my lazier days. I try to squeeze in some form of exercise on Saturdays (run, swim, lift, reformer or walk) and an afternoon nap to catch up on my sleep during the week. Sundays are a BIG day of nothing. I use it as a productive uni work day at the moment, but once semester is over, it’ll likely turn into coffee and beach morning and a day of nothing which I’m super keen for.
Inspire us with any goals you are working towards right now, from fitness to life!
I’m still trying to figure out my big goals at the moment. This lifestyle is still so new for me so it’ll take a bit of time to assess where I’m wanting to be at what point. For now, I am just settling down with another 1.5 years of uni and going about life as is; study, work and sleep. I’m still living at home but love a cheeky housesit here and there, but I’m not in any rush to move out. With a busy lifestyle, it’s nice to be able to come home after a long day and have a plate of dinner ready to go. I definitely want to tick off some travelling spots when I have the time. My fitness goals are pretty PG at the moment. I’m just trying to maintain my strength from my swimming days (not that I’ll ever chin up 32.5kg again I don’t think), but am always striving to lift the house down.
Fast Five Faves
Fave HIIT or strength station?
Fave HIIT class: TABATA (some of you would agree with me on this).
Fave HIIT station: my focus is on the bike erg at the moment and trying to figure out how the heck Janelle Rock can produce such insane numbers on it.
Fave strength class: can’t go past a compound day.
Fave strength station: give me anything that has a bar or dumbbell and you’ll have my full attention. I’m pretty easy to please.
I’ve got a love-hate relationship with the ass bike.
Fave cafe and your order there?
Mary St Bakery (mainly because it’s walking distance from the gym so easy coffee access for me) or Daisies (if I’m on my way to the beach), otherwise Tribute closer to home.. I’m a classic flat white girl.
Fave cheat/treat meal?
Burger for sure. Anyone who saw my video on the BBR page when I first started would’ve heard my go to order. RoyAls burg: the Stanley, re-up with tater tots, fancy sauce and of course bottomless iced tea
Fave holiday destination?
The only proper ‘R&R’ holidays I’ve ever really had have been Margaret River or Bali. Both of which I absolutely loveee. I’ve been super lucky and been around lots of hot spots in WA (Esperance, Broome, Karratha, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Albany) and interstate for swimming and had a few amazing training camps in New Zealand, Hawaii, Arizona, and raced in Los Angeles; all of which I would love to go back and tick off more tourist hot spots. Otherwise, for the time being staying within the COVID restrictions, I would say a few days camping in Yallingup or Margaret River enjoying all the beautiful wineries.