When working in IT, I would go Latin Dancing on weekends, and that’s how I met Nadia. The second time I saw her we danced together in a competition and won a dinner for two; the funny thing is that we were the only couple competing! When you tell girls you work in IT you can virtually see their eyes glaze over with boredom, so during our dinner, I think she was relieved to find we had many things in common.
My name is Rafael Merino, I am an exercise physiologist and I have been in this area for over 25 years. I originally worked in IT, but today run an exercise physiology and pilates clinic in Greensborough and I coach kids’ soccer. My parents are from Chile but I was born in Sydney in 1972 and moved to Sale, in Victoria, when I was eight years old. Dad worked for ESSO, so we moved to Sale when the head office moved there.
Years later my parents came to Greensborough when ESSO moved to Melbourne. Sale is a country town, and in a way, it’s not so different from what Greensborough was like. In the 90s this area was just as green but had no buildings taller than three storeis, much less traffic, and only paddocks from two streets past my house all the way to Diamond Creek.
I moved to Melbourne for university before my parents came here. In my second year of IT I knew it wasn’t what I wanted, but being someone who likes to finish what they start, I decided to complete the course and work a couple of years to save some money and travel. Those two years ended up being nine, but eventually, I made the change. What I couldn’t tolerate about IT was how internally focused it was, needing me to be constantly in front of a computer, and always inside my head. I felt like it was stripping away my ability to communicate with people.
While working in IT I was quite fit, but was having a lot of back problems and started looking for a solution. That’s how I came across Pilates, and it helped me a lot. At that time I was studying to be a personal trainer and massage therapist, building qualifications to start this new career. I started working as a contractor for studios or running sessions at home, until one day I saw this space was available and came in to ask about it.
We always planned to have our own space, but I must admit it was scary signing a lease. My wife and I started Living Energy fourteen years ago with only a dozen clients and were the first studio doing Pilates in the area. Today the industry has changed and we have a lot of competition, but our clients have stayed with us. Nadia and I complement each other well; she’s good at managing numbers, while I prefer to focus on service.
We have two boys and one girl, and I always tell them about how it was to grow up in a country town where I could ride my bike everywhere, have sleepovers, and enjoy a lot of freedom in general. In turn, my dad would tell me how it was to grow up on a farm and, as kids, ride horses into the hills to camp overnight with nobody raising an eyebrow. Today my kids can ride their bikes around, but it’s just not the same.
Our kids don’t have mobile phones, but perhaps they will in high-school. For now, we limit their time on electronic devices and focus them on things like sports. Sports were a big part of my growing up; my older sister and I did sports every week, always encouraged by our parents. That was a big thing in Sale, and most kids played at least two sports. I mostly played soccer, though most kids played Aussie Rules and cricket.
As an exercise physiologist, I believe children playing sports is decreasing. Computers are a part of that, but there are also issues like the lack of spaces and their lack of freedom. When I was a child I could ride to my trainings, but today kids need their parents to drive them, and parents often don’t have time. It may be a geographical difference between the city and the country, but I also think we tend to protect our kids more.
My dad was a talented soccer player when young, and today my kids also play. Coaching with the Diamond Valley United Soccer Club, it’s amazing to see how popular the sport is; in the last few years we’ve gone from having one girls team to having one for every age group, and it’s great! 50% of kids in Australia play soccer today, which is far more than any other sport, yet soccer is extremely underfunded. I hope the game gets the support and the spaces it deserves so these kids can keep playing.