International Women’s Day 2022 - Meet Zoe Ann

8th March

Whether you’re a member, instructor or one of the team, Gymbox is all about empowering you to get you to wherever you want to be. You set the goal, we’ll help you smash it. As far as we’re concerned, that has nothing to do with gender. But on a day that’s drawing attention to the realities of this still VERY unequal world, it’s important to celebrate the resilience and tenacity of brilliant women – and we’ve got plenty of them here.

Women like Zoe Ann Turner, for example. Former Gymbox receptionist, now Marketing Assistant by day, and kick-ass White Collar Fighter by night, her success story is one we’re proud to have played a part in. Kat, our resident blogger, caught up with her to hear all about her journey to the top of her game…

Let's start with the basics - how did your Gymbox journey start and how did you get to where you are now, working behind the scenes in marketing?

I feel like my Gymbox journey started way before I got a job here!

When I moved to London just over 4 years ago, some of their marketing popped up on my phone and I was looking for a job at the time. I instantly saw what an awesome place it is and how I would love to work here. There just seemed to be so much energy in the clubs and I wanted to be a part of it.

Fast forward to just over a year later and I had moved to Ealing. As if by fate, I walked past the Ealing club when it was under construction, so I applied for a reception role there. I guess the rest is history! It really felt like everything was meant to be.

Can you give me a brief summary of what your job involves on a daily basis?

I now work as Marketing Assistant at our Head Office in Elephant & Castle – no two days are the same here, which is why I love it so much. I always expect the unexpected and let’s just say, when I put “flexibility” as a skill on my CV, I had no idea I’d be holding my leg above my head for video shoots!

A lot of my job involves writing – cooking up some fun ways to word things; whether it be for social media captions, signage you see dotted around the clubs or member newsletters. As well as running our social media, I’m also building brand partnerships, planning image and video content and organising the distribution or installation of our campaigns across the city.

I’m so grateful to be in a job I’m passionate about, where I wake up motivated every day and I’m constantly being inspired by so many people across the company. It’s also a wicked feeling to see our marketing when I’m out and about or point it out to my friends!

When you're not working at Gymbox, you're training with The White Collar Fight Club. What made you decide to take part and compete in Muay Thai? Had you ever tried the sport before?

I‘d never tried it before and never thought I would! I’ve joked that it’s my coach Saj Imran’s ‘fault’ but I actually couldn’t be more grateful for him introducing me to Muay Thai.

Saj was always encouraging me to get in the ring and hit a few pads, but I kept saying “nah, I’m not into violence.” After the third lockdown, I felt like I had missed out on life and just wanted to say “yes” to everything! After 4 sessions with him, you could say I was “hooked”. I learned that there’s such an art to Muay Thai and there’s so much more to the sport than just fighting.

Without telling anyone, I signed up to The White Collar Fight Club before someone could talk me out of it (including myself). At first, it was overwhelming to know I only had eight weeks to learn everything pretty much from scratch, but it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.

All of the Team Tieu fighters/instructors have been a huge inspiration right from the start too - they make everything look so easy!

As well as training to knock someone out in a ring, you're a dancer. I think this symbolises nicely all that women are capable of! Has dance always been a big part of your life and is it still something you do a lot of?

Those that know me would probably agree I’m never not dancing! I took my first class the day after my third birthday; I don’t really know life without it.

Growing up, dancing was pretty much the only thing I thought about. I’d say I’ve always felt inspired to move in different ways. My dad has such an eclectic music taste, so my childhood was filled with music from so many different genres. I’d be dancing in the school corridors, supermarket aisles, practising at the kitchen worktop, stretching in front of the T.V…

I feel very fortunate to have found a passion so early on – it meant I always had an outlet when I found other areas of my life difficult. Without it, I’d probably be a totally different person.

Before your last fight, you gave the most iconic walk/dance to the ring that I've ever seen. Aside from helping intimidate your opponents, do you think being a dancer has helped your Muay Thai training in any way? If so, how?

Wow, what a statement! Thank you!

I’ve thought about this a lot, actually. Straight away, the word discipline comes to mind: it’s all on you to put the work in. If you want to master a skill or perform at your best, you have to be willing to practise it over and over, even on the days you really can’t be bothered. If you make a mistake, you’ve got no one else to blame. Luckily dance training has given me that accountability.

Then there’s other things like coordination, flexibility, footwork and most importantly, the ability to comprehend movement. Spending years learning choreography or being corrected on my form means I’m used to taking direction and translating it into something physical. Plus, making sense of what a coach is telling you to do with your feet/arms/legs can be a challenge when you don’t know your left from your right. That’s not to say I don’t have days when I’m getting everything wrong – those that have witnessed me training when I’m over tired or my brain is frazzled will know what I mean, and after years and years of being told to stand tall and soften my arms, I now have to learn to loosen up my torso and put more power behind my punches - so pretty much the opposite of what I’m used to.

There are clear differences, but what do you think are some similarities between Muay Thai and Dance?

You wouldn’t think it at first, but I frequently find similarities between Muay Thai and Dance. They both have fun little traditions. For instance, dancers roll the legs of their leotards up and Thai fighters roll their waistbands down. Every dancer has their own way of preparing their shoes and everyone wraps their hands a little differently in Muay Thai.

Each athlete has their own fortes and strengths. You may have a dancer that’s much better at turns than jumps, or a boxer that prefers to attack rather than stay on the defence…but with both, the more skills you have, the better.

Both love to perform and provide entertainment for an audience. And my personal favourite: dancers and boxers make one HECK of a racket whilst supporting their team mates!

Given that it's International Women's Day coming up, who are some women who inspire you and have helped you get to where you are now?

Without a shadow of a doubt, my mum. Probably sounds a little biased, but she’s the strongest woman I know.

My mum has taught me so much about resilience, about always putting your best foot forward in any occasion and the power of being kind, even to people you don’t know. She tells me I’m braver than she is, but little does she know, I’m only brave because I’ve always had her behind to catch me if I fall! I wouldn’t be where I am without her.

I’m constantly being inspired by my friends and colleagues too. There are so many strong women (not just physically) in my life who challenge stereotypes and encourage me to do the same. They support me in my wins and my losses and I’m so proud of all of them! When I see my friends smashing their goals, it makes me so happy and it’s a lovely reminder of how capable we are as women.

I’m also often inspired by two YouTubers - the knowledge Natacha Oceane shares in her YouTube videos helped me see fitness through a completely new set of eyes when I graduated from dance college, and most of my motivation comes from watching Michelle Khare. Michelle is the perfect role model for me when it comes to accepting any challenge and pushing myself beyond what I thought I could accomplish.

This year, the slogan for IWD is 'Break the Bias.' As someone who is involved in both dance and combat sports, you’re clearly smashing traditional gender stereotypes. In what other ways do you think you may defy people’s expectations of you as a woman?

Does having my own toolbox count..?! [laughs]

Joking aside, although there has definitely been (and probably will be more in the future) moments where I have doubted my own ability, lacked in confidence, suffered from the well-known imposter syndrome, or questioned “how did I get here?”, I don’t think it has ever stopped me from trying.

In most situations, I’m not afraid of being the only girl or of doing a ‘boy’s job’, and I’ve always enjoyed my independence. Maybe it’s defying people’s expectations, or maybe it’s just stubbornness, but I do try my best not to accept limitations placed upon me based on my gender.

If I’m told I can’t or shouldn’t do something, achieve something, wear something for the simple fact I’m a girl, I’d much rather step forward and say “watch me”… although maybe not always out loud!

What does women empowerment look like to you at both a personal and global scale?

Ooft. This is a loaded question - I could talk all day about this!

On a broader scale, I’d definitely say it looks like women in leadership positions and anyone who identifies as a woman being given equal opportunities, both in education and the workplace, where they can use their talents and skills. Because there is so much that everyone can all bring to the table, if given the chance.

In my own life, I think it would be living authentically, encouraging other women to do the same and supporting them in doing so as it’s not always easy! To me, living authentically means making choices both in our careers and personal lives based on our own values, goals, and desires, rather than what others may expect of us as women and remaining self-assured when doing so. Easier said than done, of course!

I also think celebrating other women and their success is incredibly empowering. One person’s win doesn’t necessarily make me a loser – even in the ring! It can be inspiring, motivating, and as I said earlier, a really nice reminder of what we can achieve both individually and collectively.

You've done a lot during your time at Gymbox. How has the club helped you develop and what are some of your own personal goals for the coming year?

Gymbox certainly has helped me to grow, both in my personal life and my career. The values we work by here have given me the opportunity to try things I would never get the chance to otherwise. Never did I ever think I could (or would!) learn to snatch kettlebells, hang upside down from aerial silks or learn to fight.

I used to worry that being a ‘Jill of all trades’ meant I would never be a ‘master’ of one and was often discouraged to focus on more than one vocation, but spending every day in a community where anything goes, I’ve realised that doesn’t matter to me. Life feels so much more exciting when there’s always something new to try.

I’ve started to squash limiting beliefs of what I’m capable of, especially as a girl, and I actually enjoy throwing myself in at the deep end. One of my goals for 2022 is to do more of this: I don’t ever want to stop feeling like a beginner in something, because it’s almost a guarantee that it’ll open up more of the world to me if I just give it a go.

Of course, my other goal sits within The White Collar Fight Club’s ropes. I just want to fight better than I did last time, regardless of the outcome. If I happen to get another gold medal at the end of it that’ll just be the icing on the cake!

You can follow our blogger Kat and Zoe Ann on Instagram.

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