How Blairgowrie man went from unfit smoker to fitness model running bootcamps in the town

A Blairgowrie man has spoken of how he went from an unfit smoker to a fitness model running bootcamps in the town.

Rhys Spackman, 29, says he was too embarrassed and nervous to do exercise in his younger days and developed a six-year smoking habit from the age of 16.

But he did a complete turnaround after being influenced by fitness models on Instagram.

In just 12 weeks Rhys lost more than two stone in weight and began entering physique competitions.

Rhys Spackman at one of his bootcamps in Blairgowrie.
Rhys at one of his bootcamps in Blairgowrie. Image: Alan Richardson.

Now he is inspiring the townsfolk of Blairgowrie to get fit by running regular bootcamps under his company name Braw Fitness.

And this summer he is hosting the first ever Braw Fitness Games, in which will participants will compete in a series of fun but challenging outdoor activities.

In this article Rhys tells of his youthful insecurities and explains how his personal transformation helps others who may be struggling to improve their fitness.

Youth spent playing video games

Rhys was born in the Berkshire town of Newbury, where he lived until the age of 13.

He then moved with his parents to Swindon, in neighbouring Wiltshire.

“I wasn’t a sporting kid,” he recalled.

“I was a bit averse to taking physical risks.

“My parents would try to get me into rugby or martial arts but I was scared of getting hurt.

“That was the main barrier and I spent most of my youth doing school and video games.

“In my free time it was more video games, TV, hanging out with friends.”

Photograph a reminder of heavier past

Indeed, Rhys took on a degree that had very little to do with fitness and exercise.

At Cardiff university he studied marine geography and his lifestyle remained sedentary.

“I was in a relationship at university and wasn’t feeling very confident about myself,” he said.

“I actually smoked from 16 to 22 which didn’t help either.”

Rhys still retains a photograph of himself from that period.

Rhys’ ‘before’ photo when he was aged 19. Image: Rhys Spackman.

A balanced assessment would be that he doesn’t look bad at all.

But his biggest critic was himself.

“I wasn’t particularly overweight but didn’t have the body composition I wanted,” he said.

“My waist was wider than my shoulders, I looked a bit soft and never built up physically.”

‘Exercise hurt a lot’

If visual perception is one thing, so is the exhaustion of a workout when you are out of shape.

“For a couple of years at university I was in the naval reserves, which highlighted my poor fitness,” he said.

Rhys Spackman has his own van that he regularly drives in Blairgowrie.
Rhys has his own van that he regularly drives in Blairgowrie. Image: Alan Richardson.

So Rhys did something about it, but it was a slow start.

“When I started doing exercise it hurt a lot,” he said.

“I started by doing Insanity in my room at university because I didn’t have confidence to go to the gym – which was two steps from my front door of my building.”

All Blacks and Instagram inspiration

In time he became fitter and more confident.

Within months of commencing gym sessions he gave up smoking, and soon discovered inspiring figures.

“At the gym some of the All Blacks would sometimes come and train in there and train when they were playing rugby against Wales,” he said.

“I was in awe of them.

“I got inspired by Instagram influencers of the time.

“A lot of them were fitness models – not massively muscular bodybuilders – but more athletic lean physiques.

“It inspired me to be more like that.”

Rhys Spackman competing in Hyrox, Glasgow, in February 2023.
Rhys competing in Hyrox, Glasgow, in February 2023. Image: Rhys Spackman.

Aided by a university sports science coach, Rhys’ weight went from 14st 11Ibs to 12st 9Ibs in the space of 12 weeks.

He entered a student physique competition called Mass and did physical challenges, including the Hyrox workouts.

Moved in with parents in Perthshire

After leaving university Rhys became a personal trainer and ran bootcamps in Swindon.

He travelled in Australia for a year, only for the first Covid lockdown to force him out of the country after 10 months.

He moved back in with his parents Simon and Linlithgow-born Sara, who by now had moved to a new home between Blairgowrie and Coupar Angus.

After a year as a secondary school teacher Rhys became a personal trainer at Barr Fitness in Blairgowrie.

In November 2022 he set up Braw Fitness and his first bootcamp took place the following February.

Bootcamps four times a week

The Braw Bootcamps are held early-morning four days a week at Blairgowrie Rugby Club or the Piggy Lane Football Fields.

The 45-minute workouts take a steer from the Hyrox competitions, which Rhys says are “taking the fitness world by storm”.

He added: “It is an accessible competitive functional fitness race that removes a lot of the technicalities people have.

“That is the route I want to go down with fitness events.”

He says the bootcamps are “achievable but challenging” and suitable for all fitness levels.

Bootcamp participants. Image: Alan Richardson.

Some of the exercises involve tyres and other functional materials.

Rhys added: “People enjoy a competitive environment but it can be a bit intimidating for the general population.

“A lot of people don’t need a full gym programme.

“They just need somewhere to go that keeps them active and feeling healthy.”

‘It is not as intimidating as it seems’

Since February Rhys has had more than 30 bootcamp clients.

His motivational techniques are founded on his background in teaching and personal training.

As well, of course, as his own late start in exercise.

Tyre-dragging in the bootcamp. Image: Alan Richardson.

“I remember how hard it was, not only getting started, but also trying to increase the time given to it,” he said.

“People say to me they can never reach a certain level to that but not long ago I was further away from the starting point than the people who say that to me.

“I also know what is involved in making fitness accessible.

“All I am trying to do is build people’s confidence in themselves by doing something out of their comfort zone and getting them to realise it is not as intimidating as it seems and can actually be fun.”

Braw Fitness Games is next stage

The next stage of Rhys’ plan is to hold his first Braw Fitness Games at Blairgowrie Rugby Club on August 5.

The event will feature five bootcamp-style workouts designed to challenge participants’ functional strength, endurance, power and aerobic capacity.

Participants will compete in pairs (male, female, or mixed).

Athletes can choose to work hard to challenge themselves.

For those looking to be competitive, there will be prizes for the winning pairs.

Prizes will be awarded at the Braw Fitness Games.
Prizes will be awarded at the Braw Fitness Games. Image: Alan Richardson.

Rhys said: “Athletes can expect to be kept busy working hard in the Braw outdoors for no longer than 90 minutes.

“I don’t want it to be an obstacle course or a Tough Mudder.

“I wanted it to have functional exercises in so it becomes more like a series of workouts that get scored.

“It will be similar to CrossFit and Hyrox.”

Spectators can also get in on the action, cheering on their favourite pairs while enjoying refreshments from the rugby club bar.

Competition on the beach?

Rhys expects dozens of participants and wants to repeat the event in the future.

He also has other ideas.

“I am keen to do interesting one-off events such as Braw on the Beach,” he said.

“Or take people to the foot of a Munro and combine the fitness event with some kind of trail.

“My plan is to get people who never necessarily thought about fitness-based comps to do something different.”

Lifestyle – The Courier