Sue's Journey from Grapevines to Saving Ape Vines


Warrior Woman

Sue Fuenstra

I started teaching fitness back in the 1980s. The job title was relatively new and the word "personal trainer" had not even been invented at this stage. Yet, here I was hanging about in dirty old gyms, teaching classes inspired by the one and only aerobic legend Jane Fonda.
Yes, this was the 80’s, freestyle aerobics, brightly colored Lycra and thongs, not the ones you wear on your feet either. No, this was the lycra version that sat on top of black spandex leggings and were all the rage.

Over the following years, the fitness industry evolved and I developed along side it. I became a Step Reebok endorsed instructor, a Nike Instructor and was soon traveling the length of Great Britain attending fitness conventions that were by now popping up everywhere.

At the first opportunity, I became a personal trainer after completing an extensive diploma and was quickly sought after by Hereford's wealthy and elite residents. My life seemed a dream, traveling to castles and mansions all through the countryside that were homes to my clients, where we exercised on the sprawling lawns or inside unused banquet halls. It really was a time of much fun and lots of energy.

My job remained the same for the next few decades and I traveled the world working in some of the top gyms as the industry continued to change to how we know it now.

In 2007, and now living in Australia, my husband and I started our own gym, Platinum Health Studios, and using my knowledge from the years gone past, we created a family-friendly gym. A place where everyone was welcome and no one felt uncomfortable. We trained Vietnam Veterans, closing the gym for the hours they were there each week so they could mingle and reconnect with each other. We even created Naughty Nanas pole dancing, where the veterans and their wives would perform routines using the poles for stability, to their favorite old wartime songs. Again, another wonderful period of my life; however, sadly, all of that was soon about to change.

My back had never been great, but with the added classes and strenuous exercise required by myself running Platinum it quickly deteriorated. Over the following years disc after disc blew out, leaving me with no choice but to sell up and seek help.

A sad time for all.

Years passed by and my back was both good and bad. I felt my last name had changed as people would great me “Hello Sue, how’s your back?" and I would either be doing okay or not, the latter becoming more and more frequent. Slowly everything got taken away as running turned to walking, and sitting became impossible. Then walking became impossible and I could only shuffle, until finally by 2016, I was bedridden.

My life was then completely reliant on other people. I could no longer drive, and to travel anywhere, I had to lie in the back of vehicles. I was living on cortisone and painkillers and the only operation available was a fusion, with no guarantee I would be any better. Life sucked!

Not one to watch the daytime shows, my days were spent on my bed that was also now my prison. I daydreamed, I thought, and I contemplated a lot during the months that passed. 

“What if this is it? If there is nothing better than this and my best days are behind me at 48?” I thought to myself. “Am I happy with what I have achieved? My career of health and fitness? My children? My husband?”

While I had a lot to be grateful for, it wasn’t enough and I quickly came to the conclusion I needed to do more; there had to be a greater purpose.

So I decided that the story that had rattled around my busy brain for more than a few years should be written. A story of a young orangutan and his fight against a greedy palm oil plant owner who was out to destroy his forest home. I gave myself one rule and one wish: if I would do this, then I would have to finish it. And that if I wrote it and I could help these apes, whose homes are being destroyed due to deforestation, that somehow the world would work its magic and fix me.

On June 1st, 2018, I'll celebrate one year since my disc replacement surgery that changed my life. And four days later, June 5th, World Environment Day, Pongo, the story that got me through my darkest days, will be published. My gratitude book.

Life lesson? Never give up, no matter what life throws at you. Keep fighting. You just never know what you are capable of.

Order PONGO, here:


Thanks so much for sharing your story, Sue! I wish you continued health, and can't wait to check out PONGO! XOXO, Kell

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