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Bootcamp instructor Nawal Aini Zulkifli tells Tengku Nor Azah she has found the perfect balance between a gruelling job and being a wife and mother
I GOT lost on the way to Nawal Aini Zulkifli’s house and half expected her to say: “Someone is late! Drop and give me 10 grunts!!”
At the bootcamp I attended, late arrivals had to do grunts — that’s squat-extend the legs to the back-squat-stand up-jump.
It’s not just to punish but also to foster teamwork among participants or recruits. One person’s tardiness results in punishment for all.
But, in a long, flowy dress, Nawal looks nothing like Sarge Nawal of the Chief’s Original Bootcamp Malaysia (COBC), who’s usually dressed in a red instructor’s tee and camouflage shorts.
At 35, she is one of the only two females in the elite team of COBC instructors, a military-inspired training programme from Australia.
When she demonstrates her exercise routines for the day, new recruits are always totally in awe. You can almost read their thoughts: “How does she make it look so easy?”
Nawal can easily lift a 4kg rifle rapidly in sets of 20s and shows how to do a jack-knife, a type of exercise where you have to bring both your legs up to a 45-degree angle from the ground and ensure your arms are parallel to your legs.
It takes a lot of practice and hard work, she says, to achieve the fitness level that she maintains. The beautiful mother of one attended and passed level 1 of the Military Leadership Certification by the Australia Global Master Trainer,
Chief Brabon, in 2009. She passed the Sport Science Level 1 certification by the National Sports Council six months later.
“After being section commander at the Chief’s Original Bootcamp for more than 1,000 hours and attending various gruelling in-house training, I was recommended to be promoted as platoon commander to Chief Brabon, the founder of COBC,” she says.
“The long hours are important to ensure that instructors understand what the recruits need. The instructors themselves must have been a trainee before so they can understand what the recruits feel by undergoing the same programme,” she says.
Nawal says what is also important is the ability to deliver the programme.
She started going to the gym and running about 10 years ago. “My aim was to be healthy and to look good but, after a while, my perspectives changed. I wanted more and became more competitive, especially in running.
“Gym workouts and running didn’t give me the effect that I wanted. I was quite desperate to improve my running speed and tried many things to improve my timing. I even paid a personal trainer but nothing worked,” she says.
Nawal has run eight full marathons and 14 half-marathons, often finishing in the top 10 in her category.
“Bootcamp was a life-altering experience for me. My fitness level and physique changed dramatically within six months. My running time improved. I do bootcamp three times a week and also other forms of training with my fellow trainers”.
She was 65kg when she started bootcamp. She had lost 11kg and gained a well-toned physique. She also dropped three dress sizes.
Describing her daily routine, Nawal says she wakes up as early as 4am every morning to drive a van and pick up the equipment at the store. She then heads for the bootcamp (there are six locations in Klang Valley) in the dark to make sure she arrives in time to prepare the field for the day’s training.
The earliest session starts at 5.45am and she will usually arrive at 5am. “I’m scared of the dark and sometimes being on a football field alone at 5am does feel freaky,” Nawal admits.
Each session lasts an hour and if there are back-to-back sessions, she finishes at 8am.
She returns home and does housework and runs errands before cooking lunch. She picks her son from school every day and takes him for extra-curricular activities or tuition.
All this may sound like what any full-time housewife may do. That is where the similarities end. After grocery shopping, Nawal gets ready for another bootcamp session at 6.45pm, either as an instructor if she’s on duty, or as a recruit, to work out.
“I will rush home when the evening session ends at 7.30pm to prepare dinner for my family. When we were not on a diet, I used to cook sinful, exotic dishes. Now we are more health-conscious and our meals normally consist of mostly protein, grilled or roasted lean meat,” she says.
She takes a lot of salads and keeps herself hydrated by drinking a lot of water. She retires at 10pm to get enough sleep before waking up again at four the next morning.
Nawal credits bootcamp for her abundant energy and stamina, saying that while it is very challenging and demanding to maintain good physique while running a household, the effort is made easier with bootcamp.
The Fine Arts degree holder gave up her career to raise her only son. When her husband, Armin Baniaz Pahamin, and his partners got the licence for the COBC franchise, she was the obvious choice as instructor since everybody knew of her passion for fitness.
Being the co-owner’s wife is no walk in the park. “There are no shortcuts at bootcamp, not even for the wife of the bootcamp owner. All instructors are expected to work out with the recruits and some recruits are very strong.
“When there are stronger recruits, I would naturally drive myself to be stronger. Also, having a husband who shares my passion motivates and inspires me even more,” says Nawal.
Recruit Mira Ezwany Tumingan says: “The first time I trained with her at bootcamp, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this woman is strong!’. She is a good instructor. She really pushes the girls to their limits, so that they’ll become as strong as the guys in the platoon.”
She makes exercises look easy to pull off when they really are not, especially for newbies.
“Practice makes perfect. The most important thing is to be disciplined and consistent with workouts and training. If we are determined and consistent, we can achieve anything in life,” says the fitness fanatic who does push-ups with military precision.
Although being an instructor was never her dream, it is a newfound passion and Nawal says she will continue to be an instructor for as long as her husband keeps the business. She hopes that in three years’, COBC will be in every state in the country (now COBC operates in Klang Valley and Penang).
“We have debated about expanding to other Asian countries but Armin feels it is better if we give the opportunities for Malaysians to be our instructors first before we go abroad”.
The eldest of four siblings, Nawal values spending quality time with her family, watching movies and going in search of good food.
“I also love to sing when I’m bored, stressed or happy. I sing mostly pop and jazz,” she says.
Unfortunately, we may never hear her belting out any song as she only sings for family.
“Juggling motherhood with another job is one of the toughest things to do. But know how to balance your life, make time for yourself, stay positive and things will turn out fine,” she says.