As a proud Wirajuri woman, support worker, fitness coach, gym owner, mother and partner, Ebony Branigan has worked hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, determined to keep her dream of a healthier, more connected Indigenous community alive.
Through a series of online fitness classes and social media campaigns, Ebony shared her passion, fears and authentic self, creating a space that allowed this dream to thrive.
“I love the business and this career choice, including every hard moment that comes with it,” Ebony told Inclusive Australia. “I’ll keep pursuing this dream with a fierce heart and a focus on helping people live their happiest, healthiest lives.”
Today, with the pandemic moving slowly to the back of our minds, the gym is still thriving. With more hands on deck now, Ebony is so proud of the community she and her partner have created which continues to grow stronger every day.
“I see myself as a trainer, businesswoman and human.”
Ebony had been working with her brother in the health industry for four years when she decided it was time to open her own gym. With her partner Mark, she created Nana Blue. Named after her father, who Ebony unfortunately lost to a heart attack when she was just two years old, the gym is Ebony’s way of honouring his legacy and life every day through her work. Of course, losing him so young was tragic, but taught her big lessons around being positive and helping others whenever you can.
“Taking the first step to opening the gym was scary, but with the support of my partner everything happened so quickly,” Ebony said. “Setting our dreams into motion has been so rewarding. Together, we’ve been able to create this amazing space which has grown organically into an amazing community.”
To succeed in life, especially in the health and fitness space, Ebony said it is important to be real — to be accepting of others, and authentic in your approach. It’s not just about helping people change their body shape, but about helping them feel comfortable in themselves.
“I see myself as a trainer, businesswoman and human. All three facets are important to me, particularly the human element.”
Ebony works hard to ensure her gym is not intimidating. She strives for it to be a safe place where anyone can come and feel welcome, somewhere they can try their best and not be afraid of showing vulnerability.
“Everyone needs a positive place to train and be themselves, where they feel good to work on their health, both physical and mental.
“What we try to do is give people somewhere they can feel a sense of belonging.” To do this, Ebony works on her own positivity. “It’s important,” she said. “As a gym owner, the person that you are impacts the people who come into the gym.”
As the world moves into a new state of normal, Ebony and her Nana Blue team continue to find ways to inspire their members and communities.
“This is more than a 9-to-5 job. It’s my opportunity to help my community, and be an active part of my community. I am a passionate trainer, a proud Aboriginal woman,” said Ebony. “The spirit of my beautiful father, David Nana Grant, continues to run through our gym every single day, reminding us to always help one another and pursue our dreams.”
Just one day after gyms across NSW were closed in March 2020, Ebony took Nana Blue online by offering virtual fitness training. The transition online was not all smooth sailing and required some adaptability. She missed the routine and face-to-face interaction of the gym — the feeling of being part of her people’s lives.
“I had never done an online lesson before,” Ebony said. “It’s different, and we really had to search to find ways to interact with people.”
Nana Blue members responded positively, many volunteering to keep paying membership during lockdown despite not getting access to the gym. Ebony refused to take their money, but said she was touched to realise her gym had become such an important part of people’s lives.
“The pandemic has been humbling,” she said, noting that she made a point of always being authentic online and telling people how she was really feeling during lockdowns. As a result, people reached out with kind words and offers of assistance.
As her online presence grew, Ebony was approached to become a social media ambassador for NSW Health’s “Aboriginal Knockout Health Challenge": a free, community-led lifestyle and weight loss challenge for Koori communities in NSW. The aim of the program aligned with Ebony’s own goals to create healthier communities and close the gap between indigenous and non-Indigenous health.
The role with NSW Health fuelled Ebony’s passion, boosting her team’s sense of purpose and the gym’s network. The Challenge provided a platform from which they could make an even bigger impact improving indigenous health in NSW. For 10 weeks, they provided live virtual workout sessions and programs that offered knowledge, information and support.
“The program targeted individuals and their mobs,” Ebony said, adding that health and fitness habits are not just personal but intergenerational. When you educate someone on ways to improve their health, you’re spreading the message to their family and friends, too.
Recently, Ebony considers herself incredibly fortunate to have secured a role as a support worker at the Glen for Women Rehabilitation Centre. The first all-female rehabilitation clinic on New South Wales’ central coast with an all-female team, the centre works with a holistic approach to health and healing for anyone who needs it, but with a particular focus on the Indigenous community.
More than anything, it exists for cultural rehabilitation; by rehabilitating primarily Indigenous clients from drug and alcohol abuse, Ebony and The Glen hope to heal trauma, reduce rates of incarceration, and heal each client with genuine care, group counselling, gym sessions, community volunteering, and access to TAFE courses. Ebony is incredibly proud to be a part of the centre; helping women particularly with their mental health has become a “big part” of her journey, and she now splits her time between The Glen and Nana Blue.
“My passion is my people, and to now be able to help women on their mental health journey and their struggles through rehabilitation and holistic health is what I feel I’m meant to do. I can’t wait to love them back to life.”
With so many goals and an inspiring passion to improve the lives of everyone around her, Ebony Branigan is a busy woman. She believes time is precious, so we have to aim high and strive to spread happiness in every way we can.
“We have to make the most of everything! Sometimes it feels like women are set up for failure, so it just makes it more amazing when we achieve it all against the odds.”
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