Testimonial of Aaron Edwards
Life and Background
My upbringing was difficult. I came from a poor and abusive background and lived in an environment where the people I was supposed to be looking up to were unable to set themselves up as positive role models and give me something very tangible to aspire to. We were THAT family on the estate- involved with drugs, always in trouble, and beyond help. Even at a young age I knew I wanted to be nothing like my family, or the destructive example they set me. To paint you a more vivid picture, for 80% of my adolescence, I had to rely on my neighbours to provide me with breakfast. I also remember going to my best friend’s house to hang out and saw cashew nuts in a dish on the side. I couldn’t believe it, that they had beautiful food like this just sitting on the side.
I had one character trait that set me apart from my family. I was extremely competitive; it wasn’t until my mid 20’s that I found out that this is something I share with my father. I was also shy, more of an ‘inbetweener’, and had a very clear moral compass. It is because of this moral compass that I was able to strike up an unlikely friendship with Darren, which would eventually set me on the path to cheerleading. Let’s just say we had a falling out that helped us to see our similarities over our differences; from there we started rowing together, and he eventually invited me to cheerleading- more about this later.
At 15, my mother and I were evicted from our home. She’d managed to get a job and because of that had to pay for a higher level of rent, but she didn’t and one day I came home to find the house boarded up; I had to break in just to grab a few of my belongings- I had no idea what was going on. So at 15 I was moving from hostel to hostel with my mum. It eventually got to the point where at 16, I told her enough was enough and that I’d be better going off on my own. I managed to get a council flat and was living of my £30 EMA money- some of which I always ended up giving to my mum. It was during these times that track and field kept me grounded and, because I was so hungry for success, focussed. By the time I was 18, I got a job as a night club promotor. I was really successful at it and on my best nights was earning £400. I was, am, a people person and was able to sell myself, and the night club. It was the success here that really set me up for what would happen for me as a professional PT.
My upbringing was tough, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. It made me who I am.
Cheerleading pretty much help set up the sequence of events that would lead me to the life I have now. Due to the poor role models I had at home- the drugs and violence, I had to rely on the positive examples set by others. I was determined to be different from my family; the first day I walked through the doors of the Ascension Church and met Shara, I knew that I had found the opportunity I was searching for. Even now, I’m surprised by the love and compassion Shara showed towards me. She knew the extent of my home life and did everything she could to help me, which included not paying to be on the team; she had it covered for me.
In 2002 the Ascension Eagles were competing at the European Championship in Finland. Finland! I’d barely been out of East London, and definitely didn’t have a passport. Literally days before we were due to fly out I had to go to the passport office and get my first passport. Without AEC’s help in sorting this out I’d never been able to go, or to all the other amazing places we travelled to after- including America.
AEC came into my life at a time when I needed them to; they showed me kindness, love, and community togetherness that I’d never experienced before. It shaped me as a person because, for the first time I actually felt a part of something.
There came a time when I was at a cross-roads and I had to make a decision. Would I pursue track and field to the competitive standard I thought I was capable, or do I stay in cheerleading and rowing? It was difficult, but in track and field I was making real progress. To begin with I was in the shotput and discus divisions, but when a team mate got injured and couldn’t compete in the 400m relay, I volunteered. To begin with the other athletes and coaches completely dismissed the idea- how could a discus thrower run the 400m? But with no one else available, they put me in. I ran the fastest heat and no one could believe it. After that I transferred to decathlon and threw myself in to it. The training was tough and I gave myself no breaks.
Alongside the training and Uni, I got a job as a sales assistant at fitness first. Here I was able to flex more of my competitive muscle. In the first month I was the best sales assistant in the club, and by the end of my first year, I was the 3rd best in the country. By years 2 and 3 I was the top sales assistant in the country. I believe I was initially successful, and continue to be successful, because of my pragmatic approach to what I do- honest and with no pressure.
By this point I was making good money and was number 7 in the country for track and field. I started to look around and think, what’s next? A couple at people at fitness first were asking me to train them. So I started PT-ing. Due to my experience and success, I went straight to health and fitness manager, general manager, and then back to fitness manager when I realised I could make more money by doing that. I’d also taken another job at a gym in London. It got to the point where I was so busy that something had to give; so I quit all my jobs and took the gamble of starting again at the newly opened Gym Box in Stratford. Within 6 months I was the busiest PT at the gym, and was eventually named the Gym Box PT of the year. It was great to be enjoying so much success, but you can’t tell someone who’s as competitive as I am they’re the best. So again I started thinking, what’s next? With Lainey, my wife, we decided that it was now or never, and set up our own business- Fitfam was born. Without Lainey, Fitfam would never have happened; she inspired and motivated me to go for it! It’s her belief that helped it happen and I’m so proud that we did it together. Now, along with our children, we have a secure future that makes the years of hard work and not seeing each other worth it.
Favourite Cheer Memory
I was lucky enough to be part of the first British team to represent the nation at the USASF Worlds in 2006- so it has to be this one. The opportunity to go, the experiences we had while we were there, and hitting a solid routine will stay with me forever.
What would you say to ambitious young people like yourself?
“Surround yourself with people you admire and want to learn from.”
A final Word
My friends always ask me how I turned out the way I did given the circumstances I grew up in. I tell them it’s the people I allowed to influence me rather than the circumstances themselves. I’m thankful to:
My best friend Ricky and the family environment he shared with me
My neighbours, who provided me with breakfast for 80% of my life
Shara, for the opportunities she gave me
My coaches, for being a constant driving force
To my mum, for having the courage to give birth to a black child, leave everything she had, and move to London.
And to Lainey and our children, for giving me the reason to do all that I do.
I have so much to be grateful for.