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The New Paper
April 3, 2017
"It is not a real job."
"You will not last long."
"If I look the way you do, I am sure I will get all the jobs."
These are some of the many discouraging comments Ms Laila White, 50, had to face. She has been a personal trainer for 19 years and is also a gym designer.
The Singaporean is a single parent of two daughters, aged 23 and 21, who live in Florida.
Ms White, who divorced her ex-husband over 17 years ago, told The New Paper: "I just laughed (the criticism) off. It is not about what you say but how you react that is important.
"I am paying my bills, putting food on the table and getting my daughters through university, so it is a real job in my definition."
To date, Ms White has designed gyms for 16 Four Seasons hotels around the world and home gyms for prominent clients.
She said: "How I look may get me a foot in the door, but I still need to produce results for what I am being paid for."
The managing director of Elite-Fit, the fitness company she set up in 2000, has had clients ranging from an overweight seven-year-old boy to an 88-year-old woman.
Ms White has even played personal trainer to Brunei's Prince Hakeem Jefri Bolkiah and Princess Purna Jadeja Browne of Morvi in Gujarat, India.
She works six days a week with at least five clients a day.
Her most recent project is taking on the role of technical director for the inaugural Fitness Best Asia Awards.
The first of its kind in Asia, the awards ceremony seeks to recognise brands, instructors, athletes and organisations for their contributions to the fitness field.
It is organised by local sports marketing event company amc experience!, and Ms White provides technical expertise in areas such as crafting the nominee shortlist criteria and selecting the panel of eight judges.
Her own road to fitness had an unlikely start.
"I was never a sporty person. In fact, I was skinny and weak in my teenage years," she said.
She was 28 when she was impressed by her brother's transformation in physique after going through national service.
She began sweating it out on a mini stepper machine and lifting weights while her daughter was asleep at night.
"I did it for about five minutes every night, to (US singer) Toni Braxton's Un-Break My Heart while staring at her muscular arms," Ms White said.
Wanting to learn more about fitness, the then housewife signed up with the Singapore Sports Council and Federation of International Sports, Aerobics and Fitness for a basic exercise leader course as well as aerobics, personal trainer and fitness instructor certifications.
She has not looked back since.
She said: "I never say no to anything fitness-related. When a client wanted to start working out at 5.30am at the gym, I had to get up at 3.30am."
Ms White works out at gyms such as True Fitness and Gymmboxx five to six times a week, with each session lasting no longer than an hour.
"For me, the gym is not for socialising, so I try to keep my workouts to one hour, resting for less than 10 seconds between each set," she said.
She alternates between lifting heavy and light weights and does skipping and the StairMaster. She does hot yoga at Pure Yoga too.
Ms White has to keep an eye on fitness trends.
"Women these days do not want to be thin and lean, but toned, strong and voluptuous, like (US singer) Beyonce."
She has been receiving more requests for CrossFit training.
"I am not qualified in that area, so I would train their fitness and wellness needs, then refer them to a specialist," she said.
Ms White does not make her daughters work out with her, but they exercise too.
"I would rather they take the initiative with these things, so I know they are motivated," Ms White said.
On being a personal trainer to royalty, she said there is no difference in the treatment given.
She said: "The gym is the most humbling place. It is where people do not look their best and are at their most vulnerable - women are without make-up.
"They come to you with their most valuable assets - their bodies - so your job is to deliver their realistic goals and be their constant motivator."
According to Prince Hakeem's testimonial on Elite-Fit's website, she helped him improve his mobility, strength and cardiovascular fitness when he became a professional golfer.
Ms White was tasked with nursing Princess Purna back to health after she had fallen ill.
"I learnt more from her than she from me. She had such a brand new outlook on life - how simple life is and how much we take everything for granted," Ms White said.
She realised that "women always put themselves last".
"They are the foundation, but if they do not take care of themselves, the entire household falls apart," she said.
That is why she encourages women to take small steps towards fitness, saying: "Be selfish for that one hour or 30 minutes and take care of your health and well-being. You will have a lot more to offer when you are healthy and happier."