When Dorothy and co. stumbled down the yellow brick road to find the Wizard and his magic, they lifted the curtain and found only an ordinary man telling them extraordinary things so they would believe in themselves …
I wanted to write a profile piece on Sam Wood because I thought it might help me to figure out what his magic power is. To find out why his online food and exercise program, 28 by Sam Wood, has inspired me to achieve so much more than other health and weight loss programs I’ve tried. I mean, essentially he’s not really presenting anything new to me. I’m 44. I’ve been around the diet and exercise block many, many times in the past 30 years. I’ve got the knowledge, the menu plans, and the exercise spreadsheets – yep, been there, done that, bought the t-shirt (XL, obviously). I’ve just never bloody done it for long enough to achieve sustainable results. I get bored, restless and complacent. I take umbrage with the trainer, the consultant, the food, the planning, the gym, the dollars I’m spending … any excuse to quit really. So I have quit. Everything. Until now.
Now I’m part of a program that feels like it’s setting me up for life. Other programs say they’ll give you the foundations for making the right decisions, and often they do – until you reach the end of the yellow brick road and your membership runs out and you sleep in one day and then throw the unused gym towel out the window. Sam’s program, on the other hand, is actually right there beside you when you decide to sleep in or take a month off or generally fuck up. Through the member-only 28 Facebook community, Sam’s coaching us, dishing out tough love right alongside the silly posts of him scoffing M&Ms, having a pedicure, hiding in McDonalds or sharing beers with his mates. He frequently makes himself the butt of his own jokes (literally, check this out ). In other words: he’s real. Just like you and me.
Given all this, I wanted to know more. I wanted to know why. And how. So I used my blog as an excuse to knock on his door and ask him some probing questions. I thought I’d get some dirt, peek behind the curtain, and see the wizard at work.
And you know what I discovered? Pretty much the exact same thing that Dorothy did.
That Samuel James Wood, born 21 May 1980 to Andrew and Wendy Wood in Hobart, Tasmania is a delightfully boring overachiever who’s been training people since that one day in primary school when he showed his schoolmates how to play marbles (a stunt he actually performed in front of a TV crew, which proves the showman started young).
So, if you too want to know how he’s done it, the path he’s travelled, and the pain he’s gone through, read on. But if you’re looking for skeletons and revelations of a secret love-child (that exists outside of my dreams), then I’m sorry, you’re shit out of luck. Sam Wood is just your average Mr Nice Guy, with a winning smile and a sponsorship from a Mercedes car dealership.
He’s an ordinary bloke doing extraordinary things. Just like the Wizard.
Sam Wood may be an imposing figure with soapie-star good looks and a charming personality but underneath that exterior is a man who gets the most from life when he’s helping others. Obviously, Sam’s come a long way from showing his friends how to play marbles, and following a 17-year career in the fitness industry, is now helping people transform their lives using 28 by Sam Wood.
The program has just hit its one-year anniversary and in that time Sam has created something of a cult following for his no-frills, real-life approach to health and fitness – a fact he says is also changing his own way of thinking and working.
“The program has completely transformed how I can help people, and work with them and influence them in a good way. I don’t know, I guess it’s my wildest dream realized,” he says.
He refers to us, his ‘28-ers’ and members of the program, as ‘family’. And just like real family, we reveal a lot to him: our fears, our dreams, and how much we want to bitch slap him when he sets a workout that’s just too damn hard!
“It’s true friendships, and the personalities shine through. I love that I can be absolutely real. No skeletons in the closet. What they get is me. Raw. Real. Everyday. No polished videos. I have the best job in the world, and it’s a dream come true.”
FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
So how did he get here? How did that dream become a reality, and why do we choose and trust him over all the others in the flooded market of online health and fitness?
In 1998 when the world was introduced to Monica Lewinsky, Brittany Spears and the Good Will Hunting bro-mance of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, 17-year-old Sam Wood had just finished high school and applied to the University of Tasmania to study law.
“I was pretty hopeless at school. I was lost because I wasn’t a good academic and because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. At the time I was so confused. I applied to get into psychology law and I remember reading the acceptance letter going, ‘I’ve watched too many bloody John Grisham movies or something. What the fuck is this? I don’t even know’,” he reveals.
After a friendly but stern chat with a lawyer friend of his father’s, Sam conceded that law wasn’t the right fit for him and that he perhaps needed to rethink his path. So he put his decision on hold and headed off to America for a month to play basketball and coach kids in Chicago. According to his father, Sam was the “gawky, gangly-looking kid” who was obsessed with sports. Any sport. Cricket. Hockey. Football. Basketball. Marbles.
Sam returned from America with a renewed and more focused interest in fitness.He’d used a gym regimen to transform himself from a six-foot-three skinny kid to a strapping young man with the beginnings of killer abs and a clearer idea of what he wanted in life. He traded the law degree for one in human movement and headed off to Ballarat University in rural Victoria.
But after a year of university life, he was still restless. The academic way, with its guidelines, rigour and processes, didn’t sit well with Sam. He wanted to get busy working with what he was learning. So, in January 2000, he headed to Melbourne to take up work experience at Harper’s, a Bayside gym. He’d convinced the owner, Craig Harper (now one of Australia’s leading presenters, educators, coaches and commentators in health and fitness), to give him a go – despite the fact he was still living over two hours away in Ballarat.
The work experience gig turned into Sam’s first real job. So with nothing keeping him in Ballarat (he’d just split with his girlfriend and managed to transfer his studies to the Melbourne-based Australian Catholic University), he loaded up his Commodore station wagon and made Melbourne home.
A HEAD FOR BUSINESS
If I only had a brain
While getting a taste for the real world and real paid work at Harper’s, Sam says he managed to “dribble across the finish line” of his university qualifications, and could see his gamble of moving to the big city was starting to pay off. Literally. While his peers were lucky to crack $600 a week as a personal trainer, Sam was stashing away a lot more than that. Like a gaggle of girls on a hen’s night, the ladies lined up to throw money at him in return for a session of sweat and dumbbell lifting. What’s even more incredible is Sam achieved his success with zero self-promotion. Sure, he was charismatic which the ladies loved, but more than that, he was genuinely committed, he cared about his clients and he was getting results, and that powerful combination was selling itself.
But not one to rest on his laurels, Sam started looking for more to do while his clients were at their 9 to 5 jobs. And he found it in children’s health and wellbeing.
“Training kids was an eye opener. Little Johnnie’s parents would drop him off and then sort of dust their hands of their health and fitness responsibilities. Like getting a personal trainer was just ticking a box,” Sam recalls.
This meant Sam had to have some tough conversations and tackle the issues head-on.
“I’d have to have some pretty deep, confronting chats with parents about what really needed to be done and how it wasn’t going to work unless they made the commitment and some changes themselves.
“The whole ‘kids, parents, health and fitness’ thing really is cyclical. You can’t do one without the other successfully. There’s no point getting children in the right mindset if Mum then goes and buys a whole bunch of crap from the supermarket, and there’s no point Mum buying all this healthy food if the kids won’t eat it. It’s the same with fitness. Kids need to be taxied to sport events and gyms, so the parents have got to be signed up to that too,” he says.
The influence Sam has on people is not lost on him.
“I know I can be the difference in [these kids’] lives. And to be able to influence at such an early stage in someone’s life is really quite a privilege. I take that very seriously,” he says.
Sam’s interest in and passion for children’s health and fitness soon became his next business venture. In 2007 he again partnered with Craig Harper to start Gecko Sports, a sport and fitness program for children. He remained at its helm for a few years and it’s now a franchised operation run all over Australia.
Today, 17 years since his work experience at Harper’s, Sam owns The Woodshed, his own gym and personal training centre (complete with on-site café run by his younger brother Alex), on the original Bayside site. Sam moved in and set up shop in 2014 when Harper’s moved out, and he hasn’t looked back. The property is well known to many Melbournians – if only for the larger-than-life image of the man himself (and his naked torso!) beaming down at traffic on one of Melbourne’s busiest arterial roads (Pictured at right).
So there’s no denying Sam has a strong head for business, which is surprising since, by his own admission, he was a better athlete than academic. To understand his success and the positive mindset he brings to life, one only has to look at his upbringing.
Although they weren’t wealthy, Andrew and Wendy Wood managed to send Sam and Alex, and their younger sister Hannah, to private schools. The Woods felt that even if their kids didn’t excel academically, they’d be exposed to social infrastructure that could help to springboard them in their chosen directions. In other words, Sam’s parents let him and his siblings shape their own destinies. If that approach sounds familiar to 28ers, it’s because Sam applies the very same philosophy to us. He puts us in the driver’s seat and gives us all we need to make the right decisions for our own health and fitness.
At 15, when most young blokes are running amok on the football field, larking with their mates, and generally living a carefree teenage existence, Sam’s world shifted off its axis. His mother was diagnosed with non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Within six months, she was gone and the family was understandably heartbroken. Sam gathered his courage and stepped up to help his father raise the two younger children, and found the added responsibility helped to fill the void and manage his grief.
“It was all pretty ordinary,” admits his father. “We were living in hope, but she just went downhill fast and Sam was incredibly strong, but I know he was also very scared. We all were. I know we’ll never get over it.”
The bond that Sam, the eldest of the three Wood children, had developed with his mother laid the foundation for his relationships with women going forward – a fact he doesn’t fail to recognize.
“I was pretty inseparable with her. I spent all day everyday with her until she passed away. So she was a big influence in how I relate to women,” Sam says.
RAISING HIS PROFILE
If I only had a heart
With both The Woodshed and Gecko Sports humming along, Sam was ready to tackle something new, and so he started fleshing out his idea for an online health and fitness program that clients could do anywhere, anytime.
Sam didn’t believe in applying the same restrictions he’d seen in other programs though; he wanted to offer a program that gave its members more freedom, not less.
“Other programs train you like it’s a punishment. They set you food guidelines like it’s a punishment. It’s all about taking things away, rather than giving you the skills or the tools or the recipes to actually enjoy a healthy life,” Sam asserts.
With the initial idea bubbling away in his mind, the only real roadblock Sam could see was his lack of profile. He told his father he’d need to build a following if he was to successfully launch an online success story.
And then came The Bachelor.
When encouraged by a Woodshed client to apply for season three of the hit reality TV show, Sam reluctantly agreed. He wanted something to change in his life: he had established businesses, but he was still single at 34.
After an arduous casting process that involved psych. tests, screen tests and kissing booths (okay, I made that last bit up), Sam James Wood won the role and became the third Australian bachelor.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to Sam at this time was that his hunch proved correct: something did indeed need to change in his life, but it wasn’t something external. It was Sam himself – and while filming the series, Sam admitted as much to Bachelor host, Osher Gunsberg.
Osher tells it like this: “I think with Sam, it was the most profound change that I’ve seen in someone. On the last night when he had chosen Snezana, I asked him, ‘So, what’s changed since you started?’, and he said, ‘Well, I’ve realised that all this time I was looking for the other person in the relationship to change, but I’ve realised it was me, I’m the one who has to.’ He had this incredible, insightful revelation that allowed him to finally, truly open his heart – which is required to really fall in love – and [it] was just beautiful to watch.”
Reality TV is notorious for exposing and exploiting the very worst of human traits. It puts its subjects under a microscope with a filter I like to call ‘unreality’. There is nowhere to hide when the cameras are on and the show’s producers are orchestrating every move and storyline for maximum viewer entertainment. To come through a reality TV show, not only as a success but also with your dignity and nice-guy status intact, takes more than luck. It takes more than charm and wily good looks. It takes authenticity.
‘Authentic’ is a word that comes up time and time again when you talk to people about Sam Wood. His open, honest and entirely genuine approach to people made great TV. Well, that and his abs, because let’s face it, the man is no slouch.
In an industry that thrives on body image, competitiveness and narcissistic tendencies, Sam is a dichotomy of sorts. Sure, he’s a dead-set spunk and has the physique of someone who has made health and fitness their life’s goal, but what sets him apart from others in his position is the way he connects with people.
And by ‘people’, I mean ‘women’.
Sam is a man very much in touch with his feminine side. He frequently signs his Facebook posts with an ‘x’ (or several even), and a quick scan of his Instagram reveals evidence of man-scaping, beauty treatments and loads of downtime with his ‘girls’. He’s a woman’s man – a trait that was undoubtedly not lost on The Bachelor producers when they cast.
Australia learned a lot about Sam during his 12 weeks in front of the cameras, and from the ever hilarious ‘recaps’ from Mamamia writer, Rosie Waterland, who pulled no punches in both illuminating and entertaining her readers. Sam and his “bachie peen” were mocked and loved in equal measure.
Through all of this, Sam remained steady. Viewers could find very little to loathe about him. He hardly put a foot wrong, which was remarkable given he faced off with 21 women who were primped and preened to within an inch of their push-up bras. Treating these women as friends and seemingly agonizing over every rose he gave out (Heather anyone?), Sam endeared himself to everyone, from those of us in the cheap seats at home to the crews in front and behind the cameras.
Osher says Sam’s ability to communicate with people is his ‘super power’.
“I could see that he was quite skilled in communicating in such a way that would make everyone feel comfortable. I [saw that] when we did a group date with 30 kids. I got to see him in action, as he was communicating with a bunch of five- and six-year olds. I’ve seen him do it with people twice his age and I’ve seen him do it with highly stressed beautiful women on their first night meeting him. His superpower is making the person he’s speaking to feel very comfortable.”
As someone who has always been self-employed, Sam is the first to admit he finds it difficult to take direction from others, and concedes he’s not an easy person to manage. He frequently ignored the producer’s brief on The Bachelor which, as it turned out, meant Australia got authentic reality TV and Sam got his girl, Perth-based stunner Snezana (Snez) Markoski.
“I chose a girl from a completely different culture who lived on the other side of the country and we met on national television. I never shy away from just how crazy it is. It’s as crazy as it sounds I guess,” Sam laughs.
Snez (where the ‘Z’ is pronounced like a ‘ssh’, as in ‘Shut up, she’s gorgeous’) and Sam present the same in real life as they did on our TV screens. Watching them interact with each other as they go about their morning routine in their three-bedroom renovated home in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs is like watching a loosely choreographed dance. As clichéd as that sounds, they are in step with each other and appear to have a genuine and deep affection. It’s entirely sickening.
In the short time I spent with them while researching this article, they were annoyingly normal. Sam took out the garbage and asked Snez where a particular piece of clothing was as she tried to coax 11-year-old Eve to eat breakfast before going to school.
Eve was eight when her mother’s season of The Bachelor was filmed and, having encouraged her to head off to Sydney for the adventure, had to wait patiently in the comfort and privacy of her hometown in Perth. Bachelor viewers eventually got to meet the bright and spirited girl as Sam whittled the contenders down to his final few ladies. As we watched him and Snez fall for each other, the question on everyone’s lips was, “What about Eve?”
Choosing a single mother as a life partner in front of a nation of addicted television viewers only helped to cement Sam’s resolve – something the newly married Osher says he and Sam spoke about a few times during filming.
“He and I talked a lot, because I met my now wife [mother-of-one Audrey Griffen] on the set of The Bachelor the year before. Over the course of the series, Sam would occasionally come and talk to me about what it was like dating a woman with a kid. Yeah, he and I had quite a few conversations about that,” Osher recalls.
These days, Snez and Eve are Sam’s “girls”. He openly talks about his new ready-made family life and the changes it has brought to his once professional bachelor life. He’s now searching for that elusive work–life balance like the rest of us, even while he’s coaching us through our 28 days via Facebook. Sam’s been on the school run and posted shout-out videos of appreciation to all the 28er mothers, acknowledging the daily grind that is parenthood. Snez and Eve feature with Sam in many of his social media posts, and it’s clear he and Eve have developed an easy bond.
ALL ABOUT 28
The end of the rainbow
Sam had to give up his personal training clients at The Woodshed in order to film The Bachelor, so he was in something of a limbo during the eight extra weeks he and Snez had to hide out until the series finale aired and would finally reveal their love and new life together. It turned out to be the perfect downtime in which to plan and research what would become (in February 2016) 28 by Sam Wood.
One year on, Sam says next to meeting Snez, 28 is the best thing he’s ever done and he feels settled into his life calling.
“Before starting 28 I had been a personal trainer for nearly 17 years, and when I was launching an online program I hoped the influence and the power and the results and the engagement that I would get would be close to what you achieve in a face-to-face capacity, but I never actually thought it would get to the same height. I was so wrong. It beats it. I see my 28ers everyday, sometimes four or five times a day,” he says.
By ‘seeing’ he is of course referring to the copious amounts of selfie videos of coaching and life tips he posts to his online community through the Facebook group.
There is no doubt that the force is strong within the online community. Some refer to it as a cult but are quick to clarify with “but in a good way”; others use the discussion to help keep themselves on track or to rouse and motivate others on their journey. Scrolling through the posts you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d just stepped into the most motivated and happiest place on the Internet!
Stephanie Kassis, a success story from the first year of the program, says the online community is unique: “The Facebook group is where we all help each other out and keep ourselves accountable and get motivation to stay on track. It’s also where we get to talk to Sam every day. The level of interaction we have with Sam and his crew is incredible and it’s what sets this program apart from all the others.”
DOING THINGS HIS WAY
If I only had the nerve
There is no doubt Sam sets the tone and shapes the future of the 28 by Sam Wood program.
In stark contrast to the young adult who didn’t know which path to take, Sam now knows exactly what he wants and the way he wants things done – a fact that was tested late in 2016 when he parted ways with the web company he’d used from the start.
Sam established the framework, developed all the content, and partnered with a web company to help bring it to life. The first six months saw amazing growth, with membership growing by the thousands. Then, part-way through 2016, Sam learned his platform was about to be used to develop several other competing offers. Understandably this rattled him, so he gathered his courage and, with the help of some long-time business colleagues and mentors, leapt into running the web-based business on his own.
Turns out it was a good call: Sam says it’s given his program a new lease of life and put a raft of opportunities on the horizon.
“I knew we’d get some bumps along the way, but ultimately 28 is my baby and I’m very protective of it. Heading off on our own gave us more freedom. It gave us more flexibility and more room for growth and allowed the uniqueness that is 28 to remain unique.”
The uniqueness he’s talking about is of course the personal contact we, his 28ers, have with him and fact that every workout is different – a full 28 minutes recorded in his home and released each weekday of the 28-day program. He’s real and unrehearsed and we reciprocate his authenticity and passion, because it’s contagious.
I’ve been a member since August 2016 and it is as inspiring as it is overwhelming. Members share their highs and lows and all the challenges and life obstacles they face in their quest for a healthier and happier self.
One of the most endearing and successful members is Edinburgh-based Linda Wawrzyniak. As an original 28er, Linda has shared every step of her remarkable 54-kilogram weight loss journey with her fellow 28ers. Sam was so impressed with Linda’s results and the way she used her story to motivate others that he and Snez went all the way to Edinburgh to surprise Linda on her doorstep one Sunday morning last month. As you do.
Linda’s story and the impact it’s had on Sam and others of us in the 28 community is now the subject of a short documentary Sam has made to celebrate Linda’s results and to show others what can be achieved using his program. (RIGHT: That’s the three of them pictured last month during Sam and Snez’s surprise visit…click on the image to watch Linda’s inspiring story).
So it’s clear Sam is a man who is as passionate about helping others as he is headstrong about his desire to succeed. He says:
“My attitude to life is never tell me why I can’t, tell me how I can. People who tell me why I can’t piss me off to be honest.”
Craig Harper, Sam’s first boss and arguably the man who helped him find his footing in the fitness industry, says Sam has always had the right blend of know-how and people skills.
“The thing about coaching or teaching or mentoring or being a trainer is, it’s largely about the people. Of course you need knowledge, you need science and you need qualifications but at the end of the day if you have got all of that but you don’t have people skills, well then you don’t have a gig,” Harper says.
And that’s something it appears Sam understands when talking about his success over others in the market.
“You can look a million bucks, you can have the best ads in the world, you can have a great smile, you can be a good communicator, but if you don’t have high emotional intelligence, the other stuff doesn’t matter. You need to get what makes people tick.”
In a nutshell, you need brains, heart and courage.
In its first year, thousands of people have followed Sam down his yellow brick road into the land of fitter, healthier and happier lives. The 28 by Sam Wood Facebook feed reveals story after story of how people have worked at or adapted the program to suit their own needs; of how Sam and their fellow 28ers have inspired them to achieve more than they thought they could. And about how they’ve overcome obstacles to find their nerve and learnt to love themselves.
And, according to Sam, it’s only the beginning.
“I feel like we’re just getting started. I feel like with so many improvements happening to 28 every single month to make it better, to make it more engaging, to teach you more, to challenge you more and to create that change that you’re looking for – we really are only scratching the surface.”
So strap yourselves in darling 28ers, click your heels and follow your heart. Sam Wood will show you that somewhere over that rainbow is the best version of you.