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Steph Prem

More than ever, employee wellbeing needs to be at the forefront of organisations’ minds.

Steph Prem

Managing Director,
RISE by Studio PP

Steph Prem is a former Winter Olympian and five-time Australian snowboarding champion. After a serious injury prematurely ended her professional sporting career, she dived into a gruelling five-year recovery and what has become an enduring wellness journey. Today, she pours her passion into Studio PP, a premium health and lifestyle brand that inspires clients to delve into their own health and wellbeing to nurture optimal physical and mental health. In early 2020, Steph partnered with 101 Collins to develop ‘RISE by Studio PP’, a full-service on-site corporate wellness offering exclusive to 101 Collins tenants.

For those who don’t know you, can you share your early professional journey?

I grew up in an active, sporty family. I studied dance for 15 years and was a professional athlete/snowboarder for 10 years, so health and fitness has always been a huge part of my life. I was a five-time Australian snowboarding champion and ranked top 20 in the world. In 2010, I was the only Australian female to qualify for the Winter Olympic Games in snowboardcross, which was an absolute career highlight. I retired from professional sport just weeks after the Olympics due to a serious injury.

 

That injury became a crossroads in your career and your life. Can you tell us about that?

I’d just recovered from a heavy fall at the Winter Olympics a couple of weeks earlier, where I’d suffered some broken ribs, but I was determined to finish the season on a high at the World Cup finals and secure my world ranking. I knew the minute my board left the jump that something was wrong. It was a frightening feeling. I didn’t make the landing of a 60ft jump, instead I came straight down and hit the flat, missing the landing and the transition. My physiotherapist describes it as the equivalent of falling off the first floor of a building onto concrete and likened the impact to a car accident. I fractured and compressed the two lowest vertebrae in my spine, had nerve damage, broke five ribs, subluxed my pelvis, did severe damage to my sacrum, tore my hamstring, had haematoma and severe spinal whiplash damage and concussion. It was horrific to say the least. The pain was excruciating, and it left me bedridden for weeks and severely debilitated for years.

As part of my physical and mental recovery, I studied clinical Pilates and health coaching and spent the following years doing motivational speaking, running health retreats, working as a personal trainer and clinical Pilates instructor. I then went onto open several health and fitness studios. There was a lack of studios with a modern yet holistic approach to health and wellness (and injury rehabilitation), which is what led me to extend my team and build out the Premium Performance business.

 

As a young athlete, what did it take to reach the top in snowboarding? What was your life like? How has that translated to business?

Being a professional snowboarder in Australia 15 years ago was a bit like being on the Jamaican bobsled team! I had to chase winters (I had 11 back-to-back winters and not a single summer) and looking after my physical and mental health was my full-time job. I missed qualifying for the 2006 games, so I left university and dedicated my time to training to qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympics. I trained 60 hours a week for the four years leading up to the Olympics. I lived overseas for five to six months a year competing, and spent the other half of the year training.

A big part of what I do now is translating high performance into everyday life, bringing the transferable skills that I learnt in professional sport into everyday life and sharing them with people. I’m obsessed with high performance, not just because I come from a high-performance sports background, but to help others to drive effort and better output, productivity and wellbeing. Studio PP, which (aptly) stands for ‘Premium Performance’ is all about being the most premium version of yourself to live a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life.

 

Let’s talk more about the link between physical and mental health. What sort of things can business leaders and corporates do to live well?

Everyone understands that exercise is good for them, but they don’t tend to know the there’s a direct link between physical and mental health. Research shows that people with serious mental health conditions are at high risk of experiencing chronic physical conditions. People with chronic physical conditions are at risk of developing poor mental health.

We need to exercise not just to support and strengthen our musculoskeletal system, but also our nervous and immune systems. Movement and exercise are a direct pathway to stimulating the happy hormones in the body such as endorphins and serotonin and, as a result, can reduce the stress and trauma in the body, which can reduce levels of anxiety and/or depression. Exercise also improves your mood, quality of sleep and lowers risk of illness. So, for me, physical health is the catalyst to improving and treating your health more holistically.

 

What does it take for you to run and maintain such a successful business?

Sport is my passion, my first love and a big driver in my business. I think my competitive spirit, drive and work ethic help me run my business. To be one of the best athletes in the world, you have to do the work. I take the same approach to running a business. In sport, I learned early on to stay in your own lane and not worry about what other competitors are doing around you – to work hard and stay focused on your own game. For me, that’s staying passionate and true to what I believe in, what my message is and inspiring my team and others to do the same.

Health is at the core of everything I do. The health of my business, myself and both my personal and professional relationships. It’s what helps me continue to work and lead in the health space, building on the philosophy of what it means to me and others to ‘be well’ and ‘live well’.

 

How has your accident shaped the person you are today?

Until my accident I had taken my health and fitness for granted for 24 years of my life. I didn’t know what life would be like without my health. I went from being an extreme sports athlete with no fear, to not being able to get through a 20-minute physical rehabilitation session without a great deal of pain. It really changed the way I looked at health and fitness and the way I coached and educated others. Health really is your wealth. My level of empathy and understanding shifted. Understanding that everyone is coming at health and wellness from a completely different stage and angle.

 

Like many others, you’ve reverted to online during the pandemic. Do you think that’s here to stay and what’s next for you and your wellness evolution?

If you had asked me that question 12 months ago, I probably would have had a completely different answer. The goal posts are constantly moving, but now more than ever, employee wellbeing needs to be at the forefront of organisations’ minds. Our role at RISE and Studio PP is ensuring that employees are healthy and resilient both at work and at home as we transition to a more global and digital world. Our focus will continue to be on how we can deliver the best experience, education and inspiration around health to our clients, whether it’s in person or remotely. I want to continue to inspire and work with our organisations and teams to foster work life balance and wellbeing.

 

Lastly, can you tell us three ways people can be happier and healthier?

  1. Focus on the things you can control. The things that are completely in our control are our selfcare and wellbeing. Although these can sound like buzzwords, they are genuine practises for mental health and building a more resilient mindset.
  2. Fostering positive and healthy lifestyle habits. If I had to pick them, I’d say exercise, mindfulness and nutrition. Ideally, a combination of all three.
  3. It’s simple and open to interpretation but speak to yourself and treat yourself more kindly.

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