By Ben Cheshire
At 45, fitness expert and first-time mother Michelle Bridges wants to tackle the fast food industry in the same way the tobacco industry was tackled 50 years ago.
Bridges said having her own child had encouraged her to put out some hard-hitting messages about the junk food and sugar industries.
“The truth of the matter is they sell crap food and make people sick,” she told the Australian Story program.
The star of TV’s The Biggest Loser weight loss reality program said it made her angry to see the effect of fast food on children.
“We’re now seeing children who potentially have a lifespan shorter than their parents — never before have we seen that globally,” she said.
“I’d like to get out there and start fighting the fight for others who can’t fight the fight.”
Humble beginnings in working class Newcastle
Bridges has been described as Australia’s most influential health and fitness expert, with a growing business empire that last year saw her named on the BRW list of Australia’s richest self-made women.
But she had humble beginnings as the daughter of a broken home in working class Newcastle, in New South Wales in 1970.
Money was so tight that her mother, Maureen Partridge, could afford only one school uniform.
“It was a case of wash it each night, hang it on a little inside line, get up in the morning and iron it, so she had a clean uniform each day,” Ms Partridge said.
Her family moved house so many times that Bridges was bullied as the perennial ‘new kid’ at school.
Then she discovered that sport offered her a way of dealing with the bullying and made her feel strong and free.
“I fell in love with the competition of netball, basketball, hockey, soccer, water polo and equally I fell in love with the commitment and the discipline of training,” Bridges said.
Taught fitness classes at school as a student
Her first move towards a career in the fitness industry came when she was just 14 and noticed that some of her classmates were choosing to skip school sports lessons.
Bridges went to the principal and asked if she could teach fitness to those children.
When that was a success, she began teaching adults at the local squash court in Nelson Bay, north of Newcastle.
“She had her little cassette player and she made up the music and the moves, she made up some posters and she put them on the walls,” Ms Partridge said.
“The first class she got about four or five people, and then the next class she had a few more.”
‘Thank goodness for my fitness’ to fight off sexual attacker
At 18, Bridges was sexually assaulted while going for a job interview at a restaurant in Taree.
“I was just looking for a part-time job, and the next thing I know the guy was attacking me and basically trying to rape me,” she said.
“I absolutely fought back with everything I had — thank goodness for my fitness — I got out and ran all the way to the police station.”