Australian Celebrities

Commando Steve is breaking down mental health stigma one push-up at a time

“I’m thinking of my children…”
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He earned his “tough guy” persona on the back of The Biggest Loser, but there’s a lot more to Steve “Commando” Willis than meets the eye.

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Despite having maintained a formidable presence over the years, Steve is making a point to be vulnerable by opening up about his mental health, and how he’s guiding his own family through it too.

“You may see this façade and I might be pretty good at putting on, to a degree, this tough guy persona,” he tells New Idea. 

“But me as a person and all the different dimensions that make up me… is everything that makes up any other person.

“I get upset like anyone, I get frustrated like anyone, I get anxious, and I have those senses, those feelings of being overwhelmed from time to time.”

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Steve, pictured here with his girlfriend Harika, shot to fame after The Biggest Loser. (Credit: Instagram)

In light of Movember for The Push-Up Challenge, Australia’s largest fitness-based mental health event, Steve chats to us about his involvement, and why everyone should be getting in on it too.

“We’re all human and we all have things that we struggle with – whether that be in a physical sense or a mental, wellbeing, fitness, or health sense,” the personal trainer says.

“Rather than looking for the cure side of things, in a more preventative measure, and I think that’s the beauty of the push-up challenge and a lot of things that we are now so much more aware of.”

It’s something that also helps us understand ourselves as humans and raises questions like, “what are things that we can put in place that help us better manage” our overall wellbeing.

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The personal trainer is opening up about mental health to break down stigma. (Credit: Instagram)

From then, as Steve explains, it’s being able to communicate how you feel, and being able to articulate it in a way or describing it that really makes a difference.

“I see that in my own children; my six-year-old kind of expressing in words how he feels, or just that maybe discomfort, or he is feeling a bit angry, or he is feeling elated,” he says of his son Axel, whom he shares with ex Michelle Bridges.

“And I think there’s a lot of beauty in that and it’s helping us to formulate better strategies and plans to help others.”

Upon reflecting on his own life, upbringing and being at that age, Steve realised he “didn’t know how to communicate” as well as he does now.

“I wasn’t shown, we weren’t shown as such, and that just shows how far we as humans have come in understanding ourselves a little bit better.”

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It’s important to Steve that his kids, all pictured here, know how to communicate their feelings. (Credit: Instagram)

The father-of-four is working to set an example for his kids – sons Jack, 10, Axel, six, and daughters Brianna, 23, and Ella, 13 – by doing 3,139 push-ups across 24 days in June.

The number reflects how many lives were lost to suicide in Australia in 2020, with men accounting for three out of every four suicides across the country.

“It’s not just a number – it represents something,” he says. “The reason for it being a push-up is anyone can engage with it anywhere and at any point in time, but not losing sight of the reasons why we’re doing it.”

“You can do a number of push-ups, you can go, ‘that hurts, no more, no more,’ but if you stop just for a moment, just consider the heartache, the anguish, the upset, the suffering, the fear that someone is experiencing.

“Or day in, day out, it takes them to that place where they feel they’ve had to end it because they can’t go on. And that discomfort of 20 push-ups or 150 push-ups helps to just confirm some resolve and a commitment to oneself and to others.”

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“We’re all human and we all have things that we struggle with.” (Credit: Instagram)

With his kids at the forefront of his mind, Steve wants to help break the stigma around speaking about mental health, especially with men, and pave the way for future generations.

“I’m thinking of my children coming through and their comprehension and understanding of themselves and where they’re at and their perspective around things is extremely important,” he says.

“They’re going to be the adults of tomorrow so us doing our little bit and engaging with it is showing them that there is care and concern and to look after ourselves is extremely important and the best place to learn is when you’re young.”

Funds donated to Movember through The Push-Up Challenge will help deliver life-saving men’s mental health and suicide prevention tools and programs across Australia. Visit the website for more information, and visit this site for more details on the challenge and to register.

If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website.

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