North Vancouver superstar personal trainer Peter Twist has redefined his field, worked with more than 1,000 pro and Olympic athletes, and even fought off Stage 4 cancer, but has he finally met his match?
“Straight up – I’m a big believer that if you set your mind to it, you can achieve anything,” Twist said with a chuckle when the North Shore News caught up with him Monday. “But I would say out of seven billion people in the world, I’m the very worst person at languages. It’s unbelievable. I don’t have a great ear for hearing what people are enunciating and I don’t have a great tongue for enunciating things properly.”
That could be a problem given his new gig: Twist recently announced that he has been named the head of performance coaching and rehabilitation for the Chinese Olympic Committee with a contract that runs at least through the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the 2017 China National Games in Tianjin and the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The contract is only a few weeks old but he’s already got some of his Twist Conditioning team members on the ground in China and he’s made several trips across the Pacific himself. And he’s doing his best to at least attempt a little bit of Mandarin.
“I’m going to try my hardest just so I can say a few words just to let them laugh at me and have fun showing that I’m trying to give them that respect,” he said, adding that his interpreter comes into play when more than the barest knowledge of the language is needed.
Tongue troubles aside, the position is the latest in a string of adventures for Twist that included a long stint as the conditioning coach for the Vancouver Canucks and branched into a global enterprise. He’s taken his training talents around the world but even he was a bit surprised when officials in China contacted him about taking a leadership role in their Olympic program.
“Without question one would not expect to be discussing that with China, and at the top level, summer and winter Olympics – that width of involvement,” he said. “I certainly welcomed it, it feels like a natural fit, but it does feel like a huge honour."
Working in China has allowed him to experience a totally new world, he said, adding that it’s been “fascinating” to work in a different environment than he’s used to.
“In Canada and the United States, a lot of the differences are diminishing. I could drive a highway from Vancouver to Florida and probably see the same five or 10 brands along the way, the same strip malls,” he said. “On a higher level philosophy, there’s a lot of conflict in the world, so any time in a very small way you get to step out and actually shake hands with someone and collaborate and work co-operatively together, the world sure needs a lot more of that.”
Twist, however, doesn’t have much time to ponder global harmony now that the Rio Olympics are just three months away. That’s not a lot of time to put his own stamp on the Chinese team.
“Some people think it’s crazy to even go in and try. … The Olympic training cycle is four years, and we have a handful of months,” he said, adding that he’s become accustomed to doing a lot of work in a small amount of time while working with professional athletes during their short off-seasons. “It’s crazy, but I’m used to it. A long time ago we had to learn how to get a lot done in a short amount of time. And although the situation is not ideal, having only three months to Rio, we are an ideal group to go in … we know how to make a positive difference in that short amount of time.”
Longer term, Twist said the focus will always be on China’s A-list sports and athletes in the summer and winter but he is hoping to add some Canadian content as well, particularly with China set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“Canadians, we know our winter sports,” he said with a laugh. “Long term we need to reach into things like ice hockey – some sports that aren’t even on the radar in China. … I’ll be the good Canadian – I’ll be selling people on the great sport of ice hockey all across China.”
Any challenges Twist faces now will pale in comparison to what he’s gone through in the past five years. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancer early in 2011 and went through intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatment to treat a large tumour that was near his brain stem. Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of cancer, a diagnosis that often means death, but Twist is still alive and thriving.
“I got annihilated,” he said of the treatment he went through. “All burnt up, inside and out. … I snuck through by a thread.”
He now says he feels like he’s at “1,000 per cent” health.
“I’m 52 and I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life,” he said. “It’s given me empathy to people who do have difficulties. Most people have some kind of challenge and I give them hope that it’s possible that they can get back up on their feet. I know how to do it – I’ve had to personally go through that journey.”
He’s on a new journey now, one that will certainly see him rack up the frequent flyer miles – Twist said he’ll be spending at least one week per month in China while the contract lasts.
“It’s a heck of a commute, that’s for sure,” he said with a laugh, adding that with a fit body and a fit mind, even a gruelling trip halfway around the world can be a fun adventure. “With flying it’s kind of simple – you just sit there, really, and someone else does all the work. It’s not really that hard, you just have to be patient and try to be present in the moment and enjoy chatting with whoever you’re chatting with along the way. If you keep a good mindset, it’s just fine.”