Sometimes your inspiration as a mum is close to home. Or close at least to your original home, which might be on the other side of the world as it is in my case. Nicole Kovacic is my bessie from primary school, and she has gone on to not just being the baddest scrunchie wearer of the late 1980s, but the bad ass mum of two boys with autism and an entrepreneur with a chic and inclusive gym focusing on whole body health.

Nicole runs two businesses with her husband – BUDO Fight Gear and Elev8 MMA gym in Melbourne, Australia.

Nicole is an inspiration because she did what many of us dream of – she kicked the corporate world and set up her dream business while raising her two babes. She deals with more challenges than many of us ever will, and that helps put into perspective the standard issue day to say challenges like getting to and from nursery drop off and pick up and encouraging the eating of veg.

So thanks to Nicole for her time in answering the Mumspo must-know questions:

Who are you? Tell us! 

Good question Mel! I am a full time advocate for my kids. I am the proud Mum of two boys Lucian 7, almost 8, and Kai 6. Wife and dual business partner to Daniel. First and foremost, I am a mummy and that title fills me with immense pride, love and big dose of exhaustion. Maybe a little more so than some (so may friends and family say) as both my sons have a diagnosis of autism and with this comes many highs and lows.
Everything else comes second to this role. You see my boys are enrolled in the mainstream schooling system as neither qualify for any school funding. This is due to the fact they both have very high language and cognitive assessment results. So apparently this means they are capable of attending school like every other child and should have no real issues adjusting, conforming or performing to the standard. Bullshit.
Both boys require so much assistance to maintain an acceptable level of participation and to quite honestly just be happy. So between speach therapy, psychology, occupational therapy, osteopathy and peadetrician appointments its safe to say that my kids dont really attend school full time. I do not feel sorry for myself or them, I do not begrudge anyone for this situation and I try my damned hardest to not complain about how busy life is, because its just not helpful.  However when I’m with my closest confidants and I’m raw from a difficult day of continuous meltdowns over why ‘the air smells purple today’ (seriously) I’ve been known to have my own full scale meltdown and admit defeat. Its part of the process and I usually find that after my cup has overfilled and my support crew help me cleanup the mess, only then can I regroup and seem to be a better mum for it. My boys are adorable, truly they are, they give me so much of what I need in life but they are also incredibly demanding little people that don’t usually share their struggles or anxieties with anyone other than myself. Autism isn’t a tragedy. In someways, it’s a blessing. Our children have taught us how to find genuine joy in the smallest achievements. We celebrate the smallest milestones the most now.
What is your creative business?
So I married a pretty cool guy who has a huge passion for martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu more specifically, but his passion goes beyond this. Its more a passion for bettering himself in all aspects of life and this passion is infectious to all those around him.
Not being challenged in his day job he came to me with an idea one night while I was breastfeeding our second baby saying that he wanted to start a business producing high quality gis (jiu jitsu kimono) as he was struggling to find one on the market that fit his shape correctly. Sleep-deprived as hell I gave him my full blessing and that night BUDO Fight Gear was born back in 2009.
Daniel made contact with factories and started a line of our very own line of kimonos. I still remember placing our first order of around $1000 and thinking that was a huge commitment! So business grew steadily and as well as us creating a website for retail sales we started establishing a wholesale community around Melbourne and then Australia, Australasia and even as far as the UK. BUDO Fight Gear has exceeded our projection numbers in revenue, stock and wholesale accounts each year since we established. So there in turn we faced our next hurdle. We needed a warehouse and a retail outlet and the thought of paying rent monthy for ‘dead space’ seemed almost a waste and this lead us to ELEV8 MMA which was established in 2013.
Our fantasy has always been to run a martial arts dojo but with a point of difference. We both envisaged it being more of a fitness and health rehab centre. Somewhere that people without athletic backgrounds would feel comfortable and could benefit from a variety of programs to regain optimum health.
Both of us have struggled immensely through recent years with major back and skeletal issues and we have spent many days and nights stuck flat out on the floor in excruciating pain waiting for back spasms to pass. Seeing specialist after specialist and being told that our bodies were prematurely aging and that nothing could be done to repair the damage was the major catalyst in us deciding to take a leap of faith and invest every last dime.
ELEV8 MMA offers classes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (adults and children), Muay Thai (Thai Kickboxing), Boxing, Ashtanga style yoga and a functional fitness class which incorporates Olympic lifting and gymnastics. Weight-based training has not only corrected my back issues/wrist problems and other ailments, it has personally changed my whole perception of body image.
Elev8 MMA
I have always struggled with accepting and appreciating my body and although I have spent the last 20 years weighing under 51 kgs and wearing a size 6 in clothes, I was extremely unfit. I loved exercise, but never committed to it and could never really find an activity to keep me motivated for more than a season. I have been Cross-fitting now for over two years at least three times a week and I still love it. I love pushing myself hard in a short space of time and beating my records, progressing further each week. I love that new members (some half my age) watch me work through a WOD (workout of the day) like a machine and remark on my strength and technique. What a buzz! I’m almost 38 and Mum of 2 and people tell me they want to be strong and fit like me. Seriously! How bloody cool is that?
And after the incredible journey I have had with motherhood – hyperemesis had me bedridden until week 18, extremely stressful and difficult birth, a baby that never slept, pregnant again nine months later, a baby that slept less than the first then having my whole heart ripped out and stomped on twice in six months as we navigated ourselves through two autism diagnosis. I felt like such failure. I hated myself and second guessed every decision I ever made about myself and my babies. Those were some dark times. They are behind me now but if you told me then that I would have people admiring my strength and determination one day, I would never have believed you. I kind of love being referred to as a ‘bad ass’ and I love that I can be one in our gym, with my kiddies watching me push harder instead of quitting when I’m out of breath.
What does it mean to you and how does it make you feel?
We have been open for just over a 18 months and have over 70 members, ranging from uni students, police officers, stay-at-home mums, working mums, tradies, IT people and the list goes on. The culture is great and everyone agrees that you can get fit at any gym, but our team offers so much more than just fitness and this gives me the warm and fuzzies inside! It’s exhausting operating two businesses alongside a young family and then add autism to that mix and what you get is a husband and wife team that don’t get to spend much downtime together. We have made huge sacrifices to chase this dream and at I would be lying if I told you that we have no regrets. Taking a massive drop in income, borrowing at a time in our lives when should be living comfortably and living week to week for the first 12 months is not something that I would recommend to anyone. It’s stressful at the best of times!
Rome wasn’t built in a day though and we knew it was going to be hard for the first couple of years. I am so very proud of my husband for his incredible strength to carry such a huge load, but more so for having the backbone to actually have a crack and chase this dream hard. When I walk into the gym and see him in his element helping people better themselves and watching people smash their own goals, I get overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude. I could not imagine us doing anything other than this now.
The hardest part?
The biggest difficulty was the substantial drop in income. I like to spend money and there was  none to spend, so this was really hard for me. Really hard!
Raising kids on my own. I never signed up for this deal. Daniel is the ‘fun dad’ and as he works 15 hour days currently, I work just as hard trying to make Sundays a day of complete respite for him to spend with his doting boys.
It’s about to get a whole lot harder as I am now enrolling to undertake my Cert 3 and 4 in Fitness and Personal Training as well partaking in the CrossFit Level 1 Certification. Very excited about this, but anxious about how and when I will find the extra time to complete the work. I haven’t studied in so long and this will be a huge challenge for me, but one I cannot wait to throw myself into.
Nicole Kovacic Elev8MMA
My inspiration?
My kids, hands down.
They have taught me humility. I have learnt to look past the harsh words many people say or the silly pride people wear on their shoulder and I now realise that everyone has their own battles or demons to fight. I just don’t waste my energy trying to hide mine anymore. I make sure my kids see me make mistakes daily and Itry my very hardest not to beat myself up over them, as I want them to see me as a human being that’s just doing the best I can, not some super-mum that can fix everything. We are ‘perfectly-imperfect’!
My children inspire me to look after myself better. Life can be really challenging for me at times and I’ve learnt the hard way that ignoring the signs of stress, fatigue and anxiety doesn’t make me a better mum. I rock at mummyhood, when I have spent time with my ‘squad’ – those girls lift me higher and I couldn’t imagine my life without them.
My husband inspires me with his positive out outlook on every situation. He is my glass half full guy.
And lastly, the sweetest yet most determined to succeed woman I have ever known, my mum. Where would I be without you, mum?
Nicole Kovacic Elev8MMA
Nicole’s top five tips for injecting a little exercise into every day. 
  1. Be willing to wake before everyone else in your family. Make an appointment with yourself to do what ever type of exercise you prefer before the sun comes up. Get prepared the evening prior, by laying out your outfit so you’re not hunting around in the dark and waking everyone else banging drawers and cupboard doors.
  2. I train hard at the gym, but never have enough time to warm down and stretch as I am usually running out the door, mentally planning meals and shopping lists as I make my way to school for pick up. I save the stretching, core work and foam roller muscle release work for when I finally plonk myself on the floor in front of the TV at night. Plank holds are very effective during ad breaks.
  3. Before bed, work through a series of sun salutation yoga sequences. It will only take you 5-10 minutes and its a great for clearing our busy minds in preparation for a good night’s sleep.
  4. So many school mums I hear of tell me that they wish they had time to exercise, yet I see so many of them sitting in their cars in the school car park sometimes up to 40 minutes before the bell goes. There’s your spare time! Get out of the car and walk the school perimeter briskly with the mum you are talking to in the car next to you.
  5. Best budget gym paraphernalia to purchase is a speed rope. I hate running in bad weather, so when it’s raining I aim for 6 minutes of double under skips and I am gasping for breath as much as I would be after running 5 ks. 


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