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Train hard, fight easy, honour your potential. Find your Solace!

In this month’s NRF spotlight series, we profile Solace Muay Thai (SMT) Ballina, owned and operated by fighter/head trainer Spiro Darzanos.

It was at 15 years of age Spiro first had the urge to delve into some sort of martial arts training, and he found his calling in Muay Thai – the beautiful and ancient art of eight limbs. Juggling Muay Thai with a successful career in Australian Football League (AFL) until his mid 20s, Spiro then focused exclusively on refining his techniques in the martial arts, which soon led to competing in the ring. Spiro honed his skill, learning from many knowledgeable trainers over time, both here in Australia and abroad.

I’ve trained and competed in Muay Thai for over 10 years.  I’ve also trained and travelled within Thailand.”  

Spiro Darzanos ~ Owner of Solace Muay Thai
Spiro Darzanos (left) head coach/owner – Photo Credit Sharon Richards Photographics

Seeking further knowledge and development – and with a desire to ‘give back’ by sharing his skills and helping others interested in the sport, Spiro began teaching both Muay Thai and kickboxing. Working at Strong Heart Muay Thai, in Adelaide, Spiro – alongside head coach, owner and great mate Jordan Fielding, it was around this period that he was also growing disillusioned with his career as an emergency nurse, particularly the hostile environment in which he had to work. “Working alongside Jordan really opened my eyes and made me realise that I wanted to [be a Muay Thai trainer] on a more permanent basis, and to create my own place of solace.”

“I made the move to Byron Bay, for a lifestyle change – without any intention of opening a gym, and met one of my good friends – Brodie McLeod, who asked me to be his strike coach for MMA. Brodie ignited the spark, and in early 2018 Solace was born on the back deck of my home, whilst holding pads for him. I Googled Ballina (my hometown) and noticed it had grown to a population of 40 thousand people and had no Muay Thai gym… Two weeks later I had secured my ABN and a Scout hall to work from.” 

“Solace Muay Thai was created through many life experiences and friendships, made along this journey we call life. I have always wanted to create an environment, whether it be my previous workplaces, or my old gyms, where we could all be working harmoniously [with] togetherness… so, the meaning ‘Solace’ – a place of peace and comfort, was what I wanted to create with my gym. Hence the tagline… find your place of Solace.”  Solace Muay Thai, in turn, is a place of comfort; a peaceful place, where we can learn this beautiful art, without any judgement or bravado, whilst keeping it in its purest form. 

Available to all ages and genders – Muay Thai gives practitioners many skills and tools to deal with both internal and external challenges in life, teaching courage and resilience. It also promotes self-development and strength building – both physically and mentally, promotes stress relief, all-round cardio fitness and most importantly, it’s fun!

Coming from an Emergency Registered Nursing background, I have had to deal with many physical and mental health issues within the community. After teaching for so many years, I found that Muay Thai also assists in the rehabilitation process for those looking for an outlet in life. Whether it be learning difficulties, mental health issues, addictions, weight loss or overall health and well-being. Solace Muay Thai offers that outlet – whilst still being a nurturing family-friendly atmosphere.

Now in our new gym premises, and as the fastest growing gym in the Northern Rivers, Solace Muay Thai is open Monday to Friday (morning and evening), in addition to Saturday mornings. We offer a range of classes for all ages and levels, including kids’ classes, mixed Muay Thai (all levels), advanced / fighters’ classes and technical sparring. We also offer private personal training sessions with qualified and experienced coaches. Whilst we offer a range of membership packages, we also welcome casuals, as well as visiting athletes. Our ever-evolving facilities currently includes 11 heavy bags, a wall mounted teardrop and boxing ring. We pride ourselves on the cleanliness of the gym, as well as the health and safety of our members.

Bringing authentic Thai boxing techniques to Ballina, our experienced trainers, teachers, coaches and father-figures offer more than just training and fitness – they also offer friendship, mentorship and a listening ear. Being a great team or coach entails all of these attributes, and as a gym, we understand that each individual is different with varying needs, which Solace strives to achieve through promotion of its community-centred family vibe. 

As a tight knit group, who look out for one another, it has been my goal to continue to build upon the camaraderie within our membership base. “We have created a social group, where we regularly hang out on Sundays, in particular, and have a group lunch, where we invite all members to join in, and interact outside of Muay Thai. Our women’s group also get together and organise ladies-only breakfasts, following Saturday morning training sessions. 

Presently we have six amateur fighters, five of whom are NRF members.  They include: Josh Russell 72 kilos 1 (1-0-0); John Slade 63 kilos 3 (1-2-0); Alex Ziedan 60 kilos 2 (1-1-0); Matt Haysom 73 kilos 0 (0-0-0); and Hannah Morgan 52 kilos 1 (1-0-0).  “We have devised an authentic fight camp experience (based on my own training) – which, depending on the individual – consists of a 2 to 3-month camp, involving the full fight training regime.  Fitness and nutrition is a key feature, as well as the traditional art of Muay Thai – which is difficult to teach, but not impossible. To develop the right mindset in our protégés, we focus on repetition.  Our methods vary, depending on the fighter, so being adaptable is the key, as a coach.

Hannah Morgan (right) – Photo Credit A1 Photography

At this point, we have now been open for one year and seven months. In this short time frame, we have achieved so much as a group. Some of our gym achievements include:

  • Having a professional Thai trainer from renowned gym Revolution Phuket (formerly known as Sitsonpeenong), visit on a three-month visa to train classes and fighters; 
  •  Embarked on an annual two-week Thailand retreat at Revolution Phuket with 14 members, with the highlight, watching head coach Spiro competing in Patong Stadium;
  • Partnered up with Nick Atkins to co-promote Ballina’s very first fight night (held at Kirra on the Gold Coast on 9 November 2019), with 19 Solace Muay Thai members competing on the night! The logistics proved a huge challenge; however, it was very rewarding seeing so many home-grown challengers jump the ropes and show true grit and determination for the first time. As a gym owner and head coach, this was a very proud moment!

“In January, we will host an 8-week women’s challenge; followed in February, with the launch of a 10-week fight challenge, partnering up again with Nick Atkins, to host a bigger event – this time on home-turf in Ballina. In June, our second Thailand trip has been booked and organised to Revolution Phuket, comprising two-weeks intense training, followed by a seven-day restorative Yoga and Meditation retreat, on a secluded part of Kho Phangan.”

As for the future… Spiro is both optimistic and excited and aims “to keep developing and providing the service that has made us successful to date. My coaching is evolving, as I am, and slightly changes the more experienced I become. I have also recently been joined by Alex Zieden, one of our fighters, who has commenced in a coaching role with us… [and] whilst still in the early stages, Alex has a real future.  We are also looking to open Solace 2, in a location to be released soon! So, keep an eye out.”

For up and coming enthusiast, Spiro advocates…

listening to your coach. They have been there and done that (most of them). Do not stray from the training regime and do your own thing or think you know it all. There is a method to their madness.”

“We invite the local community to come and join us on this amazing ride… let’s build our community and family vibe and create long lasting friendships in the place of Solace Muay Thai Ballina. Train hard, fight easy, honour your potential. Find your Solace.”

Interested in becoming a member of Solace Muay Thai, or wish to book one of their fighters, get in touch with our NRF Fight Management Team.

16yrs John Slade (right) – Photo Credit Sharon Richards Photographics