There’s nothing like a not-so-subtle hint from a girlfriend that one’s svelte physique has become a little, well, portly to galvanise a man into action.
Dressed head to toe in athletic gear, enthusing about his upcoming 115-mile hike – to be followed by a quick trek up a 4,000-ft volcano as a “sort of side thing” – it’s hard to believe Sugar Ridge owner Aidan McCauley wasn’t always a green smoothie-guzzling endorphin junkie.
And while he certainly wouldn’t be the first to appreciate the physical and emotional benefits that a daily regimen devoted to health and wellness bring, few have taken such strides towards taking others along for the ride.
“I was getting a bit chubby in my late 20s and my girlfriend at the time started to remark how much better I would look if I made a few changes,” Aidan smiles.
That first brush with the gym two decades ago quickly became a habit, one further enhanced a few years later when Aidan quit smoking and moved from the UK to Antigua.
The Caribbean islands’ clean sea air and outdoor lifestyle give anyone looking to embrace their inner Jillian Michaels a head start. So much so that 2018 was officially named the region’s ‘year of wellness and rejuvenation’ by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO). Rounding off 12 months of health and fitness-themed initiatives was a contest to declare one extraordinary person the region’s ‘wellness ambassador’.
With exceptional gym and spa facilities, diverse exercise classes in everything from yoga to Brazilian martial arts, and an abundance of vegan and vegetarian cuisine, Sugar Ridge has long placed wellbeing at the core of its operations. The resort also stages an annual beach clean-up and sponsors a variety of local educational and sporting ventures.
Aidan’s nomination by the Antigua Tourist Board for the ambassadorial accolade may not have resulted in a win but he did place second (to Vincentian fitness group founder Lindon James) after two fierce and hotly-contested public voting rounds.
It was enough to inspire him to step things up a notch, both personally and through the resort and its offshoot, Hike Caribbean, which seeks to entice international adventurers to sample the region’s abundant and exhilarating walking trails.
First up was taking part in Antigua’s annual Rohrman Sprint Triathlon, comprising a 750-metre swim, 20km bike ride and 5km run, in which Aidan finished second.
That was followed a couple of weeks later by the Nevis to St Kitts Cross Channel Swim. Aidan completed the 2.5-mile challenge in one hour and 24 mins, taking 37th place out of 240 contestants.
Now he’s focussing his attention on expanding Hike Caribbean into Dominica which is where his love for trekking was first ignited.
“I have a real affinity with Dominica,” he explains. “I’m hunting out the best trails to walk, the best guides, and some great places to stay.”
Hike Caribbean “takes the headache out of planning” a trip by offering complete packages including international flights, accommodation and walking itineraries.
“It’s been so successful that a lot of people are now visiting Antigua just to hike,” Aidan says. “We hope to do the same for Dominica.”
Undertaking the gruelling 115-mile Waitukubuli Trail - the longest in the Caribbean – is just part of Aidan’s research. The 14-segment trek begins in the southern fishing village of Scott's Head and ends in the north at Cabrits National Park. Scaling St Vincent’s La Soufrière Volcano will round off an invigorating – and thoroughly exhausting – sojourn this summer.
Back at Sugar Ridge, the resort’s culinary team are committed to gratifying the palates of their eclectic guests with ever-increasing choices for vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike at fine dining restaurant Carmichael’s and its more casual counterpart, Sugar Club.
‘The Shed’ yoga pavilion now offers up to 10 classes a week, along with other intriguing elements like Capoeira, spoken word presentations, meditation and drum circles. Many of its cultural events, including arts festival Bliss, are the result of a collaboration with local life coach Janis Hough.
“It’s about giving people choice – people expect to be able to maintain their lifestyle wherever they go – as well as the opportunity to sample something new,” Aidan says.
“I am less of a wellness ambassador and more of a practitioner. Many of the things we offer, such as yoga and our well-equipped gym, are because I personally wanted them,” he adds.
“It was a long time before I discovered the emotional benefits of exercise and meditation and how yoga can help beat stress. I love that I can help other people experience that too.”
By Gemma Handy