This morning I ripped my hands in the gym – I’ve made them sore loads of times, but I’ve only torn them once before. I took a photo and posted it on Facebook. It felt like a huge milestone in my training, and I was proud as punch. I’d found something worthwhile and somewhere I belonged, and that’s pretty much how the gym makes me feel. There’s nowhere I’d rather spend my time and there’s nothing I’d rather do than figure out my workout plans and tinker with my macros.
Squats, deadlifts and spin classes are a far cry from how my life used to be, and if you’d shown me the future a few years ago I would’ve laughed you out of the room. Three years ago I was almost 17 stone, lazy, and unhappy. I had unhealthy dependencies on food and recreational drugs, and was pretty much addicted to my own misery. That changed when my mum died…but let me rewind a little first.
Exercise – My Childhood Outlet
My dad was a cyclist when I was a kid, and he and mum got into running in the 80’s. I wasn’t good at either, so when my parents divorced and turned to exercise as a form of therapy, I ended up with the pool as my haven – training six nights a week left little time to worry about what was going on at home.
Having learnt to swim relatively late in life (8 years old) I constantly chased my peers and never quite made the times to progress through training groups. However, I was happy, healthy, and fit. But then life happened… I don’t remember making the decision to stop swimming, but I did. Before I knew it, I was an obese teenager living a sedentary lifestyle and pumping myself full of junk food. I was troubled, insecure and seeking comfort.
Rebelling Against My Mum’s Concerns
Naturally, this broke my mum’s heart and she tried everything she could to get me active again. Nothing worked. If anything, I rebelled against her attempts. At 17, she signed me up to a gym hoping to inspire me, but when I was shown around, I was so gymtimidated by the smell of sweat and steel… the fit people… the thought of never being able to do any of the things I saw them doing, that I ran out crying, utterly humiliated.
I was stuck in the same rut for years – ineffective yo-yo dieting saw my weight go up and down but my emotional unease remained – I didn’t know who I was, what I was good at, what I was into, or what I wanted in life. I was negative about most things and generally reacted to life like a victim. Despite having a good job and a loving partner, I felt sorry for myself and was utterly lost.
Then my mum got cancer. It had been a long battle, but I didn’t realise until the last minute that she wasn’t going to win. I was one of the last to know, and it was a whirlwind few weeks. When she’d gone, I felt compelled to do something to raise money for the hospice that cared for her, and when the Leeds’ Largest Loser competition started a couple of months later, I knew that was the perfect thing to do in her honour.
In Honour of Mum, a New Lease on Life
The ten-week challenge provided a gym membership, a personal trainer and weekly weigh-ins. Everyone was behind me and I raised a fortune for Sue Ryder’s Wheatfields Hospice. After the ten weeks I’d lost over two stone, realised how competitive I was, and finally started to get to know the real me. I was a new person and I actually quite liked her! It completely changed my life and this new feeling wasn’t something I was giving up without a fight.
My trainer Martin was amazing – he introduced me to a new way of eating, and he pushed me out of my comfort zone. He was the one who introduced me to lifting and I’ll always love him for it. It took me a long time to realise it was OK to feel good about myself and to be proud of my achievements. It took me a fair while to get fit too.
But before I knew it, I was getting stronger, gaining confidence and muscle, and losing fat. Win, Win! It was a hard slog, but so was being miserable – sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet and choose your hard.
Who’s Gymtimidating Now?
Martin continued to push me out of my comfort zone, and on one particular morning, he had me doing deadlifts in a tight corner. The gym was packed and a lifetime of insecurities was taking its toll. I was surrounded by muscular men and was desperately trying not to let the testosterone put me off, and then I heard them.
Muscley Man 1: We should put some of those into our program.
Muscley Man 2: (Quietly) There is no way I can do bodyweight deadlifts like that.
And there it was! They were intimidated by me! ME! I couldn’t believe it. (On hindsight, Martin probably paid them to say that to and boost my confidence, but he claimed not to have heard)
Somewhere along the way, I started to realise the only thing that had ever been holding me back was me. My mum’s death gave me something to really complain about, but I’d done with complaining. My mum was only 60 when she died, and if she can’t live the rest of her life, then I’m going to make the most of mine.
There are No Limits
Hindsight is a powerful thing and when I look back now, I think a lot of my emotional baggage died with her – it was singularly the most horrendous thing that I’ve ever been through, but also the most life affirming. Like my parents before, sport became my therapy and the gym my haven once more – it helped me heal.
In her last weeks of life, my mum recalled how much it broke her heart the day I ran crying from the gym – she was only trying to help. I want to say I wish she could see me now – 6 stone lighter, confident, strong and secure, happy being me, and truly loving myself – but in truth she’s with me every step of the way and I know she is so very, very proud.
So, I’ll be getting up at 5.30am for spin and will follow that with a heavy legs session before work. Pilates and a run the next day… Turns out I’m not that bad on a bike after all, or at running – in a couple of months I’m doing my first half marathon (in memory of my mum, and for Wheatfields, of course).
Turns out I can do anything I put my mind to.
My journey is far from over, and there’s still so much I want to achieve – chin ups and walking handstands for a start. I know I’ll get there because the gym is my passion. My favourite place. My haven.
Donate to Sue Ryder Hospice
Hospice services provide invaluable care and support to terminally ill patients and their families. But they need support from donors to keep going. If Eva’s story has inspired you, please make a donation to Sue Ryder Hospice service today.