Volunteering changed my life

I was 29, 20 stone and a size 22. I smoked 20 a day and lived off processed foods and takeaways.

I was raising my 6 year old daughter on my own and she was eating the same diet as me and missing out on things because of my size. I remember she wanted to go swimming and I didn’t because I was too embarrassed. I was depressed and my confidence was low.

I’d put it off for too long, so I braved the swimming baths, we had the best time, I realised that my daughters health and happiness came first. I started to go swimming regularly and going on long walks.

I figured I also needed to start to eat healthier; I had done slimming clubs before but I didn’t last long. So I adopted the attitude, if it grows eat it, so began eating lean meats and vegetables and I started to lose weight.

My friends, who were much slimmer and healthier than me, got bored of the exercise and I found myself swimming alone and struggling with motivation. This is when I met Jason, a personal trainer who would come to my house, as I did not want to be seen fat and sweaty outside. Jason was great and I soon realised how vital it was for me to have support on this journey.

When my fitness started to improve Jason managed to get me to his boot camp, I made new friends and they also motivated me. I lost 6.5 stone and ran the race for life in memory of my dad. My weight loss was life changing, my daughter is eating healthier now and I’m proud of that.  One of the biggest things for me was how happier I felt, I remember my daughter telling me “mammy you’re so much more fun now.”

The journey gave me a burning desire to want to support other people going through the same. I heard about Wellbeing for Life supporting people to take on healthier lifestyles so I enquired about doing some voluntary work.
I was out of work and had time on my hands so I started helping out at local community groups that Wellbeing for Life health trainers delivered. They made me feel so welcome and it felt good to be part of a team helping people. I also took the opportunity to complete many of the free training courses they offered. I did my Health Trainer qualification and Nutrition and shadowed client appointments. I was in awe of how the health trainers made the clients feel and I knew it was the job I wanted.

A position came up and I was encouraged to apply, I was thinking ‘I’ve only been volunteering 4 months there’s no way I’ve enough experience’ but I applied and I got the job!

2 years on I still love what I do. I’ve grown in confidence, and I’ve learnt it’s not just about having the knowledge; you need to find a way to get people to engage and believe in themselves. Then you can be a part of changing someone’s life.

I know how good it feels to change your life and that’s why I put my all into my clients.  They inspire me daily and they help me achieve my own goals. I’m still not a size 10 but I’m healthy in body and mind, I’m really active and I recently competed in a Powerlifting competition where I came second.

Some people have negative assumptions about voluntary work but it’s something I encourage a lot of people to do because great things can come from it.

Sarah Howells, Wellbeing for Life Health Trainer