In May 2012, at 34 years of age, I suffered a cardiac arrest at work. I was lucky to survive. Initially the doctors assumed it was a heart attack due to my size, but it turned out that I had suffered a cardiac arrest. I was eventually diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart’s ability to pump blood is decreased because the heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, is enlarged and weakened. At that time I was newly engaged, very shocked and frightened.
Following my cardiac arrest I had an implanted cardiac defibrillator fitted that will shock my heart if it ever happens again. There is a 95% chance it won’t, but there was only a 5% chance I would survive in the first place.
Being resuscitated by my work colleagues and the ambulance staff didn’t break my ribs, but they took a good bruising (I am not complaining!) so I lost any core strength I had. I couldn’t sit up in bed, so my fiancé had to haul me out of bed, help me dress and wash my hair. Consequently, my anxiety levels went through the roof and I was frightened to move. As a result, I comfort ate and felt very sorry for myself.
My doctors have never nagged me about my weight, but they did make it clear that being lighter would be better because I have a weak heart. I have always been a big girl but enjoyed physical activity, and previously I had done swimming and belly dancing to keep fit. So once my recovery had progressed and I had settled in with my medication, I set about losing some weight and getting fitter. Initially I joined Slimming World and lost three stone, which gave me the confidence to start focussing more and more on exercise. I joined a local gym and started doing their classes.
By the time January 2017 came round I was feeling fitter thanks to the time in the gym, so as part of my New Year’s resolutions I decided to sign up to parkrun. My friend Charlotte is a keen runner and had got involved with parkrun as part of her training. She told me how good it was, so I looked at the website and loved all the positive comments. I signed up for my barcode, my husband laminated it and off I went to Brueton parkrun.
Suffering from anxiety, the thought of my first parkrun was really terrifying. So my friend Charlotte, who had encouraged me to sign up, offered to come with me. She also gave me loads of tips on what to wear. I wore my long gym leggings (purchased from a supermarket), trainers, an old t-shirt, long-sleeved top and a hand-crocheted woolly hat. It was minus three degrees and sleeting but we were determined to do it anyway. I have never been so wet or so cold before!
I felt really scared before the start, wondering whether I would be able to do it and whether everyone would hate me for taking so long to get round. But I needn’t have worried. Siobhan, my first Tail Walker, was so lovely and encouraging that these fears soon faded and I was able to enjoy the feeling of being outside. Afterwards, I was really proud of myself for finishing. That first hot shower when I got home had never felt so good and after that I felt like Super Woman. I took my first post-parkrun selfie with my towel on my head and a HUGE grin on my face. My first parkrun was walked in 1:06 and I have not looked back since.
Last Saturday at Brueton parkrun we were all delighted to have gymnast Megan Parker volunteering as Tail Walker as part of #teamparkrun. She was behind me most of the time encouraging other walkers, and then we chatted at the end – she is a confident young woman and very supportive of parkrun. The Tail Walker role is so important because you are never last (where else could I be two seconds faster than a future Olympian?!), you feel supported, and there is someone to talk to. For me it is invaluable and I cannot thank the volunteers who tail walk enough.
parkrun appeals to me because it is a supportive community and that is what I need. After the first one I couldn’t believe how encouraging everyone was – they cheered, high-fived and kept me going. None of the volunteers scowled at me for making them stand in the sleet for more than an hour, and some even held on after they had finished to give me a kind word of encouragement. I felt like I was part of something important; a community of support to change your life.
parkrun has impacted on all aspects of my life and I am very proud of my apricot vest, and I am looking forward to my first milestone t-shirt. I really enjoy reading all of the social media posts and cannot believe all the lovely comments on my Sweaty Selfie that parkrun shared.
I have now done 23 parkruns and I have also volunteered. I have dropped a dress size, gained confidence, made new friends, and I am well on the way to being able to run the whole 5k. I’m sleeping better, eating better, I am better.
parkrun is the perfect place to take your first steps as a walker or runner because you don’t need any special equipment – a decent pair of trainers, some comfy clothes and your barcode – it provides a safe, supportive, friendly community. It doesn’t matter how fast you are, what you wear, who you are – it just matters that you are there. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and you WILL get there.
Here’s to many more Sweaty Selfies!
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