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Rise to the challenge

Liz Parry speaks to three women who improved their health and wellbeing by taking part in fitness challenges

Training for an event like a half or full marathon, a lengthy bike ride or a triathlon can be a demanding and time-consuming experience. However the sense of achievement once you have completed such a challenge often makes all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile! Here we speak to three women about the physical challenges they completed and how they helped to improve their own health and fitness.

“I really feel like I can achieve anything.”
Shaheen Pratten, 45, from Romford, completed the North London half marathon.

Last January, Shaheen Pratten made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight and get fit. A size 22 and weighing 24 stone, she felt she had hit rock bottom and knew she had to make some serious changes in her life. She says: “I wanted to be around longer! I felt like I had reached that point when I absolutely had to make a change. I was dangerously overweight. You never know what’s round the corner and I wanted to be around for my family.”

Although initially daunted, Shaheen joined Everyone Active’s Central Park Leisure Centre and began using the cardio equipment. Her confidence slowly built up and she now does a combination of gym sessions and classes. “I found the classes to be really challenging at first, and I felt a little embarrassed,” says Shaheen. “But the instructors are so motivating and I soon found myself loving the group environment.”

Since starting her fitness journey Shaheen has completed a mini triathlon to fundraise for Anthony Nolan and also took part in a 10km run to raise money for St Francis Hospice, where she came first out of 600 women. Now a size 14 and weighing 13st 8lbs, her most recent challenge was taking part in the North London Half Marathon.

She says: “I really enjoyed the run – there were so many people taking part and offering you support along the way. Although it was definitely challenging, I was determined to keep going and not stop! I would definitely do another half marathon. I have even entered the ballot for several full marathons in the hope I will be accepted. It’s a real possibility that I will do next year’s North London Half Marathon as well. The race was in March so I started training in January, building up the distance for the big event. I ran every Wednesday with my local running club as well as doing gym sessions. Taking part in challenges like a half marathon is a great way of keeping fit whilst having fun. I’m so much happier now! My husband and my son have been so supportive of my journey. I really feel like I can achieve anything.”

“I overcame my fears and learnt to swim in just six months.”
Carlie Barlow, 30, went from being a non-swimmer to competing in the New York triathlon in just six months.

Carlie Barlow, from St Albans, decided to face her fear of water and enter the New York City triathlon to raise funds and awareness for the Teenage Cancer Trust. She was prompted to take up the challenge in support of her friend and former colleague Neil Vines, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, aged just 19. She wanted to use her good health to raise as much money as possible for such a great cause, which had provided invaluable support to Neil and his family over the years.

The New York City triathlon required Carlie to swim 1.6km in the Hudson River – a pretty monumental and daunting task for someone who is terrified of being underwater and had never swum long distances! With the help of swimming lessons at Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre, Carlie overcame her fears and learnt to swim in just six months.

Sadly Neil passed away before the event but Carlie knew he wouldn’t want her to give up. Although it was a huge challenge to deal with the obstacles of a busy working life and the loss of a friend, as well as training, Carlie persevered and went on to complete the NYC triathlon in memory of her friend, raising a significant amount for the Teenage Cancer Trust in the process.

“It has inspired me to keep working towards new goals.”
Ami Sibbick, 27, from Brighton took part in the BHF London to Brighton bike ride.

Ami Sibbick had always enjoyed cycling and decided to challenge herself by working towards a specific fitness goal. This prompted her to sign up to take part in the BHF London to Brighton bike ride.

She says: “Training consisted of lots of bike rides – I really wanted to increase my overall cardio fitness and gain some strength in my legs. It’s a long way with a few tough hill climbs so I prepared for a few months, gradually increasing the length of my training rides until I was confident about the big day. Taking part in the London to Brighton bike ride was a real achievement, but also proved that I’m capable of cycling long distances when I put my mind to it. It has inspired me to continue cycling and keep working towards new goals. It was a fantastic day; the atmosphere is absolutely brilliant! You’re cycling with people of all ages and abilities – there’s no judgement and no pressure, just loads of smiles!

“I struggled at a couple of points and found myself surrounded by friendly faces, cheering me on and pushing me towards the finish line. I’d definitely recommend taking part in an event like this. For anyone looking to achieve a fitness goal, or just improve overall health, it’s a great way to focus and get in shape!”

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