3 and a half weeks to go before I step on stage. It is getting serious now. My training has been increased, my food intake is being consistently decreased. What you see in the picture was part of my lunch – 20 grams of brown rice, which is about a tablespoon. Not filling, but it’ll be effective. It is about stripping the last ounces of fat off my body and get as lean as I possibly can to look good on stage.
Also incorporated into my regime now is half an hour of posing practice every day. Every day? Half an hour? Of just standing there? Erm, yes. As it turns out, posing is difficult and painful. I did my half an hour after my evening cardio about half an hour ago and I was just dripping with sweat. Not helped by the fact that it is so hot outside.
You may think of 3 and a half weeks as a lot of time. It’s nearly a month, after all. However, this time will fly by and with my food intake decreasing further the closer I get to the competition, my energy levels will possibly take a little dip. So I am busy trying to get all of my ducks in a row, such as sorting out my posing shoes, stage bikini and sparkly jewellery. What tan to get? And what am I doing about hair and make-up? Those who know me know that I rarely even wear make-up. So do I splash out on getting it done professionally? Lots to decide while also having to sort out transport to my competition, which is, unfortunately, in a land far, far away…
Well, in Leamington Spa that is. Or, as I call it, “Leamington Far”. See what I did there?
If you would like to see me on stage and support me on the day, here are some details are about the competition:
What: UKDFBA Heart of England (UK Championship Qualifier)
When: Sunday 18 September – doors open 12:30, show starts at 1pm
Like any good campaign these days, I wanted to find a way to start a movement on social media. That’s how it’s done now, right? So I decided to start the hashtag: #strongforgirls.
You may notice it is also part of the URL for my fundraising page and it sums up exactly what I am doing and why. You see, we often think how women and girls have a hard time – in other countries or in days gone past. Yet women and girls still don’t quite enjoy the same privileges as men. Today. Right here. It starts with still existing gender expectations and ends with rape culture and violence.
Let me give you a couple of current examples:
Sex education is no longer mandatory. This is bad news for everyone, really. But it certainly disadvantages girls even more. Because let’s face it, teenagers are going to get at it whether they learn about it or not. But the one that falls pregnant and as a result misses out on a decent education will be the girl. Another fact we have to face is that pornography is freely available online and is swiftly replacing sexual education. But guess what, there is one MAJOR element missing from pornography that differentiates real life sex from the fantasy world that is porn – CONSENT. Boys and girls don’t learn how to ask for it or how to give it.
Women are still paid less. Don’t tell me it isn’t so – I earned #5k less than my male pears when I worked in IT.
I am using the hashtag #strongforgirls because my journey onto the bodybuilding stage will benefit Rosa UK, who will be able to fund vital work across their four pillars:
Leadership and Representation
Health and Wellbeing
My journey is literally one of strength. Having gone from bedridden to bodybuilding, building strength and muscle is now my objective. But there are so many ways we can be strong for women and girls and I hope that my hashtag will catch on.
Today I had my radio interview with the beautiful Nicolette at Wandsworth Radio on their HealthyWandsworth hour. It was so much fun and I feel so blessed that I was able to share my story and mission for charity.
I was able to talk about one thing that I feel very strongly about: Are we victims or survivors? If you have been reading my previous posts, you may think that of course, I should think of myself as a survivor. After all, I have always picked myself back up, no matter what. But you see, here is the problem with that: you may survive an accident or survive cancer. In both cases you just got very unlucky to endure it and very lucky to survive it. When it comes to physical attacks and rape, there is a perpetrator. Another person who decided to do you harm. That makes you a victim.
Why is that important? Think about it: If there is no victim, there is no crime and so a simple word has the power to perpetuate a culture in which rape and violence is such common place.
But back to my bodybuilding journey and fundraising efforts.
Nicolette kindly gave me the space to also ask, on air, for what I need and I wanted to extend that to you guys. Because there are so many ways in which you can help me spread the word and actively support my efforts. One of the most valuable resources we have are the people we know. I experience that every day with my fantastic support system of a coach, a PT, a clinical nutritionist, my friends, family and you lot rooting for me. So here is a great way to help me:
Who do you know?
What resources do you have sitting in your networks that would love to get involved in a worthwhile cause and could really make a difference?
Here are some examples:
Social Media experts – someone who could help me manage a campaign properly online. I do try, but spreading myself very thinly
Event managers – someone who can help me think up and organise fundraising events. I already have lots of ideas, but not enough time to implement them all.
Media Contacts – do you know any journalists, someone in print, TV or radio you could introduce me to? Or maybe a PR agency that would like to take on a charity case as part of their CSR efforts?
Venues – Venues are the highest cost factor for any event. Is there anyone you know of who could hook me up with a free venue for fundraising events?
With only 5 and a half weeks left to go, things are starting to get very exciting indeed. The diet and training regime are getting stricter and I have started to look at the kind of blinged up and bedazzled bikinis the competitors usually wear to the stage. There is so much still to sort out such as my hair and make up, stage tan, how to get to the venue and possible accommodation… The list seems endless right now and I will need to get organised sooner rather than later. A friend told me that he had even his food prepared and in the freezer 2 months before his show that he did not have to worry about it closer to the show. The sooner I have everything sorted the better. And time seems to be in a hurry… Tik tok, I am off to bed and up early tomorrow for more fasted cardio.
Oooh, I am ever so excited. I have been invited back to be on Wandsworth Radio’s HealthyWandsworth show with the gorgeous and talented Nicolette Wilson to talk about my journey from bedridden to bodybuilding, the work I do to empower women and my charity challenge for Rosa, UK Fund for women and girls.
Today I thought I give you a little insight into what life is like when preparing for a bodybuilding competition. I knew a few bodybuilders before I decided to do this and knew it would be hard. But oh boy was I not prepared for what I had coming. It is one thing to hear about someone’s struggles and imagining how they feel vs actually feeling it, believe you me.
So here it goes:
6 am I get up for my first session of cardio. Some of my friends have to get up at 3 or 4 am, so I consider myself lucky!
8:30am I will have meal number 1 – oats and lots and lots of egg whites, which I turn into pancakes. As it turns out, I can turn pretty much anything into pancakes. They are bland, but they look like pancakes, so I imagine they taste good.
10:30am time for meal number 2. Food? Again? Well, when you have 6 meals to get through in a day, you have to eat every 2-3 hours. This is quite time consuming. Although eating the exact same things at the same times every day means I can prepare a lot of it over the weekend and save lots of time during the week. And let’s be honest here for a moment: I never struggle to eat… ;-D
1pm – lunch (ah yesss, I was close to starvation)
2pm – gym for a proper weight session. We are talking bench presses, deadlifts, weighted squats and basically just lifting some heavy stuff. I grunt, I swear, I sweat. It is not pretty… But this part is the one I enjoy the most. Every workout counts and I push myself as hard as I can. Leaving the gym after a really good leg workout and barely being able to walk is one of the most satisfying feelings to have. I can’t deny that I feel a sense of disappointment when I wake up the next morning and am not sore ;-D
3pm – meal 4 straight after the gym to replenish my body. Ooh, that one always feels good!
5pm – meal 5. More food. Glorious food.
7pm – my second cardio session for the day. I get to walk through the local parks for an hour with a heavy bag full of water bottles strapped to my back.
9pm – meal 6, my final bit of food before heading to bed.
10pm – lights out! Sleep is such an important part of life. It is necessary for good health, something that I have chosen to ignore in the past. Sleep is also necessary for muscular development and so now I am making it a priority. I work too hard on my physique to jeopardise it with a lack of sleep. Besides, sleep tastes so, so good (I tend to dream of food… haha)
The cardio sessions are designed for maximum fat burn and so I wear multiple layers (3 pairs of long trousers, a thermal shirt, hoodie with the hood up and fleece on top plus a jacket for the session in the park). The layers ensure that I sweat. A lot. We are talking waterfalls running down my back and sweat dripping into my eyes and off my chin. This is one aspect I don’t love about the process, if I am very honest.
So there you go – a day in the life of… me! Living the rock’n’roll lifestyle😉
I may be missing out on a social life right now, but it will all be so worth it when I step on that stage for Rosa UK.
If you are feeling generous after reading this, you can sponsor me here.
There have been quite a few historically significant Rosa’s and each one of them had a lasting impact. Be it Rosa Luxemburg, Marxist theorist, philosopher, economist and anti-war activist who showed courage and tenacity in the face of adversity. Or Rosa Parks, an African American who refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white man and inspired the American civil rights movement with her action. And Rosa May Billinghurst, a suffragette and women’s rights activist who was born in Lewisham, the beautiful borough in south east London I call home.
In my last post I described some of the struggles I have experienced and how bodybuilding is my way of reclaiming control over my body. I mentioned that in order to get my health back I had to learn to be kind to myself and to forgive. Surprisingly, it has been very easy for me to forgive other people. The boss who put my life in danger, the manager who bullied me, the justice system that failed me and even the man who raped me. The part I am still struggling with is forgiving myself, however. For the choices I have made, for the warning signs I did not see and for not fighting harder. And it is affecting my confidence and ability to trust myself.
So it is no stretch to see why I would select a charitable fund that supports female causes:
Rosa is a charitable fund set up to support initiatives that benefit women and girls in the UK. Because, while many women and girls here do enjoy freedom of choice and the opportunity for success in their lives, that’s simply not true for all. Our vision is of equality and justice for all women and girls in the UK.
Rosa supports projects under four priority areas that underpin their work:
Leadership and Representation
More women should hold positions of leadership and decision-making in the UK.
Women are hugely under-represented in politics and public life. And women in minorities – such as black and minority ethnic, disabled, and lesbians – are even less likely to have a public voice.
This means that the issues that are important to them, such as care provision, reproductive choice and local community resources, are less likely to reach the top of the agenda.
Rosa invests in projects that aim to understand how to get rid of the barriers that prevent women from participating in public life and encourage their equal representation and contribution in politics, the economy, the media and social agencies.
All women and girls have the right to live free from violence and the threat of violence.
Safety for women in the UK is a huge issue, as crimes of rape, domestic violence, sex trafficking and ‘honour killing’ continue at shockingly high rates. Yet many projects that support women who are at risk or seeking refuge are in funding crisis. Some organisations are being forced to close through lack of funds, leaving vulnerable individuals with even fewer places to turn for support.
Rosa invests in projects that are improving safety for women and girls in the UK, and helps raise awareness of the funding crisis to other potential funders.
Health and Wellbeing
All women and girls should feel good about themselves – and be able to get the help and healthcare they need.
Some of the health issues we’re concerned about include poor body image, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and increased alcohol consumption among young women. And some women are especially susceptible to ill health, poor support services and access to treatment – purely because they come from black and ethnic minority communities.
Rosa invests in projects that tackle these issues – from awareness raising projects to support groups and initiatives to reach women and girls from all backgrounds with the information they need to help keep them well.
All women in the UK should have the opportunity for economic stability and success in their lives.
More women than ever before are earning now – but usually far less than men, even if they’re doing the same job. Women also lose out when it comes to moving up the career ladder or having flexible working options. Girls from disadvantaged backgrounds find it hardest of all to get ahead.
And lack of affordable childcare keeps talented women out of the job market altogether. Rosa invests in projects that will help create a more even playing field of opportunity for women – benefiting individuals, families and employers alike.
Welcome to summer. A week into the warm weather and everyone seems to be complaining it’s too hot. You’ve gotta love London😉
For me, the hot weather is fantastic. The aim of my cardio workouts is to sweat as much as possible and so I wrap up in several layers, starting with thermal underwear and ending with a hoodie and extra warm fleece. In this weather I am just dripping with sweat. And yes, that’s a good thing – burning more fat to get me ready for the stage in just over 8 weeks.
Last week I gave you a broad overview of my journey ahead. Today I thought I’d tell you a little bit more about who I am and how it came to this. For that, I will have to take you a little bit back in time:
It was in 2010 that I found my energy levels dwindling. Initially it was cause to annoyance rather than concern and I did what I always do – push through. Hard.
In 2013, at the tender age of 31, I suffered a complete burnout and was bedridden for a year. Not much use while unable to get out of bed, I lost my job, ending my corporate career. What got me there was a culmination of life changing episodes including severe stresses at work, working hours in excess of 80 hours per week on an ongoing basis, multiple trauma, physical attacks (all of which were sexually motivated), divorce, rape, burglary, sexual harassment and bullying, cancer in the family. I could go on, but I will leave it there.
In 2012 I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after experiencing cluster migraines and I was signed off work, 2 weeks at a time, for the whole year. I suffered severe pain all over my body and was chronically exhausted. Every morning I woke up feeling like I had not slept in days, even after sleeping for 16 hours straight. I’d then have to decide whether I would brush my teeth or my hair. I did not have the strength to do both. Simple day to day tasks had become insurmountable.
Previously I had felt unbreakable. Super-human. Slowing down was for other people.
And now here I was. Broken.
As I mentioned in my last email though, I was not willing to accept living like this for any length of time. For me, this was not living at all. So I started to do research. Initially I could not read for more than 5 minutes at a time, it was too exhausting and the letters on the pages turned into indecipherable dark blobs. I had to learn the hardest of all lessons and the one that would help me the most: accepting where I was right now. That meant accepting that, right now, I could only do as much as I could do. Accepting that rest was ok. Not only that, but it was helpful. Constructive. Productive! I had to learn to stop pushing myself harder and harder, something I’d been very good at. In its place I had to learn to slow down and be kind to myself. Something I had never previously done. And I had to learn to forgive myself. For everything that had happened to me.
I slowly improved and was able to start swimming and later yoga in 2014. Roll on 2016: I am now running my own businesses to empower women and to advise other people who are experiencing signs of burnout. I am in the final weeks of preparation for my first ever bodybuilding competition. I will enter the bikini category which sports a lean but not overly muscular look yet still requires a lot of training and discipline. But more about that at a later stage.
I hope that my journey will inspire someone out there to not give up in the face of adversity. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long that tunnel may be.
He replied, “I’m going through hell!” Said his friend: “Well, keep on going. That is no place to stop!” ~ John Randall Dunn
Thank you so much for reading, your encouraging emails and support. It means the world to me!
It has been quite some time since my last post again and I am still on my journey “from terribly tired to fabulously fit”. Now less tired and focusing on becoming fabulously fit, I have decided to enter a bodybuilding competition. And I am doing it for charity.
Over the coming weeks and months I will post updates on my journey to get stage ready and hope you will find it entertaining, maybe inspiring. And maybe you can even help.
Today I just want to give you a little overview and will keep it as short as I can. I will get into more detail over subsequent posts. That’s something to look forward to, eh? So let me take you a little back.
It all started as what I call one of my “brain-farts”. Not too long ago, back in 2013, I was very ill and bedridden for the whole year. I was told I would never get much better and should learn to live with my symptoms. But me being as stubborn as I am, I got to thinking “Who are these people to tell me what I am or am not capable of achieving?”
I set out on a mission to get myself healthy again. Doing lots of research and working towards my health every single day, I started to improve. Fast forward to 2015 and I started to go to the gym. It was while I performed the very first ever deadlift of my life that my “brain-fart” occurred: “I know, I’ll compete in a bodybuilding competition!”
Initially I wanted to prove to myself and others that I had gotten my health back. Since starting this journey early in 2015, my motivation has changed though: I am hoping that my journey will somehow encourage others not to give up. Inspire them to keep going no matter what anyone else says. And just to pack that extra punch and make sure that I won’t drop out (as if…) I decided to do this for an amazing charity – Rosa the UK fund for women and girls.
And this is where YOU come in. Seeing the word charity, you probably clutched your wallet tightly, didn’t you? But guess what, while it is great if you are able to sponsor me, there are many other ways you can get involved that will not cost you a penny.
You can help by
Donating to my charity through my fundraising page, obviously😉
My oh my, it has been nearly a year since my last post. And so very much has changed since then. To think that just a year back I was still plagued by almost permanent fatigue, spending a lot of time lying either in bed or on my sofa to rest. It seems like such a distant past, even though it is really not that long ago.
I never received a diagnosis from my doctor and worked on the assumption that it may be adrenal fatigue. However, considering the severe chronic pain that I also experienced in my muscles and joints, I ticked all the boxes for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / ME.
For those that have been following my blog, you will know that I started my journey in November 2013 when I decided that enough was enough and I was going to do whatever it takes to get my health and my energy back. You see, I have always been quite an active and high energy person. So there was really no alternative for me other than getting my health back. FULLY. And that is exactly what I did.
When the Motivation is right – My Wake-up call
I had rested up for weeks to go to “Power to Succeed“, a free weekend event organised by Elliott Kay, aka The Coach in the Hat. It was a wonderful weekend and there was one exercise he had us do that really changed my life. He invited everyone to stand up, close our eyes and guided us through a meditation. At the end of that 10 minute or so meditation, he asked us to imagine looking at ourselves in the mirror 5 years from now if nothing had changed. What would we say to that person?
And there was one thing that came to mind immediately. And it was the only thing I could think of that I would say to myself in 5 years time if nothing changed – “REST IN PEACE”.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have never been suicidal. I love life way too much. But I was no longer living it! And I realised right that second that something MUST change. On that realisation, I broke into violent crying (not the little teary-uppy kind of crying, but the proper snot and tears and uncontrollable sobbing sounds kind of crying). I had to leave the event. I was exhausted. It had become clear that for me, getting my health back was a matter of life or death. Continuing as it was could not be an option. And I was not going to be defeated!
And on to the “BOOM!”
I have always had a bit of a “WHATEVER IT TAKES” kind of attitude. If I really want something, I will not stop until I make it happen. In fact, that is part of what got me ill. However, it is also what got me better.
Over the last year I tried so many different things. Some things worked a little bit, others not at all. But I kept at it relentlessly. I had chosen life and I wanted to live mine again!
Gosh, to think that just one year ago, simple tasks such as washing my hair were unmanageable most days. Now I sometimes head to the gym twice in a day just for the fun of it. I stuck with the yoga, which has been so wonderful for me and am now finally hitting the gym regularly again for strength training as well. I am even thinking to do a Tough Mudder in May😀
And that, my dear friends, is my “BOOM!”. It is the energy to do all the things I like. The energy to enjoy life and make it a hell of a ride. And finally go back dancing again as well, tearing up that dance floor like there is no tomorrow and with enough energy to get up the next day and do it all over again. Or going to have some fun in a kids playground, like I did in that photo. That was FUN!
Whatever you have been told, whatever your situation: DO NOT GIVE UP! The old Henry Ford had a good point:
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t-you’re right
Those that have been told that there is no cure and actually believe it do not take the necessary action to get themselves better and hence they stay in that nightmare that is fatigue. But those who, like me, say “FUCK IT, I know I can do better!” they get better.
So DO WHATEVER IT TAKES and keep moving forward.
My love goes out to everyone out there still battling fatigue. Keep your head up and your eyes on the goal – you will get better again!
So much has happened since my last post. It was obviously a very bad mood that encouraged my last post, although I am glad I was able to end the post on a slightly more positive note. And it was that night, after writing the last post, that I lay awake thinking about it. How do you know when you really are too tired to do something and when the memory of being tired stops you from trying to push a little further than you have done previously? Pushing, after all, is not what we should be doing when suffering from fatigue.
So that night I made a decision. I decided that I am better. After all, I have plenty of evidence. I am getting more done, I am exercising a little bit again and I actually really wanted to go for a run. So I promised myself next time I feel like it, I will do it.
A little while later, while in Germany, I had a chat with my mum about my lost fitness. I can’t lie, I am not happy about it and at times even upset. I have gained a fair bit of weight and most of my clothes don’t fit me comfortably any more. This, however, encouraged further new thinking. I longed for a run, but was worried to go running. And that worry was valid too. If I have learned one thing, it is that I need to trust that little voice inside. And that little voice told me to best pass on the run. So why is that? Well, running used to be my best friend. It is what I did to clear my mind. It was my meditation. No matter what I had going on in my life, as soon as my running shoes hit the road, all I could hear in my head was “thump thump thump thump”. Nothing else. Bliss.
What I hear when running today is more like “for God’s sake, Sarah, why did you have to let yourself go so much? Jeez, this is so hard. Ugh, I can feel my back fat jiggle… This is aweful. Fat bitch huffing and puffing…” You get the picture. But what do you do when you miss what you used to get from running and cannot get it any more? I have tried to concentrate on other things while running but it always comes back to this.
While talking to my mum, I explained how I first started exercising again very gently by going for 15 minutes swims and when I felt I could take it up a notch, I started with yoga. You know, the whole having no comparison because I have never done it before. And that is when it hit me. I had to re-learn running completely. And so I discovered barefoot running!
I wanted to be prepared and read up on it on the internet. I thought I had to go to a course first and learn the right posture, until I came across a wonderful website: http://www.barefootbeginner.com/. Chris, the source of the website, provides a free beginners guide to barefoot running on his website and it has changed my world. I am loving running again and with all the new sensations in my feet, my mind has no time for the negative self talk. The distances I am running now are barely worth mentioning, but that is all part of the process. It is completely different to running in shoes and you use different muscles, so I can accept that the results are different to what I used to do. I almost see it as a different sport entirely. And it is such a relieve. Not just that I can run again, but kicking off your shoes and going for it is such an amazing sensation. It truly is freeing – we are born with bare feet, after all.
If what you are doing is not working, change what you are doing. Or maybe, just change how you are doing it.
If you are interested in giving it a go, I can only highly recommend Chris’ website and beginner’s guide. In his guide, he promised running barefoot would put a smile on my face and it certainly did. I have only been for my 4th run today, but I cannot wait to hit the road again. This is an exciting breakthrough!