Hi, my name is Julie and I’m a 47-year-old mum of 4 boys. My youngest is 9, my eldest is 16 and they all have autism.

Growing up I was painfully thin as I did not enjoy eating and was pretty food phobic. In my early teens I started to find walking difficult as my knee would lock regularly causing me to fall without warning and my leg would be stuck in position and in terrible pain. I was diagnosed with a disease in my knee and went on to have 3 operations; non-weight bearing for 3 months each time and each time my muscles withered away on the leg in question. Each time I was eventually able to walk again and then gave up with the physiotherapy exercises because “I could walk so surely everything was fine” but I didn’t realise how badly the muscles were weakened on that leg and the consequences for my whole body with poor movement and poor posture. Because exercise felt painful I used it as an excuse to avoid. I was never able to run again, fast forward 20 years and going up and down stairs became impossibly painful, fast forward a few more years and walking distances became painful until eventually just walking generally was so painful.

To make things worse, my weight was gradually creeping up and I wasn’t used to carrying any weight. I was 30 when I became pregnant with my first child I started “eating for 2” … classic mistake. I cried when I realised my extra weight wasn’t going to vanish as I had imagined.. Four children later, the stresses and strains of raising challenging children with special needs led to comfort eating and my weight pretty much crept up. I was the heaviest and largest I had ever been in my whole life. I suffered with back pain, hip pain and knee pain and spent so much money on chiropractors, osteopaths and massage therapy but nothing helped. I was becoming less and less able to move around without pain. The reality was a bad diet with very little exercise and a lot of excuses. My boys are really active and I hated that I couldn’t join in with running or any physical activities that they enjoyed. I started to hate myself for the way I looked and how old and weak I felt.

Then I met Ahmed and Armoured For Life.

I started just over 7 months ago, on a Monday, straight into the fitness evaluation week. It was a baptism of fire, a reality check. Before joining I felt very self-conscious and was so worried turning up for that first session in my lycra sports gear but I needn’t have stressed about it. No one passed any judgements, there was only huge support and camaraderie. Needless to say, my reps and my cardio was pretty poor at the start but Coach Ahmed and the other Armoured Women pushed me to keep going, inspiring me through their efforts and pushing through their adversities. I have learned to gauge my progress by comparing my ability against myself and not against others. Coach Ahmed is amazing, such a great personality for spurring you on and keeping you from giving up, helping you to push through your barriers every time. He also understands the different abilities of everyone in the class, modifying exercises where necessary so that no matter what your ability you can still join in. Always happy to explain the science. He showed me that it was important to exercise and push through the limitations of my leg, to make it work despite my muscles screaming at me. From my first beep test 7 months ago reaching just 1.4 (at the point where I couldn’t run and hadn’t been able to do so since I was a child) I have steadily progressed to nearly level 5 which for me is fantastic and is progress. I can run for a bus or train now without any worries! That is an achievement. I even ran a 5km in March this year, although I might rest up the distance running shoes for a while now whilst I work on those muscles more.

I really look forward to the training sessions at Armoured For Life, I really enjoy having a laugh while we train. Yes, the sessions are hard work, yes you feel the pain of achy muscles after each session but YES it IS making a difference, making me stronger and fitter. The icing on the cake is dropping 3 dress sizes, how great I feel mentally, my new friends at Armoured For Life and my newfound sense of able-ness.

Lizzie was the main reason I joined Armoured and trusted in Ahmed. Her determination and effort during training with Ahmed was making a difference that was clear for everyone to see. Not only was she looking fantastic but the difference to her health and fitness was amazing. Her journey is one that inspired me and I hope I can inspire other people in the same way.