Woman Uses Fitness To Overcome Epilepsy And Scale Great Wall Of China
For most people who choose to pack in pints and takeaways in favour of the gym, adopting a healthier lifestyle is about keeping fit and feel more confident in themselves. However, for some, fitness can play a more important role in their life, helping them recover from and gain control over serious medical conditions.
Four years ago, 49-year-old nurse and mother of four Tracy Benson was found to have a brain cyst that severely affected her quality of life; a year later she was diagnosed with epilepsy after having a seizure. The condition led to her being hospitalised and requiring resuscitation equipment to assist her breathing.
Although she recovered from a critical condition and she began taking medication to treat the illness, following her diagnosis Tracy began to suffer from clinical anxiety. The deterioration in her mental health led to Tracy rarely leaving the house for fear of having an epileptic fit and over the course of the year she gained over two stone in weight.
"The seizure affected me and my family a lot - after it I had broken ribs, black eyes and fractured two ribs - at its worst I was very unwell," she tells me. "Afterwards I stayed in; I couldn't go out because I was frightened of having a fit in public.
"I became stuck in a cycle of staying in and eating junk. I used to eat takeaways every weekend and my diet would be very sporadic - I'd skip meals, end up feeling down, and respond by comfort eating."
But since reaching her lowest point, she has managed to turn things around.
I meet Tracy at Heaven and Hell, an independent gym in her home town of Wigan, offering personal training and fitness classes, developing fitness routines with its member so they can make the lifestyle changes that will get them into shape.
She was advised by a specialist to lead a healthier lifestyle following her diagnosis, but she feared having a fit when she was in a public place. She found it suited her because unlike many larger gyms; it specialises on taking a more 'personal' and family based approach to dealing with its clients.
Although in her first months at the gym she only took part in personal training sessions, over time she developed the confidence to attend group sessions, as her change of lifestyle allowed her better control over health problems.
"I've not had any seizures since I started training and lost the weight; doctors have told me that the training and weight-loss has helped with the metabolism of the medication," she tells me.
"With this gym, there is more emotional support, so I found it easier to tell them about my epilepsy. I'd tried fitness before in my 20s and 30s, by joining gyms, but I'd never stuck to it."
After two years of being a regular at the gym, she now weighs 10 stone, which puts her in the bracket of a healthy BMI.
Having had time off sick due to the side-effects of memory loss and insomnia brought on by her medication, she has recently got back to work as a nurse and has reduced her medication, without experiencing further problems with her illnesses.
And having achieved her weight loss goals, she has begun setting herself personal challenges. These have included walking challenges and 10k runs, but by far her biggest was undertaken by her last year when she scaled the Great Wall of China.
Her 10-day trek across the Great Wall saw her walking in blazing 45 degree heat, taking a total of 71,045 steps across the steep terrain.
"After I'd got to a stage where I felt fit, I was sat one night thinking how I wanted to do something big; I was going to a little walk in the lakes, but I decided to do something bigger," she tells me. "I booked it there and then. Not being scared was like my old self coming back again, before the cyst and the epilepsy."
The challenge was only possible because she completed an intense six-month training schedule before departing on the 17-hour flight. She calls it the 'hardest thing [she] has ever done' but also one of the most rewarding.
In November of this year she will fly out again, this time to Peru to complete an Inca trail - with a 50km walk in Brecon Beacons and 10k Wigan to come before the South America challenge.
As well as being a fitness fanatic, Tracy, working and balancing her medical conditions, has a busy home life looking after her children.
Her medication means she is limited in when she can attend the gym - although she has tried early morning gym sessions they leave her feeling nauseous - meaning she can only go in the evening. Ensuring she can fit in her five gym sessions-a-week is only possible through meticulous planning.
Tracy has a simple answer for anybody who wants to get fit, but doesn't because they're 'too busy'.
"I have a busy life but it's about fitting it in." she says. "People who say they can't fit fitness in need to have a look at me."
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