Pain is weakness leaving the body…

I have become expert in making excuses not to exercise; too busy, too tired and I walk the dog anyway. I am also fortunate not to have any health problems and it was easy to become complacent. Then a Christmas spent eating and drinking too much, feeling tired and grotty made me start to question what I was doing. New Year is probably a rubbish time to make resolutions and most are broken by the end of January, but a couple of things happened to motivate me to change.

My good friend, and founder of The Baton charity, Alan Rowe came up with the idea of supporting the Row2Recovery team by rowing one hour a day on a rowing machine. R2R is a team of four men, serving and ex-military, and they are currently half way across the Atlantic rowing in the Talisker Atlantic Challenge in their boat called Legless. An extraordinary feat of bravery and endurance for anyone and these guys are all amputees. They have a Baton with them on the boat and Alan wanted a way to show support, hence the hour’s rowing. We kicked off a social media campaign #Row4Legless and were amazed and humbled by the response.

So, what was I going to do to join in? As these things go, something turned up out of the blue. I was tagged in a tweet about a keep fit class in my village, led by someone who has recently left the Forces and just five minutes’ walk from my house. I didn’t even have the excuse that it was during the day while I was at work. It is held at 19.00 hours twice a week and I ran out of reasons not to go. So I found myself in a chilly village hall on Tuesday this week, in a baggy pink T-shirt resembling Mrs Blobby and looking in panic at the torture chamber. Mats on the floor and weights! Lovely, slim young girls in Lycra! For a person of my size and age getting up from the floor can be a big deal. Before I knew it I was running round, doing sit ups, press ups, sweating and nearly crying.

The next morning, however, I felt great and even parked my car so I got a good walk in my day. I was feeling very smug. Then, as the day wore on, the pain kicked in; thighs and shoulders started to hurt. I even had twinges in abdominal muscles I’d forgotten existed in my body. Thursday was no better and walking up the stairs was slow. There was another class in the evening and I really didn’t know whether I could turn up again to feel old, fat and useless. The news from the Atlantic was sobering though, almost half-way across the ocean, the lads were rowing into a storm with huge seas, but they had heard about #Row4Legless and were grateful for the support. People were tweeting their pictures of rowing and exercising every day. I had to get over myself.

The second Forces Fitness class wasn’t as bad as the first though. I only stopped once to catch my breath, but I had a go at everything and pushed myself past the point of thinking ‘I can’t do this’ for the full hour. Some of the exercises I had to adapt and make easier, but it was still a good workout and gave me a sense of achievement. And yes, it really hurt when I woke up this morning, but I walked the dog and reminded myself that the pain meant that I was moving again and starting to get stronger. Encouraging words from friends and family really help and in comparison with the psychological and physical recovery challenges that so many face as a result of serving their country, my little battle is nothing.

I’m keeping my goals modest; going to the fitness class twice a week and walking more, eating more salad and veg, drinking more water. My strategy is to focus on what I’m adding in, rather than taking away, but drinking less alcohol also has to be a part of the plan. I’m not focusing on losing weight, I love my curves, but I’m setting my sights on feeling fitter and stronger to enjoy life more. People face the challenges brought on by illness and injury with strength and dignity, so I will honour them and respect myself by making these small changes in my life.

Links: – also on Facebook and Twitter, see #Row4Legless – also on Facebook and Twitter, see also @leglessrowers for tweets from the team

A beautiful morning to be alive and walking the dog:

Blog pic Jan 16




Spending time in the shed and getting creative

In my Easter ‘break’ from the day job at the University of East Anglia I have been tempted to undertake another online course with Future Learn. ‘The Enterprise Shed; Making Ideas Happen’ from Newcastle University caught my eye because the concept of working from a shed full of ideas really appealed to me. I’ve nearly completed the first week and wanted to capture some of my reflections; it’s certainly got me thinking!

This course aims to help aspiring entrepreneurs and the course team are stretching the definition of ‘entrepreneurship’ in defining it as everyday problem solving and doing. I’m not disagreeing with the definition because as an occupational therapist I believe that humans are naturally driven to ‘do’, to be productive and find purpose in life. I’m wondering though if, to be a proper entrepreneur, your problem solving needs to have an impact on a lot of people rather than just your own life or that of your family.

I’m really enjoying the idea that the course team have developed that positive social impact can be a goal of the entrepreneur as much as making a profit. I’ve devoted a lot of time as a volunteer to help projects happen that benefit others, so perhaps I’m an entrepreneur already! The challenge is that at some point someone in the home needs to make money to pay the bills, even if the primary goal isn’t to get rich. Doing what you love, helping others and earning a living all need to be combined very creatively to work well.

The course team includes a man who has started his own business hiring bikes and kayaks from small premises on the coast of Northumberland with a little café upstairs. It’s called Cullercoats Bike and Kayak. He is successful as an entrepreneur because he genuinely wants to create a good experience and provide an excellent service for his customers. He didn’t set out to make millions; he wanted to do something he loved. He made the right connections and he wasn’t afraid to approach people who might help. Then he worked hard and continues to do so. Some useful lessons to take on board.

My dream is to set up a business or social enterprise that harnesses the benefits of engaging with the natural environment to promote well-being. We have a growing health crisis that cannot be solved by simple answers like ‘eat healthier foods’; it needs a bigger shift in tackling lifestyle change and social inequalities. In my small way I can’t have a huge influence on this, but I could perhaps make a little difference. The business would, of course, also be kind to the environment; so that future generations will have a natural world to appreciate.

I’m a trustee for the charity Surf Action that uses the power of the ocean to support veterans who are living with the effects of combat related trauma. I’m therefore very aware that there is strong research evidence to support the use of the ‘blue gym’ and the green gym’ for healing and health promotion. With my professional skills and knowledge as an occupational therapist I am well placed to take this idea further. The broad concept isn’t new or original, but perhaps I can find my own unique niche? Perhaps combined with my love of digital media, art and photography? Walk, talk, click and share? The possibilities are endless!

Follow the course on twitter using #FLentshed and find the course and others at

Some of my photographs from this week walking the dog:

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Resisting the urge to Hibernate

British Summer Time ended this morning; as I put the clocks back an hour I started to feel down at the thought of the days getting shorter and the nights pulling in. I leave home for work in the dark and arrive back in the evening in the dark, working all day indoors. It’s tempting to feel that enjoying the world outside can go on hold until the Spring. It seems a long way off before we wake again at four in the morning to the dawn chorus or enjoy sunsets late into the evening.

Some people experience a specific seasonal mood disorder in response to this lack of light. Others will just feel low and unmotivated. I’m in the second category and I get the feeling that I want to sleep away the Winter months in a cave like a bear. We know any exercise improves wellbeing and also that exercise in the natural environment has added benefits. So, I’m sharing with you my resolution to take every opportunity to get some fresh air and exercise in the hope that I can inspire myself, and maybe you, not to hit the doldrums this Winter.

I’ve mentioned the Green Gym before; it’s there all year round and many open spaces can be accessed for free. Autumn colours are uplifting at this time of year. Remember the childhood fun of scrunching through piles of fallen leaves? Get in touch with your inner child; it is highly recommended for lifting the spirit. Or pull on a pair of wellies and splash in puddles; what fun!

The beach is delightful after the tourists have gone home. Here in North Norfolk we have wild and dramatic skies with huge expanses of empty sand. It is such a delight to enjoy a windswept walk, arriving back home with rosy cheeks to have hot chocolate, topped with cream and crammed with marshmallows. I’ve included pictures of a walk on Holkham Beach yesterday with our Labrador puppy.

So, let’s get wrapped up in coats, hats and gloves, pull on the boots and get out there!

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