Mary's Story

Mary was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2016. Her neuro physiotherapist was keen to take a holistic approach to managing her health and referred her to HLS Gloucestershire, after discussing a range of exercise options.

Through her determination and drive to improve her fitness, she’s lost half a stone, her BMI has come down and she’s both physically and emotionally stronger. She’s going to the gym regularly and eating more healthily.

In just 12 weeks of working with our coach Vince, between autumn 2017 and spring 2018, Mary has come a long way – but her journey wasn’t always easy and she’s faced a number of challenges along the way. Mary told us about her journey and why she’d encourage others to use our service.

“I’d let my exercise go because I’d been made redundant the year before and was feeling sorry for myself,” said Mary. “I used to walk to work and back home again – two lots of 20 minutes each day – but I got a new job and took the bus to work so wasn’t really getting much exercise at all.”

In the autumn of 2017, after several falls, Mary’s physiotherapist suggested a gym as a way to improve her strength and fitness. Her immediate reaction was, “Oh, no! That’s so not like me!”. However, she went away and thought about it. “With the MS I need to work on my muscles and be as strong as I can. Then, if I relapsed, I could get over it faster because of my muscles being stronger. So, I decided I did want to give it a try.”

Soon after her care team put her in touch with Healthy Lifestyles Gloucestershire, Mary met with Vince at a local coffee shop. Vince recommended a Re-active programme at a local gym and helped Mary get a referral from her doctor.

“I met Vince a few more times before I started the programme at the gym,” said Mary. “We just chatted about all sorts of things like diet and things I could adopt – like eating more brown rice and brown bread instead of white.” Worried at first about how her partner and son would react, she decided, “Well, this is time for me now. I need to make myself stronger and have a healthier diet. I don’t care what they think. I’m going to do it anyway!”

Mary’s partner is very supportive and does most of the cooking now because she gets so fatigued. “I bought a whole new set of cookery books and one of the PTs at the gym recommended some authors – the recipes are good because they’re quick and that’s what we need because we’ve been at work. I’ve got notes everywhere about good things to eat!”

However, home life has been hard at times. Mary has found things difficult emotionally and says the chats with Vince really helped. “I told him, ‘I’m not really sure my two children have accepted it.’ They’re in their twenties and can be quite difficult. Even though I’d said to them I can’t cope with lots of noise, they weren’t really taking that on board. Vince helped me see that to them I’m still Mum and it’s not visible that I’ve got this illness. I just needed someone to point that out to me. My MS diagnosis has forced me to get a lot of things in my life into perspective and to focus on the things that are really important. Chatting with Vince has really helped me.

“The whole experience – with the physios at Gloucester Royal, with Vince and with my personal trainer at the gym - has opened my eyes to a whole new world out there. It’s helped me realise I’ve been in a bit of a bubble around my work in education, but that there are people out there who care and things that don’t revolve around education all of the time.”

Seeing Vince regularly and having a touch point with her personal trainer at the gym has helped keep Mary motivated. She works three days a week and fits going to the gym in around that. “It would be really easy to say I’ve got too much on this week. I’ve had to learn to pace everything I do in my life but I do make sure I’ve got the time now. At weekends, I go to the gym on a Sunday - which means I won’t do anything else on a Sunday, but that has to fit into my lifestyle. There are times when I’m completely exhausted because of the MS and the side effects from my medication. So, some days I don’t do much – I have days off on Mondays and Thursdays because I need it.”

Several months after she completed her programme with us, Mary bumped into Vince in Cheltenham and they arranged to meet for a coffee and a catch-up. “Vince said to me, ‘It’s amazing how far you’ve come. You have achieved so much. You should be really proud of yourself!’ Just to have that feedback gives me a real boost. It’s just what I need.”

Mary is continuing with her exercise programme at the gym and her personal trainer constantly praises her for the progress she’s made. “I only meet with him formally once every six weeks so we can review the programme, but I need to be accountable to someone. I need somebody to motivate me and say, ‘You’re doing really well!’

“I’ve got a little notebook so I don’t forget where I’m up to. At the gym, I’d keep a little note of what weights I’d done so I’d just go to that next time, or if something was a bit hard then I’d note that down.

Summing up her experience with us, Mary concluded, “ Vince has been amazing! I’ve actually found all the people I’ve worked with inspiring – at the gym too. That had a deep effect on me. I found them supportive and inspiring. I can well recommend your service!”

We’re so pleased for Mary and how we’ve been able to support her through the programme. It’s great she bonded so well with Vince and the other people who’ve helped her – but the biggest congratulations go to Mary herself. She has made the changes, she has been determined and she’s the one who’s truly inspiring. Well done, Mary. You are amazing!

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