A Cheshire woman explains how she went from 17 stone to trekking the Sahara

Mindy and her colleagues in the Sahara

Mindy and her colleagues in the Sahara - Credit: not ach

Need some New Year inspiration to get on with hitting your health goals? Mindy Cowap, from Great Budworth, Marketing Manager of Cheshire institution The Hollies, describes how she transformed her health in just 12 months.

Emma Wilson and Mindy Cowap

Emma Wilson and Mindy Cowap - Credit: Archant

Everyone has their trigger - the low point where you just know things have to change because you can't go on living the way you are. Mine happened as I was lying on a sunlounger in Sardinia, covered in a t-shirt and towel, unwilling to get up and jump into the swimming pool and show my body to my husband, children and the dozen or so beautiful Italian women lounging nearby.

Not long before our holiday I'd been out walking with a friend. While I was sweaty, dizzy and out of breath, unable to climb the hill our children were tearing up, she was telling me how great she felt. She'd started working out with a fitness coach called Emma Wilson and was following her exercise and eating plan. I took Emma's details. But it took being confined to that sunlounger to make me finally email her. She replied immediately - a message that was kinder and more positive than I ever expected. Even then I felt like a change was possible.

This wasn't the first time I'd attempted to do something about my weight. At 44 I was 17 stone 8lbs. I'd yo-yo dieted all my life but in the end I'd always go back to eating a diet where bread and cake were the main food groups.

And so immediately after returning from holiday I overhauled my diet. Gone were all the processed foods, the refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta and the sugar-laden treats. Emma, I'd soon find out, encourages you to eat mindfully and in balance. The ethos of her eating plan is clean and lean - lean meats and fish with lots of vegetables and some fruit. All fresh, natural ingredients, all cooked from scratch.

Mindy and her colleagues in the Sahara

Mindy and her colleagues in the Sahara - Credit: not ach

I can honestly say I didn't miss the sweet stuff that I'd been so addicted to. My determination to feel healthy again far outweighed any sugar cravings. The pay-off was swift. The pounds began to creep off. My energy levels began to creep up. And my mental resolve became stronger and stronger.

Perhaps that new-found resolve explains why, during a meeting with St Luke's Hospice - an incredible organisation based in Winsford that offers care and support to the terminally ill and their families, and who were The Hollies' chosen charity for 2019 - I said I'd do something ridiculous. We were tasked with raising £10,000 in 12 months. When someone asked what sort of big challenge we could take on in order to raise that kind of money one of the team from St Lukes mentioned a trek across the Sahara. Without thinking I announced that I wanted to take it on. I was still five stone overweight and hadn't exercised properly in years. But with my new mindset I just felt like I could do it.

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Two months later I was in my first exercise class in years. After the vigorous circuits session was over I lay stretching on my mat and tears started to stream down my cheeks. I didn't stop crying for 45 minutes. Partly it was relief that I'd (barely) made it through my first class but mostly it was frustration. How had I let myself get like this? Why hadn't I done something about it sooner?

But you can't let thoughts like that hold you back. We're all on different paths and you can only succeeding in making and sustaining big changes when you're truly ready. Some of us just take longer to get there than others. And now I was finally here nothing was going to stop me.

Mindy Cowap

Mindy Cowap - Credit: Archant

I didn't waver in my new health regime. I attended Emma's exercise sessions most days and, although she advises balance and moderation (Want a piece of cake? Eat it, enjoy it, move on) I didn't deviate from my new eating plan. For the next nine months I wouldn't touch a drop of alcohol as I didn't want it to hinder my fat burn.

So the weight continued to drop off. I found myself doing things I wouldn't have dreamed of doing before, not least climbing Snowdonia as part of our training preparation. There were four of us in total from The Hollies taking part in the Sahara trek and we rallied and encouraged each other, training together with runs and long hikes.

And then in October last year it was finally time. After a five-hour journey from the airport in Morocco to the fringes of the Sahara the camels were there waiting for us - or more specifically our luggage. We would only have to carry the essentials - they carried the rest. The challenge was to trek 50km over four days. Perhaps that doesn't sound a lot compared to some mammoth challenges people take on nowadays. But in the Sahara it is the terrain you're competing against - we trekked across sand, up and down dry river beds and over giant sand dunes and even across the lower Atlas mountains. Add to that the intense heat, and the physical and mental challenge is immense. Getting over the sand dunes was like walking on a StairMaster - your legs are burning and getting you nowhere.

We'd go to the toilet in the wild and at night we'd sleep in our tents - bar our penultimate night when we huddled under the stars. There was quite a group of us all together, including the four of us from The Hollies, and the training we'd done paid off. I'm not saying it wasn't hard but we couldn't have prepared any better and we coped well.

Emma Wilson and Mindy Cowap

Emma Wilson and Mindy Cowap - Credit: Archant

There were tough points. On our third day we trekked 20km.The heat was the most intense it had been. I was developing blisters and I'd run out of water. But there's always something to give you perspective. We were trekking with a lady who, at just 36, had lost her husband to cancer the year before. That was the day she started talking about him. As she did a butterfly landed nearby. And that butterfly followed us for the rest of the day. It was incredible. It gave us all something to believe in.

And it was a reminder that I'll carry with me always - as if any of us should need reminding of it - that our health, that our lives, are a gift. And we need to do everything in our power to not only look after them but to make the absolute most of it.

That new ethos has had such a profound impact on me that I've joined forces with Emma to launch an online health and fitness programme aimed at women aged 35-plus called My Time for Change. It's not just a weight-loss programme. It's about all the other benefits I've experienced since I started this journey. People who see me now say I have a positivity about me that I didn't before. Part of that is being six stone lighter. But it's also about feeling balanced and in control, understanding the effect food can have on my hormones and eating in a way that supports that. My Time for Change supports women in all of that.

We already have a number of women on the programme and it's wonderful to be part of a community. People have said I'm an inspiration to them and although that's a big word, it's a lovely sentiment. I hope to be. Mainly to my children.

We were back on holiday recently, this time in Majorca. We've visited many times before. There is a church nearby that has 365 steps up to it. I'd never even walked up them before.

I looked at those steps and said, 'I can run up those'. My son looked at me and replied, 'I want to be as fit and healthy as you, Mum'. And so every few days we ran up those steps together. I wonder what our next challenge will be? I don't know. But I feel anything is possible now.


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