Despite a number of health setbacks, Shona has turned her life around.
“I’ve been to some very dark places, but I now recognise burn out in other people and can give them advice on how to stop it consuming you.”
Shona, who travels the country giving talks about her story, recently won an Inspired Award in the Raising Your Bar category of the Future Fit Legacy Awards, as well as £500 to put towards Continuing Professional Development (CPD), CIMSPA membership and access to Future Fit’s ProZone CPD platform.
With a Future Fit Training (FFT) advanced nutrition and weight management diploma already under her belt, Shona will be using her prize money towards a FFT Personal Training course, so she can run mum and baby classes in the studio at the clinic where she works. Her long-term goal is to open her own wellbeing studio in Portishead offering alternative, holistic treatments, where local people can come to unwind.
She’s also looking forward to the industry support she will receive: “I’ve made some naive decisions and realise I know a lot about fitness, nutrition and mental health, but I’m not a business expert, so the mentoring I will get as part of my award is invaluable to me.”
“In my teenage years I had a really good swim coach who recognised something in me. Six days a week I was up at 5am to train and back in the pool after school. I was due to compete in the 1990 Commonwealth Games, but weeks before I needed surgery for a knee injury, so had to pull out.”
“You do all that training and suddenly it stops. I hadn’t done very well with my GCSEs the first time around as I assumed I was going to be a great sports personality and I was classed as the weird kid in school as I wasn’t interested in going clubbing or hanging around the streets. All my friends were from the swimming club and, all of a sudden, that was gone. I was left with no support.”
With her Dad working as a lawyer, Shona’s parents decided she should follow in his footsteps and so she re sat her GCSEs, followed by her A Levels just a year later, winning student of the year at college. Despite her desire to undertake a degree in sports physiology, Shona followed the career path set out by her parents and studied law and psychology.
“I enjoyed my job for the first few years and in my 20s with no partner or children, I threw myself into my career and the long hours that went with it,” she says. “I still worked out all the time, cycling to work or parking the car a few miles away and running into the office. I always found some way to keep up my fitness routine. It’s the way I’m programmed, I’ve always been quite disciplined.”
After Shona gave birth to her daughter, Martha, at 33, her priorities changed and she requested flexible working. A four-day week was agreed, but, she explains, she had a boss not a leader, who didn’t believe women should come back to work after having kids.
“He wouldn’t my reduce targets, as he didn’t think the team should have to suffer. So I’d come in after my day off to find nothing had been delegated, then work through my lunch hour and until 11.30pm to catch up.”
“I didn’t realise I had reached burn out. I’d go a whole week without washing my hair as I didn’t have time. My nutrition was affected as I didn’t have time to eat well, as was my relationship with my husband. I stopped responding to messages from friends and I stopped exercising too. Everything about me just disappeared. Eventually I collapsed at work and was rushed to hospital.”
“Actually, I was lucky. It was a wake-up call and I quit my job, re-trained as an indoor cycling instructor and got a job locally, which helped with my self-esteem and confidence. It was a huge drop in salary but it didn’t matter, as long as I could put food on the table. I got my relationship with my husband back on track, spent time with my daughter, and made friends through the studio.”
However, in 2016, three years after leaving her previous job, Shona was headhunted to work as a lawyer again, in the centre of Bristol.
“I thought I could cope with going back as it was more local. I cycled the 12 miles each way to work and even won employee of quarter in the first year, which helped me realise I wasn’t a failure at my job.”
Nine months in, Shona’s bike hit a wet patch and she was thrown over the handlebars. She sustained horrific injuries to her face and body and was given just a 20% chance of survival. She had six months off work to recover and was left deaf in one ear for a year.
“It was really tough. After four months I still couldn’t leave the house. All my hobbies related to sport in some way, but I couldn’t do anything.”
When Shona returned to work she still had cognitive problems and her employers were very difficult; they needed the ‘real’ Shona back.
“I was diagnosed with episodic depression and got signed off work. I spent the time thinking about what I wanted to do. At 42 years old, I realised my passions are helping other people, sport and nutrition. So I looked up nutrition courses and found Future Fit’s advanced nutrition and weight management diploma.
“I loved the training; discovering Future Fit has completely changed my life. I am a better version of me and I want to help others make similar changes.”
Despite the setbacks in her life, Shona – nicknamed bionic by her friends – isn’t one to let life overwhelm her.
“After my accident there were things I was told I could never do again, such as a ski trip we had booked, 11 months on. The consultant said flying would kill me as it would put too much pressure on my head, so instead we took the Eurostar. I had to get off the ski lifts at each level and wait for the pressure in my head to balance before going any higher, but by the end of the week I was racing!”
Shona’s second challenge last August, 18 months after her accident, was to get back on a bike again. Not one to do things by halves, she signed up for a half Ironman Triathlon.
“For me it was about getting though it; knowing I had to finish for myself,” she says. “I didn’t think about the pain. I just had to do it. It was the hottest day of the year and I felt so proud when I finished.”
Unbelievably, Shona received yet more bad health news this summer, when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
“I just deal with it; I’m not negative about it at all. I had a total abdominal hysterectomy and was told I would need three months off, but I was back on the bike teaching within five weeks. I’m currently undergoing radiotherapy three times a week.”
Luckily cancer hasn’t spread and so Shona has set herself a new goal; the Rat Race Dirty Weekend in Lincolnshire in May 2020, a 20-mile, 200-obstacle race.
“I will be there and I will do it! Even if it takes 12 hours! By having something to focus on, to aspire to, I get there. I’ve set my own smart goals for my nick name, bionic. Brave: if you’re going to make changes you need to be brave. Identify: what is your goal? Obtainable: is it timely and realistic? Necessary and I Can: if I keep telling myself I can do it I will achieve it!”
Whilst undergoing radiotherapy Shona noticed there was no nutrition and general wellbeing support on offer at her clinic, so she approached the centre directly and is now also working there, running workshops to help people with all aspects of wellbeing, but particularly pregnant women, new mums and menopausal women. She even helps companies rewrite their workplace policies around these issues.”
“Because of my hysterectomy I went into early menopause, getting hot flushes within a week of the surgery. There are lots of things women can do around their lifestyle and nutrition, but many women don’t know where to turn, so I’ve made this one of my specialist fields. For the first time ever, I wake up in the morning and am excited about my day,” she says. “I genuinely believe what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You can bury head or fight back. That’s what I decided to do.”
“It’s not about making a six-figure sum, it’s about doing something off my own back and being successful at it. Everyone tells me I have this inspirational story, but I still wanted to prove to something to my parents. I’ve never won anything, apart from when I was good at swimming, so I thought why not give the Legacy Awards a shot? Since getting an award, my mum has said she’s proud of me for first time and my Dad has actually starting listening to the advice I give! My daughter wants to train as an indoor cycling instructor when she’s 16 too, she loves what I do and thinks I’m a cool, trendy Mum! For the first time in my life I believe I am good enough, and that if I can achieve this in my first year of business, what can I achieve in year two, three or four?”