If a picture can tell a thousand words then this one certain has a story to tell. This is Jenni and her three sons Josh, Rhys and Ryan. A happy and healthy family. Jenni works for YMCA North Tyneside and is a picture of health, a wonderful creative member of the team here and contributes massively to our little family. She is constantly striving for better, working to improve, constantly contributing towards making a better life for her and her children.
But for us to get to this picture, the picture you see today, Jenni had to do what so many others would have shied away from…she had to fight. And that fight began almost 5 years ago.
In 2012 Jenni made an incredibly difficult and life changing decision. Her marriage to her husband wasn’t working so she packed up her three small children and moved them from their home on an army base in Norfolk to Newcastle. Her husband had been serving in Afghanistan and the pressure of being a single ‘super mum’ to three challenging little boys was just too much. She needed support. She had a group of friends and family in Newcastle so it was the one place she knew she could go back to for some time away to try and figure her life out.
But once she got to the North East things didn’t get much easier. Jenni had hit rock bottom. From her home in Whitley Bay she would walk her eldest son to school with the twins in the pram and then spend the day exhausted, not knowing how to break the cycle. Not knowing how to find herself or how to start again.
Life continued this way for 6 months and meanwhile Josh was having increasing difficulty integrating into school life. He was displaying incredibly challenging behaviours and Jenni wasn’t sure where to turn. She was miserable and to top it all off she had reached over 15 stone on the scales.
“It was just so hard. I felt like I never sat down, never stopped, I didn’t have a chance to breathe, sleep or think about anyone or anything other than my children. Their dad was still in Afghanistan and I was trying to hold my family together whilst struggling with even just the basic motions of daily life.”
She needed something to focus on, something to plough her creative brain into, and with a degree in illustration and design going to waste, she knew she had to find her identity again. Something had to change. She found a scheme that The Princes Trust was running that enabled her to apply for a loan and a grant so that she could put her degree to good use and start her own freelance business doing Graphic and Web Design.
Once she started making a little bit of money for herself, she was able to move to a house nearer the school. The twins Rhys and Ryan starting reception was a game changer, as it freed Jenni up to be able to dedicate more time to building her business. It was exactly what she needed. However, while this side of her life was moving in a much more positive direction, Josh, her eldest son was showing no signs of improving at school or at home. Jenni knew there was a reason; it was more than just a little boy testing the boundaries of his mother’s patience. Jenni took him to the GP and self-referred to CAMHS where the process of being assessed for ADHD began.
In early 2014 it became clear that her marriage issues were never going to be worked out. She was officially a single, self-employed mother who needed to reclaim her life. The need to make it her own again and do something drastic was overwhelming everything. Something needed to change, and fast.
Before Jenni had had the children she used to love running. She wanted to do something that would encourage her to put her trainers back on again… So, taking a deep breath, she signed herself up for the Great North Run.
“I wanted to get healthy and do things for me. Circumstances in the past had made doing this really difficult. I had spent so much time looking after the boys and being a mum while trying to run a business that I had forgotten how to look after myself. I knew that exercise and running were a brilliant way to manage stress in your life – I wanted to feel better and stronger for myself and my boys.”
She knew it was going to be a massive challenge, but she was absolutely determined to complete the race. She decided to raise money for Mind in the hope that her sponsorship money would go towards helping others. Meanwhile in all the uncertainty surrounding her and her little family, Josh had received a diagnosis. Her suspicions were confirmed, he did have ADHD. In a strange way it was a relief to know that she had been right and could now get Josh the support, the medication and learn to understand how to make his life easier. Having a diagnosis and a plan made a hugely positive change to family life.
“It was a massive relief to know that I hadn’t been imagining it. I had spent a long time having the blame placed on me for his behaviour because I wasn’t ‘parenting him properly’ or having him labelled as a ‘naughty kid’ – That was really hard. Especially when I knew that we were trying everything we could to figure out what was going on. We have now been able to access loads of support from school and local disability support groups like The ADHD Family and Take 5 & Chat.”
In September 2014 Jenni ran her very first half marathon in a time of 2 hours and 37 minutes. The training had helped her lose a stone and spurred her on to signing straight up the following year as well! The fact that the twins were now in school full time meant that Jenni had more time for herself and more time to dedicate to finding herself again.
Then in May 2015 Jenni found herself a part time job working as a designer for YMCA North Tyneside.
“Starting at YMCA was brilliant as it meant working with other people and it allowed me to feel like an adult again. Everyone that works at YMCA North Tyneside is so positive, understanding and motivating.”
With all the positive steps and achievements she had made Jenni was ready for a bigger challenge. She wanted something to focus on, something that would help her lose weight, feel healthy and confident but also allow her some time to herself. she wanted to start her 30th year with the ‘old her’ well and truly behind her.
In July 2015 Jenni signed up to the Edinburgh Marathon. she knew it was going to be an enormous task and challenge but she wanted to achieve it before she turned 30.
In preparation for the marathon she had the Great North Run and the Great North 10k to do as part of her training. It seemed like everything was going to plan.
The day of the Great North Run in 2015 arrived and the expectation of this being part of a bigger challenge meant that Jenni was focused and determined to finish the race in a better time than in 2014.
What Jenni hadn’t counted on was finishing 4 minutes slower than last time.
“I found the whole race difficult; I didn’t want to be there. I was so annoyed at myself because I knew this was what I liked doing. It wasn’t supposed to have felt so hard and challenging. The previous year had been so much fun, I had enjoyed every second of it. I had expected it to be easier as I had done it before. Because I had already entered the Edinburgh Marathon I spent most of the run asking myself how on earth I was going to be able to run twice as far! I knew I needed to try harder, stop making excuses and take the training more seriously.”
Of all the things that had happened over the last two years, of all the challenges she had faced and overcome, this was somehow the defining moment. Those 4 tiny minutes changed everything. It forced her to stand up and acknowledge that the only person who could truly let her down and the only person that could truly build her up was herself. This time it was different. It wasn’t about running times, it wasn’t about the training or the medal at the end. It was about Jenni doing something just for her, for no other reason than she finally felt like she deserved to feel pride in who she was.
Over the next few months Jenni began to make real time for herself and for her training. Every opportunity she had was spent in her trainers pounding the concrete. She would often arrive at work in full running gear having run into work or change into her running gear for the run home. The physical transformation was evident, it was obvious to anyone looking at her that she was losing weight – but it wasn’t even about that. It was about an outlet, a space for her to push all the daily challenges of everyday life out of her head and into the pavement. To just be herself. She had found her ‘therapy’. She was so dedicated to her training that she even got up on Christmas morning and went for a run!
By the time the Edinburgh marathon came round Jenni had lost an incredible 3 and a half stone. That’s about 50lb in 7 months.
“Doing the marathon was a big thing for me, travelling on my own without the boys for the first time. I genuinely thought it was going to kill me doing it. At mile 21 I hit ‘The Wall’ which I had never experienced in training. Basically your body shuts down and doesn’t want you to keep going, but somehow I was able to push through and cross the finish line with a sprint finish! For me to be able to recognise in myself that for those last few miles it was mind over matter was incredibly profound. It was about shutting up the voices in my head that said I should stop and I can’t do this but just dig deep and keep going anyway.”
Jenni didn’t stop there.
Since completing the Edinburgh marathon this year she has also done a few other little runs:
- In July the Great North 10k in 47minutes, in August
- the Gateshead Trail 10k in 45 minutes,
- in September the Great North Run Half Marathon in 1 hour 46 min – almost an hour faster than the previous year!…and then incredibly in October she did
- The Great Scottish Run in 1hour 39 minutes,
- the virtual 401 Marathon Challenge in 3hour 58minutes and
- finished the month with the M2N Marathon in 3hour 53mins!
“Being able to see my times constantly improving and pushing myself to be faster and then actually achieving those time goals is really satisfying. The Great North Run this year especially because it was such a massive difference in time from last year. Knocking nearly an hour off just proved how far I had come. I was the 462nd woman across the line.”
So far Jenni is signed up to do the Edinburgh Marathon again in May along with the 5k and 10k races too. But the big one is the London Marathon in April.
So far Jenni has run almost all of these races completely off her own back but this time she has decided that she wants to run for YMCA…Why?
“I can see first-hand where the vital fundraising money is being spent. I see the young people that we are supporting every day and the money genuinely does change their lives. The amazing new emergency accommodation that has just been finished in part of our building is fantastic but we want to be able to provide more beds and a safe space for people to be when they have nobody and nowhere to go. I have been really lucky in the support I have had from my family and my Ex-husband’s family – emotionally, financially and sometimes physically with something as simple as a hug. These young people simply don’t have that. But what they do have is us.”
SO what Jenni needs now is sponsorship money. She needs YOU. She needs you to dig deep and put your hand in your pocket to help her meet her minimum target of £2000 for the London Marathon. Please give whatever you can afford by donating to her Just Giving Page here or if you are in YMCA North Tyneside keep an eye out for the wristbands she is selling on reception. And if you are ever in the gym and happen to spot her on a treadmill getting some training in, then feel free to give her some words of encouragement and any spare money you may have to donate!
Note from Eliza: “I wanted to say on a personal level that writing this has actually been a very emotional experience for me. I have been friends with Jenni since I started working for YMCA North Tyneside 18 months ago. I have been one of the very lucky people to have witnessed the transformation Jenni has made. She walks a little taller, smiles a little broader, laughs a little harder and has a new found self-belief. It is infectious. The fact that she has lost so much weight is secondary to the internal transformation she has made. I am lucky enough be able to count Jenni as a friend, who continues so surprise me with her sense of humour, her dedication to providing the best for her gorgeous boys not to mention her amazing ability to keep going no matter what life seems to throw at her.
There are people in life that inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves, to me, Jenni is without a doubt one of those people.”