Inspiration: our friend Jo

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I first met Jo on the scary first day of my year abroad in France aged 20 when her and her childhood friend Nat told me I looked like one of the girls from some pre-Tyra early Noughties reality show about models and asked if I wanted to go outside with them for a sneaky Marlboro Light. A blatant lie, but quite enough for me to form a lifelong friendship with the pair of them which continues to this day.

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Twenty-something drag queens

Over the years our shared interests have changed and evolved but somehow they’ve continued to be shared ones.

For years, we would swap our WeightWatchers weigh ins, ProPoints paranoia and ill-fated exercise attempts as we struggled on the path to health and happiness.

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Schnapps haze

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Not holding cigarettes

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No reason other than SATURDAY NIGHT

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In shock that one of us was grown up enough to get married

Fourteen years on from our first meeting, Jo is a married mum to 14-month-old Lottie (JOKE Jo, she’s ONE) and still one of my most trusted and frequent what’s app correspondents although sadly it’s a long distance rel as she’s in Nottingham while I’m oop North.

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Breaking hearts everywhere by getting BD down the aisle

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Jo and Lottie

Like so many of us, Jo has struggled with her weight over the years but over the last six to 12 months she’s seen some incredible progress which we wanted to share with you in the hope it will inspire others in similar situations.

Jo’s a language teacher (good on her for actually using that degree which has been as useful to me as a slap in the face) and works four days a week since returning from maternity leave last year. She’s the first to admit she’s naturally lazy, she used to refuse to cook anything from scratch because the chopping involved was too much like hard work and until recently she had a staunch aversion to exercise – when I signed up to my first ultra marathon she was the most supportive person ever, but still insisted on quite rightly dubbing it the “horrenathon”.

True to form, Jo brought her whole gang along to cheer the Kings on when we completed our first ever marathon last year in Nottingham and we had a celebratory lunch afterwards with Nat. Seeing them at the 10 mile point gave us such an amazing boost, we talked about nothing else in excitement from mile 7 onwards, spent the next 5 or 6 miles reliving it during tough patches and it’s something we’ll never forget.

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Post-mara: Chaz teaching Lottie the King pose

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Me teaching Lottie the King lifestyle

Earlier this year, Jo found herself in a bit of a slump after several attempts to get on the health lorry failed and she was finding it tough to juggle work, Lottie, spending time with her husband, being healthy and anything else she was meant to be doing.

We had an emergency Sunday meet-up midway in Sheffield (where we struggled to locate a suitable healthy eaterie so any suggestions welcome) to get to the bottom of things and sort her life out. We made lists, we brainstormed like a pair of blue sky thinking corporate douchebags and put away a gallon of Starbucks’ overpriced green tea as we nattered all day long to try and work out how to help Jo change things for the better.

It turned out this was the start of something really exciting for Jo and things got better and better for her ever since.

She started off by scheduling in regular walks out with daughter Lottie in the pram on her days off, Sundays and Wednesdays worked OK for her and she stuck to them. A few weeks later I challenged her to walk 10k and though she hated me for it, bombarded me with angry snapchats throughout and fielded many a bemused question from husband David she actually did it and felt great for it.

In the meantime she had also discovered a love of cooking from fresh (honestly if Jo can get into this, anyone can and she will not mind me saying that), even the dreaded chopping became almost enjoyable when she stuck on a bit of Taylor Swift and bopped along to Shake It Off, our chosen anthem for ignoring the health haterz.

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One of the things that Jo loves about her new-found regime is the fact for once in her life she feels like it’s OK to be food obsessed – previously it was always a bad thing in her mind because it led to weight gain and sadness, now she could discuss food ideas with us all day long and it would only lead to positive changes for her life, her body and her state of mind.

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Bit of child labour

David soon realised she was in it for the long haul and stopped moaning about her healthy menus – one of the challenges she faced was cooking things he wouldn’t like and eating separately; Chaz and I assured her we regularly did this and it really wasn’t the end of the world, predictably David soon saw these changes were making her happy and he was more than prepared to sort his own less healthy meals for the greater good.

Like us, Jo loves the simplicity and tastiness of recipes by Deliciously Ella, Naturally Sassy et al and we are constantly screenshotting and snapchatting recipes to share with each other when we try new things.

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The Sheffield pow-wow sparked more regular weekend meet-ups between us; Jo has come to love these days out without her beloved Lottie as it gives her a much-needed bit of time and space on her own to read on the train, plan the week ahead and enjoy the peace and quiet.

After an April meeting in Manchester, Jo what’s apped me on her return home that Sunday night to tell me she’d “done something stupid”. Fearing a lorry fall, I quickly replied asking what had happened only to discover she’d signed up for a 5k Race for Life, her first ever race, in about 10 weeks’ time.

She had dabbled with running the odd time over the years but never enjoyed it or stuck at it. Suddenly she’d made the incredibly brave move of signing up for something she was prepared to tell the world about, asking for sponsorship to force herself into doing the necessary training. We quickly Googled training plans and realised she had just the right amount of time to embark on and complete a Couch to 5K so she downloaded an app and prepared to do her first ever training run the following day.

Since then, Chaz and I have received regular snapchats of a triumphant Jo smashing each target and committing to every training run on the schedule. From panicking over the prospect of running for five whole minutes about a month ago, she’s now going out for 5k runs without stopping and even incorporated a previously dreaded hill into the mix to push herself even further.

The health kick has continued throughout, Jo makes herself set aside half a day every weekend to batch cook and plan the week ahead and every time she gets bored or finds herself veering off the lorry, we put our heads together and find ways to keep it interesting, new recipes, different ingredients to try and old recipes to revive (in fact, she was the brains behind this post last week). She does inevitably fall off the lorry sometimes, but the important thing is she gets back on it. Jo’s lost an amazing two stones since this all began and has never felt better about herself, Lottie is happily tucking into all her delicious healthy cooking and David can’t believe the difference in her, she’s happy and feeling good about herself.

Last month we got together in Manchester and she bought skinny jeans for the first time ever and dressed up in a way she’d never have bothered with before to go out to Nat’s birthday lunch. She insisted the jeans were from Primark, she didn’t want to spend much because she doesn’t plan on staying that size for long (that’s the spirit).

Jo doesn’t always find it easy (who does?). Plenty of days she can’t be bothered to run, she has to go relatively late in the evening after Lottie’s bedtime as she’s really not a morning person (though I choked on my granola last weekend when she snapchatted me a pre 8am run after complaining the day before she wasn’t sure she’d have time to fit it in).

Yesterday, Sunday, 7th June, Jo completed her first ever 5k race accompanied by Nat and proudly cheered on by David, Lottie and the rest of her family.

Start line smiles

Start line smiles

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Incredibly, Jo absolutely smashed her former PB by almost five minutes and came in at 37 minutes 38 seconds which is just amazing for someone who could run to the end of the street 10 weeks ago. The atmosphere on the day and plenty of motivation from running buddy Nat helped considerably but the achievement is all her own.

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Champs

Jo’s achievements in general are not to be underestimated, in the words of Nat she has completely changed her lifestyle and taught herself how to cook and exercise after spending most of her adult life avoiding and loathing both. She has found a genuine love of both which she never ever thought possible and this is only the beginning.

We could not be more impressed or proud of everything Jo has done so far for herself and can’t wait to see what’s next. She’s already planning a 10k in November! WELL DONE JO and keep up the inspirational work!

Jo has raised £200 for Cancer Research so far and you can still sponsor her here: https://www.justgiving.com/jokimsmith1/

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