A mother-of-three was so keen to join the fire service that she lost more than FOUR STONE by dropping her junk food habit and taking up running and rowing.
Elizabeth Sharpe, 40, once worked in a supermarket where she fell into habits of buying reduced-priced pastries and bottles of wine on her way home after her shift.
After her marriage came to an end in January 2009, Miss Sharpe, of Monmouth, who is mother to Jodie, 19, Victoria, 16, and Alex, 12, decided to follow a long-held ambition of signing up as a firefighter.
Mindful of the gruelling entrance tests, she began exercising and completely overhauled her diet to slim down from the 12st 1lb, size 16 she was at her largest to a fit and trim eight stone, size six.
After endless months of determined preparation, Miss Sharpe finally became an operational retained firefighter for South Wales Fire and Rescue service in June 2012.
She said: “I was in my marriage for a long time and by the end I felt quite sad. I was three or four stone overweight and smoked and drank quite a bit.
“I hardly left the house except to work at Somerfield – a job I had taken up just to meet people.
“When the relationship came to an end, I realised that my children were growing up and my life wasn’t over. I told myself I could do anything if I put my mind to it.
“I’d had friends go into the fire service and, having grown up on a farm, the active lifestyle appealed to me. I decided to investigate it. The moment I stepped inside my local fire station and met the team, I knew it was where I wanted to be.”
Before her divorce Miss Sharpe found herself relying on comfort food and treats which were readily available at her workplace.
She said: “On most evenings I took home a bottle of wine and drank it myself. I found it difficult to ignore the yellow ‘reduced’ stickers on the shelves. I tried to bring home a few pain au chocolates for the family over the course of the week.
“I have quite a small frame, so the pounds piled on quite easily.”
After separating from her ex-husband, Miss Sharpe started running as a way to challenge herself.
She said: “I took the dog out for the first few runs. To start with, the dog was practically dragging me along because I couldn’t run to save my life. But after a couple of weeks, I found myself keeping up with the dog and then encouraging him to keep up with me.
“I was still smoking and having the odd treat and glass of wine, but as the year went on my mind turned towards building a new healthy lifestyle.
“I considered my options. As a small girl I’d lived on a farm, so I loved being active outside, and had a naturally high energy level.
“I reasoned I was probably too old for the army and decided I wanted to become a firefighter, because it was a job which helped the community.”
Miss Sharpe joined her local rowing club and transformed her diet, leaving behind her favourite carb-heavy, fatty comfort food.
At her heaviest weight, Miss Sharpe typically ate toast with peanut butter for breakfast, followed by homemade burgers with chips for lunch and pork chops with potatoes for her evening meal. She would nibble on chocolate bars, crisps and pain au chocolates throughout the day.
As she slimmed down, she typically had yogurt with banana for breakfast, followed by couscous with vegetables or a poached egg with salad for lunch, with a simple meal of white fish with salt and pepper for her dinner. When she snacked, she chose healthier options, such as a handful of pistachio nuts.
Despite her gains, Miss Sharpe, who has a partner, Andrew Buxton, 34, a bike repairer, had to fight hard for her place in the fire station.
She had to wait six months to earn her operational status after struggling with the physical test on her first attempt.
She said: “I flew through the test until the very last stage, when I struggled to get a weight over my head. Women have 30 per cent less muscle mass than men, so I needed to make up the shortfall.
“I gave up alcohol and smoking, trained hard, went back six months later and sailed through it.
“My first job as an operational retained firefighter was a very proud moment. As we were on our way, we passed an engine going the other way. I saw it pass and thought to myself, ‘wow, that’s amazing’. Then I realised I was sat in my own engine, and it finally dawned on me what I’d achieved.”
“Even though I’ve only been doing the job for a short time, I’ve seen everything a fire and rescue officer could see, including deaths on the road. I know some people can’t cope with it, but I’ve learned that I can. I get a huge amount of satisfaction by going to a scene to help.
“I have to keep motivated – apart from mandatory drills they don’t push you to exercise, you have to do it off your own back. I know if I don’t keep up, I know where I’ll go back to the place I was, and I’m not going to let that happen.
“You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it – that’s the lesson I give to my children now.”