From living in a tent in the woods to being employed by the City Council as a Fitness Advisor, life really does begin at 40 for Tony!
Tony who has been profoundly deaf since the age of seven, was referred to Nottingham Community Housing Association through the Deaf Society two years ago. His Support Worker Pete explains, “Through no fault of his own, Tony found himself living rough after being kicked out of his shared housing by his housemates. Pete worked alongside Tony to make sure he was receiving the right support and ended up getting sole tenancy of the property. “It meant I could see my daughter again”, says Tony.
Although Tony is no stranger to a gym, having trained on and off throughout his life; the experience of homelessness left him feeling defeated.
“When the opportunity came up to access the leisure facilities in a free three month trial, it was like a light bulb moment for me. I suffer from anxiety when I’m out and about so I started to use the sauna to wind down or would let off some steam in the gym where I’m surrounded by my medication – my dumbells!
“My dad was diagnosed with Cancer and I lost him in October. I’ve learnt how to talk about my feelings and share my own experiences of mental health disorders and cancer with others – so I’ve also gained some counselling skills too!
“I trained to become an instructor a while ago but missed out on a qualification by a couple of points. When the Instructability course was mentioned to me, it seemed like another chance and meant I could transform my troubles from grief into drive.
Tony admits it was difficult to go back to a learning environment when he started training at Clifton Leisure Centre but found it helped his mental health and built his confidence. “Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations helps you to grow mentally, which is just as important as physical fitness.
“I had a great tutor who waited for me to write up my notes and gave me visual handouts to help with the learning process so it was a bit of a blessing.
“After I finished my training I had a three month placement as a volunteer but there was no guarantee of a job at the end of the 12 weeks, so I could have stopped, but I continued to volunteer.
“I’m on the payroll now but I still keep my voluntary shifts – I’m paid spiritually for that!”
“The best thing about it is I can go up to and talk to anyone now, that wouldn’t have happened before. I’ve got disabled clients being referred to me. Being able to relate to and help others – it makes everything I’ve been through all worth it.”
Tony is also having a huge positive impact on others. When the Instructability scheme reopened, he referred people to it who he thought would also benefit. “Rob doesn’t like new environments and would have panic attacks”, Tony explains, “so I would help diffuse situations when I realised he was about to have an attack by taking him outside and getting him to breathe to open up his airways.”
He is also getting some sign-ups from patients being discharged from Highbury Hospital. “One of the guys I’ve been helping is thinking about becoming a Personal Trainer.”
Tony cites the support he’s received from the team at Ken Martin as being a key part of his success.
“The team have been really understanding and have allowed me to swap shifts when I’ve needed to because of my mental health and were really flexible in allowing me to complete my 1-2-1 in house qualification.
“It’s very difficult to see an opportunity when you are depressed or get anxious,” says Tony. “But there’s lots of things you can do. Talk to people around you, you might find someone in a similar boat. Walking can help by giving you thinking space. Oh and anyone with a dog, it’s like a gym on legs!
“Finding a gym buddy will help motivate you but group activities is another option worth trying. Classes get your endorphins going and you push yourself a bit harder. I think routine is important, but don’t beat yourself up. Plus, sometimes it’s just about coming along, just being here is an achievement.
“People can have a negative view of the gym but Ken Martin and other council leisure centres are so friendly. We even adjust the music to make sure we cater for different groups depending on the time of day.”
Tony added, “For some it’s a social experience, others it’s a lifestyle choice. Whatever the reason, it’s important to look after your heart and general well-being and just be happy.”