Eight years ago, Craig Anderson from East Cleveland decided enough was enough, and it was time to turn his life around and focus on his health.

At 16, Craig left school and joined the army, and whilst in Germany during his last year of service, he started experimenting with recreational drugs.

On leaving the army, he continued taking drugs, which turned into an 18-year drug addiction combined with heavy drinking and smoking.

But Craig had a moment of clarity when he saw a photograph of himself a friend had posted on social media. He knew that his weight had plummeted to eight and a half stone, but he was so shocked at what he looked like; it made him sit up and reflect on what he was doing with his life.

Craig said, “The moment I saw that photograph, which a close friend had innocently shared, I thought to myself, you’ve amounted to nothing, you are nothing, and you’ll never be anything unless you stop and re-evaluate your life”.

Craig’s whole reason for initially wanting to join the army was to become a personal training instructor. But, now, with the photo at the forefront of his mind, he decided it was time to start doing something about his life and health; otherwise, he would never achieve the dream he’d had as a 16-year-old lad.

He immediately decided to stop taking the drugs and stop smoking and drinking. But around nine months after he had quit, he started suffering with his mental health.

“My weight had increased to 17 stone, and I found myself in a position where I still wasn’t happy with myself, so I decided I needed to do more, and I also wanted to get myself fit”.

With a little bit of money saved up, Craig decided to take his first step towards becoming more active, and at the same time, he decided to buy himself a camera so he could photograph the landscape while walking up Eston Hills.

Starting slowly, he gradually increased the distance of his walks until he eventually managed to walk an 8-mile loop. This achievement motivated Craig to run on the flat and walk the hill parts of the route, and before long, he was running the hills and walking the flats until, eventually, he went out one day and ran the whole way.

“I began to like how being active made me feel, I was enjoying setting myself little challenges, and I could see how it positively impacted my weight, confidence and mental health”.

At this time, Craig started working voluntarily for Cleveland Fire Support. He quickly settled into the role well and, after a couple of months, was asked to become a volunteer team leader.

He was also progressing well with his running, he’d completed his first half marathon in Redcar, and this spurred him to join Redcar Running Club.

“When I decided to become more active, I found that if I set small goals and achieved them, I felt proud of myself, and in turn, this made me feel better about myself.

Craig’s role at Cleveland Fire Support meant he spent most of his time visiting people in their homes to fit smoke alarms and offer fire safety advice. Whilst carrying out this work, he began meeting people with mental; and physical health issues and others who had become lonely and isolated.

“I began to think, I can do something and help people like this, so I decided I wanted to learn more about health and fitness and took the decision at the age of 42 to go to university and start a foundation degree at Durham.

Thinking he was on the right track, Craig finished the year, but unfortunately, having struggled with the course, he didn’t achieve a higher enough pass rate to continue the second year at Durham.

Undeterred and knowing he had already built up some educational credits, he applied and secured a place to complete his studies at Teesside University.

Not long into the term, Craig faced some personal challenges. Two members of his immediate family were diagnosed with serious illnesses, and he was also seriously injured in a firework accident. This all began to have an impact on his studies, and he considered not continuing the course as everything in his life felt too much to deal with.

“I had a lot of support around me from other students and some of the staff, especially the course sports psychologist.

“It was her who made me realise how far I had come and how much I had achieved, and she motivated me to stick with it, and whilst it was a big struggle, I completed my assignments and dissertation”.

Craig was now coaching running at Redcar Running Club and children’s athletics at Middlesbrough Sports Village, but his focus remained on becoming a personal trainer.

He managed to secure a place on an intensive training course, which resulted in him becoming a qualified personal trainer. Once qualified, he secured a position as a self-employed personal trainer at Xercise4Less Stockton and was promoted to full-time duty manager within a few weeks of starting.

“Everything I’ve achieved has stemmed from seeing that photograph of myself”.

Since turning his life around, Craig has run four half marathons and one full marathon and raised thousands of pounds for charity.

“At my graduation, I was awarded the ‘most successful student’ from that intake. This meant more to me than my degree because it showed I’d put the hard work in and overcome some big barriers and challenges to get where I am”.

Reflecting on how far he has come, Craig recognises that being active has changed him into a better person, the person he wanted to be, and now he wants to continue helping others to become active, so they can feel as good as he does.

“I started making small changes, and my levels of physical activity progressed over time. I achieved this by setting small goals and consistently building on those achievements a bit at a time.

“The endorphins I get from being active feel better than any drugs I took in the past, and if I can get fit, anyone can.

“However you want to move, walk, do some gardening, dance around the house, run, or anything else, just give it a go. You’ve nothing to lose and so much to gain”.

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