Mother-of-three Sorrel Sands is an inspiration to anyone who thinks that they can’t lose weight or get fit.
There was a time when the 34-year-old former child care worker, crippled with a back problem, thought she was at serious risk of losing the use of her legs. Chronic pain and depression saw her weight shoot up to nearly 16 stones (101kgs). And yet today Sorrel, who lives in Shelley, is a slender size 10/12, goes out running three or four times a week and is the proud bearer of a medal from the Liverpool Half Marathon, which she completed in under two hours.
Hers is a story of determination and endurance that began in the summer of 2013 when she suffered a slipped disc, an injury that she says went undiagnosed and left her in increasing pain and with nerve damage.
But it wasn’t until the family was about to take a holiday in Egypt that her condition became critical.
Sorrel explained: “I’d started with a bad back and sciatica and the doctor put me on various types of medication, but it didn’t get any better. By August we were due to go on holiday and I was in a lot of pain and struggling to go to the toilet.
“The night before our holiday I woke up bleeding and went to A & E, but they couldn’t find anything and said I was good to go.
“The night we got there I couldn’t sleep and by the morning I’d swollen up. Two doctors were called to the hotel and they put a catheter in for two days. But when the catheter came out I still couldn’t go to the toilet and we had to go the hospital in Sharm el Sheikh. It was an awful experience. The hospital was dirty, with flies everywhere, and the language barrier made everything very difficult.”
After being catheterised once again Sorrel, her husband Matt, and two children (Poppy and Finn, now 8 and 9), flew back home. She was given an MRI scan at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary that she says identified a slipped disc pressing on nerves. “When they operated they shaved the disc and popped back as much as they could but I was told that I might be paralysed,” said Sorrel. “I have permanent nerve damage that will never get better.”
For many months afterwards she suffered pain and numbness in her limbs and lower body. “I had to be taught how to self-catheterise,” she says.
Sorrel, a former nursery nurse, did manage to walk again, but the recovery period was dogged with depression. “I was at home all the time and didn’t go out because of the catheter bag,” she said, “I’d always been a fun-loving person but I was really depressed. I’ve struggled with my weight for years but had managed to get it under control before the operation. Afterwards I just started eating rubbish again. I never weighed myself, I dread to think how big I got.”
And then something miraculous happened. Sorrel discovered she was expecting her third child, Nell, a surprise baby that she says has helped her to rebuild her life. She explained: “When Nell was born I had a lightbulb moment. I was so happy; I’d been depressed for months, but I felt that maybe everything was working out and the only thing holding me back was my weight. I was determined to do something about it.
“We went to Cannon Hall Farm for a day and my husband took some photos. While I was uploading them I thought ‘am I really so big?’ It was disgusting, and embarrassing for my children.”
So in May 2015 Sorrel joined the Weight Watchers group at Shepley Methodist Church, which meets on Tuesday evenings, and began her weight loss journey, shedding around five stones. Along the way she decided to improve her fitness as well. “I started going out with Nell in her pushchair after dropping the children off at school,” she explained. “I ended up walking seven miles every day and at weekends I’d do 10 or 11 miles.
“Then in January 2016 I thought I’d start running, although I’d never been a runner before. The first time I did 1 1/2 miles and it was a struggle, but I really enjoyed it. Then I started doing three or four miles, then five or six. I’d bought a Fitbit and I got into a bit of a competition with myself. I found the running helped enormously, which is a miracle really when I think that at one time I was struggling to walk.”
Last year, in May, Sorrel and a friend, Clare Dawson, completed the Liverpool Half Marathon in 1 hour 55 minutes, and they have plans to take part in more races.
Sorrel still takes painkillers and other medication but says that running helps to keep her weight down and her spirits up. She now runs three or four times a week as well as going to the gym.
Joining Weight Watchers, she says, has encouraged her to adopt a healthier lifestyle, with more home-cooked meals. She explained: “We eat a lot of vegetables, fruit, wholewheat pasta, rice, fish and meat. I cook a lot from scratch now; the whole family has a healthier diet. The children don’t eat frozen chicken nuggets, I make them myself and they are a lot healthier. Nell really loves fruit and will prefer strawberries to chocolate.”
However, Sorrel accepts she will always have to watch her weight and that she needs the backing of a slimming club. “I’d gone to slimming clubs before but I’d just turn up to be weighed and then leave before the meeting,” she said, “now I stay for the support I get. I’d had weight issues since I was a teenager and I love food. But with losing weight and taking up running I’m back to my normal happy self.”