Ultimately It’s You Who Has To Get Off The Sofa
An Interview With Sophie Grace Holmes
Sophie Holmes has suffered from Cystic Fibrosis almost her whole life. However she refuses to let the illness dictate her life and is a staunch believer that exercise will save her life. Incredibly positive, and fun, Sophie is planning on climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2015 and will be the first woman with Cystic Fibrosis to do so. She's a great reminder to us all that we can overcome any challenge, no matter how big, with a positive mindset and can do attitude.
Hey Sophie! So pleased you’ve agreed to meet me today!
No worries, been looking forward to it.
I know that you have CF (cystic fibrosis). So when did you get diagnosed with CF?
4 months. They only diagnosed me because I was only 3lbs. I was born 10 weeks early and my parents suspected something could be wrong.
Three pounds – wow that is really small. That must have been incredibly hard for your family.
Yes it was, but in life you quickly adapt to your situation and they’ve been great.
So growing up, I imagine you were wrapped up in cotton wool?
My parents wanted to wrap me up in cotton wool a little bit but I’ve always been a go getter. So anything I want to do, I would just go and do. I wouldn’t let an illness, no matter how serious; stop me from pursuing my dreams. I would always do whatever it takes to be able to live my life the way I want to live it. I’ve always been like that and I think I drive my mum and dad mad! But the way I see it is you’ve got to enjoy life.
Completely agree. It’s amazing how many people just their lives pass them by.
Exactly. We’re only here once. Got to seize every opportunity I think.
So I read that your sisters play a big part in your life, how so?
So yes I’ve got two sisters. One of them is a doctor, and the reason she became a doctor was that she wanted to look after me. She used to look after me loads when I was younger and decided to follow her passion – which was caring for people like me – and so became a doctor. And my other sister had a passion for exercise so she became a Personal Trainer and is working out in Dubai. We always used to train together and do exercise together and we actually ended up becoming Personal Trainers together.
Quite the inspiring family then!
My mum and Dad think we’re all very weird – a doctor based in Singapore, a Personal Trainer based in Dubai and me. Poor them!
So when you were a teenager was you always active or did your illness prevent you doing things?
Always. I never sat down. I literally run around all the day. I actually can’t remember the last time I sat down and watched TV.
You’re shaming me – I watch far too much television. I need to take a leaf out of your book!
I’ve always been an active person, I’ve always loved sports. I’ve even got a horse and look after him every day! He’s amazing.
That’s brilliant! It’s amazing how therapeutic animals can be.
I love him!
I read that you became ill a few years ago, what happened?
Yes December 3 years ago I ended up in hospital. My lung capacity had dropped to 60% in a matter of months just really due to stress.
So stress can cause your CF to “flare up”.
Yes stress can have an impact on anyone’s health but with CF it can hit your lung function very hard, and have a serious impact. As soon as you start losing weight your lung function drops rapidly.
And lung function just means how much air you can get into your lungs?
Yep. And it dropped to 60% and me being me I’ve always been so well that it was a big shock. And it was a shock for the doctors, and my family, as it all happened within two months. I was on a drip for 2 weeks and that’s when I just sat there and thought you know what life is just too short. You’ve just got to go and have fun. So I made a bucket list. I’ve got 150 things on there. And I sat there and thought what is it that I want to do with my life and that’s when I decided I’d take action and quit my job and become a personal trainer.
So what job did you do before then?
Just an office based job. Boring admin. I couldn’t go back to that rubbish, I needed to take control of my life and do something I loved, something I enjoyed so personal training made complete sense to me.
Leaving your job must have been a big risk?
Yeh I got my qualification in Personal Training and then literally, the next day just handed in my notice without having any idea what was going to happen. My mum couldn’t believe it!
But it worked out in the end! I am guessing you’d recommend others to take similar risks?
In my opinion if you have a passion you should follow it. You get one opportunity to live your life and nobody wants a 9 till 5 admin job. Everyone has a passion and if you can make your passion your work then life just becomes that much more fun. If you want something enough, then just make it happen.
“If you want something enough, then just make it happen.”
This is where all of our readers hand in their notice tomorrow and we get calls from angry managers!
So when did you know exercise made a big difference to your CF?
Well when I was in hospital I had a lot of time to think. And I figured the only way you’re going to increase anything to do with fitness is work it. So my lungs were at 60% capacity but to get that up I figured I had to really train hard because this would then help my capacity – because I would be working it so much. So if I push myself to get out of breath then over time it will improve the capacity of my lungs. So that’s why it’s so important for CF sufferers to keep really fit and that’s why becoming a Personal Trainer made complete sense to me.
So do other CF sufferers realise that exercise can have such a positive impact, is it a known thing?
It is but weirdly it’s a very new development. I think people are beginning to realise that they know it helps but they don’t know enough details – I think a lot of people try and manage their condition and in doing so shy away maybe from what is a ‘perceived risk’ and as exercising hard is a fairly new development people aren’t confident that it will have a positive impact, they may worry it’ll have the reverse effect.
I also think a lot of people have the attitude I am going to die anyway so what’s the point? I’ve been told I’m not going to live past 40 so why bother really pushing my body hard in terms of exercise if I am just going to die. Doctors can only do so much, they can advise you to exercise but ultimately it’s you who has to get off the sofa and go do it. But it is definitely the key, one hundred percent. It’s the reason I am so well.
I was going to say, since being a Personal Trainer what’s the impact been on your health?
It’s literally changed my life. That’s not me exaggerating. It’s changed everything. Even to the point that back in March my lung function was actually over one hundred percent. I am actually the fittest and most well I have ever been which at my age and suffering from CF is unheard of. A lot of people say that with CF once you’re down with your health, once your lung capacity drops that low, you can’t get it back up. But hopefully I’ve proven you can. And I’ve managed to keep it above that 100% level which I am really proud of.
That’s incredible! Congratulations!
So if we go back to your bucket list, what’s the one thing from that that you just have to do?
Well I’ve done about 50 of the 150 things but the problem with me is I keep adding to it! I did horse riding archery the other day. It was awesome!
Horse riding archery? So you were essentially Robin Hood for the day?!
Yes. You should do it, it’s amazing!
I’d love to but I fear I’d fall off the horse and spear myself!
You’re missing out! But no the one thing I have to do, that I am doing in October next year is climbing Kilimanjaro!
You’re climbing Kilimanjaro?
I will be the first woman with Cystic Fibrosis to ever have climbed it.
Your poor mum!
I am so excited! She knows me well enough by now that I just want to have fun. I am going to be changing my drugs from next month and there’s load of prep going into it but my doctors have agreed so it’s all systems go.
That’s honestly amazing. So are you going with friends?
There are actually 15 of us doing it. So we have a lot of money to raise.
Well hopefully and our readers and us could help you with that. Would be great to raise you some money for the trip.
That would be amazing!
So this maybe a controversial question but I have to ask it. You’ve told me you’re in the best place you’ve been health wise and that you’re loving life at the moment. Why then, take the risk of climbing Kilimanjaro and the danger of making yourself ill?
Because it’s always been something I wanted to do. I was told at 15 that I was half way through my life. I am NOT half way through my life. I am going to prove that I will still be here when I am 80. And the way I see it is I’d rather live and enjoy it than just exist and not. And if it ends up knocking my health back then so be it. I am confident I would be able to get it back up. I never want to look back and think oh I wish I’d have done that.
Fair to say you’re not one of those people that just settles. I can imagine that when Kilimanjaro is done, and I’ve no doubt you will complete it, that you’ll be moving on to the next challenge!
That’s my problem! I am a nightmare. I have already planned to walk the Great Wall of China in 2016. Not even done Kilimanjaro yet – I am a nightmare
I can see why you’ve done 50 things off your bucket list now! So what have you got to do to prepare for Kilimanjaro?
So I need to begin to change my drugs, which will be happening in the next couple of months. Training wise I will be going to the altitude centre in London regularly.
I was going to say that must be what makes it almost impossible for a CF sufferer to climb Kilimanjaro – the air gets so thin up there.
Yes the only reason people tend not to get up there is altitude sickness. But I am having mountaineering sessions with experts and am climbing the 3 peaks in the UK before I go. I am going to make sure I am fully prepared and get to the top.
Are you scared?
I’m just so excited
Yeh that was a stupid question!
I am going to do a massive star jump at the top.
Yeh I can’t wait, a lot of preparation needs to be done but bring it on.
You’re crazily inspiring and the whole team wish you luck in climbing Kilimanjaro. We will continue to track your progress and I know our readers will want to help you in any ways that they can. How could they get involved?
Thank you. That’d be amazing. I will be setting up a place where people can donate to CF.
Awesome, we’ll share that.