Stephen Heron overcame disability to shed 14 stone and will tackle half marathon
A Ballymena man has turned his life around by losing almost 14 stone - and he is now set to tackle the Belfast half marathon.
Stephen Heron, who once tipped the scales at 32 stone, has lost nearly half of his body weight and is now a full-time personal fitness instructor.
That massive weight loss is no mean feat for anyone, but considering Stephen is wheelchair-bound makes it even more remarkable.
He was born with spina bifida and for the first 22 years of his life he managed to get about on crutches.
However, years of leading an unhealthy lifestyle and comfort eating plus an operation following a serious dog bite forced him into a wheelchair back in 2000 weighing 23 stone.
Due to his condition Stephen suffered from pressure sores and was bedridden for up to six months at a time. He endured three long stints in bed, in hospital and at home and his weight escalated.
He said: "I was born with spina bifida and was able to get around on crutches until the year 2000 when I was 22.
"From an early age I had issues with my weight and was always heavier than I should have been.
"Life was tough and my weight was escalating. By the time I was 22 I had hit 23 stone and there didn't seem to be any end to the gains.
"Then came an operation after I was bitten by a dog and I actually had septicaemia and cellulitis which poisoned me so badly that I almost died in hospital.
"The doctors had to cut away a really badly poisoned part of my leg which left me bed-bound for another stint.
"During that time in bed I gained a lot more weight and had so many pressure sores that I was forced into a powered wheelchair as I was too heavy move myself around.
"That in itself should have been a wake-up call but I continued in the same old fashion I was used to.
"I was eating totally the wrong foods. It was purely comfort eating. Friends would come around and we would eat pizza or takeaways late at night.
"The weight just went on and when I was bed-bound the only thing I had to look forward to was the next meal and what it consisted of.
"In early 2015 I was in a really bad place. The last long-term period I had spent bedridden really got to me. My mental health was not good and I really did not want to be around any more. I also had Type two diabetes which didn't help."
However, before Stephen took any drastic action he turned to his faith and asked God for help.
"I had to change my mindset into realising what foods were going to increase my weight and which were actually good for me," he said.
"My weight started to drop which gave me lots of encouragement to do more. One of my friends who is a rally driver was training hard in a gym with a personal trainer to get fitter for a race that was coming up and suggested I should try a personal trainer too.
"I thought he was mad in the head. Here I was sitting in a wheelchair at 32 stone and he wanted me to go to a gym.
"That personal trainer was Billy Morgan, who took me under his wing. I bit the bullet and started attending the gym three times a week - yes, in my wheelchair.
"I started to eat clean foods, healthy foods and really gave the gym it all.
"I was able to do a lot of work in the gym with the kettle bells, some boxing and work with the weights.
"We were able to adapt some of the regular training that able-bodied people did, to something I could do in a wheelchair and it was working.
"When the weight started to slide off, my confidence rocketed. It was a nice feeling and it was very addictive."
But then came a shock for Stephen, one that also had an impact on his new lifestyle.
"Billy asked me if I would consider becoming a personal trainer as well," said Stephen. "I would need to get qualified as a gym instructor. But then again I had nothing to lose."
Stephen duly embarked on his course and became a fully qualified personal instructor.
He took up training others at Pure Fitness Flex gym in Ballymena thanks to an opportunity offered by owner Brendan Surgeoner.
Stephen is now training and inspiring others to lose weight and get into shape.
"I have a number of clients who say they are inspired by my story and how I changed my life around," he said.
Stephen says he wants to lose another two-and-a-half stone to get down to his target weight. When he sheds that he is going for an operation to remove a lot of excess skin which will see him drop another one-and-a-half stones.
"On September 18 I am already booked to compete in the Belfast half marathon which I am very much looking forward to.
"I am determined to complete the 13.2-mile course for Shine charity which supports people with spina bifida."