Meet Northern Ireland mother who traded blows for a good cause
Sarah Eachus was fed up being overweight, so she shed 12 stone with exercise and a healthy eating regime. But little did she know she’d face a bigger battle — and an actual bout in a boxing ring — after her mother died of cancer, writes Stephanie Bell
After years of battling her weight, it was a newly transformed Sarah Eachus who emerged fighting fit from the corner of a boxing ring this month to take part in a white collar charity match in memory of her late mum.
Just a few years ago, the very idea of such a physical challenge was unthinkable to the east Belfast mum, for whom even a short walk would have been a struggle.
After dropping 12 stone - more than half her body weight - the 36-year-old has transformed the quality of her life in every way, slimming down from a size 26-30 to a slim size 8-10. Previously she was 23 stone; now she is just 11.
"Just a couple of years ago, getting into a boxing ring would have been my idea of hell," Sarah says. "There is no one fitter than a boxer. A friend signed me up for it. At first, I thought she was joking. I can honestly say now it is the best thing I have ever done, and doing it in memory of mum for Cancer Research UK made it very special."
Sarah's mother, Ruth Anderson, was just 59 when she died from breast cancer a year ago. The boxing match Sarah took part in was one of a series staged nationally by Cancer Research UK, which has so far raised an astonishing £8.3m towards a target of £10m by the end of the year.
Donning boxing gloves is just the latest in a series of challenges that Sarah has thrived on since slimming down.
Overweight from her childhood, she had tried "every diet going" over the years. In the end, however, it was the help of a personal trainer and sensible eating that helped her to shed 10 stone in just 12 months - and completely change every aspect of her life, too.
Sarah, a mortgage advisor who is mother to Maia (9) and married to Ian, now runs her own boot camp in her spare time.
After leading a sedentary lifestyle for years, she has now become something of an adrenalin junkie, and is always on the lookout for fitness challenges.
"I've always struggled with my weight, and would have been the fat girl in the corner," Sarah says.
"In my teens, when everyone was out dancing, I would have been the happy fat girl in the background.
"At my heaviest in my 20s, I was 23 stone and would have been a size 26 to 30.
"Whatever the buzz diet was, I tried it and maybe lost a few pounds, but I would then put it back on again, because I couldn't sustain it.
"I woke up one morning in early 2014 and decided to try and change things, so I joined a gym. I watched the personal trainers coaching people and decided to approach one. He showed me an entirely different way to lose weight by calorie counting and exercise.
"I was able to download an app called My Fitness Pal, and it really helped make it easy. You could eat whatever foods you wanted - nothing was off-limits - as long as you kept within the calories for the day.
"When I started to take a pound or two off, I thought, 'I can do this'. I had to be selfish at the start and was going to the gym two to three times a day, which I know was excessive, but I had the support of my husband and (ultimately) my whole family has benefited. I really enjoyed it and loved the social aspect of it, too.
"Now I go about three times a week, which is better than sitting on the sofa."
Sarah's new-found enjoyment of the gym has become a vocation as she now coaches boot camps in her spare time. She has also achieved her Level 2 Personal Training qualification and is currently studying for Level 3.
It is a complete contrast to how she was living just a few years ago, and every day Sarah marvels at the difference and at how much she is enjoying her new quality of life.
Even being able to shop for fashionable clothes was a new experience, as was taking her daughter to the park where they enjoy racing each other - with mum trying to outrun her daughter.
"It was an ongoing family joke that I would get a taxi to the end of the street, but now it would be unthinkable to me not to walk everywhere," Sarah says. "If there is a mud run, I'm the first one to sign up for it.
"I used to sit in the house all the time because I didn't want to go out, but now I have a massive circle of friends.
The fitness-loving mother stresses it is possible to change. "Old habits do die hard," she says, "but you learn how to manage them better.
"Every aspect of my life has changed. Even going to the park with my little one is everything to me now. I couldn't run with my child before and beat her like I can now.
"I took part in the first relay at the Belfast Marathon this year and have signed up for half-marathons. I love new challenges.
"Even buying clothes was a pleasure. I used to be limited to certain stores when shopping for clothes, and at the time I just accepted it. You just lived with the fact that nothing fitted you, and (as a result) I had no concept of style or fashion.
"When I had gone down to a size 16, somebody said to me I needed to get new clothes. But it wasn't until I reached size 12 that the realisation hit me and I cleared out all of my old outfits.
"I wouldn't even give them to a charity shop, because they were so big. I would've been too embarrassed. It was a great feeling to know that I was never going to fit into those clothes again.
"It was fantastic to be able to go onto the high street and shop in stores like Oasis, Dunnes and Primark for the first time and buy stylish clothes."
Her latest challenge in the boxing ring, though, meant a very great deal because she did it in memory of her mum.
In 2013, a year before Sarah embarked on her weight-loss journey, she was given the news no one wants to hear - her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Following treatment, she was clear of the disease for two years, but sadly it returned, also spreading to her lymph nodes and lungs.
Shortly after, Sarah's mum fell and broke her hip. It was then she received the devastating news that the cancer had also spread into her bones, and nothing more could be done.
The loss of her beloved mum left Sarah heartbroken but determined to do everything she could to help fund research to develop treatments for the disease.
So far, she has raised £795 for Cancer Research UK by stepping into the boxing ring during the Ultra White Collar Boxing (UWCB) fundraising event.
UWCB gives ordinary people with no boxing experience the opportunity to train as a boxer in a safe and enjoyable environment while at the same time raising money for charity.
"They give you eight weeks of training, and during this time they help build up your fitness," Sarah says. "They watch you during training to enable them to match your weight and ability to your chosen opponent, but you do not know who this will be until two days before the fight."
The beginner later squared up to her opponent for a competitive three-round bout, which took place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Shaw's Bridge, Belfast.
"I was so nervous, but I had 50 people there to support me - I just couldn't believe it," she says.
"The adrenalin was pumping, and it felt like going onto a stage. I won my match - it was an amazing thing to experience.
"At the end, I gave my opponent a hug. We'd been through the most unforgettable event together, so I think I made a new friend, too.
"I have been buzzing since, and I hope my mum would have been proud of me.
"Cancer casts a shadow over so many families lives. My dad also died from cancer when I was just 10 years old, and that's why I wanted to do something to help, but I never dreamt it would be boxing."
Sarah is convinced other people can replicate her weight-loss success - if they work for it. "There is no quick fix," she says. "It is all down to hard work and having the right attitude. If you believe you can do it, you can."
Trading blows for a worthy cause
UWCB, which was founded in 2009 in Derby, began fundraising for Cancer Research UK in 2013, and is now on course to raise £10m by the end of the year. They have 350 events taking place in 100 different cities across the UK.
The health and safety of supporters is paramount, and UWCB adheres to all necessary health and safety procedures. This includes training, as well as the wearing of full headgear and 16oz gloves at all times. Bouts are restricted to a maximum of three rounds of two minutes, with one-minute intervals, and fully accredited medics are always in attendance.
To find out more about UWCB or if you'd like to take part visit ultrawhitecollarboxing.co.uk
Contact Cancer Research UK, tel : 020 7242 0200, visit cancerresearchuk.org, or speak to a nurse, tel: 0808 800 4040