Tracey Geddis on losing 10 stone and finally planning her wedding after 18-year engagement
Tracey Geddis, from Co Armagh, appeared on Davina McCall's TV show to reveal her successful efforts to shed the pounds. She tells Leona O'Neill how she and fiance Jason met and their hopes for their long-awaited big day
A Co Armagh nurse who laid bare her year-long battle to lose weight in front of a national television audience last week says she is now planning her wedding day after an 18-year engagement.
Lurgan-born Tracey Geddis (52), who now lives in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and works at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital National Spinal Injury Centre, appeared last week on ITV's This Time Next Year, hosted by Davina McCall.
The show highlighted the efforts of ordinary people from all over the UK who were willing to try and turn their life around within a 12-month period.
Tracey, who at her heaviest weighed 29 stone, vowed in front of millions to lose 10 stone within a year.
She succeeded in her endeavour and in turn saved her own life.
Tracey says her motivation was to be able to fit into her wedding dress and finally marry her fiance, Jason Smith (52), whom she nursed back to health after he was paralysed in a motorbike accident.
She says her weight crept on while dealing with two big losses in her life, that of her dad in 2009, and then her best friend Ruth Ingram, who passed away in 2016.
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"I lost my dad 10 years ago," she says. "He was my rock, he directed me. He got sick with a brain tumour. I came back to Northern Ireland and nursed him until the end. It was hard. Dad always encouraged me to travel and told me never to let anyone hold me back.
"It was so hard when he wasn't there. I was a comfort eater, I binge ate as I dealt with my grief. Then three years ago my flatmate, Ruth, died. She was only 49-years-old. We worked together in the spinal unit for 27 years.
"I was home in Ireland at a wedding and I was texting her photos from it. I was messaging her and emailing her. Then I got a phone call from her brother to say that she had passed away.
"We don't know what happened. The inquest was inconclusive. It was weird because at the time I was holding down probably three jobs. I said to Ruth that I wasn't going to see 50 as I was working too hard. It was just too ironic that she passed away at the age of 49.
"When we came back to England it was awful putting the key in the door of the flat we shared. We used to walk together to work, we shopped together, we did everything together. It was just horrible. After it happened I would work late and then I didn't want to go home and put the key in the door.
"So instead I drove to McDonald's and sat in the car park until the early hours, because she wasn't there anymore. I think I got myself into a bit of a dark hole. I put on a lot of weight."
Tracey says carrying so much extra weight put a terrible strain on her body.
"At my heaviest I was 29 stone," she admits. "It was awful. I had lymphedema in my legs. I couldn't zip up my boots. I couldn't walk long distances. My breathing was laboured and I had an admission to hospital with shortness of breath. Even putting on an apron at work or climbing stairs was difficult.
"I hated myself. I felt invisible. I could talk confidently about my topic - spinal injuries - but if the focus was on me I hated that.
"I loved clothes but I couldn't wear the ones I wanted. I had to go to specialist plus-size shops. I felt that it wasn't fair on Jason that I was this big girl. I had to lift his wheelchair in and out of the boot of the car, too, which was a struggle. It was just all a downward spiral for me.
"I remember my colleague at work saying to me that she noticed that I couldn't breathe, that my breathing was very laboured, that I was going to have to do something about it.
"I think that I was heading for gastric surgery. I was surrounded by doctors at work and in my family. One doctor told me that I should pick out a coffin because if I didn't lose weight I would need one."
Then Tracey's colleague saw an advertisement for ITV's This Time Next Year and told her about it.
She says she remembers pressing send on the application and thinking her life might be about to change.
"The week before filming started I began attending Slimming World and working with a personal trainer. Within four months I'd lost four stone. I really didn't want to got to the gym.
"I was just too self conscious. I remember the first morning I went to the gym I actually vomited in the car park. I was just sick, thinking about exposing myself as a big person. But I couldn't have been more wrong. Everyone there was so nice and so welcoming. I worked with my personal trainer, Mark, and I started to see my body take shape. I started to get an hourglass figure. I saw my waist, something I hadn't seen in years. I had to buy a completely new wardrobe."
But one of the biggest positive factors for Tracey was the fact that, 18 years after her partner Jason asked her to marry him, she finally felt ready to don a beautiful wedding dress.
The couple met when Jason was admitted to the spinal injury unit Tracey worked in after a motorbike accident 20 years ago left him paralysed from the chest down.
"Jason came off his motorbike while on his way to work in 1999 and broke his back," she says.
"I nursed him on the ward after the accident and we got together after he was discharged from hospital.
"Because you are with the patients from the very beginning of their journey you become very good friends with them. At that time we socialised with them, because we lived on site - all the physios, occupational therapists, nurses, everyone. We all used to go into the town in the evenings because that is where they learned their skills in the wheelchairs, going up on kerbs and accessing pubs. So we all became good friends. Then after Jason was discharged from hospital he asked me out for dinner and that was that. There was no looking back.
"Eighteen years ago he flew over to Northern Ireland to ask my dad if he could marry me. He has a fear of flying. I didn't even know he did it."
Tracey says the relationship is not without its challenges but that she doesn't see Jason's disability, and he didn't see her extra weight.
"Jason says he never saw me as overweight," she says. "And I don't see his chair. My job is to rehabilitate patients to get used to life after spinal injury. Because I rehabilitate patients I make life accessible for them.
"Jason and I have flown all over the world. I lecture a lot and I'm asked to do presentations because of the job I do, and Jason comes with me. We are just back from Sydney, Australia, and Christchurch in New Zealand. When we were there we met Jason's best friend and he was able to get back on a bike again, as a pillion passenger. He has been deep sea diving. I try not to see the obstacles. My weight was an obstacle. It stopped me from doing things but losing the weight was like finding myself again."
Tracey is thrilled to be planning her wedding now after a very long engagement.
"One of the reasons I didn't want to get married was because I didn't want to wear a wedding dress," she says. "I just felt that I couldn't have everyone's eyes on me in a big white dress.
"I thought there was no way I would look good in one.
"While we were filming my friend booked an appointment with Curvy Chic in Belfast who cater for the larger lady. The girls there were so lovely. I didn't realise that wedding dresses were bodiced and held you in. I tried on around six. My mum and my friends were there and we were all very emotional. When I came out I felt elated because I had thought that I would have looked like the doll who sits on top of the toilet rolls, but I looked in the mirror and I saw some prettiness there. And that was lovely.
"I sent some of the pictures to Jason and he said he would be proud to marry me. He was emotional too. We haven't set a date for the wedding yet but it will happen. I'm 52 and life is too short. We are going to just do it."
Tracey says she hopes her journey will help someone else take action about their life.
"After the show my friend Clare texted me before and after pictures of me," she says. "She wrote underneath it 'you just saved your life'. And I did save my life. And if by telling my story I can save someone else's life then it's worth it.
"I hate the world inspirational, because I put myself there. I overate, I was an emotional eater, so I don't feel proud of myself. I was just putting right what I had done wrong. But people have contacted me and said that they have begun their own weight loss journey.
"And that humbles you because you think if I could show them the light at the end of the tunnel, that's a job done. And if I can help others, then that is the cherry on the cake."