Tiffany Brien: 'Why I felt I'd to choose my career over the chance to win gold at the Olympics'
The former beauty queen from Co Down has sold property to the super-rich in Dubai. Now a top blogger, Tiffany Brien is taking on a new challenge
Tiffany Brien thrives on pushing herself to the limit and while it is usually in a sporting sense, she has just returned home to Northern Ireland this week after six months in Dubai, which she described as her biggest personal challenge yet.
For the former Miss Northern Ireland and champion sailor it was a chance to step completely out of her comfort zone, away from the support of family and friends, and prove to herself that she could stand on her own two feet.
Having secured a job selling properties in the wealthy Arab city, it was also a bit of a busman's holiday for the 25-year-old who works as a junior valuer in her dad's estate agency, Simon Brien Residential.
She says: "It was the hardest thing I have ever done. I went out knowing no one, to sleep on a friend of a friend's sofa and do a job which was 100% commission, so there was no guaranteed salary.
"It wasn't easy and even now when I look back, I think 'How did I do that?', but I am so glad I did.
"I think I just needed to do something for myself," adds Tiffany. "I didn't go to university, so I wanted to show that I could go away from mum and dad and do something for me. It felt as though I was throwing myself in at the deep end and giving myself a challenge."
It was six months which, on reflection, she says have taught her to value the things she has at home. After just a few days off to catch up with friends and family this week, Tiffany plans to be back at her desk in her dad's business next Monday.
Working in Dubai, she learned how to deal with clients from all over the world, and it is this valuable experience which she has brought back home.
"Taking myself out of Northern Ireland has made me appreciate things more. I made friends in Dubai who I know I will have for life, but now I know there is no place like home," she says.
"I learned so much which will be valuable in my career. The property market over there is so aggressive and there is so much wealth.
"The calibre of people I was dealing with was unbelievable. I also dealt with so many different nationalities and cultures which was difficult.
"When you see their wealth, their cars and their homes, it is the kind of wealth where you just think 'Jeepers, this is crazy'."
Even before she returned home Tiffany was already lining up new goals for herself and one of the first things on her list is the Belfast Telegraph Runher in October.
She is a Runher veteran, having competed in both annual races over a number of years and has also taken part in the Belfast Marathon.
Tiffany has also been the face of Runher, encouraging other women to take part.
"I've always enjoyed Runher and do both of them every year," she says. "It's Belfast and it's women and the atmosphere is always great.
"I love running and any fitness challenge but there is something very special about Runher, and taking part in an event that is women-only."
She is currently single and very focused on her career, her friends and keeping fit, the latter of which is a big part of her life.
Tiffany grew up by the sea in Holywood and became a talented sailor at a very young age thanks to her dad's passion for the sport.
She has been sailing competitively since her teens and became the Irish number one in the Women's Laser Radial class. Tiffany was also selected for the Irish Olympic Sailing team, but she turned down the opportunity and put having a career first.
"To compete at Olympic level is all-consuming and I didn't want that," she says.
"You have to be sailing all the time.
"I also wanted a career, so while it was an amazing opportunity to train for the Olympics, I didn't feel it was right for me.
"I love sailing and I will always compete in sailing. It is my real love. Next season we will get a team together - my dad, my younger brother Jack and I, to compete in the Irish and British Championships."
Tiffany has already achieved so much. Her year as Miss Northern Ireland in 2012 propelled her into the spotlight where her sporty lifestyle and beauty queen status led to an unprecedented following on Facebook.
Known as the Peanut Butter Girl on the social website, she has over 80,000 followers who are fans of her healthy approach to living - which is as much about having fun as it is about keeping fit and healthy.
She still marvels at how popular her blog has become and on the back of it has now launched her own website, www.peanutbuttergirl.com, where she describes herself as "a self-confessed gym and fitness junkie".
She says: "It is pretty incredible how the blog took off.
"I started a blog as Miss Northern Ireland and it really was just a blog about my life and about having a balanced lifestyle which includes going out and enjoying yourself as well as eating well and keeping fit.
"One night, I had loads of messages from lots of girls asking for advice on fitness and what to eat, and the next thing I had 10,000 followers, then another 5,000 and it just kept growing from there."
Tiffany's challenges are all part of the appeal of her blog and even during her hectic year as Miss Northern Ireland, she joined blind adventurer Mark Pollock for a charity event in which the pair sailed a Skud boat from Belfast Lough to Scotland to raise funds for the Mark Pollock Trust.
While in Dubai, she came home for a period to take part in her biggest physical fitness challenge yet - a charity cycle from Belfast to Paris.
"I will have a go at anything," says Tiffany. "I was literally in the gym working out when I was told about 10 guys cycling to Paris for charity; there and then I just asked 'Can I do it?' and the next thing I had signed up to take part.
"I didn't even really train for it and I wasn't a cyclist, although I love cycling now.
"It was amazing and one of the hardest things mentally that I had ever done. We cycled for 10 hours, covering about 100 miles every day, a total of 550 miles.
"It hurt like hell but I loved it. I thrived in the situation. I was hurting so badly, yet I loved it. There was myself and 10 guys aged between 40 and 55. It took us four days and when we arrived at the Eiffel Tower I have never felt relief like it. I think we raised around £14,000 for the Northern Ireland Children's Cancer Fund."
Miss Northern Ireland 2012, which also saw her represent her country at Miss World in China, was another unforgettable experience which Tiffany will always treasure: "You don't realise until you look back on it just how amazing it was. Getting to Miss World and all the opportunities it presented was great. I loved every minute of it and I'm proud to have won it.
"There have been so many monumental things I have done which have moulded me into who I am now.
"I thrive on challenges and I am looking to see what's next. There will definitely be a few more."
Week 4: nutritionist Majella Farrell on healthy fats
Fats should comprise 15-25% of total calories in the diet. Some important functions of fats include the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, joint lubrication and energy production. The healthiest fats are unsaturated fats, good sources of which include oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and many cooking oils, particularly olive and sunflower.
Saturated fats are found in red meat, full-fat animal products and hydrogenated vegetable oils, and should be eaten sparingly because they can contribute to high cholesterol levels.
Fat provides the most concentrated and largest source of energy for daily activity. It is required for normal growth, healthy skin, production of certain hormones, the structural component of body cells and the supply of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
It is very important to have a ready-to-use supply of the 'good' fats that help this vital health balance, including Omega 3, 6 and 9
Healthier fast foods
Sandwiches and filled rolls with salad and lean meat without margarine or butter. Fruit, yoghurt, kebabs, chow mein, hamburgers, vegetable sticks.
Toast or pitta breads with jam, relish, tomato, cottage cheese, baked beans. Salad leaves and corn, spaghetti, crackers (rice and/or water crackers) with relish, cheese, sliced cucumber and tomato. Fruit bread, toasted sandwiches, baked beans alone, bananas, breakfast cereal, fruit smoothies and homemade soups.
Not forgetting fibre
Include good fibre foods daily such as porridge, milled seeds and whole-wheat products, as well as fruit and vegetables at every meal.
Trainer Melissa Eccles on the Swiss Ball Plank Walkover
The Swiss ball provides an unstable surface to work off, making it more challenging to hold the position which builds a seriously strong core.
Start by completing 4x15 second holds.
It is important to engage your core throughout all three phases of this exercise; the walk out, the hold and the walk back.
Start by kneeling on the ground with the ball in front of you and your hands on the ball.
Walk your hands over the ball and onto the floor - as you do this, your upper body will move onto the ball and your lower body will come off the ground.
Walk yourself out on your hands to form a plank position with your shins on the ball. As you walk out, you want to keep a straight line from your head to your feet, so engage your core and tighten your glutes from the start.
Once you reach the plank position, with your shoulders directly above your hands, your shins on the ball and a straight line from your head to your feet.
Hold this position for 15 seconds.
Once you have held the position for 10-15 seconds, keeping your core engaged and thinking of the straight line, walk your hands back to the starting position - kneeling on the floor with the ball in front of you.
Squeeze your glutes, tighten your abdominals.
Don't let your hips sag and keep your spine and neck in neutral.