Three years ago Gavin Gettings was in a dark, isolated place and his life, he admits, was in ruins.
The former soldier’s addiction to alcohol had led to him losing his job, his family, his friends and even his freedom after he ended up in prison due to drink-related offences.
But Gavin managed to turn his life around after discovering the significant health and exercise benefits of walking.
The 40-year-old was referred to a County Durham alcohol recovery programme that encouraged him to join a Move4Life walking group and he is now embarking on a new career supporting others to do the same.
Gavin is one of a team of specialist alcohol health trainers with the Pioneering Care Partnership (PCP) and one of the trainers delivering part of County Durham’s Move for Life programme, helping people to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Supported by Durham County Council Public Health and County Durham Sport, Move4Life offers a wide range of courses aimed at people at risk of heart disease and diabetes. Through the scheme many have lost weight and improved their fitness levels.
Gavin said: “It was three years ago this month that I first went to the Durham Recovery and Wellbeing Centre.
“It was great to be among people who were going through something similar to myself and I realised I wasn’t alone and there was a way out.
“I’d lost a string of jobs, I’d been in trouble with the police and basically my life was in ruins. I could never have imagined then that I would be where I am now.”
While at the centre Gavin heard about PCP and joined their walking group. He then began volunteering for the PCP, completing the walk leader training and later leading the weekly walk.
He then successfully applied to become a health trainer himself and is now in paid employment with the PCP.
“Going out for my first walk, just made me realise there was a world out there and there was more to life than sitting on the couch,” he said.
“I really enjoy my job. I think the fact that we have come through recovery ourselves helps us to engage with people.”
The walking was the trigger that led Gavin to rediscover his love of exercise and fitness and he has now taken part in more than 50 park runs and has just done his first trail half marathon. He is also studying to become a fully qualified personal trainer.
Gavin said: “The walking and then the running has helped me massively. It is all about making small changes at the beginning and the exercise helped my self-esteem and confidence.
“The walking groups are great to improve your physical health, such as weight loss and strength, but are equally beneficial to your mental health through reducing isolation, increasing confidence and meeting new friends.”
In October last year Gavin received the Physical Activity Achievement of the Year Award at the Durham Sport and Physical activity Awards in recognition of how he has transformed his life.
It was also with the help of the PCP health trainer programme and discovering a healthier way of living that Barry Dunn overcame his alcohol addiction and reunited with the family he almost lost. His experience has now led the former builder to retrain and he is now enjoying his new career as a PCP health trainer.
“Six years ago I didn’t think I had a problem. I was just a heavy drinker and was not addicted,” Barry said. “But the stress and pressure of work and family just pushed me over the top and it became unmanageable.
“I was quite a heavy social drinker from a young age. It was just what you did – you went out and got drunk and thought that was a good night.
“When my wife and I started a family, my social life changed and I started drinking at home. I then developed high blood pressure and the medication I was taking made me get drunk quite quickly. I started to enjoy the buzz and it became a habit.”
The health trainer programme takes a holistic approach to recovery – looking at all aspects of a person’s life from fitness to healthy eating and self-confidence. We do everything from walking and cooking sessions to mediation and relaxation techniques and acupuncture and yoga,” Barry said. “It’s about fixing little bits at a time until your life slots together.
“The exercise clears your mind. It can also be a distraction. While we are walking people can chat about their experiences and you are having a recovery meeting without really realising it. It can then get you thinking about other exercise like running or cycling and also healthy eating too. I’d become quite immobile and very unfit, and something as simple as walking can be a challenge in the beginning.”
His drinking led to Barry leaving the family home – but now after coming through recovery is reuniting with his wife and children and spent Christmas with his loved ones.
“It sounds selfish,” Barry said. “But I tell people you can’t do it for your wife and children, you have to do it for yourself. You have to put yourself first, as if you don’t you are going to lose your family anyway.”
Barry, who is also co-founder of support group Recovery Durham, marked two years of abstinence last week.
He said: “One of my clients has lost over two stones through walking. He started off with shorter walks with the group, but then enjoyed it so much he got a dog and now walks almost every day.”
Move4Life is a County Durham County Council Public Health and County Durham Sport initiative, which has successfully helped more than 13,000 people at risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Andrew Power, strategic manager for physical activity for County Durham Sport, said: “The Move4Life programme aims to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes among adults in County Durham through increased physical activity and has already helped over 13,000 people get more active.”
A number of years ago The Journal launched its Great North Fitness Revolution campaign – which is still going strong today – to encourage people of all ages, shapes and sizes to keep active through regular exercise and by adopting a good diet to help reduce obesity levels in the North East.
For more information about Move4Life or to find a course near you visit http://www.countydurhamsport.com/physical_activity/move4life