In a new series of articles WatchFit will be regularly talking to many of our wonderful contributing experts to find out a bit more about their lives and bringing them closer to our readers. We start with multiple fitness champion and multi talented Joey Bull whose achievements are immense, but her greatest challenges and successes have been met in far more personal areas.
For Joey Bull, all action activity and fitness is all she has ever known. But one event nearly made her question it all – until she found it could actually rescue her from the worst point in her life.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
In the beginning
My interest in fitness started with ballet – years of it. Of course I didn’t realise it was fitness then, it was just great fun, challenging and active movement. I remember my mother saying that if a dance career failed to materialise in the future, at least I’d have learned how to hold myself well and I’d be able to move with grace and style. And as it happened a long term dance career did fail to materialise thanks to a skiing accident and resulting knee reconstruction.
Real dancers wouldn’t have considered skiing, but like the rest of my family I was always squeezing other hobbies in and keeping life active and varied. I never told them at Elmhurst Ballet School, but during holidays I was climbing mountains and doing all sorts of outward bound activities – each one would have given my dance teachers a fit.
I guess I was never destined for a classical ballet career because of this. But, as my family said, variety puts “puts sun in your soul” and I believe that to this day.
Having to re-think
The skiing injury and extensive knee surgery meant that things looked bleak and the thought of a non-active future was depressing. Single minded rehabilitation was necessary just to stand a chance of even enjoying a moderately fit and active future.
Little did I know at the time this very setback and the arduous rehab’ would open the door to the rest of my life. My rehabilitation went well. So much so I decided to keep ‘rehabbing’ and pretty eventually my body responded took on a new shape. It might not be able to dance at the highest level any more but it could have a stab fitness competition.
So I entered a UK Fitness Championship where a good muscular symmetry and a great fitness, dance or gymnastic routine displaying all-round strength and agility was required. I figured I was now in my best every shape and I knew quite a bit about dance and presentation. If jumping up and down and spinning around whilst smiling was required – then I was just the girl for it!
Keeping a balance of appearance and performance was tricky – I didn’t want shoulders like a gymnast’s and legs like a sprinter, yet I wanted great gymnastic and sprinting capacity – but my training was right and things went well. I won the national title and persisted a little while longer to finish with four British titles and a world ranking nicely inside the Top 10.
Once I’d picked up my fourth national title I didn’t hang about on the world fitness circuit much longer. Although there were sponsors and an increasing media profile, it didn’t ever felt like a long term commitment for me. Getting in, achieving success and getting out again suited me.
It took a toll on me physically and emotionally and I wasn’t interested in sustaining that. There were also “performance enhancers” to compete against and that was and still is contrary to everything I believed.
I was happy with what I’d achieved, I’d got my titles and didn’t regret hanging up the spangly leotards. On closing this door another one opened. Word spread that I was a bit more than a “fitness chick” and was more inclined to toughing it out in the wild than parading on stage in a bikini.
An invite came to join the British team for the world’s toughest race – The Eco Challenge. We canoed seas and rivers, carried bikes through deep boggy jungles, dived snake-infested seas, climbed loose rocks and navigated through dense Borneo jungle, all with a 20kg pack on.
At my heaviest I’m never any more than a flyweight anyway and by the end of this adventure I was nearer half my bodyweight. But we completed every gruelling step of it!
A quieter life
After numerous other mountains, deserts and various inhospitable environments I ensconced myself in gentler things: personal training, writing for fitness magazines, TV presenting, climbs and sunny walks with my dogs. The quieter living brought me a husband and our son Oscar. We moved to Switzerland and my work continued in health and fitness. I ran boot camps, kept writing and filmed two DVDs before my second baby boy, Edward was born.
I thought I knew life and had tasted the extremes, but it was all a rehearsal. Edward died in labour, an otherwise perfectly healthy child. I questioned many things, including health and fitness. No amount of physical conditioning, healthy activity and good dietary habits could have saved Edward. My body, mind and heart were shattered.
Edward’s death was an experience beyond words. But although my knowledge and work in fitness and health and my physical conditioning meant for absolutely nothing when it came to delivering Edward, it was health and fitness that got me putting one foot in front of the other again. After three months I was running my first boot camps once more and putting my energies into motivating others.
Fitness was powerless to change the loss of my son, but it did help bring me back from an appalling place and keep me moving forwards. It provided a focus, balance and working purpose. I’ve certainly learned its value and limitations. I managed to film two more DVDs with the wonderful IMC Vision just a year after the tragedy. Ken Gray and his team were brilliant in waiting for me and working together again to make more programmes that we are so proud of.
However much time passes since Edward it doesn’t mean it gets much easier but we have to keep moving and since his passing my soul has been touched as never before. There have now been countless wonderful clients, class members, magazine articles, eight workout DVDs to date, Tidy The Temple (www.tidythetemple.com) and now an exciting involvement with WatchFit.
And a couple of years after Edward, my daughter Ottilie was born and she is a little miracle and wonder. Nothing and nobody replaces Edward but my son Oscar was the most amazing rock and positive force of nature after he’d lost his little brother and now I have my daughter too. They are an amazing double act! As my parents would happily note, I think I’ve done a reasonable job to “hold myself well and put sun in my soul!”