Abi Hollyoake, 32, had always wanted to be a firefighter, just like her dad, but her struggles with fitness got in the way.
At her heaviest Abi weighed over 16 stone and wore a size 22. Each time she went to her local fire station she failed the fitness tests, having to weight three months between each one to try again.
The mum of two decided to take action. Determined to succeed and fulfil her dreams of working for the fire brigade, Abi spent two years working on her fitness, losing six stone in the process.
She’s now a firefighter for Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service.
Abi’s fitness journey was challenging as a mother with limited time and energy.
For years she had constantly opted for frozen ready meals as she didn’t like cooking, and struggled to find time to work out.
‘My dad was a firefighter so it has always been in my family,’ said Abi. ‘It was always something I wanted to do but, having two children, family life got in the way.
‘When we moved here I wondered if it was a possibility and made enquiries about it at my local station.
‘It was a bit of a challenge overcoming the bleep tests because I’d never done them before.
‘For two years I kept going back and attempting it – it took a while because you have to wait three months to take the test again once you fail it.
‘Every time I improved and I kept going and going until I got it. It was surreal but that was the first stage of it really – I had more tests, exams and interviews.
‘Initially I started doing the Couch to 5k app but I used to do it at night or early in the morning, before there was anyone around, because I didn’t like being watched running.
‘By week three or four I noticed results. I was losing weight and feeling better about myself and achieving the levels. I then started doing home workouts.’
When Abi moved to Cornwall, she took her fitness efforts to the next level by joining a gym and getting involved in Slimming World to change her diet.
‘With the exercise I’d hit a bit of a wall and I wasn’t losing much more weight,’ she explained.
‘I made some swaps like using the spray rather than cooking oil and sweetener instead of sugar. It helped massively and now I cook a lot more.’
Over the course of two years, Abi hadn’t just lost weight but her fitness levels had drastically improved.
‘You do have to have some sort of fitness to join,’ she said. ‘By the time I was applying I was going to the gym but I needed to work on that a bit more.
‘Even now I still improve myself every day because it’s constantly a physical thing.
‘It’s not impossible. I am proof that it can be done. It was good to have that goal to work towards. You really do have to want it and keep preserving.’
The hard work paid off as Abi has now landed her dream job. She’s proud to inspire her children and show them that with work and determination their dreams can become reality.
‘It is everything and more than I thought it was – when we get a shout I love it,’ said Abi.
‘It hasn’t quite hit me – it’s very surreal. Being a female as well people look at the truck as we go past. There are two of us at Tolvaddon.
‘It’s one of those jobs where I don’t know if other women think it’s not a job for us.
‘When you are on a job you get a massive adrenaline rush. Before doing this I used to be a support worker so I’ve always helped people but this is on a more extreme scale.
‘You have to get into the right mindset because you don’t know what possibilities could be in front of you. Until you get to the station and look at the incident sheet you don’t know what you are going to.
‘My family have all been massive supporters of my job. It has bought me and my dad a bit closer together. He’s retired now but we share stories.
‘The kids get excited. When I come home from work my daughter will say, “here she is, it’s firefighter Hollyoake”.
‘She also said to me, “Mummy when I’m older I’m not sure if I want to be a nail-painter or a fire-fighting lady”.
‘My husband and my son are proud as well. They know how hard I’ve worked.’
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