Updated: May 13
Paris is one of Central Fitness Picton's OG’s (Original Gangsters) and a volunteer firefighter (keep reading to understand why this is relevant). We first met Paris back in 2019. Although “we inspired” Paris, there was “no chance” she would have agreed to climbing 51 flights of stairs, that's 1,103 steps as a part of the Firefighter Sky Tower Stair Challenge. Fast forward to now, and this is exactly what she is doing in one week. What changed in those 3 years? Well, everything. In this article Paris shares a snippet of the challenges she has faced, what she has learnt about herself and how it has led to increased confidence, more energy, improved mental health and weight loss. Our hope is that it will give you the strength and inspiration you may need to create some positive change in yourself.
Signing up to the Gym
Four years ago Paris got a tax refund. Unlike my last pitiful $3.78 refund, Paris had enough to purchase a 12 month gym membership. She made the commitment in part because she “needed to keep up her strength and fitness as a volunteer firefighter” but also because exercise was something Paris and her father bonded over. Her father was terminally ill but she knew that sharing her gym journey with him would make him proud. She joked that “although at times he forgot my name, he remembered I had joined the gym and never failed to remind me of this”.
“ …the gym has become my safe place, if I don’t exercise, I miss it.”
Establishing a Gym Routine
Initially Paris did not come to the classes as she felt she was not fit enough and instead walked on the treadmill. Using the machines, Paris established a gym routine she enjoyed and felt safe doing. During her sessions she observed the classes. “I noticed they were scalable which gave me the confidence to give them a go”. Soon attending regular classes became an exciting addition to her independent training sessions. She quickly “felt improvement and progress in her fitness and confidence”. Paris admitted that there was comfort in learning that others too were battling with their own injuries, insecurities and frustrations. “No one is perfect, in fact we are all far from it, we all have different strengths and weaknesses but that almost makes it easier to celebrate the wins.”
“Measure you against you, your trauma and challenges are your own so never compare yourself to others.”
Losing her parents
When Paris’ father passed away, continuing to go to the gym was like a memorial to him and a promise. Paris shared that visiting him at the cemetery was close to the gym and a consistent reminder to go to the gym. In the New Year Paris's mother passed away from her terminal illness meaning that within 4 months Paris lost both her parents. Then, along came a global pandemic and a forced lockdown. This allowed Paris the time to process the loss of her parents. “Walking the Picton hill almost everyday was great for my physical and mental health”.
“Embrace the hysteria”
Confiding in a councilor
As a volunteer for the Picton Fire Brigade, Paris was one of many called out to a horrific accident in June of 2022. This accident shook the community and had a massive impact on the emergency services crew. Personal counselling support she received proved to be helpful in more ways than she had expected. “Personally for a long time I beat myself up for past traumas & experiences, but I have learnt that everyone has their sh**. We are not perfect and poor decisions are a part of life. I have learnt that everyone's experience is subjective and we should never just brush it off”. We talked about how there seems to be a stigma around counseling and there really shouldn't be. Paris explained that she still goes, even though she might not “need” too. We nodded in agreement, as we believe nothing needs to be “wrong” in order to visit a counselor, it's a great tool to hash out your thoughts and gain perspective.
“Try everything. Be open to ideas, experiences and conversations, be open to new strategies, don't be afraid to seek help and be open to the help.”
Despite getting knocked around by covid and a cancer health scare Paris was determined to get to the UK on a much anticipated holiday home. Paris was still recovering from covid and therefore her usual stress relief was not the best option for her recovering lungs. So she turned to walking, much to her surprise. “I walked a lot, instead of getting on the tube or bus I walked. This became a routine I looked forward to. My body and mind craved it.” Paris admitted that her health scare had her reevaluating a few things in her life. Thank goodness it was a false alarm but living for a while believing that life was about to go south really takes its toll on you. Life had to change, it was time to regain some control and despite all the bad news, “I started noticing all the good that was happening too and this was comforting.”
“Rain or shine”
Dedication to the cause
Within only two weeks of returning home from the UK Paris had committed to the Sky Tower Challenge - admittedly this was after a few drinks with her fire brigade mates. Initially Paris had said “not a chance, I’m over 50, overweight and unfit” but admitted that it was when someone agreed with her that she felt the urge to prove them wrong. “The next day I regretted it but Liam rang me, he was persistent”. Paris admits that she was still unsure, but hearing that she would be Picton's first female firefighter to complete the challenge gave her the final nudge. Since signing up Paris has been going to the gym regularly, walking the Tirohanga Track (almost every day), cutting laps of the steps at the waterfront, regularly swimming 50 lengths of QCC pool & pilates at home. She explained, it was a gradual process, “I was a hot mess the first few times I climbed the Tirohanga track, even questioned whether I would get to the top.” She increased her step count incrementally, then added small hand weights and now when walking the Tirohanga she loads up her backpack.” Paris admits, “when I commit, I commit” and her commitment has got the community's attention. At the time of writing this article Paris has raised $4,114 for kiwis living with blood cancer. You can help by making a donation here and support the ongoing research around leukemia and blood cancer.
“Let your fear be your motivator, prove it to yourself.”
It’s changed my life
When we first met Paris, she told us that she wanted to lose at least 20kg and get stronger for the fire brigade. She has since lost 28kg at the time of writing this article, of which 17.5kg were lost between November 1st 2022 and May 1st 2023. All the strength training she has been doing at the gym has made a noticeable difference at fire brigade drills and call outs. After sharing this with us Paris hesitated, then laughed “I can’t believe I am about to say this but the gym has become my safe place, if I don’t exercise, I miss it”. “Life has tested me the last three years - positive, negative, pretty, ugly - but it has all led me here”. It sounds like the timing was just right for Paris. She set a goal and made a promise to herself. “I am thankful for that and the people who keep supporting me, they know who they are.” Paris shared some photos with us, from her walks and her support crew. She laughed at how red and sweaty she was and how there was no photoshop or filters to discount her hard work. “It took courage but it was empowering to share the sweaty photos, awful angles and unfit photos on social media, because it's real!” Paris explained that she has realised we are so much more capable of what we think and she has really enjoyed meeting these new versions of herself on this journey.
“Never sell yourself short, be your biggest fan.”
How you can help
Paris’ goal to do the Firefighter Sky Tower Challenge is in fact a nationally recognised event. Many firefighters have signed up across New Zealand in an attempt to raise as much money as they can for blood cancer and leukemia research. Setting this goal has already changed Paris’ life in more ways than she could imagine. You can help her help others by donating money here. This will allow others the chance to experience positive change in their lives.
“Enjoy the Journey with friends but don't rely on them.”
Paris has some cracker banter so it wasn't uncommon for us to digress multiple times during our “interview”. So, to help, we asked the classic question, “what message do you want to share with the readers”. Paris had so many to share, again, we went down a rabbit hole and digressed ten fold. She did, however, have some awesome snippets of advice for you. I have decided to weave some of the stand out messages I picked up during our inspiring chat throughout this article. My personal favourite is this last one. Perhaps one has resonated with you.
“Don't be ashamed of your unique mental. Be authentically you. Don't be ashamed of that.”