If you think you're too overweight, old or unfit to do something amazing, you need to meet Jamie Stephenson, Greater Manchester's answer to David Goggins. After an injury in 2012 and the birth of his first child in 2013, the Team Rokman veteran soon fell into the all to familiar trap of a sedentary lifestyle. The lack of physical activity meant that he started gaining weight, which in turn, took its toll on his life and his mental wellbeing. After seeing pictures of himself at the beach and the size he had become just 2-year ago, Jamie said "enough is enough". Utilising running and fitness challenges, Jamie, now 48, has managed to shift almost 3-stone, maintain a healthy mindset and get himself into the best shape of his life. Read his inspiring story in his own words below.
Could you give a bit of background about yourself and what has led you down the path of taking on fitness challenges?
I got into fitness pretty late. I lived a very unhealthy lifestyle that comes with being a bartender. I was okay with it until I outgrew a pair of work trousers and had to go out and buy another pair. I was horrified with how big the new ones had to be. I started running and going to the gym. Within a few years, I had managed to achieve a good fitness level and was entering some really cool events and races that I was loving. I managed to work my way up to entering my first marathon in 2012. However, a knee injury sustained during the race scuppered my fitness journey. I was finding it so painful I basically gave up running altogether.
The following year we had our first child, and I settled into a sedentary life with zero physical activity at all. I was reasonably happy with it for a long time. Although I knew I was putting weight on, I didn't really notice just how much I'd changed until a trip to the beach 2 years ago. When I saw the photos from the trip, it made me so unhappy I knew I had to regain some of my fitness.
Crippled with plantar fasciitis, everything seemed really difficult at first. I started off doing bike sessions on a trainer in my lounge, and soon the weight started to drop. Once I'd lost weight, my feet became better, and I was ready to start running again.
Being lighter made it easier to get back into it than I thought, and soon I was running again and loving it. I was ready to start finding races again to make use of my regained vigour and was looking forward to the first of them when COVID hit - there I was all dressed up and nowhere to go.
I don't even know how I found the site. I hadn't even considered "virtual" challenges. Still, somehow Google threw up Rokman, and a cursory glance had me entering my first challenge before I had the chance to consider the fact it might've been more than I could handle.
I loved the challenges immensely; the satisfaction of pushing myself and meeting the goals and the Facebook group's camaraderie all gave me the motivation I needed to keep up my fitness.
Why do you do it? What makes you push your limits?
I was vaguely aware of the physical effects my lack of exercise was having; however, the mental impact wasn't so obvious. In hindsight, I was exhibiting signs of depression which was affecting my emotional wellbeing. I wanted to regain my edge and find out what I was capable of. I thrive in competitive environments, so Rokman was an opportunity to go out and push myself as hard as I could.
What impact does taking part in challenges have on your health, wellbeing and life?
I wasn't in a good place mentally following my physical decline, although I wasn't really aware of it. Looking back, I feel my work performance suffered as a result and made for a more tense family environment. Now, I feel amazing - I enjoy doing anything a lot more, and I can focus on my daily tasks more keenly.
What were your expectations when you first joined the Team Rokman Facebook group?
When I took on my first challenge, I was initially apprehensive because of the military fitness test theme. I've never had any real affinity with the armed forces, and I had this dread that it would be a group of Bravo-Two-Zero-Reading-I-Know-What-Colour-The-Boatshed-Door-In-Hereford-Is weekend warrior types trying to show off and that I'd maybe bitten off a bit more than I could chew.
I couldn't have been more wrong. I've found the group to be super-supportive and friendly and generally a great bunch of people. It has kept me joining challenge after challenge. I've loved being a part of it and watching the group grow.
How much value do you put on the Team Rokman group and how has it helped in terms of your challenges and goals?
The Facebook group is a huge part of the experience. The group is so friendly and supportive and it keeps you motivated. It's also very comforting to know that there are other people out there as daft as you doing tough challenges.
What’s been your favourite Rokman challenge and why?
I have honestly loved all of them - It has made me aware of my strengths and weaknesses and the different challenges that force me to face them. I wouldn't have gone out to break my 5k PB if it weren't for Rokman or done some of the strength challenges. I've enjoyed being pushed out of my comfort zone, so I'm gonna say the Adapt and Overcome Series has been my favourite so far even if was very demanding!
What’s been your most challenging Rokman challenge and how did you push through it?
There are a few contenders for this title - The Gurkha Series as a whole is pretty tough. The Spetnaz Series is also a great series, with Week 4 even inspiring me to face my Marathon demons. After Manchester Marathon 2012 I vowed I'd never do another one. Still, I went out early one damp November morning and smashed it with a time somewhere in the region of 3hrs 50! I'm not gonna lie - I hated pretty much every moment past the 12k mark, and the last 5k was truly awful, but the sense of achievement was overwhelming.
I think the biggest thing I've achieved through to date was doing the whole of the 'Frog March' for the Frogman Corps Week 4 in one go. I really don't like the challenges where we have to do weighted runs - I didn't lose all that weight just to put the strain back on my joints wearing a backpack to run in :-) and the thought of doing several long-distance runs in a row weighted sounded miserable so I thought I'd go out and get it done in one go. It was my first ever attempt at any kind of ultra-endurance activity and I didn't know how best to prepare, I just picked a route, threw some sarnies in my backpack along with the weight and took the train to Liverpool so I could walk the required 70k home.
Oh, my word it was hard! I really had to did deep to keep going and the final 2 hours were absolute agony but at no point was I ever going to give up - I still can't believe I managed to do it. I'm very proud of myself.
What’s your advice to someone who is thinking of taking on a Rokman challenge?
Do it! Pick the next entry-level higher up than you were thinking of doing. This isn't the place for playing it safe. All the challenges are achievable, and there is no penalty for not completing them. The community is also incredibly supportive of people struggling through injury or life getting in the way of getting it done. You will be surprised at what you can do once you get going.