'After a double lung collapse at 22, I convinced myself exercise was bad for me.'
When Sam Richardson suffered a double lung collapse shortly after running up 42 flights of stairs for an exercise challenge, he convinced himself exercise was to blame and that there was no point in being healthy.Sam tells AASMA DAY how he sought solace in comfort eating and hit rock bottom by reaching 16 stones 8lbs before turning his life around.
Spotting a bucking bronco ride while on holiday in Egypt, Sam Richardson thought it would be a bit of a laugh to have a go.
He never imagined the laugh would be at his expense when his 42ins waist jeans split with an almighty rip as he was hurled off the ride.
Cringing with embarrassment at the memory, Sam, 26, who lives in Chorley, recalls: “It was very humiliating and I wanted the ground to swallow me up.
“My jeans burst at the seam and ripped up the entire length of the inside leg.
“I then had to face the ordeal of walking back to the hotel with split jeans and ended up tying a jacket to my front half and another to cover my back half.
“It was truly one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.”
The bucking bronco incident was just the latest in a long line of negative experiences Sam endured while overweight.
Even on the way to Egypt, he’d suffered the ordeal of struggling to get his seatbelt fastened and he wasn’t able to get the meal tray down and ended up balancing it uncomfortably and precariously on his stomach.
And then when he arrived at his holiday destination, Sam was reluctant to even walk to the swimming pool in his shorts as he feared people would nudge each other and make cruel remarks at how he had let himself get so big at such a young age.
Sam, who has a seven-year-old son Layton and is engaged to Rennie, remembers: “I was bigger than I’d ever been and the complex had 12 pools, a water park and was on the beach.
“I thought how can I possibly take off my T-shirt and enjoy things looking like I did? I spent the whole week covered up and feeling like everyone was looking and talking about the overweight young lad.”
Battling with his weight and being larger than most people around him nothing new for Sam as it was something he had lived with since he was a child, but it didn’t make living with it any easier.
Sam explains: “Growing up as a child, I was always overweight and even at primary school, I remember thinking I was a lot bigger than everyone else.
“I’m not sure where it came from as my mum wasn’t overweight. However, she was a feeder and made us finish what was on our plates.
“I have got a younger sister and she was quite unwell, so I used to eat her food as well as my own.”
Sam, who went to Lancaster Lane Primary School followed by Balshaw’s High School, carried on being overweight throughout his school years.
“He tried some fad diets and meal replacement plans but always piled the pounds back on.
However, a few years after leaving school, Sam decided he didn’t want to be like that anymore and to lose weight and become healthier.
Sam, who was working for Enterprise in Leyland at the time, recalls: “I was about 20 when I thought: ‘I have to lose some weight’ so I signed up for a charity event at work to run up London’s Tower 42 which is the city’s third largest skyscraper.
“The Tower 42 Vertical Rush Challenge involved running up 42 flights of stairs - 932 steps - so I knew I had to get myself fitter and lose weight in preparation for it.
“I did it all myself and ate a diet of chicken and pasta and that was about it.
“I also went to the gym about six times a week to train for it. It was quite harsh what I did to myself.”
Sam successfully lost some weight and he ran the event in March 2012 and managed to run to the top of the tower in seven minutes and 49 seconds.
However, it turned out to be a dramatic and life changing event in a completely different way to what Sam had envisaged.
Sam explains: “When I got to the top of the tower, I could not regain my breath and kept coughing.
“It was a violent and persistent cough and it just carried on for a couple of hours.
“We went round London after the event, but I was struggling to keep up with everyone else and kept coughing.
“Then I did a massive cough and felt this excruciating pain in my chest and neck and I could hardly breathe.”
Sam went to a pharmacy and they called an ambulance and he was rushed to London’s University College Hospital.
Sam recalls: “When they first rang the ambulance, I was adamant there was nothing wrong with me.
“I did not realised the severity of what had happened until they took me to resuscitation and told me I had suffered a double lung collapse.
“Apparently, when I’d done that huge cough, I had actually burst my right lung and it had collapsed.
“The air that had escaped from my right lung had passed through my chest cavity, around my neck and around my heart.
“It had caused pressure on my left lung causing that to partially collapse too.
“I was only 22 at the time and it was very frightening and horrific learning what had happened to me.
“I was in London with no family around. My partner Rennie was with me, but I had only been with him for a few months then so the relationship was quite new.
“I remember thinking: ‘Am I going to die? What’s going to happen to my son Layton? Am I ever going to see my family again?’
“It was the scariest thing that had ever happened to me.”
Nobody really knows why Sam’s lungs gave out on him, but doctors believe it was a combination of Sam getting over a cold, the exertion of doing the challenge and the dry air caused by the air conditioning units in the tower which led to his coughing fits which ultimately ruptured his lung.
While in hospital, one doctor told Sam: “This is really strange. Spontaneous lung collapse normally happens to tall, slim people not people of your weight and build.”
It was only later that Sam discovered the specialist was actually talking about very tall and slender people whose lungs are more elongated.
At the time, the doctor’s words felt like a real kick in the teeth for Sam and like an insult.
Sam explains: “I felt I was slim at the time as I had lost a couple of stones training for the fitness challenge after a lifetime of being overweight but I was still being described as large.
“I decided then that I was no longer going to punish myself by depriving myself of food and doing gruelling exercise.
“I made my mind up that when I went home, I was going to live a normal life again.”
Sam spent a week in hospital having his lungs re-inflated and he then faced 12 weeks off work and was not allowed to drive and told to avoid vigorous exercise for eight months.
Sam remembers: “I literally sat in my flat on my own all day eating.
“I ate chips, pizza, takeaways, ice cream - literally anything that was a convenience food.
“When I returned to work, my eating habits didn’t change and I was eating vast amounts and not doing any exercise.
“I had convinced myself that exercise was bad for me after what happened to my lungs and I thought I may as well enjoy myself.
“I had reached a real low point and that made me turn to food even more as a comfort.
“I reached my biggest at 16 stones 8lbs and I was wearing XXL T-shirts and size 42ins waist jeans.
“I felt unattractive and I was really unfit. I couldn’t do anything with my son Layton as any slight exertion would leave me exhausted.
“I went on a caravanning holiday with him, but missed out on the chance to go canoeing with him as I did not think I’d enjoy it and I thought I’d struggle to fit in the boat.”
Sam and partner Rennie went on that fateful holiday to Egypt where he suffered the humiliation of splitting his jeans on the bucking bronco in December 2013.
Only a few weeks later, Sam went to his mum Claire’s for Christmas dinner and she told him she was worried about him as he’d put all his weight back on and told Sam they were going to go to Slimming World together in the New Year.
However Sam was initially resistant to the idea. He says: “I was petrified at the thought of going to Slimming World and was convinced I would be in a roomful of cackling women who would know how much I weighed and humiliate me.
“I was so wrong, but at the time I was terrified at the prospect.
“My mum practically had to drag me there kicking and screaming.”
Sam remembers being put at ease straight away by his Slimming World consultant and he listened in wonderment as she explained all the foods they could eat and still lose weight.
Sam says: “Joanna the consultant told me I could even have my favourite foods and full English - just Slimming World style.
“I did not believe it and thought it was crazy.
“I told my mum I would put it to the test by eating lots of the recommended foods but that if I didn’t lose weight, I wasn’t going back.
“That first week, I ate loads of food. I even had things like burger and chips, pizza and spaghetti bolognese - but all made according to the Slimming World book.
“It was all the foods I usually ate, but made differently.
“I was convinced I wouldn’t have lost any weight, but I lost six-and-a-half pounds that first week.
“It was an amazing feeling and the whole group celebrated with you which was lovely.”
Galvanised into action, Sam carried on with Slimming World and lost three stones in about six months.
Initially happy with that, he plateaued through choice for a while but then decided to lose another stone.
Sam says: “I have now lost four stones. I used to be 16 stones 8lb and am now 12 stones 8lbs.
“I have recently changed my target again and want to lose one more stone and be 11 stones eight.”
Sam has now become a Slimming World consultant himself and runs groups in Adlington near Chorley.
For a long time, the thought of exercising again terrified Sam because of what had happened with his lungs and he has only recently started to exercise.
He admits: “It was a huge hurdle to start exercising again but I recently ran the Manchester 10k with some of my members and I ran it in 54 minutes and 20 seconds.
“When I first started running, my lungs felt like they were burning and I was worried, but apparently it is normal for your lungs to burn a bit when you first start running.
“I have now signed up for the Manchester Half Marathon in October.
“I feel amazing now I have lost all that weight.
“ I can now buy clothes online and they fit me and I can go on holiday without worrying about the seatbelt or food tray or people staring at me.
“I can now do all sorts of activities with my son Layton and run around after him and even go canoeing with him!
“I bought a Beagle called Baker and take him for one-and-a-half mile walks every morning and evening.
“I now have a career that I absolutely love as a Slimming World Consultant and team developer and I am helping hundreds of members lose weight every week which is a great feeling.
“I think being a male consultant helps give other men the confidence to come along.
“Joining Slimming World was the best thing I ever did and I hope my story inspires other people to take that first step to changing their life.”
If anyone is interested in finding out more about Sam’s Slimming World groups or is a member wanting to find out about becoming a consultant, they can call him on: 07972 321589.