How this 70-year-old Bamber Bridge woman overcame the seemingly impossible to become fighting fit
Given she's recently abseiled down Liverpool Cathedral, you'd never expect this Bamber Bridge fitness lover to say she was once unable to sit down on the floor.
But for Margaret McCarten, doing something most of us take for granted once seemed impossible.
A former swimming tutor who completed a hike in Honk Kong, 70-year-old Margaret became almost housebound following an accident at work in 2002 that weakened her legs.
"After the accident I went to the gym to do some gentle exercises to get my legs working again. I then wanted to do something in between being a gym bunny and doing chair-based exercise but my doctor wouldn't let me do things like dance and I couldn't run, twist or kneel," she said.
That's when she joined strength and cardio circuit classes for the over 50s led by Bamber Bridge personal trainer Anne Atkinson at The Transform Hub in Preston Technology Centre.
Anne, who tailors the sessions to each individual, helped Margaret to regain strength in her legs and develop more of a bend in her knees. It left Margaret wondering if she could push herself to reach the floor.
"I had to use a bench to do floor stretches but I went away, thought about it and worked hard," she said.
"And the moment I sat down on the ground for the first time since the accident was brilliant - I was whooping.
"It seems like a simple thing. Everyone takes it for granted but to me it was a real achievement.
"I went to a Rod Stewart concert recently and sat down on the grass and my friend was gobsmacked. In the past I had to take chairs out with me," she said.
Today she is fighting fit at 70, having dropped two dress sizes, and says it's all down to Anne's classes, which help older people stay both functionally fit and strong in order to offer protection from age-related health issues like falling.
It's something Anne knows all too well, having watched her mum's health decline.
The 67-year-old said: "Before my mum died a few years ago she'd had a hip replacement and went blind in one eye. She declined rapidly because she'd been inactive.
"Before then she used to do a lot of walking and gardening and enjoyed playing tennis and badminton. But she stopped doing anything."
Despite finding it difficult to motivate herself to keep fit in her younger years, Anne fell in love with exercise when she began teaching it at school. So when she retired in 2014, she decided to train as a fitness instructor to help people stay strong.
"I was the poorest gymnast in school and I'd run or join a gym for a while then give up. But then I discovered PE lessons as a teacher and loved them," she said.
"I started learning to become a personal trainer as soon as I retired and qualified in January 2015 after studying for six or seven months. I set up a business training people in their own homes then discovered Transform Hub, which I was excited about because of the community there. I wanted to join and when a position came up I applied straightaway."
Having felt isolated from community life when she moved up North to care for her dad, Anne regained a sense of belonging when she joined Transform Hub.
"I love seeing the changes it makes to people in all sorts of ways, having those relationships with others and being part of a community. It brightens and livens me up," she said.
One of those people is retired Leyland woman Dawn Gallagher. The 58-year-old said her weight ballooned when she stopped exercising for a few years and both her cholesterol and blood pressure soared.
Dawn, who can now lift 10K dumbbells above her head, said: "I thought, 'This is ridiculous,' and as if by magic I saw an advert on Facebook about Transform Hub so I went along and it's changed my life.
"But it's not just about feeling fit - there's also the camaraderie and mental health benefits."
In fact, fellow member Jill Blanshard (59) said she now feels mentally strong because of the support and laughter in the group.
Jill, who lives in Farington Moss and works as a project manager, added: "It's hard to make friends at gyms, you're competing with 20-year-olds and I'd reached the age where my body takes longer to recover so my weight was creeping up."
But after joining Anne's classes and losing a stone in three months, she decided to study for a level two qualification in May to become a fitness instructor.
"I've never been as strong and fit in my life. It's amazing, I feel really good and now my aim is to do my Level 3 qualification and teach Pilates," she said.
A huge motivator, she added, was the friendship at Transform Hub.
"We sing a lot when we're in pain and everyone's welcome here. I love both the support and social side of exercising with similar aged women.
"I've always worked full-time, had to drive a lot and my family lives in Yorkshire so I lost my social network and it was hard to make new friends," she said.
But group exercise has offered Jill a tonic to loneliness, with members taking on outdoor challenges like Pretty Muddy together, enjoying social activities like meals, quizzes and curling, and nattering on Facebook and WhatsApp groups.
The combination of exercise and friendship has also helped Margaret to cope with the difficulties of life in her seventies.
"My friends live up and down the country and two of my best friends passed away recently so I found myself on my own a lot," she said.
Margaret, who now works as a part-time customer service operator, added: "I've had a stressful year as I've had to move into assisted living and two family members, both with cancer, have had major operations. But this group has really helped me and kept me strong."
For more information about the classes contact 07780454837.