January 20

Varuna’s Bootcamp Story



I love numbers. Mind you, I don’t love all numbers. I absolutely loathe some of them.

#29 -The age I was last September when people were telling me “ooh, 30 soon, enjoy the end of your twenties because it all goes downhill from here!”

Hang on, statistically women now live until they are about 80 (82.5 years to be precise, according to the WHO), which meant that the next 50 years of my life would all be downhill.

I thought to myself how on earth will my self-esteem cope with another 50 years of looking in the mirror and sucking my tummy in, another 50 years of grimacing at holiday photos, another 50 years of thinking “yup, next Monday I am cutting ALL carbs – is wine a carb?”, 50 years of Spanx, 50 years feeling guilty about every mouthful of cake, 50 years of pretending I couldn’t possibly eat the whole pizza (I can), 50 years of pretending to want to share the sticky toffee puddings (Noone wants to eat half of a sticky toffee pudding), 50 years of positioning myself in photos so I would look better, 50 years of telling myself it’s all vanity sizing anyway.

50 years – That’s 2600 “next Mondays”, that’s 50 Januaries of trying out to “5:2” my life.

Maybe I thought to myself, I could just up my wine intake and reduce that to 30 years. (Rejoice! A global wine shortage was avoided when I chose not to do that)

Still the prospect of 30 years of berating myself about my food and exercise choices seemed like a mountain to climb (and at that point I didn’t climb mountains, let alone stairs)

#4- The number of gyms I have belonged to in my entire life and never stuck with.

Gym number 1 – The Deloitte gym which doesn’t count because a boy used it as cunning tactic to woo me (It worked – I am now married to him)

Gym number 2 – Fitness First on Seven sisters – Where gym equipment goes to die.

Gym number 3 – The Hilton Gym – “Out of Order”

Gym number 4 – Gymbox – The one where I thought this is IT! I will go in as Varuna and come out looking like a Victoria Secret Model – Fit, Athletic, Tall….

At induction, I told the GymboxRobot “I hate machines, exercise is boring and the only reason I am here is because someone told me you were like a nightclub and you have a DJ”

The Robot replied “Don’t worry – you will love the classes especially the FUN ones”

I tried all the FUN ones:

Rave – Trampoline in the dark with glow sticks: Didn’t work, I lost my contact lenses and ended up stabbing some poor woman with my glow stick. I was banned.

Rihanna – The instructor said “Walk towards the mirror with ATT.IT.UDE” cue all the other ladies doing a pouty thing and strutting, and me looking like I wanted to stab someone in a shady south London corner.

Dark Spin – Where you spun in the dark. The fear of falling off the bike never left me and I constantly cheated on the resistance dial because no one could see, least of all me.

(Maybe now thinking about it, Gymbox couldn’t pay their electric)

#6 Weeks before the BIG Downhill Descent

The Email that kicked it all off – note the date

On 12 Sep 2013, at 10:52, Varuna S <varuna.s@gmail.com> wrote:

Hi Stephanie

Thanks for getting back to me – I got your email address through your website. I don’t really know how to work gumtree mail!

I would very much like to attend this Saturday (although I am feeling slightly apprehensive but I am keen to train in a fun environment) and meet other locals.

My number is 07771764167 and I will meet you at the bottom of the hill at 10.15.

thank you so much


The reply

On Thu, Sep 12, 2013 at 10:53 AM, SAHPT <sahpt4me@gmail.com> wrote:

Hi Varuna,

Don’t worry you’ll be fine, we all have to start somewhere and a group setting with other like minded individuals is the perfect setting. We’ll have fun and push though!

See you Saturday 🙂

Kind Regards

Stephanie Henderson

And boy, did she mean it. A lot of fun is being had, and a lot of pushing was done (she pushed, I moaned, cried, sweated and smiled through the pain)

#55 squats + #55 squat jumps – The number of squat variations in my first session.

Because everyone remembers their first time.

The date: Saturday 14th September 2013

It is drizzling when I leave the house and I think to myself, I have to go because I don’t want to leave that poor woman waiting for me in the rain. That is the first and last time I refer to her as “that poor woman”.

I turn up and there is one another “super cheery” guy there whom I later find out is called Nayab.

Even though there are only two of us (One of the others, I am told, is running the Great North run!!!), we go through the warm up and two minutes in,  I feel like my lung is about to burst and my face about to explode.

Then we go through something called a “Squat Pyramid” – Nayab squats 10 times, and I squat jump 10 times, then he jumps 10 times and I squat 10 times and it drops to 9,8, etc.

The first two jumps in and I think to myself, I think I would rather die a chubster.

After that come the partner push-ups – We both face each other and count up from 1 to 10. This I am able to do because I am in a “box position” but she announces with excitement “Soon on your toes and very soon chest to grass”. I think, if I could I would laugh in her face. I muster– “ughhg can’t  ahgirgdanf wait”

Then after an eternity, she announces, oh look we have time for at least some burpee box jumps AND abs. I look for the nearest exit.

Nayab powers through, swears at her, asks if I have a gun so he can shoot her. I consider buying flights to Vegas so I can procure said guns.

I do the thrusty bit and stop at the wall. She says “jump” and I say “can’t, my body isn’t built that way”

She says “We will see about that – step up for now”.

Nayab says “Varuna if a 40 year old smoker can do it, so can you”

Then she announces, now time for some abs: Go on give me 40 Russian twists.

I look at Nayab blankly. She demonstrates. I die.

I return home, muddy, grassy, broken and announce I might need help with washing my hair.

He asks – Are you going to stick with it?

I reply – I don’t know. The lady is crazy and the bootcampers are all hardcore. I will go again next Saturday and see.

And so it began.

#10+1 personal sessions

My first consultation – 06 January 2014

Around January, after having  tried on what can only be described as my Wedding Armour (it weighed about 10 kilos, walking around in it was going to be a challenge, going to the toilet was going to be an impossibility- it was indeed ).

I decided the only way I would be able to carry it around for a whole day in tropical heat would be to get stronger and I called on Steph.(After 3 months of bootcamp, I finally mustered the courage of looking her in the eye and calling her Steph).

She arrived at my flat with her game face on for my consultation.

The one question that sticks in my head is “What is your motivation?”

I froze.

How do you tell someone:

“I want to go on holiday with my new husband and feel amazing. I don’t want to spy fit girls under my sunnies. I want to come out of sea and blow Ursula Andress in THAT Bond scene out of the water. I am tired of buying “cover-ups”. I am sick of reading magazines that proclaimed:

New amazing way to feel great – Give up everything that brings you joy in life.

The Diet that really works – Broccoli and Air! And for that special occasion “Carrot sticks dipped in Vodka! YUM”

Freeze your fat in exchange of your first born child

Instead I replied “Looking good for the wedding”.

But I had lied.

It was never about “looking good” – for me it has always been about feeling great. I wanted to like myself. I wanted to feel ok. I didn’t want things to go downhill. I wanted to stop stalking that friend on Facebook who looked fab in a cocktail dress.

I got so much more in return – The feeling of achievement, I started feeling good in my skin, I started  feeling like maybe I could be the “sporty” type and that maybe Adidas is right, Maybe nothing is impossible. I started associating songs with workouts – I have a “mental playlist”. Decathlon became my Aladdin’s cave. The Nike Outlet in Cheshire Oaks became the Holy Grail.

Every time Steph said, go on one more. I dug deep and found one more. Every time she said go on push through, you are doing so well, I dug deep and pushed.

Every single session, be it personal or at bootcamp, there has been at least one private moment where I have thought to myself “OMG, I cannot believe that I am able to do this”.

At the end of my 100th session, when Mike R challenged me to hop the 59 steps of Stave Hill, I took a moment at the top, breathed in and thought 100 sessions ago, I couldn’t hop One.Single.Step.

#1 Badass Trainer

As she walks through the valley of the shadow of death approaches Stave hill, hair tied back, aviators on, you know she means business.

She is the consummate professional. She will put you through your paces and she suffers no prisoners. Behind those aviators, she is constantly assessing:

What you can do, when was the last time your arms had lifted anything but a wine glass, Whether you knew if a Russian Twist was a garnish on a cocktail or some form of ab torture.

Whether now was a good time for a burpee (TIP: It always is in her book).

Once she knows what you can/can’t do, the pushing starts and it is relentless, torturous, arduous, but never ever boring.

I have never known someone to dish out drills with such glee, such happiness and such excitement.

I thought to myself, this is a woman who does what she loves and loves what she does. This is a quality to be admired and she hasn’t proven me wrong yet.

Every session is bigger, badder, more creative and the equipment keeps getting more and more interesting – from pumpkins to vests to ropes.

She also gives THE best advice. It goes something like this

Bootcampers:“Steph I had a tough day at work”

Steph: “Slam harder”,

Bootcampers :”Steph,a boy broke my heart”

Steph:”The floor is his face; use the hammer to express your emotions”

Bootcampers:”Steph, I..”

Steph:”This is not a party, Why can you still speak? Run faster, Squat lower, lunge further, Head up, Neck up, Chest lifted”

#Bootcampers because these people are not numbers, they are a few  of the many many bootcampers who have inspired me to try harder, be better, laugh harder, lift heavier.

If a 40 year old smoker can do it Varuna, so can you – said Nayab, on our first session together.

Come on Varuna, I am waiting for you – four more steps – said Laura who cheered me on every step of the way, through thick and thin, through pumpkin and tyres and who to this day picks the heaviest tyre. You will always be the one I want to be when I grow up, Laura.

‘ere gal, I will make sure you complete this circuit. Do not even think of not finishing this – Mark who makes sure I never give up, and who did 100 sessions in 6 months (it took me a whole year!) and lost three stones along the way! He is bootcamp’s heart of gold.

Come on Varuna, sprint sprint sprint. You CAN do it. – cheers Marika who inspires me to sprint faster and more recently advised me to grip it between my thighs… I think she meant the ropes…

I am so proud of you –says Tom Porter who tried for years to get me to “go on a walk”. In a weird twist of fate, I now take him on hikes to ascend the tallest mountains and take on the steepest gorges. I think deep down he regrets not running away after he saw me in that Wedding Armour.

There is Troy who makes a “I am in pain but I love it” squinty face – proud owner of #fakewife AND #bootcampwife.

There is a kettlebell kicker extraordinaire, who could kill you with a tyre if she wanted to – my partner in crime and grime Janine who is always giving it some welly, who is revelling in her hardcore-ness “Yeah yeah it was hard, but I wish I had Jane on”.

There is the 37 year old South African Gymnast who runs like Phoebe from friends and uses strange words. The Rowlands may have come late to the party but they brought the party. Wonder who is going to make it to 50 sessions first…

There is Brad to beat. Many have tried, but no-one but Michelle triumphed.

There is Emma who injured her knee but still hopped one legged all the way to the top of Stave Hill because it was part of the team challenge.

There is Katy who travels an hour and a half each way, and after two classes under her belt, is still a powerhouse. I always want to be on Katy’s team.

There is Majella who should teach lessons on how to never give up and who is truly, properly, lovely and who refuses to accept that she is hardcore.

There is Irish John, who was there from the beginning and has seen it ALL.

There is Tash who stopped to give me a hug at the top of Stave hill after a particularly brutal hill sprint on her first session and now teaches me swear words and is well on her way to being Cate Moss.(I know but Tash loves four letter words beginning with C).

There is Ed, who came, saw and conquered.

There is Herman, The Hermachine, The Herminator, destroyer of drills.

There is Territorial Gordon (there was a takedown incident with a ball) and whispered Prosecco Plans over a stretch.

There is Lucy, who has the energy of a Duracell bunny and burpees like a one-legged goat on acid.

There is Jerome of Kangaroo DNA, who jumps incredible distances (Eat your heart out Rutherford!), the first boy I ever beat at planking (well really, the first boy I beat at anything!).

There is Maria, working mum of 2 with guns of steel, who single arm presses 12 kg kettlebells without flinching.

There was Stephanie Henderson of Lincolnshire who has now returned to the deepest, darkest corners of Lincoln but who made it to a “blue” in her last session! COME BACK.

There is The Silent Assassin (as coined by Amira), who turns up with a deck of cards and kills you with her silent shuffle.

There is Bella boo and her balls.

Crucially and most importantly there is Stephanie Henderson of Canada Water – Believer in People, Changer of Lives, Pusher of Pain, Agony Aunt, Inventor of Drills, Chief Advisor to the Ministry of Torture and Author of “101 ways to make a Burpee harder”. The “How to make a Push-up harder” is currently in the works.

20 September 2014

And so (finally!)  my year in numbers, so far.

The number of sessions done: 100

Number of sessions I can’t believe I have done: 100

Number of kilometres walked or ran in 2014: 1200 km

Target kilometres for the whole year was: 1000km

Number of kilometres walked or ran before 2014: 0

Number of kilos lost: 10

Number of actual, real, I-can-show-you-on-the-map Mountains climbed: 5

Highest altitude I bear crawled (Not out of want and I am so sorry I cheated on you Stave Hill): 1800 m.

Number of burpees done: Haha don’t be silly, I stopped counting after the first million.

18 October 2014

So As I write this on the cusp of my 31st birthday, I want to finally say to the naysayers – IT HAS NOT GONE DOWNHILL! I have never felt this good or been this healthy (if my blood pressure is anything to go by)

100 sessions means so much more than 100 odd hours of exercise, it means finding something that I enjoy and that I look forward to rather than dread. I am still apprehensive, because it is Steph and sometimes she springs the Silent Assassin on you but I am also excited to see how much I can do, how much I have progressed/can progress.

It means finding a support network, a community of people, who no matter how sweaty you are, how tired you are and or what a shit day you are having at work makes you feel better, makes you smile, greets you with a sweaty hug, and inspires you with their stories.

It means a fitness sisterhood (a fitsterhood?), where the girls motivate each other, cheer each other on and on the walk to the shed talk about crazy leggings, kids sizes in Decathlon, food options, high protein wines & gins (the quest continues…), number of wash cycles we now get through in the week.

So come jump that wall with me, stretch with me, be my friend, tell me your story and I will tell you mine (and in fact if you stretch me good and teach me some swear words, I will show you THAT picture of me doing my best Ursula Andress impression)

See I told you I loved numbers, but now you know I also love BootcampSE16 – It changed my life.


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