‘Fitness Helped Me Build My Confidence After I Left My Arranged Marriage’

Kingston mum Saima Hussein, 40, found her confidence – and her calling – in the gym.

a woman standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: After leaving her tumultuous marriage, Kingston mum Saima Hussein, 40, found her confidence – and her calling – in fitness.

© Provided by Women’s Health UK
After leaving her tumultuous marriage, Kingston mum Saima Hussein, 40, found her confidence – and her calling – in fitness.

I fell in love with sport in junior school – netball, softball, rounders… I even did Irish dancing. I was good at sport, and my classmates always picked me first for any team. I really loved that – it made me feel special. I grew up in quite a strict home and wasn’t really allowed to go out and play with my friends. When I was at school, playing sport, that was the only time I could really socialise and have fun.

I had an arranged marriage when I was 19, in December 1999. I had spent 5 minutes with him before we got married. We had two children by 2003. But my husband and I just weren’t compatible, and our relationship fell apart. I have nothing against arranged marriages, but we just weren’t the right fit. There was no real love there. By 2006, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I took my kids and left.

I got a job as a sales assistant in a shoe shop. Being South Asian, as a single mum, I was very much frowned upon for leaving my husband. It was an incredibly tough time, and I battled with severe depression and anxiety.

I wanted something just for me – something that made me feel accomplished, like I was achieving something. So I joined my local gym. Exercise and fitness became my safe place – where I could be my own person.

I was still very self-conscious, so I started off on the cardio machines. They all faced the windows, so I didn’t have to look at anyone – or see anyone looking at me – while I exercised.

But the trainers were all lovely, and there was one in particular who took me under his wing. He coaxed me away from the treadmill, gave me free 10-minute boxing sessions, and gave me a basic resistance circuit I could follow. For about 3 months I would just repeat the same circuit every single day!

Initially, I had the usual motivations; I wanted to lose a bit of weight and tone up, and after the first few months, my body did start to change (I dropped about 3 dress sizes) – but my outlook changed even more. I found that I was chasing goals, rather than a certain body type.

I loved to run, so I decided a half marathon was the next goal – I’d never set myself such a big one. The training was so tough on so many levels – trying to fit in training while still being there for my kids wasn’t easy. But I did it – and that feeling was something I’d never felt before. Smashing that goal made me feel unstoppable.

After my marriage ended, I was still desperate for love, for a family unit, and I dated a few men who definitely weren’t good for me. But as I grew fitter and stronger, my own confidence grew.

Once my half marathon was ticked off, I got more into strength training. I started doing my own research and watching YouTube videos to create my own workouts and plans. Eventually, after several years in retail, I took the plunge and did my level 2 fitness instructor diploma, and then my Level 3 personal trainer qualification.

Now I work at the gym I first started training in myself. I always knew I wanted to help people, and fitness has helped me overcome so much – I want to help other people do the same. Every time I stepped away from a bad situation, every time I’ve picked myself up, it’s always been fitness that got me through.

2020 has been an incredibly tough year for the industry, I’m fortunate enough to have been given opportunities to help me grow my career. I’ve grown my business, appeared on Sunday Brunch and I’ve become an ambassador for Decathlon. It’s been a hard year, but it’s been one of my best.

Now, my goal is to get to 100kg on a deadlift. I recently managed to get to 90kg and I was so excited. That feeling of being so strong and powerful – especially when you’ve previously felt so vulnerable and alone – is absolutely indescribable.

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