When Gemma Ferguson, 34, left the Army after nine years of service, she quickly fell into a spiral of depression and anxiety.
But her life was saved by a new goal: to become the UK’s strongest woman.
Gemma, an Openreach engineer, served in The Royal Corps of Signals as a communications system specialist for nine years and was posted to Germany, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In October 2012 she decided to leave the military and in the years that followed she struggled to adjust to life outside the Army.
Gemma, Burgess Hill, West Sussex, was able to get a job and a flat in High Wycombe, but didn’t have friends in the area and found it difficult to find common ground with new people.
While working at a pub at the weekends in an attempt to socialise, she began to drink heavily and take drugs.
By 2015 Gemma was diagnosed with depression, had lost her job, and had to move back in with her parents. She felt awful mentally and physically – her heavy drinking had made her gain weight.
It was Gemma’s mum Jacqui who realised that training in the gym could give her a sense of purpose.
Jacqui helped Gemma to get involved with PTSD Resolution, a charity that specialises in mental health for veterans and their families, to provide support and tackle her mental illness head on.
Slowly Gemma began to train. In 2016 she was in the gym when she was spotted by a personal trainer, who suggested she should try strongman training and encouraged to enter a local competition four weeks later. Gemma competed, placed second, and fell in love with the strength-focused approach to physical fitness.
That sparked the idea for a personal mission: Gemma set herself the goal of becoming the UK’s strongest woman.
Since then she has competed in World’s Strongest Woman in America, won England’s Strongest Under 82kg Woman, and came third in Britain’s Strongest Woman.
She hopes that she can show everyone it’s possible to pull yourself out of your lowest moment and turn your life around.
Gemma says: ‘Winning England’s Strongest Woman was the proudest moment of my life to date apart from joining the military.
‘The journey I had been on to get there, I lost five stone, I found myself again after being lost for a long time. I had a purpose and I like myself again – something I hadn’t had for many years even while serving in the army.
‘I have my coach Simon Yates to thank, he saw potential, he believed in me and supported me the whole way. I cried the day I won.’
Gemma now trains five days a week and makes sure to eat plenty of protein and carbs to give her body the fuel it needs.
She can lift cars, pull along double-decker buses, life logs weighing 82.5kg, atlas stones of 110kg, deadlift 195kg, and squat with 175kg weights. That’s impressive in itself, but Gemma has no plans to stop pushing herself.
‘I love how I look, it’s not for everyone but I like it and I’m so proud of what my body can do,’ says Gemma.
‘Not many people can say their body lifts up cars or pulls double-decker buses.
‘When I left the military I never thought I’d be where I am today and that makes me incredibly proud that I have done all of this and that I have turned it all around.
‘I honestly believe if I hadn’t moved back to Sussex with my family that day that I wouldn’t be here to say this.
‘I want to show others not just ex-military, anyone, that it can be done, you can turn your life around, but you have to want to.
‘It takes time, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Consistency and hard work is the key to everything.’
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