On three separate occasions, Fiona Halliday has had to learn how to walk all over again.
The 67-year-old had been a “formidable” fitness instructor in Banchory, leading popular classes in Pilates and Zumba.
But life changed dramatically when she was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) in 2006.
And then again, even more so, when she woke up in the middle of the night six years ago completely unable to move.
But with the help of her family, friends and a dedicated personal trainer, she’s fighting her way back to fitness.
‘It was awful – but I had to go on’
After that terrifying night in 2017, Fiona and her family initially thought she’d suffered a stroke.
She couldn’t speak or walk, and the left side of her face had dropped.
Scans showed she had developed tumefactive MS, a rare form of the condition with similar symptoms to a brain tumour.
Fiona left hospital with walking sticks and Zimmer frames, and had to gradually build up her strength.
After making good progress, she had a relapse two years ago that resulted in an eight-week hospital stay.
She has now had to learn how to walk again a total of three times.
“I was a fitness instructor doing 10 classes a week and everything just stopped,” she said.
“It was just awful – but I had to go on.”
And she says Banchory gym instructor Ben Smith has played a key role in her recovery.
Gym regime has helped Fiona’s recovery
Ben had been told Fiona was a “formidable” fitness instructor and was keen to help as best he could.
“We initially established what she could and couldn’t do, and we were able to do a lot with the neurophysiotherapist.
“She was told she might never be able to walk again, but she said ‘No, that’s not good enough for me’.”
Since then, Fiona has come on “leaps and bounds” – both physically and mentally.
Ben has focused on lots of movements that challenge her balance, like lunges and squats.
“We use cable machines and free weights, and a lot of these turn into everyday movements,” he added.
“It makes getting up and down the stairs easier, for example.
“Doing this consistently over time has helped rebuild up her strength and coordination.”
‘I want to inspire others to fight MS’
As well as Ben’s support, Fiona has been keen to praise teams at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Woodend Hospital and Glen O’Dee.
And she says her “amazing” friends and family – husband David, and children David and Gemma – have also been crucial on this journey.
“They’ve been through it all with me, especially for the last six years.
“It’s been hard on them seeing me like that, especially as I was a fitness instructor and lost it all overnight.
“And I have great friends that have been there for me through good days and bad days.”
A few years ago, Fiona took part in a charity zipline to raise money for the MS Society Scotland.
She’s now fit enough to go one step further and take to the air, preparing for a charity skydive at the end of May.
She’ll be joined by Ben, who added: “She’s physically ready for it and all the Covid restrictions are gone so the events are running.
“She’s dealt with this in her own way, and is showing that life’s not over.
“If Fiona can throw herself out of a plane maybe someone else suffering from this disease can do some exercise and keep going.”
Fiona said: “The gym has been so good for me and my mental health.
“The hardest part is my speech, it’s very hard. Some people think I’m stupid because I don’t speak right, but that’s just how it goes.
“I can only hope [speaking out] gives others the will to fight as I’ve had to learn to walk three times.”
Donations can be made at: justgiving.com/fundraising/fions-halliday11