County Durham gran sheds more than 15 stone in one year after taking up new hobby
When Kathleen Wotton was at her heaviest, she couldn't dress herself or stand without help.
At 40st, the 48-year-old gran was reliant on two walking sticks to get around and just taking a few steps would cause her to fall over.
She feared she was "close to death" and rarely left the house, causing her to as she miss out on family gatherings as she struggled to even put on her shoes.
But thanks to the determination of her sister Sarah, Kathleen has turned her life around thanks to a new hobby - outdoor swimming - and has shed almost 16st in just 12 months.
Sarah, 39, begged her nervous sibling to join her outdoor swimming group in Seaham.
As the Murton mum-of-three walked into the water for the first time, she wept at the condition she'd let her body fall into.
However, as soon as she was submerged, Kathleen says something changed and, suddenly, she felt "incredible."
And she has not looked back, with the full-time carer spending almost every day in the water since.
Kathleen said: "Wild swimming has 100% saved my life. My family believe that too because they thought I'd be dead by now.
"Walking up to the water for the first time, I was in tears. I was crying because I was ashamed about the way I looked and felt.
"When I got in, it was like a huge fog had lifted off my head and I felt like my body moved again. It was surreal."
Since taking up the hobby, the weight has drastically dropped off Kathleen. She has shed a staggering 15st 7lbs since August 2020 and is hoping to inspire others struggling with their weight.
She has swam all over the North East coast and has set her sights on tackling the English Channel in the future.
"Water holds anyone, no matter your size or shape. It's incredible. I want to keep motivating other people and helping others through my journey," she said.
"In the future, I'll 100% carry on outdoor swimming. I'd love to swim the Channel but that's a pipe dream. It doesn't mean it'll never happen though.
"I'd love to swim in Antarctica too. I want to swim loads of different places when I can manage."
Grandma-of-two Kathleen had struggled massively with her weight and due to osteoarthritis and mobility issues, she found it impossible to exercise.
At home, she was reliant on her family to help her with even the simplest of day-to-day tasks like putting on her shoes - and Kathleen feared a gastric bypass would be her only option to get in shape.
She said: "Before the first lockdown, I was already struggling with my weight even though I was still trying to physically exercise.
"The weight slowly crept on but no matter what I did, I wasn't losing anything. I couldn't do the exercise that I should have been doing to lose enough.
"I've got two sticks and it was really hard because I had severe back pain. I'm always in pain but the back pain happened a few years before. From that onset I could barely move."
It was when the country was placed into lockdown following the outbreak of coronavirus when Kathleen's mobility declined as she had fewer reasons to go out and about.
"I couldn't put my own shoes on, I could barely get dressed. I was sitting down to do everything," she said.
"I couldn't stand for long, not more than a couple of seconds with my sticks because the pain was so horrendous.
"I was losing everything and if I hadn't found wild swimming, I wouldn't be here now. I wouldn't be alive or I'd be close to dying.
"I'm 48 and I couldn't even get up the stairs. All I did was go on about my weight and cry all the time.
"I was sleeping on the sofa which didn't help my back and when I walked up the stairs, I'd fall up them.
"I'm still in pain but I manage it better. I have frequent dislocations in my joints and my back still hurts but the weight does have bearing on you.
"I just want to live. I want to lose weight. I don't want to lose it to be slim, it's not an image thing, because I believe every body's beautiful."
When she first started swimming, Kathleen felt jealous at her sister Sarah's photos of enjoying themselves in the sea. But when she called Sarah in tears wishing she could join in, Sarah replied: "You can."
During her first session, Sarah helped Kathleen with stability and confidence to get her in the water.
She said: "I did it for the first time at Seaham Marina. I fell over on the sand numerous times and struggled massively but once I was in the water, I thought 'oh my goodness, I'm not in pain'.
"When my body was in the water, it felt incredible. There's no other word."
She said as well as helping her lose weight, swimming helps her manage the severe joint pain she suffers from every day.
Her body confidence has also skyrocketed since she took the plunge and uploaded a photo of herself in a bikini online.
"It's been a year now. I've been swimming in the sea in Hartlepool and South Shields too," she said.
"I'm always going to have trouble with my joints and pain. I have severe hypermobility, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, lipoedema.
"My body image still bothers me massively but it's mine and no one else's opinion matters but mine really.
"In the picture of the bikini, I'm bursting with happiness and confidence. At first, I was nervous.
"On the first picture I posted, I thought I was only posting on a little group thinking 'it's only a few people. I'll try and see if I get any nasty comments'.
"Then my phone went crazy and I realised I'd posted to 54,000 members at the time. The response was incredible."
After some extra help with nutrition, forcing herself to eat more often and more of the right things, Kathleen is feeling healthier than ever and has enough energy to keep up with the children in her family.
Kathleen said: "I used food as an enemy. I didn't really eat and when I did, I had to eat for necessity. I'd go for bread or something that was quick and easy.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm not perfect. If I'm having a bad time, I slip back into it and have to pull myself out.
"I've got two grandchildren and three children. I want to enjoy spending quality time with them which I wasn't.
"I still can't do everything with them but I can do more and more."
For more news from across the North East, sign up to our newsletters here.