Mum's family 'thought she would be dead' after hitting 40 stone

By Sophie Norris & Lottie Gibbons

A 40 stone mum who couldn't get dressed or even stand unaided lost nearly 16 stone in one year.

At her heaviest, Kathleen Wotton relied on two walking sticks and was virtually housebound by her 40st frame - struggling to take even a few steps without falling over.

The 48-year-old mum and gran, who feared she was close to death, struggled to put her own shoes on or get dressed.

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However, Kathleen, from Merton, County Durham, is now unrecognisable after joining her sister Sarah's outdoor swimming group.

But it wasn't easy, as the mum-of-three said when she walked into the water for the first time, she burst into tears after being so 'ashamed' of how big she'd let herself get.

However, as soon as she was submerged in the sea, something changed for Kathleen and she suddenly felt 'incredible' - a buzz that got her instantly hooked to her new hobby.

In the year since, Kathleen has been outdoor swimming most days and claims the 'surreal' experience has even given her the body confidence to don a bikini.

Now full-time carer Kathleen, who has shed a staggering 15st 7lbs, has swam all over the North East coast and has her sights set on tackling the English Channel.

And the mum hopes that by sharing her newfound passion and impressive weight loss, she can inspire others who are battling their bulging waistlines.

At her heaviest Kathleen Wotton relied on two walking sticks (Kennedy News and Media)

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 to be fair.

"The weight has dropped off me. I weighed just off 40st. I've lost 15 and a half stone since last August.

"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.

"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."

Nan-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.

Kathleen 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.

Even in the bad weather Kathleen swims (Kennedy News and Media)

"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.

"When lockdown happened and I had no reason to go out, my mobility went that quick.

"I couldn't put my own shoes on, I could barely get dressed. I was sitting down to do everything.

"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 didn't want bariatric surgery - that was my last resort. It'd always been a no-no in my mind.

"Since then, I've lost [the weight equivalent of] another person and a half.

"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."

While sat at home wondering how to turn her life around, Kathleen noticed her sister had set up a swimming group and felt overcome with jealousy seeing pictures of the members out enjoying themselves online.

After she called Sarah in tears, Kathleen was urged to come along and with a lot of support from her sister found the courage to join the group at Seaham Marina.

Kathleen with her sister in December 2020 (Kennedy News and Media)

Kathleen said: "My sister Sarah posted a picture of her swimming in the sea. They'd been swimming and set up the seaside swimmers group.

"I was so jealous and I rang my sister and said 'I so wish I could come with you' and I was crying to them.

"She said 'you can'. She was motivating and encouraging me to try. They said 'you're fine. You'll be alright once in the water'.

"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.

"I did it in July 2020 for the first time in 'body armour'. I couldn't get a wetsuit to fit so I was in leggings, pants, a bra, a swim costume.

"I really struggled to try and get changed. In the end, my sister got me to take some layers off."

As well as obesity, Kathleen suffers from a number of conditions that cause severe daily joint pain and as a result always struggled to find exercise she could enjoy.

But thanks to the water supporting her weight and taking pressure off her joints, Kathleen is able to get out and swim almost every day and believes the outdoor sport has completely changed her life.

Kathleen said: "It's been a year now. I've been swimming in the sea in Hartlepool and South Shields too.

"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.

"I swam in a bikini from August until now. I swam all the way through winter in a bikini to raise awareness of lipoedema.

"It's more beneficial if you don't wear a wetsuit. I even got a winter tan.

"I don't always swim the whole time and I've got out and face planted the ground before but I stay in about 40 minutes during summer. I love swimming and I managed to swim a mile once."

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 had some help from a kind lady who has given me some nutritional help.

"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.

"It wasn't the amount I was eating because I wasn't eating anywhere near enough nutrition to fuel me, that's why I was worse with the tiredness.

"If you don't eat, your body stores it as fat.

"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."

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