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Success Stories

Need a little motivation to focus the mind and get your body active? Meet Basingstoke's Vera Riley-Shaw for a story that's guaranteed to have you lacing up your trainers.

Vera Riley-Shaw

Vera is the 64 year old owner of Girlzone Fitness, a ladies only health and fitness club in Basingstoke. Being active is part of her daily life, but it wasn’t always this way. She told us how a health scare motivated her to get active - and how she hasn't looked back.


“As the owner of a ladies gym and an exercise instructor, being active is now an important part of my daily life, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, if you’d asked me in my early and mid thirties what I thought about exercise I’d have laughed!

At the age of 38 I had to have a laminectomy - or back surgery – to help cure my back problems. The pain I was suffering was just unbearable - I had to be taken into hospital in a wheelchair as the pain was so bad I couldn’t walk.

The surgery was necessary as nothing else had helped relieve the pain, but there were some serious risks associated with the op. I was told that I might never be able to walk again, and in fact, with odds of 60/40, I was told that it was more likely than not that I wouldn’t be able to walk again.

This was a real wake up call for me. I’d been living the life of a typical couch potato. I’d started smoking at age 15, had never done any exercise and was two and a half stone overweight. At school I used to hide in PE classes and this avoidance of exercise continued into my adult life. I used to think that people who exercised were mad.

Second chance

I saw the surgery as the start of a new me. My second chance. I wasn’t going to take things for granted anymore and decided that after the operation, if I was able to walk again, I was going to make the most of it; I was going to look after myself.

It took six months before I was able to walk again, but slowly I was able to and I remained committed to looking after myself. The first time I ever (and I mean ever!) ran, was at the Live Aid charity run at Hyde Park in 1985. This was 12 months after the operation.

I quickly got the bug for being active and started to feel better. It was a snowball effect - I gave up smoking and started building up my running. Since the surgery 26 years ago I have completed 19 half marathons and finished the London Marathon when I was 51.

Everything in balance

Being made redundant in 1994 was the next turning point for me. I trained to be an exercise instructor and in 1997 started 'Girlzone' - a ladies only health and fitness club in Basingstoke. I started ballroom and latin dancing when I was 60 and now dance three times a week with my husband to help keep him active (even though he is only 46)! I still lead 12 exercise classes a week and exercise myself three times a week. Of course, I still love all the wrong foods, but it’s everything in balance now.

It’s fair to say that activity has completely turned my life around.”

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