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Fit & Free

Words: Julie Creffield


Growing up in east London, I can’t really remember ever seeing adults playing sport. Watching West Ham, sure, but playing sport? Not so much. I was active as a kid, I was involved in a dancing school for many years. I enjoyed PE and lots of after-school clubs, but I wasn’t very good at anything, and because nobody in my family was interested in sport, it wasn’t encouraged. By the time I went to secondary school it didn’t take long to realise that only the talented girls got picked for school teams, and I didn’t understand the rules of most of the sports we tried. So I lost interest.

I spent my late teens and early twenties almost completely sedentary, unless dancing round my handbag with a Smirnoff Ice counts for exercise. By this point I was quite overweight, hidden reasonably well by my tallness, but overweight nevertheless. I tried to find exercise to do, but the options were quite limited: a nearby gym that was expensive or the local swimming pool which was a bit grotty. I didn’t know there was other stuff going on. I just simply didn’t know.

Then EVERYTHING changed.

The Olympics came to town.

At the time, I was a project manager for a local authority – a local authority bang-in-the-middle of the circus and desperate to get some legacy for its residents. Over the course of the next two years, I became obsessed with the games.  Bit by bit, I found myself enjoying sport again, the highlight being taking part in the London Triathlon. By the time the games arrived in 2012, I was a sports junkie; a member of a local running club, I’d run a marathon that year, cycled back and forth to work and I’d literally give any sport going a go.

After the games had finished, there was a lot of talk about legacy after all that money spent. But, boy oh boy, what an investment it proved. For a girl who still loves sport, despite still being rubbish at it, I am spoilt for choice. My local pool is a stunning 50m beauty; I cycle in a world-class facility with London skylines to die for; I do CrossFit in an amazing once-derelict warehouse; and I run in and around one of Europe’s biggest (and, in my view, most vibrant) urban parks.

Sport has helped me to really connect with my local environment. It has enabled me to make friends and feel connected to all of the change that is going on. It has made me able to share that excitement with friends and family – and, what’s more, it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg to use these incredible facilities on my doorstep.

We are so lucky in London that there is always so much going on, and that there are so many affordable options. In the Olympic Park for example there are free running groups, free fitness classes, free yoga, and you can pay and play in most of the venues for just £5 (less if you are on a low income).

Where you live should be one big adventure playground. Sport doesn’t have to take place within the constraints of a gym with people you never speak to. Get out and explore. Be creative. Don’t be shy. Who knows, you might even find a new fitness tribe or a sport you hadn’t even considered before. The other great legacy from the games is that we now have some pretty decent places to refuel and rehydrate after our regimes – even if the price of a pint has more than doubled.


Julie’s Top 5 Ways to Keep Fit On A Budget

1. Parkrun
Hackney Marshes, Mile End, Beckton, Wanstead Park, Barking Park, Roding Valley

2. YourParks
YourParks does FREE bootcamp, yoga, pilates and boxing across London

3. RunEast – Stratford

4. ViewTube Runners – Stratford

5. GoodGym – London wide

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