Everyday Heroes: Sam Barlow

Sam BarlowWorking a busy job, Sam Barlow realised that she was struggling to meet other parents in the playground. She came up with the idea of asking other mums if they would like to go out for a run and made up a flyer for a teacher at her son’s school to circulate.

In that first week in February 2009, there were five knocks on the door, more than Sam had imagined. As the weeks went by, more and more parents joined the group, and by Easter, there were too many too fit on the driveway. Fitmums and Friends was born.

Fitmums and Friends is a volunteer-run, not-for-profit social enterprise, offering running, fitness walks, buggy sessions, a cycle squad, children’s athletics sessions and even an inter-generational choir.

The organisation has groups across East Yorkshire, has now started in South Yorkshire and has a membership of over 800 people, including mums, dads, grandparents, friends and children. Everyone is welcome, no matter what level of fitness they are at, and all runs are based around a shepherding system where no one is left behind. Participants can choose from a variety of distances, and everyone is encouraged to run at their own pace.

Since starting the group, Sam has become a fully qualified coach, but it has been an emotional journey getting there.

‘It’s taking over my life, I juggle my Fitmums life and a job in the NHS, but I don’t mind, I love it,’ says Sam. ‘Everybody has so many stories to tell, not just weight loss and getting fitter but confidence and gaining new skills.’ Fitmums has trained more than 60 run leaders.

‘It took me a few years to get the time and the confidence to become a coach, but I’m so glad I did. I have such a passion for it, I get such a buzz from someone running their first mile. It is about encouraging as many people as possible to get as active as possible.

‘So many people benefit from the work we do, and it is so rewarding to see. In 2012, I was so inspired by the Olympic Games, I wanted to do more for kids. My husband said I didn’t possibly have the time with the growth of the club, but I went and did it anyway, and we now have a junior section! What I’m doing is so important in a full journey of an athlete, and they won’t all be top level, but this contributes to keeping them fit. If nothing else, they’ve become a more active child.’

Sam says she doesn’t have just one coach who stands out as her main inspiration in coaching. ‘It’s all the people that give up their time to coaching that truly inspire me though I do look up to my local coach mentor, Steve Nolan. He is inspirational to watch. He makes it such fun, and there is not a time when I don’t learn something.’

This, says Sam, is the key to becoming a good coach.

‘Don’t be insular, learn from others and be open to it. Use the opportunities that are out there. Always keep your eyes open and commit to learning.

‘When I started Fitmums and Friends in 2009, I had no idea I would be part of such a big network, all these youngsters coming through the doors each week. I’ve created an opportunity for them to get involved in athletics without it being especially competitive or overpowering. It’s informal, and it’s fun, and they keep coming back.’

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