‘Exercise completely changed my life’

Four months ago, Justin de Carteret weighed 24 stone and was struggling with anxiety and fearful of how he would cope if he contracted Covid-19. During lockdown he decided to change his lifestyle completely and now, more than seven stones lighter, Justin has a full-on fitness regime of swimming, cycling, boxing and working out – and his mental health is the best it has been since he was a teen. He talks to Jill Chadwick about why he is taking on some extreme challenges to raise funds for Guernsey Mind...

Justin de Carteret. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28650749)
Justin de Carteret. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 28650749)

JUSTIN DE CARTERET stands out in a crowd and not only due to his height and beaming smile. These days this 46-year-old oyster farmer is brimming with self-confidence and enthusiasm because, after hitting an all-time low in his life, he discovered that getting fit and training for a series of physical challenges has changed every aspect of his life.

‘Lockdown changed all our lives. I started it on my houseboat in Beaucette Marina and for the first two weeks it was a real mancave. My partner, Charlotte, had gone to Southampton for an operation and due to her health insurance had to convalesce in Jersey, so I was living alone.

‘At an early stage during lockdown, I realised that I was struggling.

‘Like a lot of men, I enjoyed a pint after work, but being isolated and only being allowed out for an hour a day really messed my head up. I knew I was drinking and smoking way too much. It took a telephone call from my sister in Jersey to get me to rethink a few things. She advised me to give the Joe Wicks workouts a go and I thought they would be easy.

‘I work on the oyster beds, working long hours, running around all day doing a physical job and I really believed I was fit. But when I tried the workout it nearly killed me; I was seriously out of shape. On the news I was hearing about people in their 70s dying from the virus but then I heard of younger people and children dying too which was a real wake-up call. I have not seen my kids for four years and it made me realise that I wanted to change my life and become fitter and healthier so that I can be around to see them again.’

Justin knew that it was going to take more than TV fitness sessions to give him the results he needed, and he realised too that he needed something to do to keep him occupied during lockdown.

Justin decided to investigate doing some volunteering and offered his services to the 70-strong population in Herm to do all their shopping and deliver the supplies to the boat.

‘I got myself a cheap bike, which cost me £60, and I would ride from Beaucette to the Bridge huffing and puffing all the way. I kept getting bad back ache and one day Ricky Stevens, who manages the marina, told me that the reason for that was because the bike I had was too small for me. He suggested I buy a bigger, better bike but at that stage I was not earning anything and couldn’t afford one.

‘Then one day I arrived to find a proper bike waiting for me – Ricky, who is a bit of a hero, had kindly made one up for me from a load of spare parts he had lying around. All he charged me was for the parts and I was so very grateful. From that day on I was just off and away.’

Justin does nothing by half, so he then added cycling to his daily agenda, setting himself tough personal challenges to improve his fitness levels.

‘You have to set yourself targets so I decided that by the time we were allowed out for two hours I would be able to ride the 26 miles right around the island.’

At this point Justin recalls that friends began noticing that he had lost weight. ‘When I was a youngster, I had been an island swimmer for Jersey, but I had not exercised for years. As well as looking better and feeling fitter, I realised that I got such a high after exercising that beat any high I used to get when I was drinking.’

Justin says that his mother had been encouraging him to get back to swimming for several years and when Beau Sejour reopened he took advantage of a reduced-price membership.

‘You had to book your time slot due to social distancing, but I would sometimes do two swimming sessions followed by the Joe Wicks workout and a cycle ride. I was always out and about either exercising, swimming or doing my volunteering for the Herm residents. I just thought one day that if I was going to carry on with this regime, I wanted to set myself a goal of swimming to Herm.’

The challenge led to him wanting to improve his fitness even more and he took it to the next level by enrolling in white-collar boxing at the St Martin’s-based boxing club.

‘From a young boy I have always wanted to learn to box properly. I think that stems from the fact that I was pushed around quite a bit when I was younger.

‘I love the boxing – it releases so many emotions and makes me feel great, so I am really looking forward to taking part in King Of The Ring, the white-collar boxing event on 5 September. I aim to allow people to buy sponsorship spots on my shorts – and on the soles of my feet in case I get knocked out. I have also promised to fall face first, so you get to see the sponsors on the back of my shirt.’

Justin was keen to train one to one but due to the constraints of Covid-19 was only able to punch the bags. ‘I loved it and would leave so pumped up. Every day I had these fitness projects and my volunteering to keep me busy and little by little it completely changed my life.’

Justin was still not satisfied that he was pushing himself to his physical limits, so he decided to join a military-style boot camp he discovered via Facebook.

‘It’s called Guernsey Fit Farm where we were pulling heavy tractor tyres up steep hills. You could choose whether to carry 10 or 20 kilos in your backpack and there were only five of us in the group and the sessions ended with Carl Garton, who runs the group, spraying us with impromptu sprinklers.’

After these sessions Justin would swim for an hour-and-a-half and then do another hour in the gym.

‘When I am working on the oyster beds I am up and out at 5.45am so I would get up at 4.45am to do my Joe Wicks’ fitness session first. People say they don’t have time to do fitness, but you just have to factor time in.’

Justin’s eating and drinking habits also changed dramatically.

‘I do suffer a lot from anxiety and during my regime I gave up caffeine. I have taken medication for years to counteract this but for the first time in years I now feel able to wean myself off them as my life is so much better and I feel so very different.’

Justin also investigated his diet and now cooks daily and has discovered a love of healthy eating. ‘I can cook so much more than I used to, and I actually enjoy it.

‘I suppose I just want people who may have been feeling as I was to realise the power of fitness and how it can help your mental health. I was at Beau Sejour the other day and heard a grandma booking some sessions for her grandson as his family were not able to afford for him to go swimming. I would love to be able to raise funds to help people access the pool and the gym as I know how much of a difference it makes.’

For more information and to donate to Justin’s Herm swim and white-collar boxing challenge see the link to his JustGiving page below or visit the Guernsey Mind Facebook page.


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