THREE years ago Nicky Snowden was left gasping for breath after climbing a single flight of stairs.
Unfit and overweight, she knew the time had come to do something about her life.
The question was what to do.
The 44-year-old, from Hythe, wore a size 22 in clothes and had tried various diets and going to the gym, but nothing seemed to work for her.
“I found exercise quite boring and antisocial,” she says.
“And as I had just moved here - I wanted to do something that would get me out of the house and help me to meet people.”
Then, Nicky saw a Zumba class advertised and thought she would ‘give it a go’.
“I passed out half-way through my first class because I was so big and so overweight,” recalls Nicky, who suffers from asthma.
“I collapsed on the floor and desperately needed my inhaler."
Despite her scare, Nicky couldn’t get enough of the aerobic dance class and was soon taking part in seven classes a week.
“It didn’t feel like I was working out,” she says.
“It just felt like I was dancing and having fun.”
Her friend, Jenice Hutchinson, agrees.
“Music is a universal language, everybody loves music. I started doing Zumba as I felt isolated after moving from London and didn’t really know anyone. I’ve been going with Nicky from her very first class and it gives you such a natural high. It really helps to get the endorphins up. I love it."
“Zumba has not just changed my life, or even given me my life back – it feels like it has given me a whole new one,” adds Nicky.
“I’d always been big. I was a big child and all I ever heard whilst I was growing up was ‘You’re fat, why don’t you lose weight? You would be a lot more attractive if you were slimmer.’
“I was so big that my legs used to rub together when I walked and I had sores at the tops of my legs.
"Buying clothes was a nightmare. I had to go to specialist shops and even had to buy specialist bras, and that was really expensive.
“I would never judge someone because they were bigger, I’ve been there. I know what it is like and it can be really mentally damaging to people.”
After a few months, the mum-of-one started receiving comments from people about her weight loss, and whenever she felt like giving up she says this gave her the motivation she needed to carry on.
Nicky Snowden says Zumba has changed her life for the better
“Although I could feel I had lost weight in my clothes, I couldn’t see it in the mirror. I still saw the old me. It took about six months before I noticed a difference in myself and that spurred me on.”
Nicky, who works as a counter assistant for the Post Office, was so addicted to Zumba that she decided to train to become an instructor in the hope that she could help other people who were struggling to lose weight and tone-up succeed.
“I just thought if this can work for me then it can work for other people too.
“I’ve made so many friends through Zumba, I’m no longer isolated and my social life has improved. And I just want to help other people who may be in a similar situation.
“My life is so different now. My asthma has improved, and I can walk up stairs without getting out of breath. Even my feet have shrunk. I used to hide behind the clothes I wore, but now everything is smaller I can wear what I want.
“When I went clothes shopping for a dress and caught sight of my reflection in the changing-room mirror - I burst into tears. I never thought I could ever look like this.”
Now, busy single-mum Nicky wears a size 12/14 and teaches four Zumba classes a week.
She even arranged a four-hour Zumbathon last year which managed to raise £7,800 for Breast Cancer Care.
“The women in my classes are like family to me,” she says.
“Zumba brings people of all ages, all fitness levels and all sizes together. Getting people moving is half of the battle.
“We all have days when we don’t want to exercise. That’s normal. But once you have completed a workout you feel so much better for it.
“I never want to go back to how my life was before.
“I carry around a pair of jeans in my bag to remind me how big I was. I had to cut them at the knee so that I could sit down in them because I didn’t want to go up another size."