Tony Bicker – Life Begins at 40!

From living in a tent in the woods to being employed by the City Council as a fitness advisor, life really does begin at 40 for Tony!

“I’m on the payroll now but I still also volunteer – I’m paid spiritually for that!

Tony has been profoundly deaf since he was seven years old and in adulthood he developed mental health difficulties. Subsequent depression and anxiety resulted in Tony becoming socially isolated and he experienced a mental health breakdown.

He started going to the gym after a he was given a free gym pass to Nottingham City Council Leisure Centres. He became a case study providing feedback to improve gyms for disabled clients. When an opportunity arose to become a gym instructor it seemed like the next logical step for his own personal development. This had a positive impact upon his life and the people he can now support.

He says,

 “The best thing about it is I can go up to and talk to anyone now, that wouldn’t have happened before. I’ve got disabled clients being referred to me. Being able to relate to and help others - it makes everything I’ve been through all worth it.”

Tony uses his own experience to support other people who are overcoming challenges. One client who experiences panic attacks has been helped through Tony’s empathy and practical help. He is also supporting clients recently discharged from mental health services to help keep fit in mind and body.

Tony is now a huge advocate for fitness. He was able to reduce medication that he was taking to aid sleep and stabilise his mood and in so doing he also reduced the side effects of medication such as weight gain. During exercise the body releases dopamine and endorphins and it was very effective in helping to combat his depression and anxiety.

“The gym made such a difference to me, I would often experience anxiety when I was out and about so I would head to the gym where I could let off steam, and my medication was my dumbbells!”

Tony also recognised the other advantages of going to the gym,

“There are many benefits to using the gym and participating in leisure activities; there is a great community atmosphere that can make you feel like you are part of something and that you belong, as opposed to staying at home and feeling isolated.”

Tony encountered numerous obstacles before he gained the success he enjoys today. One particularly traumatic period was finding himself homeless. Although someone who used the gym periodically throughout his life becoming homeless renders an individual incapable of much beyond surviving. This is the position Tony found himself in when he was kicked out of his shared housing by his housemates. The situation was devastating and left him feeling quite defeated and unable to see his daughter.

Fortunately, he received support from Pete at Nottingham Housing Association and ended up getting sole tenancy of the property. This provided Tony with the stability he needed and a drive to succeed.


Tony admits it was difficult to go back to a learning environment when he started the InstructAbility Programme at Clifton Leisure Centre but found it helped his mental health and built his confidence.

“Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations helps you to grow mentally, which is just as important as physical fitness.

“I had a great YMCAfit tutor who waited for me to write up my notes and gave me visual handouts to help with the learning process so it was a bit of a blessing. The course consisted of both practical gym instructor training and theory work… and I was particularly worried about one session.

“I had to lead the others in an exercise class for half an hour.  I thought that session would be impossible for me due to my anxiety but the more I did it the better it became. I completed the course and passed the exam. Part of the programme included a voluntary placement and I did this at Ken Martin Leisure Centre. After I finished the InstructAbility programme I continued to volunteer and was eventually offered paid work.”

Tony cites the support he’s received from the team at Ken Martin as being a key part of his success.

“The team have really understood my needs and have allowed me to swap shifts when I’ve struggled with my mental health and they were really flexible in allowing me to complete my in house qualification.

“People can have a negative view of the gym but Ken Martin Leisure Centre is so friendly. We even adjust the music to make sure we cater for different groups depending on the time of day.”

Tony knows it can be very difficult to see an opportunity when you are depressed or anxious, but he has a few tips to help people get started:

  • Talk to people around you, you might find someone in a similar boat.
  • Walking can help by giving you thinking space.
  • Get or borrow a dog to walk with, it’s like a gym on legs!
  • Find a gym buddy who will help motivate you
  • Try group activities
  • Exercise classes get your endorphins going and you push yourself a bit harder.
  • Try to get into a routine
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t stick to it
  • Sometimes it’s just about coming along, just being here is an achievement.

“For some it’s a social experience, others it’s a lifestyle choice. Whatever the reason, it’s important to look after your heart and general wellbeing and just be happy.”