As a lot of people can attest, losing weight is no easy task. It is difficult to even imagine the challenge facing Grace Payne when she decided to undertake her weight loss journey.

“I was 186kg at my heaviest, " she says, a point she got to after her mother passed away. "I ate anything and everything, times three! I wasn’t moving, and my breathing was out of control. I could barely move without having to sit down and catch my breath.”

Grace also had more severe health problems; she had to have a kidney removed, partially because of her size, and also developed a heart condition. In 2013, she was rushed to hospital for open-heart surgery.

It was after this that Grace firmly committed to making a real change. “There was really no other option. I realised it was now or never to lose this weight, or die.”

She started by making some alterations to her lifestyle, primarily by keeping a closer watch on what she ate. Her physio also gave her a walker, which enabled her to start moving with the ability to rest whenever she needed. This all helped her get down to 170kg.

However, Grace realised she needed to do more to go the distance, and decided to head down to Glen Innes Pool and Leisure Centre managed by YMCA, thinking this “was the best way to start moving.”

“We’ve been going to the pool since my children were young – they’re now in their thirties! – so I felt comfortable there,” Grace says.

YMCA Auckland is all about helping people achieve their goals, and, as Grace tells it, the staff at Glen Innes went above and beyond to help her on her quest to live a healthy life. “The staff have been so great,” she says. “They’re just fantastic.”

What did they do exactly? According to Grace, “What didn’t they do?” is the more apt question. “They motivate, they listen, they encourage,” she says, “and I’m always greeted with a ‘hi skinny’.”

Most importantly of all, Grace says, “They don’t turn their nose up at you.” This is incredibly important, as overcoming self-consciousness and embarrassment was one of the biggest challenges Grace faced when she first started on her journey.

“If you’re not happy and relaxed, you won’t exercise,” Grace says, citing the experiences of her sister, who was discouraged from her own weight loss journey by negative experiences with trainers in her hometown – “Glen Innes was heaven for her when she visited,” as well as others Grace has talked to, who have been made to feel “they’re too big”, or that everyone was staring at them at other gyms.

Grace feels so lucky that, for her, Glen Innes Pool and Leisure Centre is a “home away from home.”

“I couldn’t ask for better staff, from the lady at the front desk, to everyone,” she says. “It’s not a job for them, or, at least, they don’t make you feel like you’re a job.”

It is not just the staff Grace values, however, but the whole atmosphere at Glen Innes Pool and Leisure Centre: “It all starts with the staff, and works its way down to everyone in the pool.” The community, or as Grace calls them, “the family”, are always full of encouraging and supportive words. This makes everyone feel at ease and confident, she says, “even at our biggest.”

Grace now works out at the gym at Glen Innes Pool and Leisure Centre, after having moving from the pool to aquatic aerobic exercises. She has made amazing progress overall, and now weighs 87kg – “One more kilogram to go and I’ve lost 100!”

“I love that all my weight loss has been achieved here,” Grace says of Glen Innes Pool and Leisure Centre. “I’m living proof that it works! A good healthy food intake and regular exercise will help you achieve a healthier lifestyle.”

“People often ask me ‘what can I do?’,” Grace says. Her response? “Go to Glen Innes Centre, it’s the best!” she says with a laugh. “I’m a Glen Innes girl!”

“Go down to the pool and get in the water, it’s easier on your joints,” she says, more seriously. “Even if it’s just for five minutes. You can do a lot in five minutes.”

Grace is tremendously thankful to the staff at YMCA, and effusive in her praise of the Centre, referring to her weight loss as “a team effort.” Beyond that, she’s somewhat at a loss for words. “How do I say thank you to an awesome team that has played a huge part in my weight loss journey? Thanks is such a little word, but it has so much meaning.”

Without YMCA, Grace’s life could have turned out very differently. With the respect, support and encouragement of staff, and the entire community at Glen Innes Pool and Leisure Centre, she was empowered to exceed expectations, go the extra mile, and, ultimately, make a real difference in her life.