From drugs and prison to barbells and burpees – how exercise saved Aidan Hamilton

We usually share inspirational stories of women pursuing their ambitions in our real life stories. But sometimes we come across stories that really touch us, and we feel compelled to share.

Which is exactly what happened with Aidan Hamilton.

As you’ll read in a moment, Aidan transformed his life from a downward spiral of drugs and prison, to an optimistic, rewarding journey of learning, working and teaching.

We wanted to share Aidan’s story here for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s so remarkable and inspiring it deserves to be shared. But also, we want to demonstrate that if Aidan can come back from prison and drugs, and build a new life for himself, then anyone can change their life for the better if they really want to, and are prepared to put in the work.

There’s no single miracle moment or magic cure in Aidan’s story. Instead there’s hard work, determination and resilience – qualities that can enable us all to make changes in our own lives if we wish.

We also wanted to share a story of hope and redemption. To demonstrate that, no matter how far down someone may have fallen, they can come back from it if they want to.

Who knows, this may give hope or renewed energy for others battling something themselves, or trying to support someone else through hard times?

So here’s Aidan’s story. We hope you find it as inspiring as we do.

From drugs and prison to barbells and burpees

After seeing the 10 year challenge posts I was debating sharing my story. 10 years ago would have been when I landed myself in Her Majesty’s Prison. I was embarrassed and scared of what people may think and their judgemental views. But it’s a part of me and how it has helped me change my life around.

I was a mess! It all started well, went to a grammar school. I remember in year eight taking my ICT exam early and scoring 100%. But this soon changed.

I ended up hanging around with a different crowd in school, and started getting in trouble: detentions, suspended then kicked out before the end of year nine. We used to play a game who could get kicked out of class the quickest. Basically I was being a little shit.

I spent most weekends in a police cell

I left school with two GCSEs. I hated the eduction system, and didn’t like getting told what to do. But I loved to learn. So I went to collage early, and left with a BTEC national diploma in Art & Design.

I debated going to uni, but somehow ended up working for my old man fitting gas fires and fireplaces and getting qualified for that.

Most weekends I spent the night in a cell in Bexleyheath police station. Drunk and disorderly, criminal damage, possession of drugs…

I started hitting the clubs at 17, doing more class A drugs. I went from buying them off people in clubs, to working out it was cheaper for me to buy them in bulk, keep some for myself and sell the extra to others. I’d have a good night, out my face and get paid for it.

I was sentenced to three years in jail

I progressed from buying them in grams or 100s, to 1,000s and ounces. It was cheaper, less sales needed and more profit. But it also meant I had more drugs around me. From going to just getting on it at the weekend, it would be every day.

I was a mess, my life was out of hand. I was known as the kid who was always off his nut. Then it ended it tears. On the way back from picking up a few ounces I got stopped by the police and nicked. The police raided my house and found thousands of pills, two ounces of ketamine, two ounces of cannabis and a few grams of cocaine.

I got sent down for three years. I got off lightly. I was lucky; they offered to drop the charges for the class Bs and Cs if I pleaded guilty to the class As.

In December 2009 I was carted away to HMP Feltham, then moved to HMP Portland for the rest of my sentence. It took a little while to get used to, but soon felt like home. In prison you were in a little bubble, shut off from the rest of the world and their problems. Which was kind of nice; no drama.

Unless you got some bad news – a letter from your girlfriend splitting up with you, or some other shit. Then you’d have to watch your back. If someone had a bad day, they would let it out on others.

The favourite in there was loading up a sock with snooker balls and donging people round the head in the showers. Or if people had problems from outside brought in, then a boiled kettle filled with bleach would be getting chucked around the corridors.

I started going to the gym in prison

I kept myself to myself and just got on with it. I couldn’t drink a six pack of beers every night now so the beer belly started to come off, and I quit smoking. I started to go to the gym on the times we were allowed too, twice a week.

And I got into it. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but trained with others and just followed their lead. Then I started to borrow books from the library, and slowly went through everything they had. My Friday nights changed from being out of my nut in a club, to listening to Pete Tong on Radio 1 doing an abs workout.

I joined a running club in prison. There was a guy who I looked up to in there, he was a machine, really quick. I slowly built my fitness up, aspiring to be like him. One day I was able to keep up with him. I was over the moon!

A special needs group came into the prison gym once a week. You could volunteer to help them train in the gym and you’d get an extra gym session out of it. I applied because I was just thinking extra gym session.

But I didn’t realise how good it would make me feel helping others work out. Eventually the extra gym session didn’t matter anymore. This was something I looked forward to for the week, helping others. It was my first insight into personal training.

The cocky lad who went into prison was gone

I said goodbye to the gates of Portland early, coming out in January 2011 for good behaviour. I ticked all the right boxes and got to go home on a tag. As a bonus I had gained qualifications in English, maths, cooking, heath and safety at work, food hygiene, carpentry and renewable energy sources. I’d been making up for what I didn’t get in school.

Being shut behind four walls for 14 months, it was weird being out, having freedom. My confidence had dropped; I wasn’t the cocky lad who went in. Now I was a shy individual who didn’t like talking to others.

I joined the local Eltham centre when I got back, and my Dad let me work for him again fitting fireplaces and gas fires.

I remember a class finishing at 7:30pm and having to leg it back home before my tag curfew. I’d always have to wear tracksuit bottoms in the gym to cover up my tag because I was embarrassed about anyone knowing.

When I got my tag cut off I started to work for Dominos in the evenings, to keep me on the straight and narrow and out of trouble. I was driving around all night listening to audiobooks and podcasts, getting paid to learn. Result!

My fitness career started when I joined a new gym

My fitness career started when a new MMA gym opened up. I signed up and loved it. I went to a strength and conditioning class there every week. I thought ‘I know all this, I could teach a better class’.

One day the instructor was ill, and I offered to take the class. I somehow ended up taking it every week from then on, and training friends.

I took my first course in September 2013. I saved up and finally took the plunge and got my PT qualification in January 2015, making awesome friends along the way. By this point I was working three jobs, PTing 6am before my 9-5 (gas fires and fireplaces), going back for PTs in the evenings, and on weekends I was working at Dominos.

I joined a business course and got the confidence to leave my other jobs. I landed a job at Kinesis gym in October 2015, I am so grateful to them for giving me that opportunity.

I am determined never to go back to the state I was in

That brings me to where I’m at today. I have a beautiful, amazing girlfriend, a strong support network around me, and a job that doesn’t feel like I’m working a day in my life. I have clients I love to work with, and seeing how I have impacted their life inspires me every day to continue. And I have a group of friends who are always there when I need them.

I don’t regret any of my past it has made me who I am today. My motivation to carry on is to never let myself get back to the state I was in. Discovering a lifestyle of fitness saved me, and I want to help inspire others to do the same.

You can find out more about Aidan on his Facebook page and on Instagram.