From 128 kilos to fitness freak in three short years – Julie Hoffman tells Zoe Arnold about the wake-up call that literally saved her life.
Three and a half years ago, Julie 'Hoffy' Hoffman's life was a mess. She was morbidly obese, smoked at least 30 cigarettes a day, and spent most of her time sitting indoors – a can of bourbon in one hand, her phone in the other.
"I had become a home hermit," she says from her home in Emerald, Victoria. "I ate, I smoked and I drank – a lot. I didn't play with my kids – it was left to my husband to take them on weekends away."
Julie, now 42, had lost her niece, her Dad and her best friend in short succession and she was struggling with depression.
In January 2010, Julie got the wake-up call she needed. Her then eight-year-old, Jorja, took a photo of her smoking unawares.
"I honestly didn't recognise myself," she says. "Once I realised who I was looking it, it clicked that my kids saw me like that … and I knew I had to change my life."
Julie's road to healthy living began. Overhauling her diet and lifestyle, Julie lost a whopping 66 kilos – more than half her body weight.
Perhaps even more significantly, she did her first ever burpee.
For the uninitiated, a burpee is a tough cardio and strength exercise that involves a jump and a push up in one movement, repeated ad nauseum.
"I had never heard of a burpee, and I laughed when my trainer asked me to do 10 in a row, as I could barely complete one," Julie says.
These days, burpees have come to dominate Julie's life. Inspired by her newfound fitness and wanting to honour her niece who had died from heart disease, a unique fundraising idea was born.
"I decided I'd do burpees non-stop for an hour, to raise money for HeartKids," Julie says.
"My niece was 13 when she died, waiting for a heart transplant. I wanted to give something back to the organisation that had helped our family so much when she was sick.
"I wanted to feel pain like all HeartKids do, which is why burpees seemed an obvious choice."
Hoffy's Burpee Challenge was born. During her first two events, Julie burpeed for an hour continuously at a time, raising nearly $60,000.
This year, Julie wanted more, and extended her fundraising campaign to include trivia nights and a fun run to the lead up to her biggest challenge of all: 24 hours of burpees.
When it's suggested she sounds slightly mad committing to a full day and night of the most painful exercise known to man, Julie laughs, agreeing.
"I am a bit mad! But HeartKids children go through so much, I knew I could do it," she says. "I don't mind pain, and I like a challenge."
So while the rest of the country was casting their vote this year, Julie Hoffman began her quest to burpee continuously for 24 hours.
She did it: 7,684 burpees in a row, raising a whopping $80,000 in the process.
"My body took over, and while the pain was there, I just focused on finishing an hour at a time," Julie explains.
She finished, gaining herself a place in the Guinness World Records, and a nomination for Australian of the Year.
These days, Julie is a different person to the one that nearly drank and smoked herself to death. She is a personal trainer, and runs her own gym.
"I want people to know that if I can do this, anyone can. I tell my clients 'just keep chipping away' – all those hard choices add up to the best thing in the end."
Next year, Julie is hoping to start her own community-based charity. To find out more, visit hoffys.com.au.