Britain’s Fittest Farmer 2021 – meet the finalists

A 20-strong group has been selected to take part in the final of Britain’s Fittest Farmer 2021.

The competition was tough – and there was a lot of camaraderie between contestants – at the qualifiers, but now 10 men and 10 women have been selected for the final stage of this prestigious competition.

See also: Find out more about Britain’s Fittest Farmer

This sees them put through a range of physical challenges, as well as take part in an online interview discussing their approach to maintaining positive mental health.

Ultimately, one woman and one man will be crowned winners and we’ll be revealing their names next week.

Isobel Brown

Age: 22
Location: Derbyshire

Isobel Brown lifting a weight

Isobel Brown © Richard Stanton

“I hate sitting still, I have to be doing something,” says Isobel, who comes from a farming family and is a member of Uttoxeter YFC.

“Running is a go-to, as well as ‘home’ workouts with my makeshift gym equipment found around the yard. I recently got a new pup, which I am training up, and this is a workout in itself.

“I always try to see the positives in things. I also always ask people how they are doing, because small things like that can make a big difference.

“Mental wellbeing is important because it doesn’t just affect you personally, it can also have a huge effect on your work.”

Leonie Pryor

Age: 39
Location: Shropshire

Leonie Pryor with kettlebells

Leonie Pryor © Richard Stanton

A sales manager at an agricultural merchant, Leonie reckons she’s fitter now than she’s ever been.

She referees men’s, women’s and junior rugby around the country and enjoys running, circuit training and rugby training.

“I like to spend time with my sheep and love taking the dog out for long walks or runs.

“The key is to make time in your life for the things you love and don’t worry about what you can’t control,” she says.

“I make time to exercise and encourage my friends to join me. I recognise when they are feeling down, and suggest long walks, a change of scene or offer help where I can.”

Alice Sheffield

Age: 29
Location: Surrey

Alice Sheffield on exercise bike

Alice Sheffield © Richard Stanton

Alice’s day job is with the Rugby Football Union and she plays rugby for Harlequins, but she also works part-time on the family farm.

“I try to bring energy and positivity where I can, and exercise and the outdoors is hugely important to achieve that.

“Fresh air, taking your mind off anything that might be bothering you and exercise to focus on something physical can make a huge difference,” she says.

“The pandemic has been a really testing time for everyone, so mental resilience and wellbeing need to be at the forefront of all our minds.”

Heidi Wilson

Age: 22
Location: Lancashire

Heidi Wilson lifting a weight

Heidi Wilson © Richard Stanton

Aspiring farm vet Heidi has just started her degree at Liverpool University, prior to which she was working full-time on a dairy farm.

“When I’m not being a farmer, carrying buckets of milk, mucking out (the ultimate conditioning training), and racking up lots of steps, I love CrossFit,” she says.

“Lockdown triggered an eating disorder relapse, and embarking on a strength journey last year turned my life around.

“I was empowered by what my body could do, by restoring weight and strength. I openly share my journey because I want others experiencing similar challenges to know that there is hope.

“Running can turn a bad day around, and I encourage others to get outside and be active.”

Erica Robison

Age: 32
Location: Cumbria

Erica Robison lifting weights

Erica Robison © Richard Stanton

“I work out and burn calories to stay in shape, but I mainly exercise to feel good,” says Erica.

“Endorphins released after a workout can’t be bought or bottled up for a time when you feel like you need a lift. So, if I feel like I need a boost, I work out.”

Erica is a fitness instructor and personal trainer and helps on the beef farm run by her dad just over the border into Scotland, 10 minutes from where she lives.

She also loves running, and walking with her dogs and eldest son on the fells.

“Every day is a new opportunity to be the best you can be,” says Erica.

Laura Pollock

Age: 28
Location: Gloucestershire

Laura Pollock on a haybale

Laura Pollock © Richard Stanton

Laura describes herself as someone who’s “high-energy with a relentless boundary-pushing passion for fitness and the outdoors”.

She stays physically fit through a combination of training at the gym, through her farmwork and with her horses. “It’s a part of my daily routine and one of the keys to keeping me feeling fulfilled each day,” she says.

“I love variety and seek this in my training, mixing up strength work, metabolic conditioning, cardio endurance and, despite not always wanting to, the all-important stretching and mobility to ensure I can recover in order to keep training and progressing with long-term goals in mind.”

Hannah Walters

Age: 25
Location: Devon

Hannah Walters pulling a weight

Hannah Walters © Richard Stanton

Hannah works full-time as a physical activity support worker in a mental health hospital, but enjoys spending much of her free time getting involved with the family’s mixed farm.

“I love staying physically fit in many ways, especially outdoors, and being able to do a bit of farming in the process is a bonus!”

She enjoys running and likes to do a quick lap of the fields before or after work to start or finish her day.  “I also enjoy swimming and going to the gym, as it is a time I can really switch off.

“I’m keen to reduce the stigma around mental health,” she says.

Melissa Rowell

Age: 36
Location: Hampshire

Melissa Rowell  lifting weight

Melissa Rowell © Richard Stanton

Melissa trains at least five times a week.

“It kept me going through lockdown,” she says. “During the pandemic, I’ve been lucky to have a home gym, as well as the beautiful South Downs countryside on the doorstep to get out running and walking with the dog.

“It’s been even more important to look after your mental health during Covid,” she says.

She highlights the benefits of doing personal training sessions via Zoom when face-to-face sessions were impossible. “It was a chance for everyone to stay active and feel a part of something.

“Having grown up on a dairy farm and now working on environmental and sustainability issues for a large company, there’s nothing I don’t love about the countryside.”

Emma Ashley

Age: 33
Location: Hertfordshire  

Emma Ashley on exercise bike

Emma Ashley © Richard Stanton

Fitness began as a bit of fun for Emma when she was six years old, following her dad on his morning run on her bike, but before too long she was matching him on foot.

Her love for fitness grew and now she encourages others. “Fitness is now a way of life and, 25 years on, I’m still having fun,” says 2020 BFF champion Emma, who reached the final for a second year. 

“Competing in Britain’s Fittest Farmer has helped me to balance my life with a lovely family, beautiful daughter, great friends and a fantastic team on our farm.

Em Gattlin

Age: 25
Location: Suffolk

Em Gattlin doing push-up

Em Gattlin © Richard Stanton

Em works full time on a 600-sow outdoor breeding unit.

“My job is very demanding, but I love to keep active outside of work,” she explains.

“I am doing an exercise programme at home to help keep focused. I have a personal trainer and have weekly check-ins with her.

“I joined a CrossFit box at the end of the last lockdown because I was missing training with people and thought it would also be a good opportunity to make new friends, alongside running with my old rugby team mates.

“Exercise is massively key for my mental health and it just brings out the best in you. It completely changes your mindset and you wake up most days feeling refreshed.”

Rob Strawbridge

Age: 35
Location: Dorset

Rob Strawbridge lifting weights

Rob Strawbridge © MAG/Tom Askew-Miller

Herdsman Rob loves farming, but recognises it can be an isolating way of life at times.

“Before I found fitness, I could lack self-confidence. Through fitness, though, I have made many friends. Many are not farmers and it’s been really positive to hear the support that’s out there towards British farming and our produce. This support and interest have provided a real sense of purpose with my daily work and given me extra confidence. “

During lockdown Rob replaced trips to the gym with trail running. “I’m not very fast, but I’m proud of myself for covering distances of up to 16 miles. It’s a great way to switch off and clear the mind, releasing those positive endorphins.”

James Arney

Age: 26
Location: Somerset

James Arney with hand weights

James Arney © Richard Stanton

Cannington College student James, who lives and works on the family farm, stays fit by playing cricket and five-a-side football, and visiting the gym.

“Everyone has struggled with their mental health during the pandemic, especially with multiple lockdowns,” he says.

“Fitness has been a way of getting away from work, and I see it as downtime. It is something that always makes me feel better, so I try to get a session in most days.

“Over lockdown I invested in lots of gym equipment to help me stay fit. I try to run at least twice a week, and do at least five gym sessions.”

William Arden

Age: 26
Location: Lincolnshire

William Arden pulling a weight

William Arden © Richard Stanton

William exercises most days, either going to the gym, running, playing rugby or cycling.

“I like to be as active as possible and am now a personal trainer, which helps to keep me moving and accountable to my training,” he says.

“I find going for a run always clears my head. I also try to talk and be as open as possible with the people around me – it’s good to speak about things when it is needed.”

William’s family farm is mainly arable, with a deer enterprise. “I’ve worked on farm during harvests, helping in the office, and was the deer stockman for six months last summer.”

James Carslaw

Age: 23
Location: Kent

James Carslaw lifting weights

James Carslaw © Richard Stanton

James splits his time between working for a startup fitness app and helping his dad on the family farm, which is now predominantly rental units. 

“I have played a variety of sports but, more recently, my interest has moved toward fitness,” he says. 

“I built a home gym in the first lockdown and have been training there ever since. It’s much better than waiting to use equipment in a commercial gym.”

“More than anything, I try to have fun in any situation I find myself in and understand that everyone has different values and aspirations.”

Tim Wilcox

Age: 27
Location: Gloucestershire

Tim Wilcox lifting weights

Tim Wilcox © Richard Stanton

“I’m a big believer in team sports and the benefit to your mental wellbeing of being part of a team. This is why rugby is so important to me,” says Tim, who plays for Old Centralians.

“It has become more and more important to me to take a positive mindset. I have found solace in both the gym and running, with the time that it gives me to escape and destress,” says Tim, who has been working on the family’s mixed farm for the past six years after completing a degree at the University of Greenwich.

“Two years ago I did my first half marathon, and I’ve also done a Tough Mudder.”

Harvey Dunn

Age: 20
Location: Buckinghamshire

Harvey Dunn running

Harvey Dunn © Richard Stanton

“In agriculture we face a unique set of factors that can contribute to stress, worry and anxiety,” says Harvey, who lives on the family beef farm.

“Mental wellbeing is the keystone to good health, so it should be in the spotlight more.

“I have played rugby for a number of years, helping to maintain my stamina. I also use the gym, which is probably safer than the rugby!

“More recently, I have been training and competing with a tug-of-war team and we have represented England in our weight class. It’s harder than it looks, but the team atmosphere and camaraderie are incredible.”

Eifion Roberts

Age: 25
Location: Anglesey

Eifion Roberts lifting weights

Eifion Roberts © Richard Stanton

“I love keeping fit and have since I was a kid,” says Eifion.

He still plays rugby, runs and does three gym sessions a week.

“Being a farm manager can be hard some days, but I try not to worry too much about the small things.

“If you surround yourself with good, successful people, you will eventually fall into a good place. Meanwhile, when it comes to diet, you are what you eat.

“I try to set small daily goals and they can end up being large, life-changing goals. It’s important to keep working on your weaknesses – that’s how you become the person you were always meant to be.”

Jacob Wagemans

Age: 25
Location: Somerset

Jacob Wagemans lifting weights

Jacob Wagemans © Richard Stanton

“Resilience is important, as things often aren’t perfect and may go wrong, but it’s important to learn from problems and setbacks,” says Jacob.

“Mindfulness is also important, so it is good to appreciate what we have, not what others have,” adds Jacob, who loves CrossFit training, doing everything from lifting to gymnastics.

He also enjoys swimming, running and walking his collie in the countryside.

“Farming can be a very isolated job, so it’s important to take opportunities to interact with other people.

“I love seeing other people succeed as I know that they will have worked hard for whatever it is they have achieved.”

John Carlisle

Age: 26
Location: Dumfriesshire

John Carlisle lifting weights

John Carlisle © Richard Stanton

Playing rugby with Dumfries Saints, running and cycling are John’s main sporting interests.

“I believe that having a positive mindset and attitude towards life is important for everyone’s own wellbeing, but that it also plays a massive part in helping the people around you.”

Coming from a beef and sheep farm – and having diversified into meat processing to supply about 100 butchers through a wholesale business and two retail outlets – John maintains his fitness alongside his busy working life.

“I try to stay positive in all aspects of life – whether that’s through work, social events or getting involved with sport.”

Daniel Moon

Age: 27
Location: North Yorkshire

Daniel Moon running

Daniel Moon © Richard Stanton

“Exercise is something I rely on to keep me strong, in every sense of the word,” says Daniel.

He reckons he struggled to stay upbeat after returning to the farm full-time after university, partly because he didn’t have a great understanding of how to maintain positive mental health, but also due to the long working hours.

The decision to sell the milking portion of the dairy herd has given him more time for a social life and allowed him to focus more on fitness.

“I’ve always worked out, if irregularly, but when I noticed a correlation between my physical health and mental health, I started to take it more seriously.”

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