Being told he was too fat to join in one of his company’s trips ended up changing Jon Symonds’ life.

So ashamed by his knock back, Jon, the head of an adventure travel firm, got himself into shape to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

He reached the summit of Africa’s highest mountain last month after dropping four-and-a-half-stone within eight months of signing up to a fitness programme.

Originally from South Africa, Jon has lived in the UK for almost two decades and said the British climate made it harder to motivate himself to exercise, tipping the scales at over 20-stone.

He is currently CEO of Rare Adventures, which offers trips to places such as Kilimanjaro, Macchu Picchu and the base camp of Everest, but realised he was not fit enough to take on such an adventure himself.

Jon Symonds (left) at the summit of Kilimanjaro
Jon Symonds (left) at the summit of Kilimanjaro

Jon, 51, of Whickham, Gateshead, said: “I went to Kilimanjaro earlier this year to plan one of our trips and I said I’ll climb it one day, and my colleague had a smirk on his face.

“It was a bit of a joke. I had a picture taken with Kilimanjaro in the background, looking very fat and portly.

“I used to be very physically active, I used to run and pedal but when I came to England and the climate here, I would open the door and it’s cold, I’d say tomorrow and then tomorrow actually means six months later which actually means never.

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“I was talking to the owner of Rare Adventures and he said he’d always had this aim of a ‘couch to Kili’ concept. He was thinking of people who like to sit on the couch watching rugby, and I thought ‘that’s me’.”

Jon enrolled in a fitness programme with Elite Together and hasn’t looked back since.

“Elite were really great to me,” he said. “I did the Transform programme, and at the end of stage two I was struggling to meet the target, it was starting to add up a bit, but eventually I made it.

Jon Symonds lost more than 60 pounds in order to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro
Jon Symonds lost more than 60 pounds in order to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro

“The trainers are very important – the company is great, the facilities are great but you have to have a great relationship with your trainer.

“I really started to enjoy going to the gym every day, and then more importantly I started to lose weight. I started to feel fit again.

“I felt like I was in my early 30s or late 20s again. It was great and that started to become my motivation. In the end I breezed up Kilimanjaro.

“It was an achievement for me. I’ve always had a desire to climb Kilimanjaro, it’s like a spiritual thing. At the time I was happy to be there and then we walked back down the mountain, it was probably when we got back to the camp that I thought to myself, if someone had said to you in February that you’d climb Kilimanjaro you’d have looked ridiculous.

“I’ve become a lot more aware of eating well and drinking water, that’s probably the biggest change in my life. I went through a period where I had two beers in seven months and didn’t have a burger, a pizza or anything that you could construe as junk food. It’s really hard but you become very disciplined.

“I think it’s changed my life because I’ve got into something that I really enjoy and I really love to go to every day.”



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