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Meet the Youghal woman who will be a leader on Operation Transformation

From The Evening Echo.

WHEN a new year dawns, many of us plot a new path for our life — a new journey towards a better self.

And Cork mum Pam Swayne is taking part in a new journey of her own in 2019, as one of five leaders in RTÉ show Operation Transformation, aiming to inspire and motivate the country while taking up her own personal challenge to lose weight and get fit.

“When Kathryn Thomas (the presenter) and her crew arrived into the shop, I was in utter shock,” says Pam of the moment she found out about her role in the show.

“I was both nervous and thrilled at the same time. They arrived on Wednesday, November 23. I had given up hope of being one of the leaders on Operation Transformation because the team were already around the country picking the leaders.”

Pam, with her can-do attitude and never give up mantra, is a natural born leader.

“So I was utterly amazed and also proud of myself for making it this far after the application process and the rigorous assessment we all had to go through,” she says.

“My daughter, Ally, is proud of me too and she will join me. We’ll go through the Operation Transformation journey together.”

Pam, 36, mother to Ally, Leigh, Lilly, and Mikie, works part-time at the Amber petrol station in Youghal. She was inspired to sign up for Operation Transformation by her daughter Lilly, aged seven.

“She had seen the film, The Greatest Showman, says Pam. “The bearded lady in the film sang, ‘This is me’. Lilly was prompted to make a comment to her mother, not knowing it would spur her into action and apply for Operation Transformation, which starts next week.

“That’s you Mam, without the beard,” said Lilly, referring to the bearded lady who appears in the film.

Out of the mouths of babes and all that?

Pam laughs.

“That is true! It was a real wake-up call. That’s what she sees through her child’s eyes.

“Lilly’s communion is next May. I want to show her what I can do in time for that.”

Another future date is providing Pam with the willpower of an iron woman in her quest to become slim and healthy.

“I want to be fit and healthy when I’m 40,” she says of her four-year plan

“It’s my time now. I’m done with having kids and stuff. I’ve been putting up with this weight for too long. I want to make a change.”

Time was when Pam was too down in the dumps to think a whole lot about change.

“I was pregnant with my eldest daughter, Ally, aged 18, a few months after the death of my dad,” she says.

“I sat my Leaving cert exam and I went on to have Ally. It was all pretty hectic.

“I started putting on weight after Ally was born. I ate when I was sad and I ate when I was happy.”

Pam, bubbling with fun and bursting with personality, wasn’t always happy.

“No. There was a time I had to take anti-depressant tablets to cope after dad died in February, 1999. It was hard to deal with the loss. My mother, my family, and my husband Sean, were the best support to me. Sean and I have been through thick and thin together and thin and thick.”

Her diet wasn’t the best.

“The more convenient and crappy the food,the more I liked it,” says Pam, who weighs 13 stone, 12lbs.

“When I had my other babies, I gained weight, I Iost weight. It was like being on a carousal. I lived in long jumpers and leggings to hide the bulges. Like a lot of people, I had tried to lose weight before, joining slimming clubs. I am a good cook too, which isn’t always a good thing when you are trying to lose weight! Cooking for the family makes me feel good,” says Pam.

“When I got a phone call from the Operation Transformation team a week after I applied, I was so happy. I spent an hour and a quarter on the phone. I was buzzing meeting everyone in Dublin.”

Pam, who never has self-defeating thoughts, but a positive mind-set, never had a doubt that she would be picked as one of the leaders for the programme.

“I thought, this is my gig,” she says, smiling.

“I got to the final 20 after a very tough day in Dublin. I made 19 new friends. There were a lot of difficult challenges to go through. It was probably the hardest ordeal that I ever went through. It was no joke.

“Kathryn Thomas willed me thorough the assessment process. She really cares. The Circle of Truth was tough. Karl Henry said he saw a special quality in me.”

The wait was agonising.

“I was expecting a knock on the door every day,” says Pam.

“Every time the door opened at Amber, I was on high alert. Kathryn was in Limerick and then Dublin. I was losing hope. My boss, Mark, who knew that I was picked the day before Kathryn arrived, was winding me up and I was half-ready for disappointment. ”

Then mayhem reigned.

“Katherine snuck in the door at Amber,” says Pam.

“I was so excited.”

The customers in the shop must have been excited too?

“It was chaotic,” says Pam. “I was bawling. All my sisters, nephew, and godchild arrived for pictures. We got more photos taken at home with the kids. The phone-calls and the text messages started coming in, hundreds and hundreds of them. The people of Youghal are fantastic and they are all behind me.”

Pam’s first weigh-in will be on her 37th birthday on January 6 — to be aired on January 9.

How does she feel about appearing on TV?

“Bring it on!” say Pam.

“Half the nation are women and half the nation are mothers. I’m representing half the nation.”

And she’s proudly representing her home-town of Youghal.

“It will be great to showcase the town of Youghal once filming starts,” says Pam. “The programme will be just great, I know.”

Operation Transformation starts on RTÉ 1 on January 9, 2019.