A former international judo player and RAF veteran is embarking on a new career after returning home to Accrington.
Sami Smithson was the Junior British Judo Champion in 1990 and later won senior bronze medals in the USA and Canada after joining the RAF.
Over an 18-year military career the former RAF squadron leader completed tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, ran the UK Armed Forces Judo team, and even drove former Top Gear presenter James May around their Afghanistan base as he filmed an episode.
Now the ex-Mount Carmel pupil has returned home to her beloved Accrington to run a sports, exercise and soft tissue therapy business in the Market Hall.
Sami, 41, said: “I got a hip injury and if I was to remain in the Air Force then I would have been very much desk-bound.
“Unfortunately I was medically discharged. It was the end of a chapter.
“I used to be in the Observer a lot when I was younger, doing judo. People still remember me and it’s really helped me get business.
“It’s one of the reasons I came home. I like to think I have a decent sporting reputation in the area.
“Growing up I worked at Hyndburn Leisure Centre for years as a fitness instructor. I worked in the gym and took fitness classes.
“I always knew if I was going to go back into that sort of industry then coming home would be a sensible thing to do.”
Sami, who grew up in Fern Gore and now lives in Oswaldtwistle, has set up Per Ardua Therapy in the Market Hall.
She is offering group and individual exercise rehabilitation programmes and pain relief and is also undertaking hydrotherapy and acupuncture courses.
She said: “It’s really good to be back. I’m getting my accent back.
“I’m getting a lot banter that I’ve gone all posh since I’ve been away!
“It’s brilliant working here in the Market Hall and everybody has been so friendly and welcoming. I really want to focus on group rehabilitation sessions as well as one-to-one hands-on care because I want to make exercise rehabilitation affordable.
“I’m getting a lot of different tools to help people. That’s one of the big drivers for me to come home.
“I’ve spent the last 18 years helping people around the world and I just feel like it’s time to come home and hopefully help the community.”