'My determination outweighs everything else and I love proving people wrong'
PUBLISHED: 10:00 08 March 2019 | UPDATED: 10:11 08 March 2019
Emily Cotton meets with Zina Wilkinson, and inspirational woman who is a firm believer that you can do absolutely anything you put your mind to, regardless of who you are and the obstacles life puts in your way.
When I first arranged to meet Zina for coffee, I knew nothing about her apart from what she did as a career. Upon knowing she was a forensic HCA, a sergeant instructor in the Army Cadets and a recently qualified close protection operative, I guess I had a painted a rough picture in my head of how Zina was going to look. But when she turned up, dressed glamorously, and in heels, with long dark hair and pristine make up, I realised how wrong I was to make assumptions.
As soon as we started chatting, it was clear that Zina had a strength I had not seen in anyone else before; a passion for achieving all that she could in life and for defying the expectations people have of her. And this was something that quickly reminded me that, like a book, we shouldn’t judge any individual, by solely their cover.
Zina’s story began 10 years ago, when an abusive relationship left her for dead.
“I found myself in a refuge in Wales during the court case, surrounded by other women who’d been in similar situations, and I realised enough was enough,” Zina explains. “I didn’t want to be a victim. I wanted to get on with my life and do all the things I could possibly do.
“I had almost died. Nothing I could ever face in life would ever be as bad as that.”
Zina has worked at a forensic clinic in Norwich for eight years now, which alone is an environment that many would say is not ideal for women. However, after her personal experience of being on the other end of such crimes, being able to confront this role on a daily basis shows the true strength of her character.
This isn’t the only role that Zina has that goes against societal expectations of women, as last year she trained to be an army cadet instructor.
“I’ve always wanted to join the military,” Zina tells me. “My dad, grandad and eldest brother, who sadly died in a motorbike accident when I was about 21, were all in the RAF, and my middle brother is in the army.
“It may sound extreme, but I’d say joining the army cadets as an instructor saved my life. It made me realise exactly what I was capable of and what I really wanted to do. It’s made me believe in myself.
“I worked hard and completed as much extra training as possible and became a sergeant instructor within a year. Now, I get to teach navigation, field craft, first aid… And being a part of the army cadets has opened so many other pathways for me too.”
Last summer however, life decided to throw a little spanner into the works for Zina. “Last summer I started feeling lethargic but I thought it was likely that I was just doing too much. After seven months of blood tests however, doctors diagnosed me with essential thrombocythemia, which is a rare type of blood cancer. It means that my blood has a high platelet and is thick and sticky.
“You can’t dwell on bad things and worrying only makes you ill. The condition is completely manageable though so I won’t let it control me or what I can do. When I’m fatigued, I’ll just take a day off. My determination in life outweighs it and everything else entirely.
Despite all this, a few months ago, Zina realised she wanted a new a challenge. “If you get too comfortable, you’ll remain stagnant,” she says. “I like excitement and I need to be constantly challenged; and I believe you can do absolutely anything you put your mind to. The only person stopping you is you.”
As a result, Zina applied to become a close protection operative, or as many people would call it, a bodyguard, which involved five weeks of intense training in protection, intelligence analysis and intelligence operations.
“I realised I already had a lot of the skills needed to work in close protection from my over roles; for example I knew how to successfully navigate, how to signal over radios, how to restrain someone and all about first aid. I’ve already learnt to be vigilant and to pay attention to my surroundings at all times so I always know what’s going on.”
Zina is an inspiring woman to say the least; she’s both physically strong and strong-willed, and is ready to take on anything that life throws at her. We finished up our chat talking about how supportive her family are, always encouraging her to do everything she believes she can and how she wants to always set a good example for her two daughters. “My family are really supportive, but there are always people that will underestimate me. I love proving people wrong though. If someone says I can’t do something, I’ll do it twice, and take pictures!”