Blake Beckford‘s dreams of working in the fitness industry were crushed when he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2003, but now he is defying odds and coming out on top.
The Brit – who has battled the chronic bowel disease for more than 10 years and was forced to undergo surgery to remove his colon and wear an ileostomy bag – posed shirtless for the first time in Men’s Fitness in the U.K. last month.
Beckford, 33, tells PEOPLE he is hoping to inspire others and get rid of the stigma that surrounds wearing a bag.
“I wanted to show people that you can be confident in who you are, still be attractive, be proud of yourself and most of all embrace your ostomy,” he says.
Before his surgery in 2013, Beckford suffered from bleeding, pain and a weight loss of 35 lbs. He was taking more than 20 medications a day to maintain his health.
Now at his current weight of 180 lbs., Beckford mixes weight training while wearing a hernia belt with cardio including hill-walking and cycling. He is also working toward competing in fitness competitions in the U.K.
“I want to show people you can still lead an active lifestyle,” he says.
Last month, Bethany Townsend, a former model suffering from Crohn’s disease, posed in a bikini with her two colostomy bags.
Like Townsend, Beckford is working to raise awareness about inflammatory bowel disease. “The response has been phenomenal,” he says.
“I always said if I could just help inspire one person who was like me who struggled with their body confidence or someone who couldn’t come to terms with their illness, that’s all I wanted to achieve.”