I was athletic as a kid and in high school. I also ran track all four years in college. After I graduated, my life totally changed. I got a job after school and was engaged to my college boyfriend. We married in 2004, and soon after, we started a family. I had my son in March 2007 and was still nursing him when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. To an outsider, it might sound as if I had it all.
When I think back and reflect on that period of my life, I realize I was also struggling with postpartum depression during that time, among other mental health issues. I just felt meh. Flat. I was sad. I was isolated from my friends and family and very lonely, in part because of my husband’s work schedule. I was home with little kids a lot, and also totally sedentary. I felt like I was letting myself go physically and emotionally.
In 2010, when my daughter was 2 years old, people started congratulating me about being pregnant again-but I wasn’t.
I was at a heavy weight for me personally (around 175 pounds). I was extremely self-conscious, and the pregnancy comment really made an impact on me. I expressed my frustration to my husband at the time, who suggested I join a gym.
I started going to the Retro Fitness location in my area and spent most workouts doing low-impact cardio on the elliptical. When I went from doing nothing to doing something, I lost a bit of weight. I was down about 10 pounds, and it jump-started my process of getting back into shape.
A short time later, my husband and I hit our first major rough patch. I was unhappy and began spending more time at the gym, where-for the first time in ages-I felt like I was developing a social network that was my own, independent from him.
A friend from the gym suggested I get into weight lifting as a way to relieve stress.
I hadn’t done much weight lifting since college and wasn’t sure how to go about it. So I worked with a couple of personal trainers, quickly realizing how much I enjoyed it. I loved how strong I felt, and I really started to see my body change. I also felt so encouraged and motivated the more I developed genuine friendships at the gym.
In the summer of 2013, one of my girlfriends from the gym invited me to watch an amateur bodybuilding competition. “I think you can totally do this,” I remember my pal telling me. I thought she was crazy, but I was kiiiind of interested. I started researching what these types of competitions entail and how to enter.
By the fall of 2013, I had competed in two amateur competitions. I came in fourth place in both, but I didn’t do the prep work in a healthy way at all. I knew I wasn’t eating enough on the very low-calorie, low-carb diet I followed. It consisted of eating six (unsatisfying) meals a day, while lifting and working out for hours on end, and also while I working full time and trying to be the best mother I could.
I competed at 117 pounds (a gust of wind could've blown me over...). Yet, I constantly felt fearful that I was overweight and saw every possible flaw that didn’t exist. Deep down I knew that the lifestyle was hurting my mental health.
At this point, I knew I had to look for something healthier to replace my bodybuilding obsession and to build me back up mentally.
My husband suggested that I try obstacle-course racing. It was completely outside of my wheelhouse: I didn’t like mud, being sweaty, being outdoors, or large crowds of people-all things that an obstacle course race is chock full of. I decided to try it anyway.
I signed up for my first Spartan race in the spring of 2014. And what do you know? I fell in love. I found races on Groupon and signed up for every event I came across. I brought my children to some of the races so they could do the kids’ competitions-they loved it! Over the course of a couple of seasons, I started getting to know more and more people, once again loving the feeling of being part of a community.
I competed in the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships (OCRWC) in 2015, where I was one of about 75 women from around the world to complete all of the obstacles in the allotted time period. I also competed at OCRWC again in 2016, which was my first international trip for a competition.
I adored the camaraderie and the obstacles. But the running? Not so much. By total luck, I learned about a pretty perfect alternative for me: ninja warrior classes offered a local obstacle gym. Score. I signed up for a series of classes and have stuck with it ever since.
Obstacle courses and ninja training also helped me learn to seriously appreciate my muscle.
Obstacle challenges completely changed my body. While I don’t weigh myself, I know I’m somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 pounds, and I feel great about that. Having muscle is the biggest change to my physique, and to be honest, it has taken years of consistent work to get to this point.
Sometimes when I’m at the gym, people ask me how long I have been training or how often I work out to look like the way I do. I tell them that it has been a solid eight years, and looks of relief show up on their faces. It's a gradual process. I am not the result of any kind of shortcuts; no shakes or wraps or diet teas. To be frank, I bust my ass-and I’m proud of it.
I try to do some sort of activity at least five or six days a week. I might go rock climbing once or twice a week, do ninja obstacles a couple times, plus one aerial yoga class. On the sixth day of the week, I may just do cardio on the treadmill. I'm not super strict about my schedule or patterns, and I love that my workouts never feel like workouts because I have so much fun.
As for food? I’ve totally changed my diet over the years.
My fitness routine has helped me eat more mindfully than before. I now eat intuitively-meaning when I notice my hunger cues. I also eat to *fuel* my body so I can do all of the activities I love with energy and safely, and I consume real food and mostly cook at home.
I don’t restrict my calories or let myself feel hungry as a punishment, like I did when I was bodybuilding. I found that if you don’t eat, you’re cranky and miserable. The one good thing I did learn from my bodybuilding days, however, was that my body doesn’t like dairy. I feel better without it, though I do miss cheese. This is what a day of eating looks like for me now:
- Breakfast: Typically, I go for oatmeal, peanut butter toast, or eggs. I’ll pair one of those with fruit, and coffee with almond milk.
- Snack: Fruit or veggies, nuts, peanut butter, avocado, or a cup of coffee with almond milk are my go-to snacks. (Sometimes there are treats on the table in the office, and if they’re homemade, I’m down!)
- Lunch: My midday meal is usually leftovers from dinner, which involves some sort of protein and vegetable. Or, I’ll just have a peanut butter sandwich.
- Snack: Depending on the day, I may just have some more fruit. Other times I have a snack bar, or a few dates with some nuts.
- Dinner: You’ll probably see grilled chicken and roasted veggies, plus pasta (but no sauce-I don’t like it) or beans on my plate. My kids and I also eat breakfast for dinner (pancakes or waffles, bacon, and juice) pretty regularly. We have my parents over for dinner once a week-and my mom and I split the cooking. When I have my kids (who are now 10 and 12) on the weekends, we’ll go out to eat…and I definitely steal bites from their plate.
- Dessert: I eat something sweet nearly every day, and sometimes I’ll have a lunch and a dinner dessert. Often it’s fruit, but from time to time I bake and I eat my homemade treats. I’m a big chocolate girl.
Finding my fitness groove helped me feel better physically, yes. But it also gave me the strength to get over the toughest emotional hurdles of my life.
Within the past couple of years, my husband and I divorced. It was a hard realization that I had become so completely dependent on him for everything from my professional life to parenting, down to the way I dressed. There were moments where I actually believed I wouldn’t be able to go on without him, but I got through it and proved to myself just how strong I am.
I also was formally diagnosed with anxiety and depression and am now managing my mental health conditions with medication, on top of leaning into fitness and on my friends and family. I feel good. Even those closest to me say that I seem happier than ever, and that’s the best compliment you can receive.
All of those things aside, I’m 38 years old, and I’m healthier on the outside and inside than I have been in a while. I am happy with how I look, which is something that I know that many women my age struggle to say. I’m proud of how far I have come, even though I know how far I still have left to go as an athlete, a parent, and as a person in general.
I believe that my physical health is a byproduct of how I feel on the inside. Taking care of myself has been the thing that has gotten me through some dark and difficult times. I will be better for my children. They need me the best I can be, and I can only be the mom they deserve and the woman I deserve to be when I’m taking care of and challenging myself.
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