20 years in the making. My transformation story… 1995-2015.
Most people have 30-day stories, 6-month, and one-year stories. I had a few nudges that let me know it was time to share my story. Looking back at where to begin, it turns out, I have been living my transformation for the last 20 years. It is a journey, a lifetime process to which there is no end. There has never been a quick fix. I am on this journey every day and it is not easy, but it is necessary.
My dad always gave me the impression that I could do anything I wanted to do and in this marathon of life, I appreciate that he and my mom shaped me to see that what I do is more important than what I say I will do.
January 2015 – I knew I had to write this story when two of my clients invited me to speak at their Rotary Luncheon. From the moment I sat down next to some older ladies, I could sense they were uncomfortable with me. I had to find a commonality with the group I was speaking to and put them at ease with the person I was and the person I looked like to them. They commented on my posture and my fitness, even with my jacket on. I realized that in order to speak to them, I was going to have to share my story. I perceived they were intimidated by how I looked and I needed to make myself “real” to them. Approachable. And to let them know I did not “come the way I looked”. I have earned it. It is strange and unfortunate how we make others uncomfortable with who we are simply by how we look. I spoke of my New Jersey upbringing and my family’s move to California. I spoke of the heart disease and obesity in my family history and of my involvement in swimming and water polo when we moved to California. I told them about my journey through college and into the working world where I met my husband. I even told them about our ice cream diet and my dad’s affinity for sending me Trader Joe’s chocolates because we did not have Trader Joe’s up in Seattle then.
“Looking back, I believe so deeply when I say, “you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have.”
February 2015 -The next sign that it was time to share my story came when Sean and I celebrated our 20 year anniversary. I came across some pictures from our honeymoon. There was a different person looking back at me. I did not know how unhealthy I was on my way to becoming. Our life seemed to be normal. We got up and went to work, often long days. Came home, sat on the couch to baseball games, basketball games, whatever was on. If we didn’t sit at home, we sat at bars with friends. I remember Taco Bell and Starbucks and sandwiches and burgers. I did my share of the cooking; chicken parmigiana and lasagna were my specialties.
May 2015 – And now, it is time to write my story. I feel like I am pretty transparent, but then I realize that many people seem to believe that who I am now is who I have always been. That it is somehow easier for me than it is for them. That I don’t have to work as hard as others at being healthy. When I tell people my wedding dress was a size 16 they never believe me.
“Be water. Flowing. Flexible and soft. Subtly powerful and open. Wild and serene. Able to accept all changes, yet still led by the pull of steady tides. It is enough.”
It was shortly after our wedding that blood-work came back with high cholesterol numbers. I was 23 years old. It hit me. I needed to make a change. I never noticed myself growing unhealthier. I was happy and I felt good about my life. What I had forgotten about was how good I felt when I was active. I knew what to do. I had the same fear everyone has about walking into the gym for the first time; not knowing what to do, not knowing anybody. I went to my comfort zone – the swimming pool. I had to start with much fewer laps than I remember, but bit by bit, I was back at a mile, then another mile. Every Saturday I would weigh myself before my swim and put my number on the calendar hanging in the kitchen. I swam Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays without fail. I purchased a step and some Tamilee Webb “Buns of Steel” videos. Every Monday and Wednesday and Friday were my video days. If things came up and I had to miss my night time sessions, I would get up earlier to make sure I did not miss my workouts.
We still went out, had dates, vacations, fun with friends, but my workouts took priority. We adjusted how we ate and bought a steamer. I remember night after night of chicken, asparagus and rice. If I wanted a treat, I would eat puffed rice cereal with apples and cinnamon to resemble apple crisp. Every lunch was leftovers from the night before and an orange. I worked in downtown Seattle and Starbucks was still part of the routine, but I switched to a short latte and a hard roll for every breakfast. When people brought goodies into the office, I never ate them. I told myself, “I don’t eat that” and it worked. I never did eat it. I went from 169 pounds to 129 pounds. From a size 16 to a size 4 from September of 1995 to June of 1996.
And then Sean and I moved to California. I started working for the University of Redlands, as an assistant dean of admissions. I worked with the college kids who hosted prospective students and I also traveled a lot! I found Bally’s gym in San Bernardino and enjoyed swimming in the outdoor pool. Again, I scheduled my time to never miss a workout. When I was traveling, running was my exercise. I ran everywhere and especially remember country roads in New England, running around porcupines and in the freezing cold in Alaska, on hotel treadmills in Orange County. I learned how to eat and where I could eat without ever eating fast food again. That was when I started to teach group exercise. The aqua aerobics classes kept getting in the way of my swims and it became easier to join them than to fight them. Teaching aqua aerobics led to my first Spinning Certification and then Pilates, sculpting, yoga, and so my fitness career alongside my “day” job began.
“Yet, your body seems wired to be overweight and your mindset has been programmed to have emotional attachments to food. It is lonely. When you find other people like you, you gravitate towards them, whatever walk of life they come from, there is a common bond.”
I’m pregnant! An excuse to eat ice cream, right? My “craving” was Costco’s soft-serve. This was good and bad. It’s ok to be real, but not ok to forget the habits I had worked so hard to create. It was easy to maintain my exercise during pregnancy, but not as easy to eat well. Pregnancy was like an “excuse” for me. Exercise saved me. I gave birth to Brendan the morning after I had taught a class. I bounced back quickly and while I had to work at losing weight, I kept my exercise regiment and became much more conscious about my nutrition again. Just in time to become pregnant with Natalie. I learned not to allow pregnancy to be an excuse this time. I kept teaching again all through my pregnancy and gained less weight. But it was harder to come off the second time. It was then that I joined Weight Watchers.
I worked really hard at Weight Watchers. I took the kids out in the double jogging stroller every day. I taught lots of spinning, weight lifting, and pilates. The kids knew the kids clubs really well and then preschool came along. I left my position at the University of Redlands and spent more time with the kids and my classes. I reached my Weight Watchers goal weight and was asked to work for them, but my mentality differed from theirs. I enjoyed working out and getting stronger, and I found that to be successful at Weight Watchers it worked better with less muscle mass. You were deemed successful when you weighed less. Weigh-ins became a struggle as my muscle mass increased and I finally let go of the Weight Watchers way of thinking.
For over 10 years I taught classes at 3 different gyms. I attended education, went to workshops and conferences. I purchased my favorite pieces of equipment, including TRX and began my own little collection of “gym things”. Once both kids were in school I began studying for my personal trainer certification and before I knew it I was offering bootcamps to the “school moms” and training people in my garage. On one hand, it seemed easy to maintain my weight. On the other hand, I always had to work for it. There were years of disagreements about where we could eat as a family because “mom won’t eat there”. I would always go wherever they went, but often, would plan my eating at home so that I would not have to eat out. Being healthy is not always the “in” thing and definitely disrupts how some people have fun. Holidays were tough as family traditions have always centered around food. It is lonely and you begin to find that some of your friends have never had to struggle with weight issues. Others do struggle, but do nothing about it, and it seems they resent you for doing something about your health. Your family loves you as you are, but doesn’t understand all the time and changes required to live a healthy life. Yet, your body seems wired to be overweight and your mindset has been programmed to have emotional attachments to food. It is lonely. When you find other people like you, you gravitate towards them, whatever walk of life they come from, there is a common bond.
There was a passion growing inside of me and I was not understood by many people, but I felt like I was in a really good place with my health. I used balance and moderation as my nutritional guidelines. I worked out everyday, balancing Cycling with Pilates with weight training. I never settled for good enough, but knew if I was going to do something, I was going to do it with everything I had. I loved teaching fitness classes and continuously raised the bar for my participants. I was getting stronger and I was surrounded by people who wanted to get stronger too. Looking back, I believe so deeply when I say, “you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have.”
I found out what I had to be strong for. Life changed.
“The one thing you can count on in life is change,” a client reminded me. Another client reminded me that “we come into this world alone and we leave it alone.” My father died of a massive heart attack. We saw him on Sunday. On Monday, Sean and I were driving to the hospital he was taken to to sit with my mom and hear the most dreaded words you can ever imagine. I held his hand so tightly that I willed my pulse to reawaken his pulse. His gym shoes were on. That is where he was, at the gym. It wasn’t right. And yet, I think he was prepared for it. His mother died of a heart attack when she was 42 years old. His father was 51 when he died. My Ruth side of the family has to take care of its health, there are no guarantees.
Something from that point on has burned inside of me. My journal writing described a fitness world that I imagined where a “community of like-minded people” could workout together without judgement. Programs I dreamed of to keep fitness fun and engage people in doing more than just “working out” but really understanding all the mind-body-spirit benefits could come to life. The creation of my dream, The Energy Lab, was like having another baby. Every day, I dedicate my work and my dream to my dad. It hurts me to know that people have these amazing bodies to live in and they don’t take the time to take care of them. Our world is different. We have no choice but to take care of our bodies. The fire inside of me was lit that day when I held my dad’s hand and looked down at his gym shoes and could not help him.
Looking back, I realize that I am neither a confident person nor someone lacking confidence. I just always did things. My dad was my champion and the one to point out and tell the world about the things I did. He was so proud of me. It took a friend to take on that role several years after he died and tell me it was time to open my own business, doing what I love to do. I never would have done that. I think he sent Denise as my angel.
Time stood still from 2006 until 2011. I must have been numb. Working out was my therapy. My fitness was great. I could run a marathon (Washington DC Marine Corps Marathon) and complete the MS150 (Multiple Sclerosis 150 mile bike ride) within a weekend of each other without training specifically for either event. I started to notice a cycle in my weight and no matter what I did, I weighed more in the spring and summer and always got to my leanest in the fall and winter. I stayed true to balance and making good choices without having to get concerned about my weight.
In 2011, a forever friend, Denise, rekindled my fire and reminded me I was put on this earth for a reason and I had better use the gifts I had been given. With a village, we created The Energy Lab. Teaching every class, opening and closing, moving all of the bikes around on my own, I didn’t have much time to worry about my weight. Moving non-stop every day, exercising every day, and eating right, it takes care of itself. Now, 4 years later, I have a community I am accountable to. I have to take care of myself for more than just me. My immune system depends on my health, good decision making depends on my health, the energy I bring to my clients and classes every day depends on my health.
My workouts: yes, I do workout every day almost always.
What I love about my workouts is the variability I give to my body. I have my TRX workouts, my Pilates workouts, my Cycling and my Cycling Breakthrough workouts, along with my Jungshin and FitCore workouts. No two days are ever the same and no two workouts are ever the same. Most of my workouts are at the 5:30am hour, and at the 6 and 7pm hours, plus on each weekend day. When others say, it is easy for you to workout because you can any time you want to, they don’t see that I work all day long too. I know that if I can do it and run a business and work substantial hours and have two teenagers, then anyone can do it. If they want to. Staying injury free is one of my primary concerns because it has to be. I feel when my body is overworking in certain areas or when imbalances are occurring and I correct immediately. I also practice as much preventative medicine as I can with massage, MELT Method, stretching, balancing my flexibility practice with my core and strength practice with my cardiovascular practice.
My nutrition: I don’t believe in diets. I believe in balance and moderation.
However, I do personally know that if I stay away from something it is easier for me to not have it at all. If I have a little bit of something, I am more likely to want a little bit more. In my mind the sugar spiral definitely exists. As does the greens and good alkaline spiral. My Shakeology is my breakfast every morning. A day does not feel right if I miss it. I know with Shakeology, I get the dense nutrients my body needs so that it does not have to go looking for what it needs in empty calories. I fulfill it at the start of every day. I eat every few hours and include nuts and avocados and greens often. I stopped caffeine two years ago and have never gone back. I used to eat a lot of fruit, but after doing a program called The Ultimate Reset, I eat much less fruit and way more vegetables. I also choose my grains carefully and eat very limited amount of meat currently. I prefer to use almond milk over soy and I almost never have dairy. I don’t find that I need or miss meat, dairy, caffeine and so I do not create a need for them. If I find my body missing something, I honor that feeling and am open to finding a good source of it. I try to keep it as simple and intuitive as possible.
Good energy is contagious and The Energy Lab runs on it and produces it.
I would like to say that I am not The Energy Lab and it is not me. But I don’t know if that is possible. It is a part of my story as much as my mom and dad are. My sisters and my brother. My husband, my son, my daughter, my angel, and all the other angels that have come along to show me the way. It has grown with us and we have grown with it.
“Dear God, thank you.” I whisper that to myself often. Thankful for the mornings, for Brendan and Natalie, for Sean, for the people in my life who have made me who I am. Thankful for the threads, “the coarse ones and the fine ones” that tie us together. Thankful for like-minded people and for our Energy Lab Family. Thankful for my Institute of Motion family, my Todd Durkin Mastermind family, and for my teachers.