I have many memories of feeling weak throughout my life:
Memories from elementary school physical education class of being one of the only children unable to do a push-up or pull-up.
Memories of being ashamed of my body throughout all my school years.
Memories of feeling self-hatred, depression, anxiety, and shame about how I looked.
Memories of taking out these emotions on myself through self-isolation, self-harm, and binge eating.
Memories of crying and writing journal entries in search of an answer to my problems.
I did not love myself. I had no self-confidence or self-respect. I was stuck in a cycle of having shallow friendships and emotionally abusive relationships. My life was a volatile struggle, erratically driven completely by my self-destructive emotions and endless insecurities. Comparison destroyed me; I scrutinized myself against anyone who appeared to be beautiful, sexy, successful, or talented. I was jealous and vindictive. In my mind, any compliment towards another person was an insult directed at me. I was miserable and I could not control it. I felt so stuck, and I had no idea what to do. I read self-help book after self-help book and journaled in hopes of progress. Nothing helped, and the cycle continued.
When I was 19, I started following pilates and HIIT videos on YouTube. I wanted to “lose my muffin top, get toned, have a nice butt, and have a 6-pack”. I did endless hours of workouts but I didn’t feel good about myself. It was never enough, and there was always another part of my body that made me feel insecure. I fell into a cycle of binge eating, feeling horrible, and exercising in an effort to make up for my poor nutrition. I also did yoga at a studio and at home. I wanted to become super flexible, and it was a constant struggle. Then I started doing pole fitness at 22. It was fun and empowering, but what I was able to do was limited by my lack of strength. I gained some strength through pole and incorporating a bit of dumbbell work into my pilates workouts, but my progress was inconsistent.
When I was 21, I began cosplaying, dressing up as my favorite characters and attending conventions. While it was super fun, I hoped it would help with my self-confidence; to an extent it did, but my insecurities continued to manifest. The first character I portrayed was Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones. I had so much fun posing for photos and geeking out about Game of Thrones with other fans. Dressing up as Daenerys made me feel like a badass: I am the blood of the dragon. I continued attending conventions and doing more cosplays, including Codex from the Guild, Catwoman, and Pinup R2D2. At 22, I decided to make a Wonder Woman costume. I spent so many hours, days, weeks, and months working on the costume. I wanted to look like Wonder Woman: hair, makeup, lasso, sword, shield, armor, muscles and all.
In November 2014, I began working out with a group of my coworkers 3 days a week. The group leader always surprised us with different workouts, but they usually included some circuits, kettlebell and barbell exercises, and a ton of ab work. When I first started training seriously, EVERYTHING was a struggle. In the words of the group leader, we had to “embrace the suck”. There were times I felt so defeated, lagging behind my training partners in strength and endurance. The weight always felt too heavy and I was so easily fatigued. I often had to do completely different exercises than my training partners due to my deficiencies. At first I felt bad about it; I felt guilty for slowing the others down and constantly asking whether or not I was doing an exercise correctly. Still, the training group was fun in a ridiculous way with our loud music, jokes, and laughter. I never wanted it to end, and I kept coming to the gym.
In April 2015, I finished my Wonder Woman costume and wore it at a convention. I entered the costume contest and won best in the intermediate class. Because I spent an entire day focused on my cosplay, I didn’t get to spend time with my friends or play games like at previous conventions. It felt so superficial, and because of that, I wasn’t really proud of myself for winning. I felt more proud of myself for gaining strength.
During this month, the workout group divided. One person left, two people just wanted to do circuits, and two people wanted to do just strength work. While my original goal was aesthetics, it did not seem as important as how strength made me feel. I made the decision to join up with two of my coworkers who just wanted to do strength work, mainly focusing on bench pressing and upper body accessory work. It was a blast, and I got some pretty good strength gains with them. However, while they were putting 3-5+ plates on the bar, I was slowing them down by lifting significantly less. They decided to go to a different gym, and I began training alone in June 2015.
At first, training alone was terrifying. I no longer had anyone to spot me on my bench pressing. After I embarrassingly and painfully dropped a barbell on my chin, I clung to the smith machine for dear life… but there was no way in hell I was giving up on my training. I really had no idea what I was doing, because everything I knew was what my training partners had told me. This began my search for knowledge. I began listening to fitness podcasts all day at my desk job, especially Kevin Larrabee’s The FitCast. At first I tried to repeat the strength programming I was doing with my coworkers. However, I forgot some things, modified others, and I was not training all my muscles. I took a sample strength program, experimented with my own body, and modified the program based on the results. I would vary my weight, sets, and reps based on how my body responded that day. I stayed consistent, coming to the gym 3-4 days a week. I continued getting stronger.
In August 2015, I had a realization: I reached a point in my life where I loved my body regardless of how it looked. It no longer mattered whether or not I looked like Wonder Woman. I realized that cosplay did not truly improve my confidence; I was dependent on cosplay for that false feeling of confidence. Improving my physical and mental strength was what made me truly confident.
My mindset shifted and it changed everything. I am strong and getting stronger, both physically and mentally. I have cellulite and fat, and that’s okay. I have true confidence and self-love. It now feels amazing to appreciate others’ strengths and beauty and let them know how amazing they are. I have a wonderfully healthy relationship and friendship with my boyfriend. I feel confident in myself to do so many challenging activities. I have fallen in love with the process of strength training, recovery, and everything associated. This is my passion and it makes me feel full of purpose. I love challenging myself with my training.
I am happy to say that I know I will be spending the result of my life in the pursuit of strength in one way or another, because it brings me SO MUCH enjoyment and fulfillment. I always want to choose strength. I want to explore the world through physical activities, whether that may be powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, aerial, pole, martial arts, climbing, hiking, swimming, surfing, kayaking, or something else. I know it is not realistic to do all of these things at all times, and that’s okay. It’s the process of exploration that matters, and the happiness it brings me. It is my lifestyle, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I created the Strong with Purpose Manifesto which illustrates how I intend to live my life.
I look back on my earlier years and wonder how different everything could have been if I would have started strength training at a younger age. If I could change anything about my life, that would be it. But I can’t go back; all I can do is move forward, continuing the habit throughout the rest of my life.
In 2016, I dove into the world of powerlifting. I competed in 4 meets between January and April, setting a couple state and national records in my gender/age classes in the APF/AAPF federations. In April, I achieved a 450 pound total at the gym where I first started strength training.
In April 2016, I made the decision to become a personal trainer as soon as I can. My goal is to train, help, and inspire other women in the pursuit of physical and mental strength in order to improve their quality of life. I especially want to build connections and lasting friendship with these women. I’m currently studying for my NSCA CSCS certification. In May, I attended the Radiance Retreat. I will also be attending the Women’s Fitness Summit in August. Amazing things are happening, and I’m so excited to see where this journey takes me next!