My Story: How and Why I Got Into the Fitness Industry

Posted: December 21, 2011 in About

I posted this picture back in May, but it's so special to me. It's my sisters on either side of me, right before the River Bank Run, with words that explain my life: faith, hope, love, and strength.

I’m sorry I haven’t posted lately, but Happy Four Days Until Christmas! I was just talking to my mom about how weird it is when you become a working adult and Christmas isn’t all about the presents, it’s about having the day off from work and seeing family that you barely get to see. I will still probably be working this weekend, but hey, I love what I do, so I can’t complain. Which leads me to today’s big announcement… 

My last day at my full-time audiobook publishing job was Friday, December 16. Yes, I quit my secure full-time job to become a full-time freelancer. I know, I’m young and most people think I’m crazy. But you know what? I don’t care.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” –Robert Frost

That is one of my favorite quotes and my Mom found it printed on a wood setting, which is now hanging in my kitchen. It’s how I see and know life… It isn’t about being perfectly comfortable, it’s about experiencing things through trial and error. I have wanted to teach more fitness classes, work my way into the personal training industry, and write and edit more for almost a year now, and I have been working 16+ hour days since August to make all of it happen. The result? I was tired a lot. I missed out on or ducked out early of friends’ gatherings; I found myself doing work for one job while at another; I didn’t sleep very well a lot of nights; The thought of a boyfriend was a joke since I barely had time for myself. But I gained a ton of new personal training clients. Writing and editing favors have turned into paying jobs. My main gym’s kindness of giving this newbie instructor a job has turned into me working at four gyms (and maybe more soon). That’s why I quit—the insomnia, stress, frustration, tears, and long hours are paying off to the point where at 23 years old, I am about to go full-time freelance. It’s amazing. You have no idea how lucky I feel and know I am.

There. Big announcement over. So today’s real post (and I promise to keep it as short as possible!) is my true-life, motivational story. It’s how and why I got into fitness and made it my full-time job. If I’m going to be posting more on here (which is the plan), then I want you to really know me. I have nothing to hide.

I started playing competitive soccer when I was four years old and ended up playing 11-11½ months out of the year, traveling every weekend inMichigan or around theMidwest. I made some of the best memories of my life during those years. I was young, fit, happy, and in love with soccer. Things got complicated when my laziness—I hated everything but games—started to make me unhappy. During my junior year of high school soccer, I tore my right MCL, which is the ligament that runs down the inner side of your knee. I totally blew mine out and tore a chunk of bone off with it. I probably should have had surgery, but just went through physical therapy instead. It was hard and it hurt and I didn’t feel ready to “graduate” from PT when I did. I quit soccer that next year. I was defeated and tired.

As I recovered that summer before my senior year, I also went through puberty—yeah, I know, really late. I grew a lot and being inactive made me put on more weight than it seemed like at the time. I didn’t become “fat,” but I started to feel really different body-wise and I realized that not playing soccer meant I had less energy and strength to do simple things like running up stairs and playing on the beach. As my senior year started, I felt awkward. This whole no-playing soccer, gaining-weight, can’t-eat-what-I-want feeling was not fun. Then, three days into my senior year, tragedy struck. My oldest sister had her second child, but the baby didn’t survive. We knew baby Ava’s chances of living were slim because she had skeletal dysplasia, which meant that her body, especially her chest cavity, was too small to hold all of her organs and allow them to function properly. She only lived six hours. Holding a non-breathing baby is one of the most painful experiences I have ever lived through. I don’t wish it upon anyone. My heart, spirit, and soul withered. I’m extremely close to both of my sisters and since I was the only sibling around as my oldest sister carried Ava, knowing the truth of what would happen when she was born, I became inseparable from the situation. It still hurts. I miss Ava. I wish I could have gotten to know her… so badly. I don’t doubt that even with the medical problems should would have had to endure, she would have been an amazingly strong and optimistic woman. I cannot wait to meet her in Heaven some day.

I fell into depression. Everything really was duller and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wasn’t playing soccer, my best friend and I had a falling out, and I felt sick and alone. I started going to a gym and popping diet pills. I felt a little more in control, but still not great. But a miracle shortly appeared in the form of God. For the first time, I really found faith through my church’s youth group. I met friends, too, and slowly with their help and my newfound faith, I started to make peace with what happened to Ava. It hasn’t been an easy or quick journey, but I’m at peace now.

In August of 2006, I went to college at MSU, back in a crazy rut. I was obsessed with my weight and it was bad. I took dozens of diet pills, was bulimic, overexercised, and restricted my diet. Thanks to all of this, I didn’t sleep well, I stressed about everything, I missed my family horribly, I wasn’t a very nice friend, and I was more depressed than ever. I stopped taking diet pills right before Christmas when I finally admitted to a friend that I was taking them. He took them and made sure to check in on me, while also teaching me healthier workout practices. I started seeing a counselor after Christmas, when I finally found the strength to ask my Mom for help. Seeing someone was hard for me because I didn’t like the thought of being so out of control that I needed someone else’s help. Sadly, the counselor didn’t work out because in addition to being far away, she told me I didn’t have an eating disorder because I hadn’t lost a ton of weight. Eating disorders aren’t just bulimia and anorexia; Overexercising and being obsessed with food are eating disorders, too, just not as obvious.

Sophomore year was much better and I was learning to use food and exercise properly. But another bomb hit. My oldest sister was pregnant with her fourth child (she’d had a healthy son during my freshman year of college), and that baby was developing without kidneys or a bladder. I sobbed as the truth sank in. My whole body ached. My entire mind screamed. My soul felt hate. I went to class and then to the gym, replaying the same song over and over as I just ran, and I remember being able to breathe a little better after that run. When Jonah was born a few days after my sophomore year ended, I did the unimaginable again—I held yet another un-breathing baby. I would love nothing more than to trace his lips with my finger again. Or to watch him run around with his brother, especially at Christmas time, their matching pjs flying by as they did wind-sprints around the house in anticipation of Santa. They would have been little troublemakers together 🙂

Shortly after Jonah died, I went toEngland to study abroad. I gained weight, which continued into my junior year of college when I tried my best to be a normal college kid who drank beer and ate pizza. However, my relationship with food and exercise was far from normal. I wasn’t okay with what had happened to Jonah, yet, and I was trying to figure out who I was. I started working out to exercise DVDs every day in my own room and played a lot of intramural soccer. I ate well some days and binged others. I didn’t know how to be all three people—the bulimic overexerciser, “normal” college kid, and hard-working determined student with a goal.

The summer between my junior and senior years of college I lived in Washington, D.C. for an internship. Here, my eating disorder peaked—I was either in the apartment all of the time (I’m so sorry, Kerry!) or at the gym a few blocks away. I worked out obsessively and freaked about what I ate and then binged, which caused me to feel lonely again. It was weird, though, because I started to learn that exercise allowed me to reign in my temper and anger, and that I liked going to classes. This is where I first worked with a personal trainer, started boxing, tried Spinning, and took boot camp classes. I loved it all.

My senior year of college was troubled. I was more obsessed with weight than ever and tearing my ACL at the beginning of November during a soccer game didn’t help. I had surgery right before Christmas and it was like losing a limb. I had to relearn how to stand, walk, bend, twist, everything. I became depressed again because I felt so defeated. But good luck came in the form of my physical therapist, Mike. He was a Godsend. We worked out a way for me to come to therapy three days a week without it breaking the bank. And I capitalized on that—I went three days a week for almost two hours at a time, for four months. By the time I graduated in May, I was running, jumping, squatting, lunging, and pivoting again. Sure, I wasn’t back to normal yet, but I was able to play a little soccer six months out from surgery and that was my goal. Going through PT again made me realize that I can do anything and that being physically active makes me happy and feel so strong. It helped me appreciate that I have a whole body that moves without crazy restriction and I should treat it with more respect because it’s helped me get through so much.

Once I graduated , I started seeing a new therapist. She was amazing. Not only was she a Christian so she brought in some Biblical references, but she helped me get to the root of my eating disorder and start to overcome it with books and exercises to work on. When I moved to Grand Haven, where I am now, I kept up with things. This woman helped put me on the path to recovery.

Last Fall, I was finally happy because I had a job in the city I wanted to be in. I joined a gym and on top of doing DVDs at home, I started Spinning early in the morning, three days a week. Marcia, the instructor and now my mentor, was so wonderful, and so was the entire class, who were all around my parents’ age. I saw my body get stronger and I felt better than ever. Marcia’s energy and passion for teaching struck me and I started talking to her about getting certified myself. She gave me advice and encouraged me while she was my personal trainer and she let me sub for her Spin classes when she was out of town. This branched into me taking the AFAA Group Exercise Certification in March of this year, and subbing at my gym. Now, I’m a regular instructor and soon-to-be personal trainer there.

Fitness became another fascination for me. I became interested in all things, which led to this blog… and me researching how to train and fuel for running races, weight-lifting, and Spinning… and then I started to challenge myself more and more, and I found that I thrived and got stronger. This grew into me helping start a weight-loss challenge at work and my best friend lost 40 pounds! Sure, a few injuries have derailed me, but I loved it all simply for the challenge and the way I felt when I had accomplished each. Friends started asking what I was doing and how they could make healthier decisions. Advice spawned into blog posts… and more teaching… and training friends for fun… Now all of that is really real. I started to realize that what made me truly happy was teaching and motivating people to feel better. It’s funny because I had originally gone to MSU to be a teacher, but when writing became my stronger passion, I switched majors thinking that I could always go back to teaching someday.

Before I even concepted quitting my job, another tragedy hit this summer. I wrote about. My former roommate and college boyfriend committed suicide. His death reminded me that not only is life short, but there is so much evil in the world that why the heck would I waste time and God’s gifts on something that doesn’t make me happy or feel like I’m making a difference? Grief quickly turned into motivation.

Now here I am. It’s that “someday.” I was meant to be a teacher, yes, but not in a typical classroom. God has made me a motivator, a listening ear, and a fitness fiend because health is so important to a well-rounded life. Many people don’t realize that taking time to exercise isn’t selfish, it’s necessary. When you respect your body and do it a favor by exercising, it’s like adding more calendar pages to your life.

I haven’t been extremely open in regards to how I was an eating-disordered, depressed girl who learned to use exercise as a means to escape and find out who she is and how strong she is because it’s hard for people to understand. I am still in recovery, yes, but I am healthy now. I promise. And working with people every day to make them become healthier, makes me ever more healthy. I am stronger because of everything I went through and I don’t regret any of the days because I am who I am (and I do know who I am now!) thanks to those days.

That is what motivates me to move every day—the love, respect, calm, and strength I feel when I’m done. I feel happiest in the gym because I feel most like myself there. I am friendly, smiley, intense, fun, and driven there and I think people can see that. That is why I am a fitness professional—it is my calling to educate people and help them become happier, healthier, and stronger without falling into the pit that I fell into. And I don’t care how corny you think that sounds 🙂

  1. This had to be hard to write; it brought me to tears when I read it. You are such an inspiration and I thank you and admire you for sharing your story. It’s that courage and strength that let me know you are on the right path and that you will succeed in your goals. I will always be here to love and support you in anyway possible so that you won’t ever have to feel alone again. I love you Tot!

    • Thanks, Shell 🙂 It was definitely tough… I cried a few times, but as I did I got to reflect on how far I’ve come. Your words are so kind and I am humbled by them! I love you so much, too, and I’m thankful you’re in my life!

  2. Thank you for sharing and thank you for being a part of our team. You are a young wise woman, you are a success!

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