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My Journey from Overweight to Athlete

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ad only lost 41 pounds when I started to believe that I had the ability to achieve goals that felt so big I had to hide them inside myself. If I said them out loud, then it would be real. I would be committed to them. That is the person that I am, once I tell the world, or even a friend I am going to achieve something, I do it. There are no take-backs, I just do it. And so there I was, sitting in a car driving home with my then-boyfriend about to spill the beans. “I want to do a bodybuilding competition,” I said, journal in hand, writing out my action plan.


Perhaps this was the moment I should have known that I needed to marry him, when I told him about this big dream of mine and he didn’t flinch. He didn’t tell me I was nuts. He didn’t tell me I didn’t know what it would require to compete in a show. He didn't point out to me that I had never even worn a bikini in public! He didn’t ask me about if I could even afford this goal. Often I wonder if he didn’t question me simply because he figured I would change my mind or give up, and so why not just humor me. But after over a decade of never being apart, I have learned that he didn’t question me because he knew more about my superpowers than I did. That man sitting next to me knew that I was capable of anything I wanted, even if I often forgot that I did indeed want it.

His belief in me may have started six months earlier when he witnessed my determination to change. It takes a lot of desire, determination and drive to decide that you want to make a change, and one particular spring day, I decided what I had to lose by continuing to be overweight and inactive wasn’t as hard as the challenges I kept facing being uncomfortable in my body. Almost everyday I would see him get up and go for a run. He loved running! He didn’t plan it, or schedule it, he just did it. But why? Running is hard. It is uncomfortable and it’s hot outside. I just couldn’t understand for the life of me why he would want to do it. In my entire life I had never enjoyed doing anything that was active. I never played sports in school and exercise was never modeled to me as something that was part of life. But as I sat there, the sun shining into our apartment building and the chatter from the Farmers Market carrying on in the streets below me, I felt envious of his love for being active and wished I too possessed such passion for activity. I had started to eat healthier, and I had lost ten pounds. I even stopped drinking soda. But I knew that I needed to move more. I didn’t know how, when or where. And running wasn’t going to be fun for me. If there is anything I knew, it was I needed to find something that I would enjoy so I would stick with it.

At the Farmers Market that morning I found it. There at a very brightly decorated little table stood a woman that was radiating joy. She had big curly hair and a smile that made you instantly feel like her friend. Something outside of myself pushed me over to her booth without any kind of thought. Zumba? What are you thinking? Have you seen your dance moves? But there I stood and it only took a five minute conversation and I told her I would see her Monday, at 6:00 AM for my free sample class. Are you nuts? When was the last time you saw 6 AM? But I did it.

After that day, I attended every single one of her 6 AM classes for five months. I went to Zumba and attended a yoga/pilates class like it was inexcusable to miss. The key was I enjoyed it. The loud music, the nice people, and the results. In five months I lost 41 pounds. The self-confidence was pouring out of my skin as fast as the sweat. I felt unstoppable, so much that I decided I was ready for a challenge. I can’t tell you exactly what it was that had me think that standing on stage in a bikini, one that didn’t even cover up everything a bikini should cover up, while wearing multiple coats of spray tan and heavy layers of makeup, was a good idea, but when a dream comes to you, sometimes you just roll with it. Losing weight and reshaping my body demonstrated to me that a person was in more control of how they shaped their body then they believed they were. I realized that my body was a canvas, and I was the artist. My diet and my activities could be my paint and my brush. I had a plan. I had a support team. And I was beginning to implement the said plan. That’s when my first big detour appeared. Ironically the day I shared my secret plan for this big epic goal was also the day I started to feel a little bit ‘off’.

As it turns out, I was pregnant. My plans all unraveled, but yet, unraveled as if exactly how they were supposed to. Nora came into the world to teach me lessons I needed to learn before I could move forward with big dreams and goals. Patience was something that I had little of, and all kids attempt to teach their parents how to be more patient. I may not have wanted to admit it, but I was scared to become pregnant for reasons that may appear superficial and selfish. This was the first time in my life that I was healthy and active and beginning to feel confident with how I looked. I had always been overweight and in my mind, pregnancy was a gateway to returning to the “fat world.” But like many things in my life, I decided to prove all the thoughts and all the people wrong. I would have this baby and still be active and fit.

Married and the proud mother of a little girl, it was time to lose the baby weight. I didn’t believe I would ever be able to compete after having a child, so I focused my energy on continuing to attend group fitness classes and decided to give running a try as it was flexible and I could go on my own schedule. I started teaching group fitness classes as a way to get paid and attend fitness classes. I was running three to four days a week and teaching three to four days a week. Quickly I was below my pre-pregnancy weight and decided to come up with a new goal. “Lets run a marathon!” I said to my husband. “If we run the Eugene Marathon we can run it for our second wedding anniversary since it falls on the day!” And so we began training.

Training through the winter to run 26.2 miles is not as easy as I may have believed. I knew that the training wouldn’t be easy, but I never stopped to consider the time of year we would be running. On the weekends my husband and I would drop off the baby at my moms house, and together we would head out for our long run. I was still a new runner, I had little experience and it was hard to not feel like an amateur while running next to him. One Sunday in February we headed out for a 16 mile run. There was snow on the ground around us, but the roads were clear and frozen. As we ran we could see our breath and feel the cold air piercing our lungs as we took in deep inhales. I was beginning to feel numb. As I watched my husband continue to run and move like this was just another easy jaunt, I felt frustrated. But then I remembered that I was a beginner. Running wasn’t a natural strength I had like baking or creating new recipes. Running was overcoming hardships. It was me taking on things I believed I could never do. Running was my way of proving to myself that if I could take on this challenge, I could do anything. I had a goal in front of me that I was determined to accomplish. I wanted to be a marathon finisher. And I wanted to finish holding my husband's hand.

As we ran along old country roads, the terrain was ever-changing. Right when you swore you couldn’t go any slower the ground would change from gravel to frozen dirt and suddenly the will to keep moving returned. We encountered it all during this run. What started as a bright sunny afternoon, quickly changed to overcast and with the sun went the temperature. Mud, snow, gravel, dirt, pavement...the miles ticked along. There were hills to climb and all the way I kept my attitude positive. This was hard! Armando didn’t ever appear to struggle, and so I tried my best to remain strong just like he did. Nobody was making us spend our Sunday afternoon running through the back roads of Elgin, following the curves of the roads and weaving through the many farms that housed endless pastures of cattle. This was a choice I made. It was a choice that we made together to spend our weekends running and getting stronger. As these miles ticked past, my legs continued to go numb, my energy continued to plummet, and I had to have assistance pulling down my pants to pee because I couldn’t feel my hands. But we just kept running.

There is a feeling that cannot be described, only experienced. The feeling hits you deep as you approach your destination, when you complete an overwhelming task or goal. This feeling washes over you, it drowns you; joy, relief, exhaustion, exhilaration, pride. We made it, and at that moment, all you can do is promise yourself you don’t have to do it again, not today anyways. Running was giving me confidence.

We completed the Eugene Marathon in the spring of our second wedding anniversary. It wasn’t easy, it felt awful, and I am sure I was under trained for the event. But I finished. It wasn’t but minutes after completing this run that I decided to never run a marathon again. What I wanted to do was revisit that goal to compete in a bodybuilding competition. This run was a way to prove to myself that I could take on my ultimate goal. It was nearly immediately after returning home that I started doing my research for how I would tackle my competing goal. I started logging my food, lifting weights more regularly and working on building muscle. In the fall I took my commitment to the next level and hired a coach. I drove the 4 hours to Portland, Oregon regularly to practice my posing. Posing is quite possibly the most intimidating part of bodybuilding. It’s how you walk and present yourself on stage. I was surrounded by beautiful women, only some of whom were kind. This was a solo sport, but that was one thing I loved about it.

Each morning I got up early, trained on less calories than necessary to feel my absolute best, and planned, prepared and ate very diligently logged meals. I loved to cook and be in the kitchen, and so I didn’t think of this as a chore, I just had to do it a little differently and get more creative to come up with meals that were satisfying. The process was incredibly gratifying as I watched the shape of my body alter with the hard work I put in. On Tuesday nights I would put on a bikini and over Skype I would practice posing with a posing coach. My husband would get involved by listening and paying attention to the feedback I was being given so that he could give me advice as I practiced on my own. My daughter was three and enjoyed seeing me in my “sparkles.” This is how she referred to my purple suit I had specially designed for the occasion and my clear high heels.

With every goal though, there is a side that is less sparkly. I was tired and I often had a short fuse. My family was very forgiving and very understanding. There were little things though that would send me over the edge. In my third year of competing I began to struggle the most. I was becoming more frustrated this time around as my body wasn’t changing on schedule. One day, very gently, I approached my husband and said, “I don’t care what you eat, how much or when. But I am so tempted right now by everything. Will you please, please, please not have any chocolate chip cookies in the house?” You see, chocolate chip cookies are my Kryptonite. They were something I thought about often. I missed them, and I planned to eat one promptly after my show. He obliged, and I began to find cookies hidden in ridiculously poor hiding places. But when I found one hidden in the jockey box of my very own car, I felt angry. I threw the cookie out the window and ran it over. This is the kind of crazy that happens to as a calorie deprived bodybuilder.

Approaching the big day of my very first bikini competition I was full of many kinds of emotions. The biggest one was disbelief that it was actually happening. This was a dream I had, three years in the making that seemed completely outrageous when I said it out loud the first time. And here I stood in the hotel lobby checking into my hotel room to get my first competition spray tan. This is not a normal spray tan. This is about five layers of a much oranger shade of a normal spray tan. The only spray tan I had ever had before was done by a friend who owned a tanning salon and was for my wedding day. I had ideas about what to expect, but in reality, I had no idea. I entered a room with about ten small black tents. In each tent stood a naked competitor shivering, and being coated with color. There was absolutely no privacy in this process. Everyone was in a similar shape as you, slightly forgetful due to lack of proper fuel and hydration, and the majority of us were so nervous that we couldn’t see anything anyways. You were to spread your legs, lean forward, lift your arm, lower your arm, step one foot forward, etc. etc. Once the color was coated on you, a fan was put in front of you to help dry. This is when the shivering took place.

Once tanned, you could no longer wear deodorant, lotions, or restrictive clothing like a bra or underwear. You also gained a new fragrance that would forever stick with you. Even today I can smell it if I think about it. I can see a photo of a friend who is about to compete and has been “sprayed” and I can smell her. It’s just a smell you never forget. The morning after your tan, you look even more dramatic as the color darkened through the night. Often people don’t understand why you need such a dark tan, but this is because once under stage lights without the tan your hard earned lifting sessions would be a waste as the light would drown out all muscle definition. The tan is critical for stage presence.

The morning of the show hair and makeup is done, and the suit completes that look. My suit was purple, my favorite color, with a subtle amount of rhinestones on it. This was all very new to me, and spending $200 on a suit seemed outrageous, let alone more than that to receive more rhinestones. Though my suit may have been basic, it was mine, and I loved it. I loved what it represented and knowing that I wasn’t going to win at my first show, this was all that mattered. This suit helped represent all the hard work and sacrifice I made over the last 24 weeks of preparing for this show, 12 of which I was dieting and eating next to nothing but chicken breast. Later, I would learn that there was a better way to prepare and be coached, but for now I felt proud of each step I took to get there.

Backstage as you wait for your class to be called, you will find all the women using rubber resistance bands to pump up. You will find men and women shoving candy in their months; skittles, M&M’s, peanut butter on rice cakes, bananas, any kind of simple sugars to help get a pump before going on stage. My first time seeing this shocked me. My coach, to whom I later learned was very little help to me, never informed me of such things, and so at this point she started handing me things to eat. I was extremely hesitant, but my extreme hunger caused me to oblige.

As I lined up to be called on stage there was a voice inside of me panicking, not knowing what I would do once I got on stage or why I would go at all. This is crazy, This is nuts, These girls are so much more prepared for this than you, I thought. As soon as my group was called another part of me took over and walked me up on stage. My heart thumped in my chest so hard I couldn’t swallow. My brain and my heart were working on overdrive there was little time to think about not tripping in my four inch heels, or about little posing details that had been drilled into my head during my weekly Skype sessions. I just did my routine and smiled. Always remembering to smile. I thought this would be hard, smiling, but what I found was this was fun. The adrenaline was incredible.

I didn’t win that day, or place in the top five. And I had no expectations to do either. My family was there with me, and they had witnessed what felt like the biggest accomplishment of my life. Some may think that statement is a little extreme, but they don’t know what it took to get there. I held my daughter, who was three and a half years old and smiled for a photo with her after the show. She loved the glitter, and her face the first time she saw me tan and all made up is something I will never forget. I found her and sat next to her in a chair in the audience. She turned and looked at me, looked away real fast, then looked at me again, “Are you my mom?” Priceless. I had more support in her and my husband than I needed, and yet there were people all around me reminding me to give myself grace and telling me that I inspired them. On this day I overcame many things. I left behind the girl who cried on the couch because she was seventy five pounds overweight and had no passion and I became a woman who felt confident and had just discovered that she was capable of absolutely anything.

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