They walk around you everyday, whether you know it or not. They seem to be normal — they have jobs, they go to school, they have families and pets and car payments. They probably wear jeans just like everyone else, and they probably love pizza just as much as you do.
But they’re harboring a little known passion that, on the surface, may not be so obvious to those who only see them at work, at school, at the kids’ soccer practices, or at family functions. Despite their otherwise normal exteriors, there are, in fact, some Western New Yorkers who are dedicated to and passionate about a subject not generally associated with our region — a region which normally makes headlines for its chicken wings, its beef on weck, its unfortunate professional sports team history, and its reputation as a snow capital.
Instead, these seemingly average WNYers are passionate about fitness — about running, about weight training, about power lifting, about body building, about yoga, about martial arts, and in some cases, about several of these activities. These WNYers don’t often see the spotlight — we aren’t a region that traditionally celebrates our fitness — but I would like you to meet these people anyway.
To that end, each Wednesday, for as long as possible, I will showcase the “fitness biography” of one average WNYer who has made extraordinary efforts in his or her dedication to fitness. These people will talk, in their own words, about their backgrounds, their childhoods, their own children and families, their past and future goals, their diets, their setbacks, their achievements and their disappointments. They’ll also connect their passion for fitness to a corresponding passion for life, highlighting what lessons fitness has taught them that are applicable to everything, not just to the gym floor.
My hope is that each of these individuals will show the myriad of ways in which one can be “fit,” and my hope is that such diversity will spawn motivation, inspiration and a renewed sense that WNY can be — or maybe already is — the home to not only wings and sandwiches and snow but to truly great strength and vitality as well.
I had absolutely no athletic ability when I was growing up. The only thing close to me having any part of sports or physical activity was being the score keeper for the softball team 1 year in high school. I also failed gym one year and had to make it up before I could graduate from high school. In college, my gym elective was bowling. Go figure!
I would never call myself “normal” but I did get to a point in my life where I said enough is enough and had to get myself on track and healthier. By the time I was approaching 30, I had 2 kids and was continually gaining weight due to my poor eating habits (I didn’t know any better) and no exercise besides pushing a stroller. Growing up, I was always skinny, not thin or fit, just skinny. No matter what I ate, I never gained weight. When I graduated from high school, I weighed about 98 pounds. After my first pregnancy, I began gaining weight but didn’t look so bad since I was so skinny to begin with. By the time I had my second child, I was out of control, gaining 75 pounds during that pregnancy. I am 5 feet 0 inches. By the time my second child was about 2 or 3 years old, I was overweight, sedentary, and overall, both physically and mentally, felt awful.
“I was overweight, sedentary, and overall, both physically and mentally, felt awful.”
I knew I had to do something about it, but how to find time? My kids were in school or day care all day already, so I didn’t want to leave them when I came home from working full time to go to the gym. However, I was determined. I found a (don’t laugh, it was the early 90’s) step aerobics class offered at 9:00 p.m. at night, so I could go after I put them to bed. I signed up for it, my first experience in a gym. I also joined Weight Watchers for the second or third time. This was the beginning of my fitness journey, my tipping point. I never looked back.
My biggest obstacle has always been food and my weight. I can’t say that I have overcome this obstacle, but I am continuously working on it and always will be until I get it right.
My different fitness endeavors have led me to where I am today:
This was the first real sport I ever participated in, and I learned how to ski when I was 30. I felt a great sense of accomplishment, and it gave me confidence to go on to do other things.
I had been working out religiously for about 14 years and going to the gym and doing my workouts was enough for me, until one day I met a girl at the gym who asked me if I competed. Huh? Me? Compete at what and at my age? Was she crazy? Those were my first thoughts.
She introduced me to the world of figure competition and bodybuilding. I competed in 2 figure competitions about 1 and 1/2 years later and decided it wasn’t for me, but bodybuilding was, so I competed in 2 bodybuilding competitions.
Why was this accomplishment important? I was 44 years old and hadn’t worn a bikini since I was 18, and I actually did it in front of a whole audience and with confidence!! Need I say more?
I worked my butt off with 2 workouts a day and an extremely disciplined diet. I felt that, though this was an exhilarating experience, keeping it up wasn’t healthy, and I don’t believe you can say you are fit by what your body looks like. The diet caused me to lose hair, have digestive problems, and extreme mood swings. I’m sure that others may have had different experiences, but this is what I experienced. This couldn’t be healthy, but I achieved what I set out to do and increased my overall confidence.
Was I proud of myself when I walked out on that stage?
And I didn’t need a trophy to give me that proud, confident feeling.
This is my current fitness endeavor. I competed in my first bench press competition last February and my second in July. I think I have found my niche in the fitness realm. I love lifting, and this sport allows you to compete against your own PR (personal record) with no drama.
I love getting stronger. I currently hold an American and New York State Record with the United States Powerlifting Association in the raw bench. I was also listed in the Top 20 Master’s Women on Powerlifting.com at number 11.
Weight lifting is my favorite, so that is where my focus is. Below is a typical weekly gym schedule, and it is by no means written in stone and changes periodically, with the exception of bench night.
- Monday – My favorite gym day, it’s bench night. I also usually do triceps.
- Tuesday — Spin class, 60 minutes. I may throw in shoulders before or after class. This is new to my weekly routine, and I have been spinning for the past 6 – 8 weeks.
- Wednesday – Back and biceps.
- Thursday – Spin class, 60 minutes. I may throw in shoulders before or after class.
- Friday – skip
- Saturday – Bootcamp, 45 minutes.
- Sunday – skip
I love doing legs, but for the past 2 months haven’t had much time to fit it in, especially when my legs are spent from spinning or bootcamp. So if I don’t spin or if I make it to the gym on an off day, I do legs. I also fit in a (very) little bit of running sporadically.
I was raised the complete opposite of a healthy eater.
For the first 30 years of my life, I drank Pepsi and ate Oreos for breakfast and ate things like Spaghettios for lunch. Potato chips, Doritos, and chip dip were daily snacks, and for dinner, eating out, ordering pizza, or eating frozen processed food was the norm — for example, Italian style chicken rondolettes with Kraft macaroni and cheese (one of my faves). Daily trips to the store at the corner provided candy and ice cream in between meals. My eating habits began to change at the same time that my health and fitness goals came into focus.
“My eating habits began to change at the same time that my health and fitness goals came into focus.”
It took a number of years to wean myself of these bad eating habits, and it wasn’t easy. It did, however, begin with a gym membership and Weight Watchers. Fast forward to when my eating and fitness were on track – focusing on clean eating, I also used supplements such as the following:
- Whey Protein
- Branched Chain Amino Acids
I was fanatical about keeping track of what I ate per day, including amount of protein, carbs, fats, etc.
Today, you will not find any of those “historical” foods in my house with the exception of a pizza every couple of months. I would say I pretty much try to eat clean and make sure I eat a lot of protein because I like to lift heavy. After many years of trying whatever was new or different, I have found my middle ground. I am no longer as fanatical about food one way or the other as I was in the past. My focus is healthy eating, and I am currently cutting out foods that are processed or contain chemicals.
A daily example of my meals:
- Breakfast: Egg whites, grapefruit, kashi cereal with almond milk (or steel cut oats)
- Mid morning snack: apple
- Lunch: Salad with mixed greens with other veggies and 3 oz. package of albacore tuna in water. Fat free dressing and cottage cheese.
- Afternoon snack: celery with hummus
- Dinner: Baked or grilled chicken breast and sweet potato
- Evening: Protein shake usually after a workout
I have tried so many diets and different food combinations, I can’t list them all here (I have a lot of years behind me ;-)). I think Weight Watchers got me on the right track and taught me how to eat healthier to begin with. I have also read a lot of different books, some that are no longer relevant (remember the Atkins Diet?). When you eat well, you feel well, and that helps keep me on track.
“When you eat well, you feel well, and that helps keep me on track.”
Also, after the hard work I put in at the gym, I think twice before I pick up on my old eating habits. I am not throwing all my hard work out the window for a 3 Muskateers bar (well, maybe once or twice a year). It is all psychological for me. I don’t call it cheating because I don’t agree with deprivation — all things in moderation. Depriving myself sets me up for a binge, so I just plan ahead. If I know I am going out to dinner over the weekend, I plan my food for the day or two around it, so if I have something “bad,” it doesn’t throw me totally off track. If I don’t plan, however, I tend to feel awful if I overeat and throw in the towel, and it sets me back before I gain control of myself again. I haven’t found a way to get around this, but I keep trying.
How does this help my fitness goal? My fitness goal is to be healthy and able to do the things I like to do such as biking, kayaking, running 5ks once in a while, and races with obstacles (for example Warrior Dash).
Overall, reaching and working toward my fitness goals has taught me perseverance and to be confident.
I used to think that being fit equated to looking like the fitness models in magazines or looking good in a bikini. I have learned that you can look fit and not be fit. Fitness to me means you are strong and healthy.
I won’t do anything that I don’t find fun. If it’s fun, then you look forward to doing it and stick with it.
“I won’t do anything that I don’t find fun.”
You might also be wondering how I ate that horrible diet when I was growing up. Where were my parents? These were their bad habits too. They didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. As a result, both of my parents have had cancer, one has diabetes, high blood pressure, is overweight and has difficulty walking. One of my parents also had heart problems. So my motivation comes from first hand experience with seeing what an unhealthy and unfit lifestyle gets you. I am motivated to live a fit and healthy lifestyle in order to avoid these issues. I believe that I only have one life to live, and I am going to live it to the fullest.
My goal is to still be fit and active when I am 90, so I am not stuck in a rocking chair on my porch but instead in the gym pumping iron!