on my flight back to colorado in seat 27c and i’m spent. like, thoroughly exhausted. my bod is beyond sore after an entire weekend o' fitness in chicago. i want to sleep. i haven’t been on email in 3 days. i have a fit@work proposal due tomorrow that i should probably be working on . and i can’t. i can’t because the last 3 days changed me; my mind is racing and my heart is full.
after creating fitbook PREP together, my friend (and fitness champion) nicole wilkins invited me to come to her Phat Camp. no, not fat. P-H-A-T. frankly, i had no idea what to expect, but given nicole’s career in figure competing i envisioned teeny-tiny blinged-out bikinis, rhinestone studded 5” stilettos, and perhaps lifting really heavy stuff, complete with grunting.
i couldn't have been more wrong.
"form a single-file line, check-in, get your free food scale and protein cookie, and have a seat please." nothing about this seemed abnormal. except what i witnessed while the attendees were waiting in line. one-by-one, nicole greeted each girl, knowing half of them by name, and not shaking their hands, but hugging each one, welcoming them with open (really-really chiseled) arms. of course i know her to be a genuine person, but to see her warmth in action with those who have her on a (well-deserved) bronze pedestal, was endearing.
after nicole shared her story and kicked off the weekend, we went right into our first workout: a fitness test to see how many exercises we could do in one minute. squats, push-ups, jump lunges, pop squats, you name it. the reason? the scale is just one (often frustrating) measure of health, so nicole challenged us to look at those numbers, improve them, then re-test in 12 weeks. [disclaimer: i could only do 33 push-ups and my goal was 36 so, it’s on.]
then, it was my turn.
invited to speak briefly to the campers, as nicole lovingly refers to those who attend these women-only events held all over the world, my intention was to talk goal setting, introduce them to fitbook PREP, give their goals a swift kick into motion, maybe share part of my story, and then call it a day. but what transpired was something very different. yes, i touched on all those things to some extent but for whatever reason, this was no “speaking engagement” – this was life unfolding. usually when i speak, it’s on business. because, well…that’s what i do; that’s what i know, and frankly that’s what’s comfortable for me. but about half-way through my pep talk i heard this little voice in my head and in my heart: “be you. be real.”
a common theme in my life lately is this concept of vulnerability; one that i've struggled with most of my life. because if you see the parts of me that i want you to see, then you’ll love me; if you see the achiever, the doer, the entrepreneur, and the goal getter, then i’ll be worthy. i reveal just enough someone can relate, but not so much that you might think less of me. rarely do i have women coming up to me saying “hey, aren’t you the fitbook lady?” (albeit, i used to be the fitbook “girl”, but i digress)…. having them ask to take pictures and sign their fitbooks. and i realized in that moment that the only way i could feel good about my time with them was if they saw me for me. see, when we have someone on a pedestal, we both miss out. keeping someone perched up there means you can’t relate to them – and it also robs that person of permission to be their true self.
i proceeded to share my story and what happened from there wasn’t even me, but the grace of God allowing me to reveal “me” in a way i never had before. i spoke about partnering with nicole, creating my business, and why i created fitbook. i usually share that the idea came out of my 7-year battle with eating disorders and “yay look at me” i made a product, company, and life as a result of my struggle. but rarely do i share that this has been a lifelong battle; one that truly never has gone away and often time causes me to shrink in shame. who has a company with the mantra ‘live life fit’ and continues to battle that nastiness?
so i got on my goal-getting pedestal, pushing them to set goals and to find their 'why'. and that’s when i lost it. yes, i ugly-cried in front of 90 women as i shared how my 'why' shifted dramatically after losing my mom 3 years ago to a quick battle. at one point, while rambling words of motivation, honestly just wanting it to be over, i felt numb; i felt like i had failed them because somehow in the process of trying to inspire them to be their best selves, i was a fraud, i lost it, and somehow made it about me. not my intention. in a daze, a vulnerability hangover if you will, i went through the motions taking pictures, signing fitbooks, and called it a day. i wanted to just go hide in my hotel room. why did i let it get personal?
this is business, ang. pull it together.
on the way to camp the next morning, i mentioned to nicole that clearly i'm not ready
to talk about losing my mom when speaking in front of groups. she sweetly reassured me that it made me “real and relatable,” so i just put my game face on, sipped my hot coffee, and helped set up for the day. determined to just melt into the camp, workout, and do my thing, what transpired the next two days was beyond words. slowly, one by one, these women would pull me aside, and share their life with me. and it always started something like this: “what you said really hit home...”
- like the 2 sweet sisters from indiana who came up to me first thing that morning to share that they lost their mom just 3 months prior at the same age as my mom (56)...to cancer. these women told me that even though it may be hard, that i need to start seeing how God is using me, even through the painful parts.
- like the chiropractor mom-of-3 who came up to me and shared that her big goal was to do a figure competition, but she felt like it was a selfish decision when she has a family. attempting to challenge her thought process, i asked her to think instead that being the best version of herself would result in her being a better wife and an even better mom. the next day she told me she signed up for her first figure competition before she turns 40 in november – and her 18-year-old daughter will be doing it with her.
- like the physician who works with eating disorder patients in a clinic who sees daily how these nasty diseases can alter lives and just wanted to thank me for not being ashamed; that by exposing truth we can have a fighting chance at making sustainable change.
- like the mom with 3 kids under age 9 who has lost 117lbs and approached me in tears because she feels like she doesn’t know her purpose in life because for so long her weight loss has defined her. who is she and what is her identity? i never claim to have all the answers, but i can hug and wipe away tears like a boss.
all of this interwoven between circuits, sprints, battle ropes, and bicep curls. between reps, life was happening. never have i seen such support among so many women in my life: chanting, pushing, encouraging, and lifting each other up. “c’mon scrappy,” i would hear every now and then; a nickname a few of the campers had decided was fitting for my no-holds-barred talk from the day before. i may have walked into that day doubting my vulnerability (and feeling a little insecure), but i (sorely) crawled into bed that night knowing without a doubt that i was precisely where i was supposed to be. go figure: i was invited to come speak and yet i end up being the one inspired.
at some point the previous day, i tweaked my back. not because of the exercises, but because i brilliantly never went to see the chiropractor after wrecking my bike pretty badly a few weeks prior. (yes, it’s hilarious; painful but hilarious). after a long night, sleeping awkwardly propped upright with ice on my back, i was rather annoyed that the ONE weekend i get the chance to workout with other amazing women – train with nicole wilkins – and my back is tweaked. worse yet: sunday was a track workout, which are my jam. yes, i was headed straight for self-pityville. “gimme 2 laps, go!” um, okay so i'm walking. i so don’t do well when my body can’t keep up with my uber-driven, mildy-obsessive mind. but when you’re in so much pain, you have no choice. “fine, walk, it is.” and what a walk it was.
speed-walking by herself, somewhat struggling to keep up with some of the other campers, i noticed a young woman going right about the pace that looked doable for me that morning. honestly, i don't remember if she came up to me or i sidled up to her, but what transpired from there was pretty magical. what she lacked in speed, she more than made up for with a fight in her eyes; determination that was contagious. physical exertion has this miraculous ability to draw out emotion that we didn’t even know existed; or at the very least we know is there but we’ve successfully shoved it so far deep down that it rarely emerges. as we walked, lunged, crunched, and cried, what surfaced for her was a lifetime spent taking care of others, never herself. growing up in an overweight family, she was always labeled “the skinny one,” and literally having love withdrawn because of it. after losing a romantic relationship and not having a support system to deal with the pain, she turned to food. our bodies are often just an outward reflection of our inner health and happiness. gaining weight, taking care of others, and never herself, she chose to come to Phat Camp, solo nonetheless, as a way to focus on herself – for once.
her story is not mine to tell, but i can tell you that this young, vibrant, determined woman (who is engaged to be married in octoaber and also the mom of 7-month and 8-year old girls), is the epitome of why i do what i do. not because achieving her 100-lb weight loss goal or competing one day in a figure competition will define her; but because of the person she will become in the process. she’s got a journey ahead – but what i'm seeing in all of this, regardless of age/size/shape, is the first step in conquering any goal (big or small) is knowing that you’re worth it. sometimes it takes the most random person to remind us that we have been all along.
life (and in this case my bruised rip and bad back) will slow you down. yes, i burned fewer calories. and no, i didn’t sweat profusely. but had my bod been in tip-top shape that day, i would have missed out on connecting with another soul who badly needed to be heard.
the weekend concluded with “seminar”: a 1-hour session where nicole answers literally any and all questions from the girls. everything from macros and metabolism to dropsets and deadlifts, she covered it all. beyond the fitness, the facts and little nuggets of “nicolisms”, what she said in closing summed up what the weekend was all about. with tears in her eyes:
my goal of every camp is for you to see what you're capable of. focus on your strong points - and what you can control. if there are things you can control, do something about it. don't complain - don't make excuses. in the process, be nicer to yourself. you have one body, one chance. what are you waiting for?
her biceps are big, but her heart is oh-so-much bigger.
yes, there were workouts (lots of them). but beyond the sweat, i saw women who were fighting for so much more than strong muscles or a sculpted physique. i saw women from all walks of life: the young to the not-so-young; the extremely fit to those battling to find their self-worth to be healthy; the withdrawn, quiet-type to the rambunctious hootin’-and-hollerin’ (yes, that was me). but the beauty in all of it was despite each individuals’ outward appearance or persona, i saw so much more. i saw raw emotion. i saw dreams shared. i saw hope restored. i saw souls encouraged. and i saw lives changed. including mine.
so the question is: what are YOU waiting for?