Be strong. That’s my fitness goal now, to gain strength through hard work. That hasn’t always been my motivation though. Sixteen year old me that was relatively sedentary, about 90lbs heavier than current me, and generally uncomfortable in her own skin couldn’t have cared less about being strong. I wanted to lose weight, be thin, and wear the cute clothes at the store that I always saw but could never fit into. The idea of fitness in general was not something I was all that interested in and so the concept of being strong didn’t really take up residence in my mind.
Fast forward ten years later and being strong is what drags my ass out of bed at 4:50 in the morning to go get a workout in. Going to the gym, any gym, used to be absolutely terrifying. When you’re a hundred pounds overweight and the embodiment of self-conscious, the idea of working out in public, particularly around super fit people, is scary as hell. I couldn’t help but compare myself to everyone else and be constantly convinced that other people in the gym would judge me.
I started working at a YMCA when I was 19 and the irony was not lost on me. Someone who desperately needed fitness working in a gym. It ultimately became a much-needed motivator. It took me over a year but in the fall of 2009 I finally decided to commit to a fitness journey. At first I worked out at home, riding a stationary bike that was literally older than I was. It worked for a while and I started to lose weight and feel a bit better about myself. After some time though, the home workouts became less effective as I was so limited. I worked at the YMCA for about two years before I actually worked out in the gym myself. I won’t bore you with the mundane details of everything I did, machines I used, group fitness classes I finally went to, etc. I was learning to expand my fitness horizons and saw more progress as a result. I was also getting more comfortable with working out around other people, which was a hugely freeing feeling.
What still eluded me was the free weight half of the gym. Lots of “meat head” types that seem wildly intimidating and I just felt I had no place over there. I even remember thinking at one point, “That’s not my goal. I don’t want to lift weights.” Now I get that thinking that was mostly out of fear and the genuine belief that I just couldn’t do it. Once in a while, a friend and I would venture over to use one piece of equipment on that half of the gym but it was a short trip.
Learning to be comfortable at CA was a whole new obstacle. There’s no place to hide (which is good but intimidating when you’re new) and it’s a whole different ballgame. It actually took me quite some time to become a regular there. I started slowly, coming to an occasional class when I could; yoga on the weekends or one of Kyla’s evening bootcamp classes. Those were still sort of in my comfort zone but taking the classes at CA was my way of tiptoeing outside of that comfort zone, which as it turns out is a really hard place to leave. However, I still found ways to hold myself back when it came to continuing my workouts outside of CA. I would find whatever corner of the gym was deserted and do my own thing there. Hiding out. Still not learning to use those “big girl weights” on the other half of the gym.
Finally one morning, at the literal ass crack of dawn, Kyla offered to be my workout buddy and show me how to properly squat and dead lift. Those formerly foreign words changed something in me and I loved every minute of it. She got me to cross that invisible barrier between me and the “big girl weights” and it was liberating. It became apparent that the fear keeping me from venturing over every other time before was unnecessary. I ended up feeling empowered and kind of like a badass for lifting and moving real weight. Not a bad feeing.
Now that just left me with finding a way to be comfortable and not intimidated by CA. My biggest hurdle was the belief that I couldn’t workout alongside elite athletes, people competing in Iron Man and running marathons. Those are far off from where I was at (and still very far off from where I am now) and I was convinced I would look and feel inadequate trying to workout in the same place that they did. I couldn’t help feeling out of place. The thing is, none of those people will ever make you feel that way. It was completely a me problem. I struggled for a few months, still trying to feel comfortable, but that whole time Jenny, Kyla, and Dave (the same people you all know and love) kept encouraging me to go back. Slowly I started to make more visits to CA. The more you go the easier it gets (to be there, the workouts are always tough as shit) and the fear starts to subside. And suddenly you realize, at 6 in the morning, before most of the world is awake, that you’re doing box pushes with a 45lb plate on it and you’re not dead. You’re working out alongside people who compete in Iron Man competitions and they’re not judging you. They’re cheering you on to finish that final push. You feel like you’re gonna barf but you don’t (seriously so close though). And in this little box behind the Halfmoon sandwich shop I finally realized I could be strong. I was strong. It’s such a hard feeling to explain, going from non-existent physical activity to actually enjoying it, craving it even. It’s a leap I never thought I would make and now I’m never letting it go.
That’s what CA has really done for me. It gave me the courage to know I’m awesome. Now I feel strong, I want to be stronger, and I have a sense of confidence in myself that I wish I could’ve assured sixteen year old me would eventually show up. I think she would be proud of current me, I know I am. And I can say that because CA and the incredible people who got me there have given that to me. Best gift ever if you ask me.