Health nut...gym rat...
To tweak the words of Lady GaGa, I wasn’t born this way. We all had a pivotal day one...we all have a “why”...we all have a story...we all had to start somewhere. Although today, I’m a trainer, I wasn’t born in the gym with a dumbbell in my hand and my health was not always a priority. I had to make the decision to take charge of my health and wellness. More than once in my journey as a personal trainer, I have heard from clients that they sometimes have difficultly relating to trainers or nutritionists because in so many words, “we don’t get it”. Some have a misconception that working in the fitness industry means it’s somehow easier for us or that we’ve always been healthy. We are not “paid to be in shape”...yes, I’ve heard that. We are not superhuman. Like anyone else who has embarked on the journey of health/wellness/fitness, we too had to decide to begin and we have to work hard to continue on this path every single day. We also have to juggle busy lives with only so many hours in the day and still MAKE time to exercise and meal prep. We get it...we really do. While our personal reasons for starting our healthy lifestyle journeys and ultimately becoming part of the fitness industry are all different, we are united by a common passion...to help others make healthy lifestyle changes and to empower them to live their healthiest, happiest lives. How do we best do that though? By leading, by guiding, by example...and by connecting. This blog post for me is all about connecting...it is my hope to relate...to show that I care...to reflect that I get it.
Connecting...relating...what does this mean? I spent time thinking about this. I define connecting as the ability to identify with people and relate to them in such a way that it increases our influence with them. How can we positively influence others if they feel a disconnect? Although hearing client feedback of “trainers and nutritionists not getting it” initially stings, I’m actually thankful they were honest enough to give that feedback because it prompted me to think heavily about this topic. Leadership...how can we be better leaders to those we hope to serve in our best capacity? I think communicating with others in a meaningful way is key. Good communication is all about connecting. We can’t effectively lead if we can’t connect and we can’t connect if we can’t effectively communicate. A friend of mine and well respected local personal trainer, Katie St. Clair, wrote an excellent blog on connecting with clients. If you’re a trainer, please give it a read CLICK HERE
I do feel that we can lead better when we relate better and while I try to keep things on a professional level and less personal regarding myself, sometimes it’s appropriate to make a more personal connection, so I’m sharing my story here in an effort to better connect and relate with those I hope to help on their healthy lifestyle journey. Sharing connects us with others and can serve to encourage and inspire us to action in our lives. I love this quote: “When we share our stories, what it does is, it opens up our hearts for other people to share their stories. And it gives us the sense that we are not alone on this journey.”
I want people to know that I do get it...I’ve been to “that place”.
This is a powerful quote:
“You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” – Ken Kesey
“That place” is different for each of us, but I’ve been there and now I’m here to make a case.
My story...I’ve shared so many times, and I will share a million more times if it helps even just one more person.
There are those pivotal moments in life that are forever marked by a “before this” and “after this” in which everything before this moment and after this moment will forever be different. That moment for me was the unexpected death of my mother and best friend, Robin Seay, in November of 2007. She was 47 and I was 28. She suffered her first heart attack and after all life saving attempts, it was fatal. The entire following year left me reeling in grief which included anxiety attacks. On the outside, I functioned, but on the inside was just an immensely deep feeling of loss...loss as in emptiness...loss as in no control...loss as in no stability. I went to an incredible counselor who talked me through my grief and then referred me to a preventive cardiologist based upon my extensive family history of heart disease. My exercise journey truly began there. Exercise became a healthy outlet for managing my grief and anxiety. After a few months of regular exercise, my anxiety attacks vanished. Prior to this, exercise was an “off and on” affair. My weight had spiked during college and post college, I had managed to get it back down, but my dietary habits were mostly poor and my exercise was inconsistent and sometimes non-existent. Considering my family history, it became apparent that I MUST make a change in my nutritional and exercise habits. Since I work in a genetics lab, I will phrase it this way: in my case, genetics loaded the gun, but my lifestyle determines if the trigger is pulled. Even with an extensive family history of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, WE have control over our lifestyle risk factors. Our genetics are not necessarily our fate. Prevention is largely up to us. Although heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans, it doesn't have to be. It is estimated that 80% of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes. The power to change these statistics is in our own hands. We don't always get a second chance...mom didn't...but what we do have is NOW. With awareness and knowledge, we have our second chance, right here, right now. The keys are to be proactive and preventive.
I was 28 at the time of my mom’s death and nearly 30 by the time I feel that I emerged from my grief enough to realize I had to take hold of myself and my health. 30 years young is the age at which physical inactivity starts to play the largest role in a woman's risk of developing heart disease, according to Australian researchers. From age 31 on, not moving enough raises the risk of heart disease more than smoking, being overweight, or having high blood pressure. (Source: BRITISH JOURNAL OF SPORTS MEDICINE, May 2014)
I can personally attest to the disheartening truth of this study. The severe blockages that led to my mother's premature death at age 47 after suffering her first heart attack most likely began in her 30's, according to her surgeon. Many of us in our "younger" years aren't thinking of chronic disease prevention. We think we have time. I thought I had time. Prior to my mom’s death, being concerned about heart health was not on my radar: I ate what I wanted...drank what I wanted...exercised if it was convenient and didn’t if it wasn’t.
My mom saved my life. She is the reason I’m where I am today. What would be sadder than her death would be for her death to have been in vain. I figured that the best way to honor her and not allow her death to be in vain would be by living my healthiest possible life and by helping others to do the same. In the years following her death, there was an evolution...an emergence from the lowest of lows to being healthier and stronger than I’ve ever been. It is true that we grow stronger in the broken places. Exercise became part of my life when I joined the MUSC Wellness Center and fell in love with group exercise classes. I took up running regular 5K’s and eventually started a 5K in memory of my mom to raise heart disease awareness. A few years later, I summoned up the courage to begin weight lifting in the “man cave” at the gym and I fell in love with the iron. This evolved into bodybuilding competitively for a few years. Now, I am trying a new venture in powerlifting. For me though, whether I’m training for sport or just training for life, it’s about having fun, staying healthy and being stronger than yesterday. My ultimate passion though is in serving as a trainer at the MUSC Wellness Center. I truly feel that it’s my calling. I feel that all paths led me here today, so for that, I am thankful. When I look at my clients, I see mothers, sisters, daughters, fathers, brothers, sons and friends...I want them to be able to live their longest, healthiest, happiest lives alongside those they love.
In closing, please remember that health and fitness go deeper than the mirror. Do not judge a book by its cover. That muscular trainer or lean athlete was not born that way...they worked to get there and they may have built and forged their way through pain and challenges unknown to anyone else. They may be able to relate to your struggles and challenges because they’ve encountered their own. Also, in setting your goals, remember that health goes beyond the scale. It’s about being healthier from the INSIDE out. My personal story reflects the importance of prioritizing your health from an internal aspect. Take care of your internal health by making healthy nutritional choices, exercising regularly, and getting regular medical checkups, including blood work. If you take care of your internal health, it eventually will reflect on the outside too. Look beyond the mirror.
This is my story...this is my why.
In loving memory of my mom and best friend...I hope to serve, inspire and encourage others to live fully, to live well and to live healthily. To adapt a quote from Abraham Lincoln: All that I am, all that I hope to be, all that I do...I owe to my angel mother.
February is national heart month. Make this month, the month you see your doctor for a heart health check up including blood work to check cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose levels.