My Path to Wellness
First off, you should know that I wasn’t always super healthy and athletic…contrary to common assumption, since I’m a Health Coach and train for ultramarathons. In fact, I had zero relationship with exercise until my early 30s. I never played sports as a shy, lanky kid so I never really developed an exercise habit. Although, growing-up, I did love ballet class. I felt like I was at home in ballet shoes, lined up with the other dancers beside the barre.
In my mid-20s, my metabolism shifted and I could no longer enjoy take-out with reckless abandon and without gaining an ounce, as I was able to in college. I had gotten myself an office job, was moving less than ever before, and started gaining weight. And I wasn't interested in exercise or the gym..no way! Looking back now I can clearly see what my barriers were: afraid of looking stupid, believing that I wasn't the “athletic type”, believing that exercise was boring, and having zero confidence doing anything remotely athletic (especially in front of other people). I was also experiencing panic attacks on a regular basis, paired with generalized anxiety. It was pretty awful, scary, humbling, embarrassing. But I stumbled upon an amazing book that led to a life-changing program and professional help. Anxiety, panic, and fear will always be a part of my nature but I’m no longer afraid to look it in the face and say “thanks for the warning but take a load off and sit quietly in the back seat!”…sometimes it’s not that simple but I’m relentless at figuring out what works because experiencing life is worth the risk…
One day, in my early years of experiencing a life beyond anxiety, I finally mustered up the courage to take a yoga class, albeit after three tries (three!) before I actually entered the studio; the other two times I drove away with my yoga mat too afraid to try. Seems silly now, but it didn't feel silly then. The risk of feeling out of place was worth it…yoga connected me back to my body again just like in ballet class. That same familiar feeling of graceful movement to the teacher's instruction, all of the students moving together, sharing the same peaceful energy...it moved me to tears. I was home.
Relentless Forward Progress
After a couple months of class, and without even realizing it, my confidence started to increase, my body became stronger and leaner, and I became braver. I even saw myself as someone who practices yoga (I felt like I belonged, maybe for the first time ever). And then I thought, heck, I'll give power yoga a try (gasp!) and then kettlebells class and that led to all sorts of stuff including Special Forces style GORUCK events and learning to run!
When I started running it was on a quiet path with my rescue dog where no one could see me (Oliver cheered me on while also looking up at me with a slightly concerned look wondering what on earth I was doing). After lots of work I was finally able make it all the way around the secluded field (0.3 miles!) without wanting to throw up…I was amazed! After more training I even made it to running 3 miles (in a row) without stopping. And that’s when I threw caution to the wind and it all went crazy. I took my new running hobby to the road, running where people could see me even, which led to my first half-marathon, then three more. Then I tried trail running and felt that awesome "I'm home" feeling again. I met a bunch of running people who accepted me into their world (weird!), I lost a bunch of weight (35lbs in total), entered lots of races, and last September I completed a 50k ultramarathon. WOOT! Like seriously, what? I still don’t know what happened…
All I know for sure is if you take one step and then another and another...and keep going...you can get pretty far!
I've learned that exercise makes me a better human. I think more clearly, have more confidence, and feel better physically. I never regret ignoring the voice in my head that says "you're not a runner" and push myself out the door anyway. I enjoy the challenge of training for a race and experimenting with pushing beyond the physical and emotional limits I tend to create for myself. My experiences with fitness have given me the confidence to push beyond the limits in my professional life too...striving to grow, learn, take chances, and develop skills. I have truly lived, felt, and experienced how all aspects of health and wellness (from physical to emotional, spiritual, connectedness in relationships, and intellectual) overlap and interconnect. It’s wild!!
Fresh Perspective On Food
Despite my awesome new active lifestyle, I was still experiencing some pretty awful digestion issues and physical symptoms. “Normal” for me looked like this: dull headaches and stomach aches, taking Tums and Advil most days (certainly not leaving the house without them), terrible bloating at the end of the day, knowing where the nearest bathroom was at all times, feeling foggy and lethargic, and definitely needing an afternoon coffee to pull myself out of the post-lunch slump to get through the rest of the workday. Once I actually started feeling stomach pain, I sought medical help and started down a long road of doctor visits, lab work, diagnostic tests, and elimination diets with little success. I was eventually labeled with the catch-all for digestive issues: Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS. One thing I did learn…those daily symptoms I listed above…not normal, actually. It never crossed my mind because it was my normal.
Turns out digestion is about as unique to each person as our personalities. It takes time to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t. The years-long process, for me, was confusing, frustrating, and infuriating...but it taught me to pay careful attention to what I'm putting in my body and it taught me what “normal” could (and should) be. When I began reading food labels I was shocked and angered by the amount of unhealthy stuff in our food…brands and staples I thought were healthy were actually not. I've learned volumes about digestion, what can go wrong, food intolerances, food labels and ingredients, and what I can do to help my body function optimally and thrive. The solution, for me, was converting to a mostly whole foods diet and I feel so much healthier and more nourished for it. Today, I have very infrequent IBS symptoms and if I do, I usually know exactly why (one reason...I refuse to break up with cookies)!
Learning More and Sharing It All
My lifestyle changes and love for health and well-being inspired me to switch careers after 13 years in the health insurance industry. I started out with massage therapy school because it felt like the right next step, and it was! I became a licensed therapist and opened my private practice in 2015. After a few years working with all sorts of clients, from athletes to veterans to cancer patients to office employees with tension and stress, I began noticing that lifestyle adjustments could be beneficial in combination with therapeutic massage. I wanted to provide a more holistic approach that could empower clients to take action in all areas of their health and wellness…so I looked around for a training program that could provide me with the tools and knowledge to do so. I found a graduate program through University of Wisconsin Extension for Health and Wellness Management so I went for it! Why not go all out and get a master’s degree? (Another example of something I never thought was in the realm of possibility.) I also simultaneously earned a Health Coach certification from Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.
My nerdy education, combined with my own life experiences, help me create doable wellness programs for both groups and individuals. My mission is to guide and support clients so they can make the best choices for themselves, build skills, and get the right tools and resources they need to live a freaking awesome life!
I know for certain it’s absolutely possible that anyone, no matter where you’re starting from, can have an amazing life! We all have the right to experience an amazing life.