Trading Pop Tarts for kettlebells: an autobiography.

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As I've mentioned before, exercise was not my first love. My fitness journey is not unlike many people's: I started young and developed different passions as I progressed.

I ran cross country and track in high school. I preferred longer distances- gave me a little time to catch up. I remember looking at our workouts on the trophy cases every day and thinking "Okay, so I'm definitely not going to do all of those 200m sprints..." . I ran because I loved being with my friends, who all were on the team. They were disciplined, they were fast. They set records, they went to State. I was proud of them, but felt no shame in my abilities. I didn't necessarily feel proud of myself, just "ehh" about the whole thing.

The latter half of high school, I didn't even join the team. I came home from school everyday and ate two S'mores Pop Tarts and played games on Facebook. I absolutely loved White Mochas from Starbucks (a different type of Basic Claire) and I remember eating cheesy fries and chocolate milkshakes with my friends at diners.

Upon my arrival at college, I developed a good group of friends. The girls went to the gym together often. I started to feel slight jealousy when one of them went to the gym and I hadn't been yet. I wanted to be the girl who went every day. I wanted to be disciplined for the first time in my life. While it started with competitive nature, I developed some true discipline. Of course, I had absolutely zero knowledge of nutrition or the physical intensity required for weight loss and ended up gaining weight in my freshman year. But I still consider this the very beginning of my fitness journey. Freshman year goes by, and I return to my parents' house for the summer. I had a fantastic internship and had plenty of free time to spend at the gym. I decided to get in shape. I didn't have a specific weight loss goal in mind, and I didn't really know what I was doing but I knew I wanted to swim every day and I knew I had to eat more veggies and less rice. So I did just that: I worked up to swimming a mile every single day, and eating well. I allowed myself one "bad" meal a week, and I continued to learn discipline. That summer, I went from about 146# to about 114#. Returning to school for sophomore year, and the stress of transferring colleges, I continued to find solace in exercise, unfortunately to an unhealthy extent. I ate less and exercised more. I swam and ran and didn't allow any "bad" meals. I felt depleted often and only when I moved to Charlotte for school did I regain true health.

Charlotte's weather is incredible. The UNC Charlotte's campus is beautiful. It's a runner's dream, honestly. So I ran. Often. Every day. It was my happy place. I trained for a half marathon and I loved it, but after graduating and having a big girl job, I didn't have as much time to run as I would have liked. So I joined Planet Fitness. I still hopped on the treadmill, and stuck to the pink dumbbells, but I was around people who wanted bigger muscles. I began to follow hundreds of bikini competitors on Instagram and marveled at their bodies. How the heck do they have those abs?! I do 5 minute planks! I have nothing! Growing more and more frustrated, I joined a "more serious" gym down the street called Life Time Fitness. My then boyfriend and his brofriends had worked out there for several years and thought the world of the equipment and the staff. I walked in with a surprising amount of confidence. I remember telling the salesman, "I'm so done with Planet Fitness. I'm here for the squat racks." Meeting with a personal trainer a week or so later, I was surprised when he told me I had some body fat to lose (I was 114#! That's pretty small...) but my focus was strength. I left the meeting still not knowing what I was doing.

Trainers were too expensive.

So on the treadmill I went, terrified of the string tank top bros sweating all over their 100# dumbbells. They grunted too loud. I graduated to slightly bigger pink dumbbells and did my cardio bunny routine, seeing no progress and feeling no motivation.

One Sunday afternoon, the whole place was empty, and I was in the gym to avoid the football game with the brofriends. I sat doing my Russian twists, day dreaming of pull-ups and strong abs. The only other person in that training area was a guy who was deadlifting a lot of weight. I had no idea how much it was, but it was a few plates. He introduced himself to me as Zack, and asked if I had ever done any work with kettlebells. I had not, had no idea how to use them but was willing to learn. He mentioned in our conversation that "the bar" weighed 45#, and I instantly felt strong. I walked out with an entirely different perspective. I was strong and I was learning how to get stronger. I called my mom and told her all about this guy who taught me kettlebells and I asked her, "Can you believe I can squat 45#?!"

Only a couple days later, Zack came up to me in the gym and said, "Did I just see you bent over rowing 8#?" I told him yes, and he told me, "I never want to see that again. It should be at least 25#." He said it encouragingly, but with authority. When my ego healed a couple days later, I picked up a 25# dumbbell and did bent over rows. I could do them, and I did do them. Suddenly, a personal trainer was not so expensive. I signed up for and attended every single kettlebell class, and developed a deep admiration for an incredibly strong woman. Her kettlebell skills were impeccable. Her form was strong, her weights moved with grace and she was always working hard. I could see how proud Zack was to be coaching her. They had a powerlifting meet a month after my kettlebell training began and I went to support and learn. I was well prepared to change my whole life after that day: I think I knew it was about to. For the first time ever, I was truly amazed. I had no idea what the sport was, and I couldn't wait to do it.

The training began, love grew and lives changed.

I'm dedicating my life to passing it on. The only logical thing for me to do was to spend my time helping people find their health and their strength. In my first two weeks as a full time personal trainer, I've been genuinely overenthusiastic. I've met more people and been more hopeful than I've ever been in my life. I'm proud of where I came from and I'm proud of where my future students will go. I am a student of strength and I am a teacher of strength. This is my true love.