My Peeps

CHARLES FIRMIN 

Every now and then someone new will pop in the gym and catch my eye with perfect form, technique, discipline and passion for working out. I watched this kid for weeks, thinking he must have a story. You rarely see young adults with this type of training and strictness.
As I was sitting in my office, someone stopped in to chat. I asked about the boy who was training alone but very firm in his athletic dedication. His response was, “his name is Charles Firmin.” I about spun around in my chair and spit my water out.
Who? That name is so familiar to me. WAIT! HE IS A NACHMAN KID. Yes, I remember him. I was on duty a many of recess with that 5-year-old and walked him to dismissal every afternoon. So, I walked over to him and introduced myself as Miss DeKeyzer. His said, “OMG, I knew you looked familiar.”
A few weeks go by, and I ask for his story. I’m not real sure how I knew he had one, but I was going on a limb. Little did I realize, what an incredibly amazing journey Charles had. He was eager and willing to share his faith, his athleticism, his skepticism, his self-doubt and his triumph over it all.
Thank you, Charles, for your story and continue to make a difference in the lives of others. Your story has a purpose and your purpose has strength.
Stay Strong,
Mrs. Mitzi

Philippians 4:13- I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.
The reason I begin with this short, yet powerful, scripture is because like this article, I aim to keep God first in ALL that I do. From pushing my body to its limits, to simply sitting and talking with friends, and everything in-between, God plays a vital role in how I decide to live my life day to day.
From the age of 3 to my last semester of college, there was never a season of the year where I wasn’t lacing up some sort of athletic shoes getting ready to compete in an event or competition. Being active and involved in sports was instilled in me at such a young age, by the time I realized what it all meant, it was like second nature to me. I always had to be doing something active, whether it was playing a sport or just simply being outside. Things became more serious once the competition levels began to increase and it became more than just signing your name to a roster and getting a jersey. Once middle school and high school rolled around, you had to actually tryout for teams and have a certain level of skill to even make the roster. I had always played sports for the love of the game, but I had never truly been pushed, or even pushed myself, to a point that required more than just loving sports. I had never seen sports for the bigger picture of pushing yourself for the program itself, for the teammates around you, and for a variety of goals at the end of the season and once this all entered into the field, something in me changed with my love of sports and physical activity. These things became more of a, “have to,” than a, “want to.” This change of heart to me really didn’t happen until my freshman year of high school. As children, we all had those dreams that we just knew were going to come true no matter what, like; being on the cover of a Wheaties box, winning gold for our country during the Olympics, or even playing basketball for the Duke University Blue Devils. Okay, maybe the last one was just me, but I digress. Growing up I had always dreamed of and planned on playing basketball for the legendary Coach K as a Blue Devil and I knew nothing was going to stop me from doing this. At the time, and before I truly came to understand the world of collegiate athletics and what it takes to play on such an elite level, I was honestly full-heartedly set on one day playing at Duke. This changed very quickly during my freshman year basketball season at Alexandria Senior High. At a whopping 5’3’’, 114 pounds, it became time once again to lace up those shoes and hit the court. It took one practice for me to realize that Duke may be a long shot (I ended up hitting a late growth spurt and graduating high school at 6’ 150 pounds but we’ll get to that later). I learned quickly that a future in basketball may not have been a future for me. I’ll be honest, during my early high school days I did not value the idea of a strong work ethic and what it took to be a, “hard worker.” Our basketball coach loved to put us on the line and make us run, and for good reason. Basketball is a sport that requires a lot of conditioning and endurance, I just didn’t have the motivation required at the time to really invest the work required. Due to this lack of work ethic, I decided that that would be my last year to play competitive basketball. Although this was upsetting to realize the sport I had loved to play most would no longer be a part of my life, I have never been one to quit anything without seeing it through to the end, so I decided to finish out the season and suffer through the grueling conditioning. Even though my basketball days were done at this point, I still wanted to be involved in a sport so I began to ask some friends, “what is something I could do, still be part of a team, and not have to work that hard at?” Honestly, this is the exact question I asked friends. Sad, right? Well after a little research and having nearly every person respond with same answer, it seemed I should give being a place kicker for the football team a shot, so I did. I joined the football team the next year as the backup place kicker and quickly realized this was the easy, steady going, non-physically challenging role I’d been looking for, and honestly, I wasn’t bad at it, I was just a tad lazy… After three years of playing football and being a kicker, I was given the opportunity to continue playing at Louisiana College. I was extremely blessed to have this opportunity and was so excited to begin playing, but there’s no way I could have dreamed of the impact this decision would have over my life during those next four years.

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”
Enter my very first challenge as part of the Louisiana College football team. Summer workouts began quickly after school ended for the year and I had no idea what to expect. I showed up to the field and it was me along with the strength and conditioning coach and one other incoming freshman (The rest of the freshmen had gone to the workout time earlier in the day). The workout for the day consisted of twenty 110-yard sprints with minimal rest in-between each rep. I made it to rep twelve before catching a calf cramp and being forced to call it a day. Not only did my calf cramp, but I felt like there was a 100-pound weight on my chest and that my legs were like jello. After the run I sat in my car and thought, “is this for me? Can I do this for four whole years???” I sat down that night and had a long hard thought on if collegiate football was for me. I got on social media and came across a quote that read, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” This was like a huge slap in the face and just the wake-up call I needed. I decided to continue working out that summer and see where it went from there.

Work as hard as you possibly can.
Continuing with summer workouts, they would not get any easier, but to my surprise they would become a lot more enjoyable. It felt like out of nowhere I suddenly loved to workout and push myself beyond what I thought capable. A reason for this, I believe, is due to one of Louisiana College football’s, “Big 3,” rules which was, “Work as hard as you possibly can.” Seeing this quote in the weight room everyday gave me a goal and allowed me to reflect day by day on if I did indeed work as hard as I possibly could. I strived to be sure that by the end of each workout I gave everything I had in order to better myself physically and mentally. After a lot of hard work and my new found work-ethic, I transitioned from entering my freshman year collegiate football career at 6’ 150 pounds to ended my freshman year at 6’1 (not sure where the extra inch came from after high school but hey I’ll take it) and 180 pounds of lean, solid muscle. This is by no means meant to sound boastful or arrogant, but just a little insight to what hard work, dedication, and patience can surmount to. I would end up gaining a reputation on the team as, “the human ab,” “an Abercrombie & Fitch model,” or the weight room being my home and my dorm room being my home away from home (this one may actually have been true…). At the end of my freshman season I was awarded the team’s award for, “Hardest working freshman in the offseason strength and conditioning program.” An award I would again receive my senior season as the hardest overall working player on the team for the strength and conditioning program. Ironic isn’t it? Going from beginning to play football and being a kicker because it was an, “easy,” position, to being awarded the hardest worker to a program that required so much work and dedication. My college senior year self would have flicked my high school senior year self halfway across the field if they met face to face. All these accomplishments and the new motivational work-ethic was great to me, but it still felt like there a void in my life. Something felt empty.

You don’t HAVE to do anything; You are GIVEN the opportunity to do anything. Everything you encounter is a blessing.
Growing up I had always been involved in church and had a knowledge of God and his teachings. But I never truly understood or appreciated all of the blessings He placed to me in my life. During the later part of my freshman year at Louisiana College I joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, or FCA. Going to my first meeting I was open-minded and excited to see what the Lord would lay on my head and my heart, but I had no idea the radical change I would experience in one night. The lesson dealt with giving our all to God because He gave His all for us. This lesson was related to not only sports but with everything we encounter in life. The lesson lead me to a realization that everything we encounter in our lives is a blessing. Literally everything you do, from waking up in the mornings, to commuting to work or the grocery store, to sitting down and watching the news at night, EVERYTHING is a blessing granted to us by God. For this reason I decided to implement this way of thinking into my daily routine and this is what pushes me day to day to be better than I was yesterday not only in the weight room, but in life in general. God grants me all the motivation, strength, desire, endurance, dedication, and physical ability to do everything in life. I look to honor Him by putting my all into every aspect He grants me. You can work hard in life and have respectable goals, but if God is not at the forefront of these goals, then they fall short of their highest potential.

 

Titus 2: 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,

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SPARKLE WATSON

Her name says it all…. Sparkle.   This woman shines.

I met this amazing woman when her daughter’s name, Gracie Watson, popped up on my class list when I taught school. There are children who are unforgettable (Gracie holds a special place in my heart.) and then there are some parents who are unforgettable. Sparkle was one of them. From the start, I felt like we just clicked and at some point, in a past life our paths had already crossed. Instant friends, I would say.

As I have gotten to know her more and more and from a distance watched her struggle with health and nutrition, I sometimes questioned what’s hindering her. What is it in her soul that she is fighting? That’s when I continued to be me… supportive, guiding, listening, answering questions, and just a light of inspiring words when she needed it (and when she didn’t want it).  

When I felt the moment was right, I asked for her story. I knew she had one, but when was the right time to write it on paper. It’s therapy and it’s hard, but you can relate.

Her strength draws a crowd. Her smile radiates.   Her beauty is inside and out. Her love of life is passionate. Sparkle Watson makes a difference in my life every day.

I love you. Keep doing you.

Mitzi

When I received the text from Mitzi that read, “Well here goes one big favor…I want you to be my Athlete of the Month on my blog.” I immediately gave my phone a brief blank stare and thought, absolutely not. I replied with a “really??” She said, “yes, really.” Suddenly I felt as if she wasn’t asking and I had to do it. You know how she gets down. However, I gladly agreed.

Resilience-

(n.) The ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.

I grew up in a small town in Alabama. I was a dancer and cheerleader which carried over into my high school years as well. Weight gain was never an issue.

October 1996, almost 2 years after graduating high school, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. The emotional stress and the thought of losing my mom, sent me into emotional eating, depression , and lack of wanting anything out of life. My weight went from 130 pounds to 150 pounds very quickly. I watched my mom battle and beat cancer for over a year with chemo and radiation therapy. She went into remission for a year, just to have it take over her body again and her demise in 6 very short months.

July 16, 1998, my life changed forever. I felt robbed of so many things. I felt robbed of her not being on this earth to see me walk down the aisle, robbed from my kids not getting to know how wonderful she would have been as their grandmother. Depression continued and medication was necessary. I found myself eating more and eventually started with dieting fads that constantly had my weight up and down and feeling like crap. I was drinking tons of sugary drinks and eating lots of fast foods, but thought it was ok since I would take walks. Goodness I was wrong! I was still tired all the time, couldn’t sleep through the night, and if you asked how I was doing or feeling, I would likely respond with, “I have a headache.”

During the years from 2005-2011 I got married, moved to Louisiana, and had 2 girls.

My weight was at an all time high of 195 after having my second kid and was a size 16. I felt disgusting and my breast felt as if they were getting bigger by the day. By this time, the only exercise I could do was a brisk walk or spin. My back was in constant pain from my large breast. I started getting self conscious around every one, my self esteem was plummeting and quite naturally thought my husband found me unattractive.

Then there was Mitzi. One of the “realest” teachers I have ever met in my life. My oldest, Gracie had her for kinder. I would often say to myself, “I wonder if she could help me.” Due to my back issues, I knew exercise would be at a minimum. So I watched and I listened. Mitzi introduced me to Whole30. It taught me how to EAT TO LIVE. I started seeing results with little exercise involved and finally started feeling like myself again.

TODAY!! Last year my husband was offered a job with another bank in Montgomery, AL which brought me back closer to home. I went for breast reduction consultation number 4. Yes, I had 3 while in Louisiana and they were all denied. The plastic surgeon had me approved within weeks. In April of 2017, I had my surgery. Imagine the feeling. My doctor removed over 8 pounds of tissue. I felt brand new! No more back pain! Now I am able to run. Yes, I am running 4-5 miles at least 5 days a week. I am down to 160 pounds and a size 10-12, and I couldn’t feel better. My mood is better, I’m sleeping better, and I am still eating better. I feel as if I have gotten another chance at life. I will embrace this change and stay the course and know that I will reach my goal.

I can’t thank Mitzi enough for giving me back my life. I don’t even think she realizes how much she has helped me along the way. I was watching. I was listening, and I am better and stronger because of you. Keep doing what you do. Don’t apologize for what you do and how you do it. Someone else is watching you just like me. I love you BIG and ROLL TIDE!! J

 

Sparkle McClain Watson

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JASON GIRARD

This guy here, Jason Girard, was working at LAC Alexandria when I quit my job as a teacher. LAC expanded a functional fitness area onto the back end of the gym. It was there that Jason and I shared an office. He was pretty intense to say the least.   Jason worked mostly with young athletes. Their age ranged from 10-25. He had 2 to 3 groups a day roll in and out. The energy was incredible. Those kids loved and respected him and vice versa. I witnessed some blood, shed and tears, and at the end of each session, the most genuine love a coach could have.

I can hear him say, “do you have quit in your heart?’ With those 7 words, he could get them to do anything he asked. “No Coach, not today.”

Jason is one of kind. He continued educating himself all the time, studying in the office, writing programs, putting time and effort in each kid he trained and each specific sport. He also will go to lengths to get a mouse out of my work space.

To say the least, I learned a lot from him. His nutrition was on point. I learned so much about a diabetic. How this disease can turn good days in to bad and bad in to good.   I can say, Jason truly knew how to take care of his body and respects being a diabetic. His training skills, education, knowledge and application of it all were on point.

The day came when Jason decided to move on to bigger and better things. August 2015, he cleaned out his half of the office.   It was a sad day. The gym became quiet. No kids. No Jason. No body to talk to. No laughter. No Black-Eyed Peas playing. It took some getting used to for sure.

As I was cleaning out the file cabinet a few weeks after he left, I found some of his programs. I came across this note he had written (neatest handwriting of any male) to himself and unknowing to him, I’m going to share it with you all…

“Stay humble, and be the hardest working person in the room.”   JG

“A place where everyone including family and friends had been instructed not to go. It is my disease. A disease, I was to fight alone. This is a battle that has made me reconsider every aspect of my life and what I have thought about my present and future and especially, of my death. I do not want to be coddled and cuddled. I am determined to live on in an existence that does not name my disease as the most pressing and important facet of my life. It’s nothing more than a nuisance. It is possible to live this way?” JG

Here is your story, your words, your feelings, and most of all your passion. Thank you for sharing with us.   If you ever need to come sweep the office, you know where the broom is.

STRONG

Love and hugs, Mitzi

Fitness:

An Ever-Evolving Journey of Self Discovery and Transformation

 

BLESSED!!! I was found by GOD!! It hasn’t been the other way around. I, for the better part of my life, have ignored God on every occasion that he has revealed himself to me. It was out of a lack of understanding and ego that kept me from following God’s calling. He has a very unique way of getting our attention. The following is a brief synopsis into the circumstances and events that have shaped me into who I am today.

My high school years like many others were some that shaped the way I felt about myself for a very long time. As I soon discovered, girls didn’t take me seriously at all. Did I blame them? Then, yes!! Now, LOL, we’ll no!! How can anyone take a 5’-9”, 121-pound guy serious? I was shaped like most of the girls I was trying to date. I guess I wasn’t very sexy in my current form. We will not even get into my lack of fashion sense or my ridiculous hairstyles. It was an opening revelation into fitness. I, obviously had no appealing qualities in what the female of the species desired! This was a problem because they were basically all I could think of. It was during these years that I made my first attempt at some sort of blind workout regimen. I might as well have been walking around in the dark because strength training might has well have been Chinese arithmetic written in German while being explained by a Russian scientist. I doubt had I even understood any of the concepts of strength training that I would have had the level of commitment that is required to change the body in a positive manner. I was too worried about fitting in. My limitations existed for no other reason that I allowed them to. Have you allowed yourself and your fears become your biggest limitation?

I spent my first two semesters of college chasing a dream of playing collegiate basketball. I succeeded at basketball yet failed on so many other fronts. The failures were more important than the fleeting joy of those things achieved. My failures were numerous, and those failures shaped future decisions and pursuits. In a basketball game I suffered a grade 3 ankle sprain. The doctors that I consulted with on the injury said I’d have been better off if I had broken it. I was unable to return that season for basketball and fell into a massive depression. I hid the depression from my family and friends. I drank copious amounts of alcohol, skipped class and secluded myself from everyone. My immaturity and lack of self-discipline during this time resulted in me flunking out of school and having to return home. In one of the more humbling events of my life, I had to try and explain to my father why and how I had wasted his money and both of our time with my selfish and immature acts. UPDATE: body transformation: 5’-11” and 138 pounds. I allowed my circumstance with basketball to define all aspects of my life. The lesson here was that we should never allow our circumstance or situation define who we are or how we react as individuals. How many times has this happened to you?

               UNCLE SAM WANTS YOU!!!! Back home and no real lessons learned!!!! I was job hopping and being an absolute bum with a going no where attitude. Let’s just say a father’s love sometimes results in having to teach their bull-headed son a tough lesson. I will spare you the details of this “conversation” but it was an extremely eye-opening “treat.” I was left with very few options to alleviate the current state of things. I left home for three days. I traveled to Shreveport and joined the United States Air Force. Some people thought that this was a bit drastic but for me it was an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. At this point, unlike before I had a purpose and a true goal. Individuals with purpose can become an unstoppable force. Have you ever become so FOCUSED on something that you wouldn’t take no for an answer? Have you ever had that sort of FOCUS and DRIVE when it comes to your fitness?

My experience with fitness in the USAF was one that was multi-faceted. Endurance training and cardiovascular health was at the fore front of most fitness tests set forth for airmen. Strength training, except for bodyweight, was non-existent. I stayed active with beach volleyball, running and swimming. UPDATE: Body transformation – 6’-0” and 151 pounds. I know sexy, but I held the women at bay as much as I could. I know the disbelief is unreal, LOL!! The journey continues. Strength training took its first real hold of me while I was stationed at Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The only thing to do on this base was work, eat, sleep and train. The facilities were make shift with sand seeping through the floor. This was an education into bro-science, prison style workouts. Meat-head grunting and weight slamming at its finest. I did however gain approximately 15 pounds in 4 months. It was apparent when I got back state-side as a few girls took notice. Yes, you read that right girls (the plural version). I know my previous level of sexiness at 151 pounds was astounding to say the least but at around 165 pounds I had become the original MAGIC MIKE!! Strength training was starting to take hold and showed me some of its benefits. I was not COMMITTED and rested on my accomplishments and soon I lost my gains. I had seen the benefit of fitness and strength training but had not DEDICATED myself to continuing to pursue my goals. How many people see the first signs of success and become complacent in the pursuit of their real goals? How about in weight loss?

Upon leaving the USAF, I returned home and started to party. I partied HARD!! I even made up drinks and named them. I served them at parties. I worked, partied, slept, changed jobs, partied some more and drank a lot. I had no more direction. I missed the comradery of the military and everything about it. I often think back that maybe I should have made a career out of it but that wasn’t the plan GOD had for me. It is often thought that monumental change happens during devastating or extremely difficult times in our lives. My devastation and therefore my world came crashing down with the death of my father……………… This man was my example of what it was to be a man. He was an amazing father, my mom’s first love, my sister’s hero and the rock of hard work and determination, commitment to life and family and above all a true friend. I have never heard of or seen a more selfless man in my entire life and I was proud to have called him father. It taught me at the ripe old age of 28 the value of life and how fleeting it can be as many of you know. It broke my spirit the day they handed me his folded flag at the funeral services. I still can’t speak or even write about it without it bringing me to tears. As I held his hand, the day he died, I promised that I would do right by his name and legacy. I had many things yet to learn. My fitness journey kicked into high gear. My father had been a smoker and died a short 2 years after he quit smoking. I was determined that I would not die prematurely. I learned that a journey in anything realm including fitness is one that you must be willing to go at alone. Numerous people will be happy to start with you but almost none, if any, will finish with you. Have you had this happen to you? In life? In fitness? Ask yourself how much does the journey mean to you? Remember fitness is a personal journey and it doesn’t begin and/or end with you walking into or out of a gym.

After my father’s death, I was off to LSU, to again pursue an education. Do you remember earlier when I was dealing with an ankle injury several years before? I had to rehabilitate my own ankle due to lack of training and PT coverage at the university I was attending. Trial error and research were my learning tools. God turned a depressed time in my life around and made it fuel for a positive. I like to think that my father’s death had me paying attention a little more as I dealt with my loss and own mortality. The time I spent rehabbing intrigued me and, so I enrolled in the Kinesiology Department to follow a degree program in athletic training. This is not a degree to train athletes. This fell into the realm of rehabilitation, safety, injury care, acute care and any other needs of an athlete. This could be through referral or through the supervision of a team of doctors. I, out of curiosity and at times through assignment, spent a great deal of time listening to and experiencing the inner workings of a collegiate strength and conditioning program. Athletic training and the Strength and Conditioning Department worked hand in hand at times in athletic development and injury prevention programs. I learned a lot from those days and applied them back to my own training. UPDATE: 6’-1/2” and 198lbs. I know I was getting better with age. Please hold your applause until the end. It was during these years that I really started to lay the foundation for my pursuit in strength and conditioning and overall fitness. I was blessed to work with, train with and rehab 100’s of Division 1 athletes. I worked with athletes from the football, softball, gymnastics, track, baseball and volleyball teams. I had the experience of winning the National Championship with football. I was blessed beyond belief for the opportunities GOD had put before me. I felt that I had a calling to continue my pursuit in the field of strength and conditioning. Yet, I was merely doing enough to get by and not really pushing myself and therefore not properly using the gifts GOD had given me. I was taking things for granted. GOD was still writing my story and I had yet to understand fully what I was to do. Do you understand what your calling is?

I graduated and returned home to utilize my degree at the high school level. The hospital and orthopedic clinic employed and supervised several athletic trainers on an outreach program for various high schools in the area. The rehabilitation facilities were non-existent or barbaric at best. There was no way to keep anything sterile and or treat athletes. The money was mainly budgeted around tape for the football teams and Gatorade. This was a huge shock coming from the environment I had grown accustomed to over the last 4 years. The school board gave no money towards these types of programs. The word we always received was there was no money available. It was out of this frustration that strength and conditioning came charging back to the front of my priorities. It was through the graciousness of Dr. Michael J Leddy III that I was able to pursue this re-emerging passion. It was my thought that if I can’t rehab them as properly and fully as I would like then let’s make them bigger, faster and stronger while putting them through structured programs that included injury prevention.   Dr. Leddy saw value and need in my request and allowed me to pursue those aspirations. He allowed me to travel to strength and conditioning programs, attend certification classes as well as training and injury prevention seminars. I have obtained 5 national certifications through his support. He encouraged me to do so and was always a very positive influence on me. I must thank him for all that he has done for me and the community. It was through him that I was able to start to harness and develop my gifts. However, I still wasn’t the person I was supposed to be (drinking/partying all the time) and GOD has a unique way of getting our attention when we have refused to listen or pay attention.

My father died of renal (kidney) cell cancer that had metastasized and setup in an inoperable part of his lungs. He told me before he died he had back pain for several months and just though he had a pulled muscle. The pain was over the area where his kidney was. He stated that if he had just gone and gotten it checked that maybe they would have caught it early enough and he might have survived…….yeah!! Well, imagine my surprise when I wake up one day with the same pain that he had described to me several years before. PANIC!!!! WHAT??? FULL BLOWN PANIC!! I rushed to a doctor’s appointment. Bloodwork drawn, physical assessment done, urinalysis complete!!!!!! No sir!! Not ME!!! Well, Mr. Girard, the good news is that you don’t have cancer. You have a kidney infection!! Antibiotics!! I’m ecstatic, yes, no cancer!!! Mr. Girard, please settle yourself down. The kidney infection is caused by DIABETES!!! ^&$@^&      $#^%@^ What did the &*%*&^$^& did you say? I’m surely looking at her like she has 6 heads with two arms growing out of each one. She repeats herself. HMMM! GOD has just gotten your full and undivided attention. Has GOD ever gotten your attention about something? Did you listen? I disregarded him on several occasions.

My journey to this point had been one that revolved around muscles and looking good naked. I know, I know!!! Now, it was one that revolved around my own survival. I had betrayed myself. The questioning begins. What could I have done different? What can I do now? Was all that partying necessary? Let’s quantify this a bit because we all get a little wild at times. I have partied on 3 continents, 12 countries and 31 different states. It was a bit of a problem. I remember on the drive home that day. It was close to my birthday and I jokingly told GOD that this what not what I asked for as a gift that year. My whole way of thinking had to change from my diet, to my habits, to my workouts and the crowd I hung out with. As I stated before, many people will start a journey with you but very few will finish with you. It isn’t their disease and problem its mine. I understand its hard to follow and even harder to live with and manage.

My whole outlook changed when I was diagnosed with diabetes. I was completely devastated at first but that changed. I realized something along the way. It was because of diabetes that GOD was able to do so much more with my life than he could with out it. He saved my life through Diabetes. I don’t have the same lifestyle that would have probably killed me long ago. I lead a healthy lifestyle and I still have complications from the disease as well as ups and downs. I wouldn’t want life to be any different. It’s how you approach the bad times and situations that define you. I have been lucky enough to develop a great team of support that revolves around the positive, motivates and inspires others. The journey of fitness is not the same for everyone but like everyone else, you have the same 24 hours in the day. It is a decision and a choice. I wish I had listened sooner and that it hadn’t taken diabetes to get me to this point. What point is that? I recently had a perfect checkup with excellent bloodwork. I am happy, positive, motivated and inspiring to others.   I have been blessed with a plethora of athletes that have met success on the field and in their careers of choice. I am equally proud of both. I am inspired by the work of my athletes and the trust the give to me. It is up to you to find the why in your journey. What is your it? Do you run for those who can’t? Do you pursue fitness for longevity? As an example, to others? To survive? Find your why and don’t let it go? Don’t settle for a life of excuses be as healthy as you are smart, capable and able. Don’t limit yourself and what you can accomplish. I have plenty more to say and if allowed to will contribute again. Don’t let your circumstance dictate your outcome.

I am blessed because of my GOD, my fitness, my family, my friends and my diabetes.

 

Jason R. Girard, ATC, LAT

NASM -PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENT SPECIALIST

NASM – CORRECTIVE EXERCISE SPECIALIST

USAW – LEVEL 1 SPORTS COACH

EXOS- PERFROMACNE ENHANCEMENT SPECIALIST

 

 

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Jennifer Gibson Austin

“I view exercise with thankfulness for what my body is capable of doing instead of viewing it as punishment.”

What an incredible quote that it. It’s like a “ah ha” moment.

Meet Jennifer Gibson, as I know her. One of my best friends from high school (27 years ago). We had some great times together. Double dating, cheerleading, football games, loud music, lots of Burger King and McDonalds and the list goes on of some my fondest memories.

The perks of Facebook is that it leads you to people far and near. She is now Jennifer Austin with 2 wonderful children. I have never met her husband nor her children but have watched her marry, her children grow and graduate, and have also gotten the pleasure in witnessing her transform her life into a healthy living, strong, mindful, balanced, and even more beautiful person. I follow her day to day routine and am so jealous of her organization skills.

I asked her to share her story, as everyone has one. I have thought when is the right moment. Jenn has struggled to find her best self and I can truly say, she has.   Everyone struggles with this. It does not happen overnight. It takes time and patience and the energy to find what works for you and most importantly how to balance it all out.

Jenn says, “to live wildly and boldly and to have good balance.”   Can we not all understand the power of this? AMEN

Enjoy her fantastic story and I know many of you will relate to her journey of freedom and happiness.

SHE IS STRONG

Love and hugs to you and a great big thank you, Mitz

This was so hard for me, for several reasons… having to think back about a painful time in my life… but more so for fear that what I wrote doesn’t make sense or I’m not articulating it correctly.  But here you go:

 

I’ve always liked the saying “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way”.  I think I liked that saying mainly because for me, looking back was painful and hurtful.  But as I got older, I remember my daddy saying, “it’s not what happened that matters, but how you react, learn from and move forward”.  I guess looking back can be a learning and healing process.  So, to understand my fitness journey, we have to look back a little.

 

In Jr. High, I was the “new girl” – my dad was a minister of music and we moved around quite a bit, so I was pretty much used to being the new girl.  But Jr. High was hard.  My parents had just gotten divorced and I had just moved to a new town; and girls were mean.  High school was harder.  I hate talking about size, because honestly, I don’t think about size a lot. But for perspective, I started high school a size 0.  By my Junior year, I was a size 8.  By the standards of some, I was fat – and they made it known that they thought that.  And that started my lifetime spiral of a constant fear of judgement.  To this day, I don’t even know what I weighed in high school.  I hadn’t considered myself overweight – until people said I was.

 

From that point on, I was on a “diet” for my entire life.  Why? Because society told me that I had to be a specific size – and I believed them.

 

I’ve yo-yo’d back and forth, ranging from a 10 to an 8 to a 14 to a 4. Life went on and I was fine – always on a diet, always unhappy on the inside with the way I looked, but otherwise fine.  I had two great kiddos (still do) to raise, I had a great job (still do!).  Life got busy like it does for everyone.  I never had drug or food addictions, or any eating disorders.  What I did have was an addiction to convenience.  How easy is it to just run through the drive through or order pizza after a long day?  So, I yo-yo’d with periods of eating crap for weeks – months – on end and then one day I’d snap and say, “that’s it!  We are eating healthy from now on!”  Then the addiction of instant gratification hit.  I would eat healthy for a couple of weeks, hardly exercise at all, not see any change in my body, get frustrated and busy, and get right back to my pizza!  LAZY!!

 

About 3 years ago, I got tired – tire of the mental struggle, of the mental abuse I had imposed on myself for so many years.  I was tired of the way I felt on the inside, unhealthy and just literally tired; constant headaches and upset stomach.  So, I started a journey that is NOT a diet – it is a lifestyle of daily exercise and daily clean eating.  I am choosing happiness.  I decided to fuel my body with healthy and real food and to view exercise with thankfulness for what my body is capable of doing instead of viewing exercise as a punishment.  I have learned what kinds of foods to eat at certain times of the day and how to stagger my weight and cardio training.  I have always been an organized planner, but I learned how huge of a role planning and organizing plays in the healthy lifestyle.  I absolutely believe in spending the time up front, of planning in advance – breaking the addiction of convenience.  If I didn’t plan out exactly what we will eat (every meal) for the whole week AND spend a couple hours on the weekend prepping everything, eating healthy would definitely be a challenge. It is so nice to have it all done as we go through our week.  It frees us up to enjoy ourselves, each other, friends and family.   And I’m enjoying trying new foods or combinations I never thought I would try, much less like!  Like, using chickpeas as a base for some delicious muffins!

 

But most importantly, I have learned that life really is short.  I have learned to have fun, to LIVE life (not just plan to live it by waiting for the moment to be perfect), to love wildly and boldly and to have good balance. I have learned to lift up others, especially other women, because the comparison game is real and is still a struggle; and even though we aren’t still in high school, people are still mean.  I will not be that person.  In fact, I am thankful for all those ways I was made to feel because it taught me compassion and empathy and kindness, and how not to treat others. And that, too, is part of a healthy journey.  So much of my fitness journey has been mental – always choosing to be positive, to be involved in a fitness community where women encourage and truly support each other.  I have been using a daily devotion and gratitude journal and it is great!  It really causes me to dig deep about what I’m grateful for.  I’ve been taking time for more self-care, which is not selfish at all!

 

To me, being healthy is being HAPPY, fueling your body, being confident in your skin and loving yourself – which there is nothing wrong with!  I am so thankful for a great support system – especially my amazing husband who eats whatever I fix for him (except Brussels sprouts), even if he thinks it is weird; for doing my workout videos with me even though they are said to be for “women only” – they are definitely challenging workouts and he does them happily; and for allowing me to take the time that I need to recharge myself.

 

I am happy to say that during the last 3 years, since I finally started to get it, I am fit and happy!  And while the number on my scale doesn’t define me, I am at a healthy weight and I feel great!  That is what motivates me to keep going – being fit and healthy translates to a happy heart, a positive mind, a healthy body, clear skin, strong muscles and great energy! And the only reason, to this day, that I know what my weight is, is because the doctor weighed me last week.

 

I wish I had learned more about what being happy and healthy meant when I was a teenager and young woman, but I didn’t.  But as a 45-year-old woman (that sounds WEIRD,… is that true?!), I am thankful to take a look back to learn how to go forward, today and each new day.

 

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TAMI BLACKWELL

When you meet someone with your same similarities, it is intriguing. I hear myself in her story. I see myself in her at the

gym. I understand her determination. I know what it feels like to own my race. And, I know all too well the struggle with self-image.

Everyone has a story. Tami came to me about running the St. Jude Marathon. We discussed concerns, nutrition, the how to, the what works for you and how to stay injury free to get to that finish line. When she left my office that day, there was never a doubt in my mind that she wouldn’t see that 26.2 finish line on December 2, in Memphis TN. She ran HER race.

Tami is an inspiration to many and has her hands in many extracurricular activities in our community. She continues to be a better her in every aspect of life. This is her choice and we all profit from it.

Here is to you Tami… May we all have a little less “What if…?” and more of a “How will I?” approach to life. You are a marathoner!

Love you much,

STRONG -Mitzi

My Fitness Journey
No better time to contemplate and document one’s fitness journey than 11pm the night before your first marathon, right? It’s not like I can sleep at this point. So many ‘what-ifs’ swirling through my mind. ‘What if I oversleep?’ ‘What if it takes me longer than the six hour max?’ ‘What if the bagel I’m packing gets squashed?’ It’s crazy how I can be so excited yet so nervous. EEEEEEK!
My path to a fit and healthy lifestyle has lots of peaks and some definite valleys. My family history of heart disease is quite scary and plays a HUGE role in my desire to live a healthy life. Both of grandfathers died in their early 40s of heart attacks. My dad had a heart attack at age 42 (thank you Jesus for a successful angioplasty and no further issues). I have a cousin and a sister with early onset hypertension requiring medication. I struggle with high cholesterol that typically stays controlled with diet and exercise. For me, ‘healthy’ doesn’t mean ‘skinny’. My story references weight, as it’s surely important, but health is about so much more. I can’t CHOOSE my family history, but I CAN choose a healthy lifestyle. In my opinion, it’s all about choices.
I grew up in the sweet, small, Cajun town of Bunkie, Louisiana, population 5,000, in a time where there was little focus on a healthy lifestyle. Rice and gravy, some type of smothered meat and an endless supply of buttered bread were staples in most homes. Unless of course it was fettuccine or étouffée night. My mother and I had regular heated ‘discussions’ because I hated gravy (blasphemy) and rarely ate meat. I preferred fresh and light to those heavy foods. It was unheard of in her world to have salad as an actual meal. I often felt guilty because she was (is) an amazing cook and worked hard to provide those home cooked meals. However, I also realized that what I put in my body had a lot to do with how I felt. For me, heavy foods meant feeling sluggish; whereas lighter and fresh choices left me with lots more energy. It was up to me to choose how I felt.
It was around that same time I discovered aerobics. Think early 80s—bright colored leotards with equally as bright tights, leg warmers and, yes, terry cloth headbands and wrist bands. My junior high posse and I would regularly get all Jane Fonda’d up and walk the mile or so to the Haas Auditorium (beautiful now, not so much then) where someone taught aerobics/step aerobics several times a week in an old, run down room with no air conditioning. We may have done it more for the cute outfits than the health benefits but, hey, whatever it takes, right? While I had been a competitive tennis player until that point and wasn’t ‘new’ to being active, I fell in love with exercise in that building. It was fun! I understood almost immediately that just as food affects how I feel, so does exercise. The more active I am, the better I feel. It was up to me to choose.
I continued to exercise regularly throughout high school, became a Certified Aerobics Instructor and taught classes at a local gym during college. I simultaneously managed to successfully gain the dreaded ‘Freshman Fifteen’. I was still exercising but had consistently given in to unhealthy food choices, a little too many adult beverages, not to mention very poor sleep habits. I felt gross. Being overweight was just not for me. At 19 years old, I knew it then as much as I know it today. So that summer, I focused on healthy food choices and portion control (thanks Weight Watchers), continued exercising and lost those extra 15 pounds. I chose it and worked hard and it happened.
I kept those pounds off for about eight years. I was in really good shape—running, working out with weights, going to classes at a gym, etc.. I was super excited to find out I was pregnant. From the beginning, I had such good intentions of eating healthy and continuing to exercise throughout my pregnancy. Intentions. You know what they say about intentions. Yep, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” And I went to nutrition hell. I had only ONE craving during my pregnancy (it’s still my go to junk food, along with donuts)—McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese, no onions, supersized fries with a Diet Coke. I cringe while typing this but the truth is I ate that every. single. day. of those 40 weeks. I think if I went to the McDonald’s close to West End on Vets in Metairie today, they’d still know my name. It’s no surprise that I gained a whopping 50 pounds. 50 pounds on my 120lb body is a bunch. Honestly, I didn’t even care. I was fat and happy and going to be a mom! In August of 1998, I delivered a beautiful and perfectly healthy baby girl. Four weeks later, at my OB follow up appointment, I weighed 145lbs. For some reason I was in shock. Why hadn’t I lost more weight? Doesn’t all the excess come off with the delivery? (Sarcasm). I’m supposed to weigh 120, not 145. I was no longer fat and happy. I remember thinking, I have two choices—keep doing what I’m doing or do something different. Accept it or change it. Oh I was changing it for sure. I had lost those 15 pounds in college and was determined to lose these 25. I got seriously focused on healthy food choices, started exercising again and within three months, the weight was gone. I chose it and worked hard and it happened.
I remember making a decision somewhere around that time that I would use my birthday as a ‘weight check’ every year. I have a goal weight of 125lbs—not because I care so much about that number but because that is the weight at which I FEEL the best. I know that about myself. I’ve listened and learned over the last four decades and know what works best for me. So you can bet real money that on July 2nd of every year, my weight is in check. That doesn’t mean I get ‘fat and happy’ during the rest of the year, it’s simply a time to get ultra focused if needed. I really encourage everyone to have some personal ‘check point’. I hear so many people talk about how their extra weight ‘just crept up on me as I’ve gotten older’ and ‘won’t go away no matter what I do’ and ‘just wait til you’re MY age’. True. False. False. Our metabolisms DO slow as we age but we CAN do something about it. And we don’t automatically get fatter the older we get. (Otherwise, all 90 year olds would be like really large and I’ve yet to see an overweight 90 year old.). We just have to work harder and smarter, unfortunately, to maintain that healthy weight. We have to choose it.
I CHOOSE to set my alarm for 4:30am be at the gym early enough to get a workout in before going to work. I CHOOSE to skip those break-room donuts even though they’re my favorite. I CHOOSE lots of things I’d rather not because my heart and my body are important to me. I’m far from perfect and fail miserably often but, thankfully, God’s mercies are new each and every day and I get to choose again. My choices won’t work for you. Because they are for me. Neither will Mitzi’s choices. Because they are for her. But everyone has choices—what are yours? Make them!
In case anyone wants an update to my opening paragraph—I completed my first marathon! I didn’t oversleep. And I finished under my goal of the 6 hour limit with two minutes to spare. Some may be disappointed with a personal time of 5:57:44. Not me. I’m owning MY slow pace, owning MY race. I ran 26.2 miles, had a blast and have the same finisher medal as those with much faster times. But most importantly, my bagel was intact and a perfect snack at mile 15. All that worry for nothing 🙂

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Elli Fairbanks

As a mom and health addict, I am adamant about teaching my children a healthy lifestyle. Yes, it’s hard. I get it. They love the junk and fast food like any other kids, but ultimately, I am in control of that. How I shop, how I exercise, how I cook… my choices will be their choices. I can only hope that what I teach them will one-day matter enough to them to continue the cycle.

My athlete of the week is my daughter. My 9-year-old, Elliot, whom is the most determined little girl that I know. She amazes me daily with her enthusiasm for life.   I see a lot of myself in her, from dance to eating habits, to daily struggles… Genetics is a huge part of life. That is a fact.

What I cannot control is how she is fed when I am not around. Grandparents, no offense, are the worst. She, as I, will have to find a balance with her diet. I can foresee the tears, throwing of clothes, tantrums and all the other things that comes with growing up.

As a mom, it’s all I can do to guide, love and direct her on the right path.   She is my heart.

She gives 100% of herself to everything she does. And if you have ever seen her dance, her smile says it all. In her words, “Don’t cry about it, work about it.”

This is her story… I did not change, or alter in any way. These are her words.

STRONG MIND STRONG BODY

Mitzi

Elli’s Story at 9yo

My mom says, “strong mind, strong body” every time I get out of the truck. I like sports, like dance and gymnastics.

I like dance because my teacher pushes me to my best ability. You might not like dance, but it is my passion and it calms me down. I like gymnastics because I get to flip. Now you know what I like to do.

When I think of Strong, I think of my mom working her butt off. I want to look like her one of these days. I like being healthy but sometimes I just can’t. I am not allowed to say, “I can’t”. Shhhhhhhh!!!! When I say it mom says, you have to try.

I am 9 years old and I feel like I can lose weight and eat healthier. Mom shops healthy, eats healthy, and lives healthy. I am going to try to work hard to shop, eat and live healthy in my life.

I have a saying in my room that says, “don’t cry about it, work about it.” To me that means, if you’re crying about it, you’re only making it worse and not trying your best. If you work about it, you are trying to be better. Crying is feeling sorry for yourself, just get up and work.

STRONG MIND – STRONG BODY

Elli Fairbanks

 

 

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Kelley Pears

There are people in your life that probably mean more to you that they know. This is one of those people. I met Kelley in our small town fitness community. Let’s run a marathon someone said. I joined my first run group. The accountability for the end result of 26.2 was the people in which got you there. In this group were 2 men whom I believed to be the experts on the philosophy of running. Bob Lee and Kelley Pears were going to make sure everyone toed that line in New Orleans at the Mardi Gras Marathon.

If you have never been a part of a run group, let me tell you that no conversation is left unturned. Everything is fair game. Well almost, I learned very quickly that you were not to talk about religion, politics and Fox News. Bob’s rules. I totally respected that.

These two men became my backbone for the love of running. They taught me everything I know. They guided me, pushed me, and stood at many finish lines awaiting my entrance. What joy to see their faces.

As time progressed, we kind of went our separate ways. Bob got sick. Kelley was dealing with life and education. As for me, I just kept running, but without them.  

Our paths crossed again with the passing of Bob “RUNBABYRUN” Lee. That was a tough day for me. He was like a dad, just always there. I would look forward to our meetings in Kroger, we would catch up for hours.

Kelley came to see me when I began full time personal training at LAC. He was one of my first clients when I started. Little did I know, he believed in me as I did in him.

I transitioned to a Bootcamp class and Kelley was the first to sign up. This is where he belonged, in a group… The Energizer… He is constantly motivating and spreading his wealth of energy and good vibe. Throw on some 70s music and you can’t stop him from singing and dancing. He is one of a kind.

He has been truly blessed in his life and he is a man with no ego but much humbleness. I am so fortunate to call him my friend. Here’s to you Kelley Pears… You are not invisible but a pure ray of sunshine.

Lots of love and respect…. Mitzi

I was raised with the notion that “you can do anything you put your mind to”.  My parents were raised during the Great Depression and World War II. They were tough, hardworking people.  The general belief was if you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything.    I recall my father telling me the “two A’s of success are attitude and aptitude”.   I found that I could outperform smarter, stronger and faster people if I just worked hard and kept a positive attitude.  This philosophy paid off in many areas of my life, academics, athletics and business.  This method emphasized the “I” or “me”.   However, there were times when this philosophy failed me and may have been the biggest lie I was ever taught.   There were times and situations in which no matter how hard I tried, I could not get through the storm.   So, if the notion was success = hard work, and I was failing at something, the problem was ME.

Looking back, the things I am most proud of were accomplishments that took a great deal of time and effort, such as earning a doctorate, getting sober and running marathons.

But if I really look at how I accomplished those things, I was NEVER alone.  It was NEVER just ME.   I always had help and support.    When training for marathons, we had a “run group”.   We had specified times to meet and train.  We helped each other during training runs, we called and supported one another between runs, and we pushed one another to get better.    I can remember my first marathon, the Blue Angel Marathon, in Pensacola.  I was at mile 17, and thought I was not going to make it.   I was tired and was running into a strong head wind.  I could hear Bob Seger singing “Against the Wind”, LOL.   I distinctly remember PRAYING, asking GOD to help me through this…. to get me to the end.  HE DID.    Along the race route, there are people cheering and encouraging.   There are other runners supporting and praising one another.   And then I realized, GOD works through people, even broken people like me.    The idea that God’s grace is “freely given”, and not earned, was hard for me to understand, because WORK was always a part of my formula for success.  The constant through all my successes and failures was God, even if I was too arrogant to admit it at the time.

I’ve also learned that Mother Nature can be a …….  tough old bird.    In the past, if I wanted to lose weight, I just ran a bit more or went to the gym an extra day a week.   BALANCE has become more important.  Like Melissa Hartwig said, “IT STARTS WITH FOOD”.   I have to find a balance between what I eat, how much rest I get and varying my exercise routine.   Moderation is not a “bad word”.    (I used to think moderation meant you were weak and could not keep up).

Having an event to train for helps me establish goals.  This helps build a community of success.   The power is in the GROUP, not in me.   The group builds in accountability, responsibility and a sense of belonging.   For me, it creates a community for me to serve others.   It is wonderful to see people grow and thrive.    That’s what I love about running with a group or doing Bootcamp, we are a bunch of individuals who are stronger together than we are apart.   The group is a “power greater than me”.

YANA, You Are Never Alone.

“Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me” Philippians 3:12

Kelley P

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MONICA NOBLES

Not only does she have an incredible journey of fight, healing, strength, determination and a whole lot of supportive family and friends, she is STRONG in so many ways.

I witnessed Monica pre surgery and post.  I watched her make her come back.  There is no quit in her heart.

I asked for her story because one, she is a dear friend of mine that loves fitness and nutrition as much as I do and two, because I have seen so many people blame their health issues on why they can not exercise instead of why they can.  Monica didn’t make excuses…  she got up and fought for HER life.

She amazes me daily.

Thank you Monica for sharing your journey of strength.

Love, Mitzi.

I was 8 years old when my grandmother discovered that I “was crooked.” I was getting out of the bathtub, and had bent down to pick up my towel when she noticed. She gasped “Oh my God!” and I cried thinking something was terribly wrong with me. A trip to the pediatrician confirmed that yes I had scoliosis, but it was possible that I could grow out of it. At 12 years of age, my parents were told that surgery would be in my future, but there was no rush since I really didn’t have any symptoms. Not wanting to increase the curves or risk “hurting my back,” my mom discouraged gymnastics, outdoor sports, etc. and encouraged music and art. I was a quiet teenager, and I internalized stress. My relief of anxiety was generally through playing the piano, but I found that walking calmed me and made my back actually feel better.   Throughout my adolescent years, I developed a love for exercise and being outdoors. I was the high school student that looked forward to P.E. every day…sad but true. At 18 years of age, my back pain had escalated to the point that I asked my parents to find a surgeon. I was ready. In June 1993, my lumbar spine was fused with 2 rods placed. By the end of that summer, my endurance was good and I was ready to start college.

Over the next 20 years, I became a wife, a physical therapist, a business owner, and a mother to 3 beautiful children. I figured out how to maneuver through life and all of its adventures, and more importantly, how to keep my back pain at bay. I knew my limits and stayed just on the safe side of them.

After the birth of my third child, I was struggling to lose the baby weight. One day while sitting at my desk, I was very discouraged and confided in my assistant (who was a retired drill sergeant and a marathon runner). She asked me to go run with her. I literally laughed out loud. I was NOT a runner. I was a walker. She said, “Monica, anybody can run. Let me show you how.” That was the day my new love was discovered! Six months later, I ran my first ½ marathon. I loved running, and I loved the quick results that I saw in my figure and on the scales.

In the next few years, I tackled 2 additional ½ marathons with my running group, hired a personal trainer, discovered HIIT, fell in love with TRX, and participated in multiple boot camps. Exercise had become a necessity for me. I needed the accountability of my workout partners. Those early morning runs before the sun came up were more beneficial than any medication available. It was my way of dealing with stress and anxiety, and I had become an endorphin junky!

In 2014, I began to notice that my recovery following a hard day at the gym or a long run was taking longer than it should. I also noticed that my posture was changing. Being a physical therapist, I knew the importance of pre and post stretching, and was very vigilant with my routine. However, the soreness and limitations in movement felt different than they had in the past.   I looked different and I couldn’t self-correct. A friend recommended that I go see Dr. Daryl Hanson at Baylor in Houston. He had heard of many positive outcomes from this particular surgeon, and knew that he could help me. I hesitated to go, because after all, pain was not limiting me…or so I thought. I felt like it was more an issue of vanity, and for that I was a little embarrassed. After much discussion with my husband and mother, I decided to go. What could it hurt? Dr. Hanson is a kind and patient doctor. He explained that the level above my fusion had slipped forward causing my trunk to lean forward. Changes in your body with age and pregnancies occur, and this could not have been avoided. He also told me that it would only continue to worsen and recommended that I have surgery sooner than later as the healing rate would be faster. I was overwhelmed to say the least. I knew what was ahead of me. I knew what recovery would be like. Been there! Done that! He met every question that I had with honest, unsweetened answers. He assured me that I would be able resume my activities once healing was complete…THEN he stopped and asked exactly what were the activities that I was so concerned with resuming…he couldn’t believe that I had completed ½ marathons, lifted weights, flipped tires, jumped boxes, pulled sleds, liked obstacle courses…the list went on…with rods and a fusion! He understood quickly that I was not speaking of resuming elliptical workouts or treadmill runs.

On June 11, 2015, I had the first of two 8-hour surgeries. Dr. Hanson and his team removed all of the hardware from my original surgery, and replaced them with 4 rods and 19 screws. Five days later, the second surgery consisted of an osteotomy at one level in my lumbar spine to create a lumbar lordosis. I was in the hospital for 11 days. All I remember is severe relentless pain. My back hurt so badly that no position relieved it, and my quads felt like I was laying in fire. My husband and mother took shifts rubbing and praying. Every day, the physical therapist would set my goal, and I would purposefully exceed it. I was determined to recover. My in-laws brought their RV to transport me back to Louisiana so that I could lay on the bed versus sitting in a car. Have I mentioned that my family are all angels on earth?! The 3 months that followed were extremely rough. I suffered with severe depression, back pain, and constant nerve pain in my legs. I would wake up every morning crying. I thought I was losing my mind as did my children. My husband was a constant positive. He was my cheerleader.

He reminded me daily that I always achieved whatever I set my mind to. I never let my back be an excuse to limit my desires or achievements. There was no need to start now! I remembered the verse of scripture that I repeated for miles during each race…Philippians 4:13 “For I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This scripture has carried me through state boards, child birth, times of fear, and yes even races. I decided enough was enough. My children were watching me, and it was time to step up.   I set my goals for the driveway. One trip to the mailbox and back became two. Two became four. The tears eventually subsided, and the burning pain became tolerable. I was healing.   I remember my first trip back to the gym. That familiar setting was so very intimidating. My right leg was still very weak, but I had a plan. I knew a really good physical therapist (yours truly), and together we were going to get my strength back. It took 4 months and a week to achieve a single leg squat on the right. I was finally equal bilaterally. It was a great day!

I am two years post op, and going strong. Clinically, I know that my spine and back musculature need a regular strengthening program to remain strong and function normally.   Holistically, I know that I, Monica, need daily exercise to manage my stress and anxiety. I am a better wife, a better mother, a better therapist, and generally a better person when I am calm, happy, and relaxed as a result of my exercise regimen. My goal in life is to grow old with my husband. I want to live to see my grandchildren. I want to lead my children by example today, so that they will have long healthy lives as well.

I have had people comment that my story is an inspiration to them. I’ve never felt like an “inspiration,” I was just getting through each day! I can say that, yes, I am proud of what I have accomplished and continue to accomplish regardless of my physical limitations. However, I feel like every person faces obstacles in their life that may seem unbearable, but with a little faith, true grit, and sheer determination, anything is possible! Believe me when I say, If I can do it, you can too! Set your goal. Work on it daily. Witness your walk become a run.

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Jill Prueutt

The first conversation went a little something like this:

“Hi Mitzi, this is Jill Prueutt. I was referred by a mutual friend to contact you about training. My trainer is moving soon.”

“Hi Jill, I’m sorry to hear that, can you give me some days and times that could work for you and I will see what I have available.”

She sends them to me, and then I say…

“I really don’t think I have any available times that will accommodate you.”

And I’m not sure what I woke up on the other end of that phone but she says, “Oh no, I can work something out. I WILL train with you.”

UHMMMMMMM OK. At that point, I realized I wasn’t getting out of this and she wasn’t taking no for an answer, at all.   Our story begins.

Just as that first phone call, she has proven to be just this hard headed, determined, strong, full of want and charisma, pushes herself to every limit, trusts in the programming, and never on time. I love this girl.

She has grown in strength, stamina, speed and confidence. Her nutrition has come full circle and she looks fantastic. She has heart for a healthy lifestyle and shares that with many others. Her change is changing others.

My client and sweet friend, Jill, thank you for being persistent.

STRONG – M

 

When Mitzi asked me to be the Athlete of the Week, I chuckled to myself. Athlete… not a term I would have every used to describe myself and am fairly certain no one else would ever use either. However, I am honored to share my journey with you.

Growing up, my Dad was a runner. It was part of his identity. He would try to get me to run with him when I was a teenager.

I absolutely hated it-­‐ I’d just be so hot, out of breath, and miserable. I remember in high school when we had to do the Presidential Fitness Challenge. I’d struggle, feeling like I was going to fall out and die running one lap around the track.

Thankfully, I liked to dance and had a little exercise by being on the dance line, but I wouldn’t say I was fit at all.

In high school, I started to struggle with my relationship with food. I love to eat… like really love to eat, but even in high school never could just eat what I wanted without gaining weight. My senior year of high school, I went on my first diet. To say that I took the “diet” to an extreme is an understatement. That was the beginning of the roller-­‐coaster of fad diets, diet pills, etc. that spanned my 20’s.

In my mid-­‐20’s, I finally decided I would give running a try. I figured my Dad was a runner, maybe I had it in me. I started a walk/ run method to begin. It took a while to build my endurance and I remember being so proud to run one mile without stopping. Several months later, my Dad and I ran a 5K in Shreveport. I hadn’t trained well, but I finished, even if I did throw up in the bushes afterward. When I moved closer home in 2006, we began running together regularly. I also joined another running group as well that would run early in the morning from LC. I loved the community and accountability of running in a group. When the group decided to run the St. Jude ½ marathon, my initial thought was NO WAY! After considering that my Dad and I could run it together and make a memory, I changed my mind and decided to train for it. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

I started training with Mitzi about 3 years ago. She challenges me in so many ways.

Adding in HIIT to my training has made me a better runner and so much stronger. The strong women I have met and worked out with have encouraged me more than you can imagine. Finally, at 40 years old, I finally have a healthy relationship with food. The Paleo and Whole30 plans allow me to enjoy eating and I know that I’m fueling my body for health.

I’m very thankful. I’m thankful to God that he has given me a strong body that I am able to run, lift weights, do box jumps… So many others aren’t so fortunate. I’m thankful for my husband and the strong friends in my life that encourage me. I’m so very thankful that through running,

 

I have been able to log so many miles with my Dad. These are memories we both cherish. We are currently training to run St. Jude ½ marathon again. He told me the other day that he didn’t know if he would still be running if it wasn’t for me. How ironic-­‐ If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be running in the first place.

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There are some people in your life that you just can’t pin point when they came in your life or how you first met them. Lafe Jones and his wife Evelyn are some those people to me. I could guess it was from my years at Nachman Elementary or maybe Junior League. It just seems like I’ve always known them.   I can honestly say they are genuinely two amazing individuals with a love of life.

I had been seeing Lafe more and more at the gym each week. A regular gym rat some would call him. I began to take notice of his physical changes. He had a goal in mind. He had a want and determination that you see when someone is truly ready to change their life. I just watched, never asking why.

I walked in my “Ab Class” one morning and I see Lafe sitting on a mat, back row, close to door. I was very happy to have him. His struggle was real.   Not only the struggle of doing abdominal work but the struggle of walking through that door for the first time and completing that 15 minutes of core work.

He has become a regular in class. You can find him every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on the back row, close to the door. He has “a spot”. His fight for those sit-ups has been conquered. He is a BOSS at them now.

As I was scrolling through FB, I caught a glimpse of the before and after Lafe. I immediately wanted his story.   Why hadn’t I asked before now? Maybe it was timing. As I asked Lafe to share his story, I also asked him to visit a man he had left behind. It reminded me of a quote that says, “It’s not the future you are afraid of.   It’s the fear of the past repeating itself that haunts you.” T.W.W.

Thank you, Lafe, for your inspiring story.

STRONG – Mitzi

 

My Story – by Lafe Jones

“Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign …”

My biggest lesson in weight loss – losing it is hard, but keeping it off is harder. When I decided to reclaim my health and energy, I really did not grasp that it is not a destination – it is a journey with a lot of curves, u-turns, ditches, wrecks, danger zones, caution signs and dead ends.

In January 2010, I weighed over 310 pounds. I was a wreck. I knew I needed to lose weight (no one has to tell you this, by the way.) But, I thought my ailments and lack of energy were caused by other things. I had neck and shoulder pain, my energy level was low, and my calves would freeze up when I went for neighborhood walks for “some” exercise. I thought I needed anti-inflammatory and pain medication. I also had folks tell me that when I spoke in public, I had shortness of breath. I dismissed this by saying, “I just talk too fast.” I have tried just about every diet, read many “expert” books and joined gyms, had trainers, and even had occasional intermittent success. I began researching weight loss surgery in 2008, after I saw friends have success. It just took me some time to process the pros and cons. I had lived my life always “up or down” on weight – and the down periods were very short. Most of the time, I was overweight and searching for an answer.

My kids had only known me as an overweight dad. I think I was actively involved with my kids, but always a little limited and always one of the “big dads.” One of my biggest regrets is that, as children, they did not know me as a healthy and fit dad. Some of my worst moments were on vacations. On one trip with family, I climbed to the top of the water slide at a park, only to read the weight limit sign and realize I could not go down the slide. Having to walk past so many people going back down the stairs was the ultimate “walk of shame.” On another trip to a lake with friends, everyone jumped off the back of the large houseboat or slid down the slide on back. Once we were all in the water, and everyone was climbing the ladder to get back up, I realized I probably could not pull myself up that ladder, or at the least not pull up without making a spectacle of myself. Again, in shame, I waded out to the front of the boat banked on shore to get back on, out of sight, hopeful that no one realized why. I had to use a CPAP machine for (weight-caused) sleep apnea. I dreaded flying because of the stress – the stress of making my way down the aisle and seeing seated folks look away knowing they are silently praying that “the big guy” doesn’t sit by me. I hated those small restaurants where the tables are so close together that a large person has to maneuver carefully to even get to a seat that is too small for most normal-sized folks. Going into crowded meetings with those small folding chairs is terrifying, especially after you have had one break when you sat down. I discovered a “big guy” clothing store in Shreveport, and found myself excited to have more choices until it hit me – this is not something to celebrate. I realized it was like I was giving in and giving up. I had reached what I thought was a “dead end.” But, really it was a “stop sign.” It was time to say, “no more.” After six months at a record high weight, I was ready to do something major. I was ready for a life change – a new roadmap.

I had the gastric-sleeve procedure (weight loss surgery) in August of 2010. As they wheeled me into surgery, I got very emotional and prayed that this was a weight and feeling I would never have again. As of this writing, that has been the case – but, that does not mean there have not been a lot of curves in that road. My doctor gave me great advice. One of the main messages was that weight loss surgery is not a cure, and it is not an “easy way out.” It is a tough first year, and there are possible serious complications. But most importantly, she said it is only a tool – a tool that really only gives you about a year to get your act together and change your lifestyle. Then, you are on your own. She explained that after that first year, additional weight loss would be harder, my appetite would return to normal, and I would be able to eat more with little discomfort or problems. She even clarified that the human body has an amazing ability to change and that we are programmed to keep on weight for protection from the elements and survival during times of little food or famine. In other words, your stomach can stretch again, you can cheat the surgery after a while, and you WILL gain the weight back if you are not diligent. That was a learned “caution sign.”

As of August 2017, I have maintained a weight loss of between 110 and 115 pounds. I struggle daily to stay below my “danger zone” weight, but realize that a fluctuation of 5 or so pounds is something that I will have for the rest of my life. When I started the journey, I was so out of touch, I did not know what my target weight would or should be. I was wearing XXXL shirts and size 44-46 pants (depending on the brand). My hope was to shop in the regular department and to “maybe” comfortably wear a size 36 pant. I remember buying a pair of size 36 jeans and a size large t-shirt as motivation – a dream size. My doctor also told me not to pick a number for a weight loss goal, but to listen to my body and to focus on learning a healthy lifestyle with nutrition and exercise. She said that my body would have a “set point” of its own, and to learn to listen to my body and trust it. She said when I hit that “set point,” I would know it – she was right. I began exercising before I left the hospital, made my follow-up appointments, and followed her rules. I also studied everything I could learn about nutrition. I focused on basically a “paleo-ish” diet and exercise.

The weight came off and eventually, with a lot of work, I had to give away those motivation clothes because I kept going – dropping below those “dream” sizes! When I reached a 100 pound loss, I thought this had to be it. But, I kept going – not doing anything drastic – and once I lost 115 pounds, I stayed there. Even with exercise and eating correctly, I did not lose any more weight. I knew I was at my intended weight – my “set point.” I have had some periods where I went back into a “danger zone” by gaining up to 10 pounds, and I realize, “I’m in the ditch, and I need to pull myself out.” There are other times, when I am getting close to that higher number, I have too much sugar and I get out of control for a day or so, and I realize, ”It’s time for a u-turn.” Those are the times I realize that course correction does not mean starving yourself for two days or two weeks. It means to be kind enough to yourself to get back on your regular moderate plan of eating whole foods, drinking plenty of water, and exercising exactly like you normally do – and, in a few days, you are back in the zone. Overcompensating by starving myself for a couple of days or over-exercising to get back on track feels more like punishment, and does not work for me. If I do that, my body knows it is not getting what it needs, and I make no progress – I also feel rotten for not nourishing myself properly.

I certainly have problems with discipline like everyone else, so routine is what works for me. In fact, my motto is “Persistence over Perfection.” I have learned that going to the gym at the same times and using my running app help keep me consistent. I am no exercise pro, and I have to modify things many times until my body learns and strengthens. I have learned that I need strength training and core workouts just as much as I need aerobic exercise, so the classes at Louisiana Athletic Club keep me consistent and targeted.   Some folks work better with variety, and I respect that. Consistency and routine just work for me. It may sound crazy, but I also try to be as “mindless” as possible when it comes to snacks – I have more variety at my evening meals. Every day I have an apple and Greek yogurt about 10 a.m. (always a Gala small apple and vanilla Triple Zero yogurt.) I always have two mandarin oranges and an individual portion-size packet of healthy nuts around 3 p.m. I drink three large (33 oz.) Smart Water bottles every day.  My wife, Evelyn, and I are committed enough to good eating that we use Sunbasket to deliver us meat, produce, and ingredients for Paleo dinner meals three times a week. With these recipes, we are learning to cook things we never thought we would cook (or eat), and we can limit the salt, etc. because we are cooking at home. Again, it works for us and is still less expensive than eating out. When we do eat out, I try to eat at locally-owned restaurants because they typically use less processed food, MSG and salt. Another trick that works for me is to bring my snacks to work individually every day, rather than store a week’s worth at the office. There is something psychological about packing/handling that snack and water bottle every day that makes me more likely to do the right thing that day.

I tell folks at work that the routine is fine for me, because I think of food like medicine now – in a good way. Yes, I enjoy it, but mostly, it is just fuel and it keeps me feeling my best. That is why the routine does not bother me. Water is the best medicine. I annoy many family members and coworkers with my sermons about the magical power of water! I believe if you have a headache, drink more water. If you have sinus problems, drink more water. If you feel sleepy, drink more water. And on and on, I go. I truly believe that dehydration is one of our most overlooked health and wellness problems. I have learned that weight loss reduces inflammation and pain in many areas, but you have to exercise. Planks, crunches, stretching and lifting weights have helped my shoulder and neck pain. My posture has improved greatly, which also helps my neck and energy level. I also sleep better on the days I exercise.

I have learned to spot some “danger ahead” signs. I have to be very extra careful on Sundays. With a different schedule, my snack times are sometimes thrown off. I also don’t always get enough protein and good fat. I also tend to get “in the ditch” more on Sundays, so I have to be diligent. I have learned that sugar is an addictive substance and my biggest problem. If I have even a little sugar, I will find myself unconsciously looking for carbs and sugar the rest of the day – everywhere, all day! So, if I want to splurge on something worth the splurge (I have learned that some things are worth splurging and others are not), I should do it in the evening, when I have less time to go on a carb and sugar hunt/binge. The next day, I am back into routine and not craving the sugar as much. I have learned the importance of good protein and good fats. We have eggs, bacon, whole grain toast, avocado and strawberries or grapes almost every day of the week. A good breakfast sets me up for success, and this meal takes almost no time to prepare. I don’t do all of these things because I am disciplined and strong. I do them because I am weak, and I have learned how to “fool my weak tendencies” through ritual and routine – creating some bridges over those troubled waters.

There is no feeling like the feeling after a workout. There is no feeling like ending a day knowing you mostly did things that made your life better, not worse. There is no feeling like putting on a pair of size 32 pants and a medium slim-fit shirt, remembering you only hoped for a size 36. There is no feeling like running and realizing you are not short of breath. There is no feeling like donating your CPAP machine to someone else who really needs it. There is no feeling like hiking with your adult children.

There is no feeling like not feeling guilty because you eat your mom’s pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving when you know you are not doing it because you are out of control – you just think it is worth the splurge! There is no feeling like going shirtless at the beach (knowing you still have a little tire around your middle), but feeling like everyone else – just being comfortable with a normal body.  There is nothing like completing a 5K (I am a completer at this point – not a racer).

The bottom line – there is no feeling like knowing, at 54, you are healthier and more fit than you have been since high school – maybe even before high school. Freedom and control are the words – no longer being held hostage and imprisoned by weight (physically and emotionally).

 

I am so humbled, and little embarrassed about writing this story. I do not consider myself an athlete, and I certainly have struggles. I am thankful for where I am, and blessed that God, family and friends have guided me and encouraged me along the way. My amazing wife has been my biggest motivator and supporter. I actually feel a bit self-conscious that my story may sound like I have it all under control, or that I have all the answers. That is not the case. I also do not want to sound preachy – I am not an expert. I only know what has worked and what has not worked for me. When I have had a bad weekend, it scares me. I realize that a bad weekend can turn into a bad week, which turns into a month – and very quickly, I could gain 100 pounds with very little effort. I am also sadly aware that I can get off track, gain back the weight, and lose the motivation. When I walk through Walmart and see overweight people buying unhealthy foods while riding scooters, it makes me sad. It also scares me because I know, “but for the grace of God…,” So, for me it is a daily renewal and recommitment.

I have weighed every day since I had surgery seven years ago. And, daily, I write down my weight on sticky notes I keep in the bathroom, (I still have them all dated). I am not obsessive about the number, but I know it is a gauge. It is a checkpoint. “The more I weigh, the less I weigh.” When I look at seven years’ worth of notes, I am reminded that this has been a challenging journey and I can see all the highs and the lows. And, with this I know and I remember, it begins again every day.

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How do I introduce this girl?

First of all, she has no idea she is my athlete spotlight this week. I’m pretty sure she won’t mind and hopeful that I am right.

Miss Merrik Bowman was in her senior year at Holy Savior Menard HS. She contacted me about training. She was a runner (on the cross country team) but was having some complications with her feet and back. Merrick had no quit in her heart and wanted to continue her healthy lifestyle but didn’t know how.

“Mer” brought me her goals. We discussed expectations, and how we would reach all of them. There was something special about this girl. A fighter, never a quitter, never said no, pushed through some of the most intense workouts, never complained and always wore a beautiful smile.

I have said to many people “if I can raise my daughter to be as well-mannered, loving, fearless, dedicated and spiritual as Merrik, I’d be doing something right.”

The day came that Merrik was to leave for Monroe to pursue her college years. She worked out 5 days a week that last week. She never missed a beat. I kind of wanted to believe that it was because she didn’t want to leave me. HAHA! I knew it was going to be hard to see her go.

It was like watching one of my students go to the next grade. You knew it had to happen but you knew a piece of your heart was going with them.

Merrik came in that Friday morning for her last workout, that I seriously made up on a whim just to kick her booty that final day. She handled it like a champ as always. As she was leaving, and I was crying, she said, “Mrs. Mitzi, I left a letter for you on your desk.” OH MY GOSH – She knew I couldn’t handle all of that. I had to wait for my last client of the day to finish up before I opened that handwritten letter.

Merrik’s words left me speechless, in tears, and so proud of her. She is a jewel. I know she will be back to see me during holidays and next summer to continue pushing through struggles of fitness and life. You know I am always here for you. Furthermore, you also impacted many people in that gym, including myself.

Mer – I didn’t teach you any of those things you gave me credit for. YOU did that. I just gave you a little push in the right direction.   YOU did all the work, and for that, you are a rock star.

This is Merrik’s story.   STRONG –

Love you BIG, Mrs. Mitzi

8/10/17

Dear Mrs. Mitzi,

Today is my last class until my first break from college. : ( I wanted to write you this letter to let you know how much you have impacted my life in just 9 short months!

I was a gymnast and I played softball throughout my childhood. I started running cross country my freshman year of high school. I absolutely loved it! My back was hurt my junior year and never really got back into running the way I was before. Keep in mind, I was active 24/7 and then I just stopped. I would run here and there, but my physical activity slowed down tremendously. I had eaten whatever I wanted and however much I wanted and it never affected me. Unfortunately, that caught up with me the summer going in to my senior year.   I began seeing Mr. Fred Ruggles’ daily post on Facebook about Whole 30. Well, I talked to my friend Kaitlin and we agreed to start it together. We ended up going to a W30 potluck at his house one Friday night. I was a little scared as I walked through the door, but everyone made us feel so welcomed. When Mr. Fred interviewed you for the live video, I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh this woman is down to business.”

Kaitlin and I never made it the Whole 30 days, but the most important thing is that I learned what kinds of foods are good for your body and what kinds of foods are bad for your body. I completely changed my eating habits for the better. Even though I was eating healthier, I was not where I wanted to be. I would look in the mirror and be unhappy with who and what I saw. I would think to myself, “Why am I so unhappy? I’ve never had this problem before. I just wish it would go away.” I had heard nothing but good things about Mitzi Fairbanks. Strong. Serious. Down to business. I asked my mom to give you a call to see if I could start working out with you. Luckily, she said yes! I was quite nervous my first day. You asked me what my goals were and I told you.

I have kept up with your blog every week. I read every person’s story and every one of your post. Throughout the past 9 months, you have become one of the biggest role models in my life. You are kind, easy to talk to, fun, determined, motivational, inspirational, intelligent, and STRONG. You have helped me become mentally and physically stronger, happy with who and what I see in the mirror, helped me to be stronger in picking the healthier choices, and you have taught me to go the extra mile to become the better me. You have taught me to be confident with the person I am, to love the person I am, and to love the person I have worked hard to achieve.

I wrote you this letter to show you how much I appreciate you and the time you have put forth to help me in many ways you may not know you have helped me with. And for that, I am forever thankful! I’ll be back every break, so don’t worry!

XOXO, Merrik Bowman

 

 

 

 

 

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To all those going to college (freshman 15), new moms, and all who think they don’t have time for exercise, this is your story.

I say every week how hard it is to choose an athlete for the week. It is also amazing to me how honored someone feels when I do shoot that text to them and how eager they are to share their story.

I met this amazing woman at CrossFit Alexandria a few years back.   You see, there is this 11:00 class that I attend with like 5 of the greatest other personalities I could mix together. We are all so incredibly different but mesh so well. I love my people.

Erica Harding kind of stole my heart. That girl that just doesn’t give up. That girl that lacks the self-confidence but is willing to try anything. That girl that takes criticism and uses it to her advantages. That girl that stays after class to work on weaknesses. That girl that encourages everyone.

That self-confidence that was lacking, I was fortunate enough to watch it progress. She no longer has that attribute. This girl fights. She is fearless in her life, in her workouts, in her spiritual being and in her friendship to others. She is an inspiration to me without even knowing.

I was also most fortunate to attend ACTS with this fabulous individual. I fell even more in love with her soul. Erica is a true gift. She is a no judgement zone and a real friend. They don’t come any better.

As you read her story, please know I am honored to call her my friend, my workout companion, and a STRONG willed woman.

Yes, you are STRONG.

Mucho love, Mitzi

Erica’s Story…….

Growing up, I never had to think about what I ate very much. I played basketball from 6th grade through my senior year of high school, ran cross country, and lived on what some might call a farm with pigs, chickens and sheep – so all I knew was go! I would only stop long enough to eat what my mom cooked every night, and I was so active that it didn’t really matter what I ate – my metabolism would burn it off quickly. Enter my freshman year at LSU: late nights, virtually no exercise other than walking to class, and Cane’s chicken fingers at 2 am. I  gained 50 pounds between my freshman and junior years. It didn’t fully hit me until I went to buy a dress for an awards banquet and had to purchase an 18. Something had to change! I began doing step aerobics 5 days a week in the afternoons at the rec center, gave up sweets, and brought my lunch to class every day.  By the time I graduated college, I was back in a size 8 and determined to keep myself on the right track.

Life has a habit of getting in the way of the plans we make for ourselves. Moving to a new city, marriage, giving birth to two daughters, suffering through my husband’s bout with cancer and a miscarriage…the years after college saw me lose track of the woman I knew I wanted to be. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like what I saw – physically or emotionally. I had been trying to find exactly where I fit, and when I finally did, it was well worth the wait.

My friend Laura Davis had been bugging me for 4 years – you have got to try Crossfit. Just go one time, that’s all I ask. So in 2015, I finally got tired of making excuses and joined her for a Saturday partner workout. I drank the Kool-Aid, and I have been hooked ever since.

I had given birth to two beautiful girls, but I did not truly understand what my body was capable of until now. CFA has become a family to me – the people there push me to become stronger not only physically, but emotionally as well. I want my girls to understand they can do anything, and that being happy with themselves is the #1 goal.  I have become stronger in more ways than one, and I appreciate every day of this journey.

My youngest daughter Taylor came home a few months ago with her graded papers from school. Every week she had a spelling test, and she had to write a sentence with each word.

The word ‘strong’ was on the list for this week. I went to sign her test, but one of her sentences caught my eye, and brought me to tears. It was a simple sentence – ‘My mom is strong.’ – but it spoke volumes to me. Yes I am baby, yes I am!

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People change. People overcome tough times. People persevere.

About 3 years ago, I saw Shelley in the gym working out. I hadn’t seen her in years and I wasn’t sure what to say to her. Personal reasons behind, she was killing her workouts. I noticed she would do whatever the trainer asked of her, want more, curse at him, say thank you, and then couldn’t wait to come back for more. I didn’t know this Shelley, but I was real impressed with her.

The day came that “D”, her trainer, took another job opportunity. Shelley came to me asking if she could jump on my boat. I will say, I was hesitant.   You see, there was history with us. She and I were step-sisters for many years, 9 to be exact. We weren’t close and we didn’t see eye to eye, but we were so much alike. Here I was faced with a decision. Do I or do I not let it go, move forward, and grow with her? Yes, I did. And she won my heart.

This girl here took her workouts to the next level. No matter what I throw at her, she attacks from all angles. Never gives up, never quits, always asks for more, curses me from the time she walks in to the minute she walks out… SHE WANTS IT. I have seen her body and mind transform from “I’m just coming to the gym to work out” to “I’m here for results and no limits.”

Ask her workouts partners:

“I love working out with Shelley! She’s hard working that will push the group, along with offering words of encouragement to get you through it. She’s a lot of fun and will make you smile even when you don’t think you can.” Michelle Butler

“Shelley is a no excuses kind of girl, who has a way of making you laugh when you are struggling. I’ll never forget her showing up in a weighted vest last summer to work out with Mitzi. Who does that?! Jill Preuett

“I thought of a word for Shelley… Informative. She informs us of heartrate, calories burned, how she feels, and innovative ways to use curse words.” Margie B.

I get excited each day she walks in the gym doors. My mind starts rolling. She wants it and I’m going to give her hell. A challenge is to test our willingness to change.

Shelley has overcome many obstacles in her life. She continues to fight demons as we all do. Saying “yes” to her was one of the most rewarding gifts. You see, I feel like she is more family now than she ever was. I’m incredibly lucky to have her in my life and for her to be a part of this STRONG team.

“Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.” Oprah Winfrey

Shelley, you are a beautiful gem. Now, let’s work… GET IT!

Love you,

M aka, “Teacher”

Shelley’s Story:

Mitzi asked me to share my fitness journey and what it has meant to me.  Keep in mind I am a Woman of many words, but not when it comes to putting it on paper…
I have always considered myself a somewhat athletic person throughout my life.  In high school I was a cheerleader, played softball, and was on the powerlifting team.  Into my college years I would occasionally visit a gym for a mediocre workout.  Of course at that age I could still eat what I wanted and it didn’t affect my appearance.  When I graduated from college and became an RN and joined the real world of being married, working, and soon after a mother, there wasn’t much time for a gym workout.
Many of you may not know but Mitzi has been in my life for many years, she was my step-sister at one time.  I can remember when she started on her fitness journey and my sister and I used to talk about how big her legs were, but in a good way!!!  We were really just envious.
Fast forward several years later.  I became a single mother working full time with no time for fitness.  I would walk around the neighborhood on occasion but didn’t have much motivation.  Several years would pass and my Mother became ill. Taking care of her while trying to keep some normalcy in my life and my daughter’s life became a struggle.  When she passed away over 8 years ago, I went through a very dark time in my life.  Instead of staying healthy physically and mentally, I grieved dysfunctional and became powerless over my life.  After a few years of wallowing in self-pity, I knew I had to change my life and get back on track.   I had gained 30lbs, felt awful about myself, and was spiritually bankrupt.  I knew the only solution was to totally surrender to God and become rigorously honest with myself and others.
I began with a new healthy lifestyle all the way around.  I allowed my Faith to be bigger than my fears, which wasn’t easy.  I had also injured my shoulder and had it repaired in 2010 so I was a little leery.  I bit the bullet and joined a gym and found a trainer.  I met him three days a week and worked out about 30 minutes a day.  I would also go one or two days, maybe, and do 30 minutes on treadmill, walking only.  I was watching what I ate and started to see a difference.  After a few months my trainer left the gym for another job and I was left to make a decision.  Mind you I have always disliked working out alone, I like to pay someone to make me do it, lol.  I joined LAC and initially went to the Pineville location and then begin going to Alexandria.  I met a guy there who was a trainer and I decided to ask him to train me.  He definitely raised the bar.  In the mean time I would see Mitzi’s sessions and would freak out just watching!! She scared me.  After about a year I was left with an even bigger decision, I could stay on the same level of fitness that I was comfortable with or I could step it up.  Soooo I asked the BEAST to be my trainer.  Best decision of my fitness journey. 
I have been with Mitzi for 3 years.  During this time I have lost a total of 32 lbs., multiple inches, and learned how to make healthy eating choices.   I usually do mostly Paleo and have even tried Whole 30. That doesn’t mean I don’t have cheat days or days where I cave and eat that piece of cake.  Becoming aware of the things I put in my body has made all the difference in the world. 
In 2014 I had an elbow surgery and my recovery was very slow.  I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do the things I had done before.  Mitzi was able to keep me motivated and has continued to help me become even stronger than before.
My workout days are sacred to me, missing isn’t an option. It keeps me centered throughout my day, along with prayer and meditation of course.  I am currently not where I want to be, but I am striving to reach my personal goals.
This woman, I refer to as “TEACHER”, has helped mold me in the gym and in life.  She pushes me to limits I never knew I could reach.  Sometimes I wonder why on earth I actually pay her to do this to me???   It’s worth every penny and then some…
  

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Choosing an athlete of the week has proved to be difficult for me.  I think everyone has a story.  I mean everyone.  Who do you choose to share and who will be willing to share?  This week I went to someone a little closer to home.  Lt. Bruce Fairbanks, otherwise known as “Brucefit” to his workout partners or better known to me as my husband.

I’m sure living with me is not always easy.  I have great expectations for everyone under this roof.  They just may not be everyone else’s expectations.   We give and take for sure. 

When I see potential in someone, I like to dig it out.  Bruce came from an athletic background.  We met through mutual friends in an athletic community in Alexandria.  His workout regimen has always been much different than mine.  Where I could go alone and focus on me, he always seemed to need a partner.  Someone to keep him accountable.  Once the twins were born, it was difficult for us to do much working out together.  As I would throw the kids in a jog stroller and mosey on my way, he began to skip workouts.  I never pushed him. 

Time went on.  I would see him going to the local gym daily with the guys and then skip a week.  It was because the other guys had something to do and Bruce wasn’t going solo to the gym.  I don’t think he didn’t want it, he just couldn’t find the motivation he had with the guys.

I watched this for a while… A long while.  I took control (imagine that).  Christmas, he was getting a 3 month membership to the local CrossFit gym (he can make some friends) and a t-shirt.  My job was done…

I’ll let him tell you the rest of the story…

STRONG WIFE….

Mitzi

 

When Mitzi asked me if I would mind being her spotlight athlete for the week, I was honored. She told me I would have to write about my fitness journey and what it has meant to me.

Having played high school sports and being a recreational runner and cyclist, my fitness journey didn’t actually start until I met her in summer of 2002. I was in the market for a new bike and was trying one out one evening with the local bike club. Mitzi walked by in sunglasses and a head band. She glanced my way (obviously checking me out) and I said “hi, how you are?” Her response “Sup”. I’m like oh, it’s on now!

A few months later, I would be severely injured in work related incident. I lost sight in my left eye and my depth perception was greatly altered. Not being able to ride, I turned to running. Mitzi and I talked one evening and she said come run with me. I followed that little ponytail of hers for several miles over the next few months and years, as she led me around on her running routes. I still get to chase it occasionally when we can find time to run together today. It never gets old.

A couple years and several hundreds of miles later we were married. She introduced me to marathons, triathlons and bike racing while never loosing site of her first love, running. Where was this going? I don’t know but it was fun as hell. I finished four marathons, two-hundred-mile bike races, two half Ironman triathlons and Ironman Lake Placid. Along the way were several sprint tri’s, adventure races, 5 and 10K’s. I can honestly say, we started most, if not all, of these races together. She always waited for me at the finish line. She was so kind.

During this time in my life, I was going to the gym on a regular basis with a friend. But when he missed, I missed. There was no motivation to go on my own. This behavior carried on through the winter. We generally started back around the first of the year (new year’s resolution), but I soon found myself sitting around the house waiting on the calls or text that said, can’t go today. So, I would find other things to do. Translation: no motivation to go on my own, weight gain, sluggish attitude and energy. I sure Mitzi saw me going down. I would go for a run now and then but it just wasn’t enough. Even though the encouragement was there, I made excuses. I became dependent on a workout partner instead of focusing on the importance of what fitness was really about.

Christmas Day 2013, we were exchanging gifts. I was excitedly awaiting my gift card to Home Depot for a chop saw for my shop. She gave me the card, with a huge grin I opened it and found a 3-month membership to CrossFit Alexandria. I looked at her and said, really? WTF!!! This turned out to be the best gift besides our twins she could have given me.

This gift gave me more than a membership. It gave me a new family of friends and what I needed to get back on track after being so sporadic. A jump start to a fitness level I have grown to love. Over the next few years, I seldom missed a day during the week. I lost over 25 good pounds and went from a 34-inch waist to 32. I’m faster, stronger and in overall way better shape than I ever was. Every day I compare my score to others.   It is a thrill to see that on many occasions I am better than several in there 20’s and 30’s that have been doing CrossFit longer than I have. I have become more confident and happier than before. I owe this new level of fitness to her.

Like every other couple out there, we have our share of struggles. Between kid’s schedules, work and life in general, we must schedule time for ourselves. Looking back, if I had to sum up in one word, what I have learned most about Mitzi, it would be respect.

Merriam-Webster definition of respect is “to regard (someone or something) as being worthy of admiration because of good qualities”. I choose this word not with regards to her abilities in being a woman, my wife or the mother of our children, but because of her feelings towards fitness and how it feeds her inner soul that gives her life. Through this, everything else comes. I had to learn to understand why fitness is so important to her.

Getting up at 3:45am M-F for work, her two and sometimes three workouts a day, who can do that? Eating hamburgers without a bun, well that’s just un-American! Black coffee and Paleo??? And then comes the Whole-30. Over the years, I have come to adapt to the lifestyle. Why? Because it’s good for me and important to her. And yes, I will say it folks, she was right. She does what she has to do to make things work.

Mitzi is a woman of few words spoken during workouts. She has about two and they both start with an F! To watch her transform just before a workout, even the small ones is scary. Setting everything up just right so not to lose even a second. Everything has a place and a purpose.

At home, she is a little more relaxed and less scary, loving life with me and the twins. Always searching for new recipes, sharing a glass of wine with friends and just hanging out enjoying her down time. She loves to dance and sometimes finds time in her busy schedule to go for a run with me. She is the love of my life. She keeps us STRONG!

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MEET THE PERROTTI’S

Life is busy.  We all know this. Somehow these two manage to juggle very demanding professions, two beautiful daughters, hunting and camping, a healthy lifestyle and time for one another at the gym.

Many want to know how this works. I asked Jamie to tell her story and enlighten us on how she and Joel keep it all connected.

If you want it bad enough, it can happen.

STRONG COUPLES…
M

Joel and I have always been active people. Sports in high school. Hit the gym off and on in college. During the early part of our marriage we stuck with the pattern of gym regularly the first part of the year but when hunting season and the holidays rolled around that became less of a priority. We were eating “healthy” around that time right? Cereal or granola bar for breakfast. Lean cuisine at lunch. Hamburger helper at night…seemed pretty good. 

Then late 2011 we discovered crossfit. Joel started January 2012 and I started September of that year after we had our second daughter.  Talk about life changing. Never had it been so important to go to the gym. Never had it been so much fun to workout together. We push each other. We hold each other accountable. One of the first things to do when we leave is text the other how many rounds we got in the WOD.  When we become stronger as individuals we become stronger as husband and wife. Our common interests continue to bring us closer together. Camping, hunting, cooking, sports, and yes even working out are things we can do by ourselves but are so much better together. 

And we had never stepped in a gym that offered as much encouragement from a dietary standpoint. We like to eat chips. We like to drink beer. We like gravy and chocolate chip cookies. We are still trying to find some balance. But with the help of Paleo and Whole 30 we have come a long way from lean cuisines. 

I am the first to admit that we still struggle with restraint. I am known to say “I don’t diet on vacation”. But after Joel gained 9# on a recent 5 day road trip I may have to rethink that logic. (Disclaimer: He got all of that weight off in the week after we got back).  

I feel like in the past 5 years we have grown considerably in our search for balance in our lives. As full time working parents it is a challenge to find time for God, kids, gym, meal prep….and I still haven’t cleaned my house. I think having our girls watch us live active lives and make responsible food choices (for the most part) is pretty high on our list.  Having them see how our hard work and good decisions make our lives better make us happier and healthier sets them up for the same in adulthood. 

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A must see video!  https://youtu.be/SMSv45AFHos

MURPH

The crucial workout completed by many on Memorial Day. In remembrance and celebration of Michael Murphy and all of those who once fought, and those that continue to fight and serve us today.   We thank you.

1 MILE RUN

100 pullups – 200 push-ups – 300 squats

1 MILE RUN

Breaking up the reps any way you’d like or grueling it out as written. That is all on you.

Many wear a weighted vest as well. Challenge yourself.

I prefer to do…

20 rounds of 5 pull ups – 10 push-ups – 15 squats

There is no easy in this. It is meant to be grueling and it is meant to make you appreciate. The strength, the courage, the fight, the dedication, the fearless, the strong, the blood, and the brotherhood of those men take this workout to whole new level.

The first mile you are settling in. You have a good pace and your mind is trying to wrap around what you are about to accomplish when you return to the rig. As your hands wrap around that bar for the first set of pullups, it begins to click that you are in this till the end. You drop to start pushups and the sweat pours from your face. The squats begin to tax your legs, but in no way could feel the pain that those men feel fighting for our freedom. Over and over again, you pull, you push, you squat… Puddles of your sweat all over the floor. The moment you finish that last squat of 300, BAM… you have that one mile run to complete. GO GET IT!!! Make this mile a reflection mile, what you have just accomplished and for whom. Be proud friends. First, you completed what many won’t even try. Second, One Nation Under God… Blessed.

Here are a few thoughts from some of my friends that have completed MURPH…

“I like that so many driven people get together to grind through this brutal workout. And if you think about doing it to honor Michael Murphy and everyone else that gave their lives, it pushes you harder and makes the work become meaningful.” William Albritton – Owner CrossFit Alexandria

“Begins with dread, then comes with grind, ends up as pride.” Chief Loren Lampert – APD

“The excitement of challenging yourself to do something that many wouldn’t think of.” Lt. Bruce Fairbanks – APD

“This workout is more of a mental fitness test. I find myself questioning why I do what I do during this WOD. But when I look around and see 50 other people doing the same thing and working through the reps one by one, I see something more amazing. It is a community working hard for one goal together.” Mark Fuselier – Coach

“Just work hard. Fun probably not possible.” Rob Antoon – Antoon Enterprises

“It’s a WOD that took me 4 Memorial Days to conquer on my own. Now that I have conquered a full RX Murph, I will continue to be motivated and challenged by it! Every year I will be pushed to perform the work more efficiently and earn a better time.” Amanda Petrus – Teacher

“3, 2, 1… GO and you’re off on the first mile. In about an hour it’ll be over and you can go back to your weekend of fun and sun with family and friends. Those men and women serving our country don’t stop after an hour. They don’t get to take a break if they rip their hands, so you keep pushing and you try to push thru in their honor.” Jamie Perrotti – Physician’s Assistant – Griffin Family Medicine

“This is a WOD where I experience a battle between heart and mind. My mind is telling me “this is hard, I hurt, I’m pregnant” etc.… But my heart says, “this is the least I can do, push through, honor the sacrifices of others.” The goal is to be all heart about it at the end.” Jennifer Thorpe – Teacher

“SACRIFICE” – Garrett Corley, Head Trainer Louisiana Athletic Club

“Participating in MURPH makes you channel something outside of yourself and your ordinary training. You’ve wondered what you have gotten yourself into. It doesn’t take long to realize you are honoring our service men and women and especially Lt. Michael Murphy.” Roger Harrington

“When joining CFA I had absolutely NO intention of doing Murph!  Then, four days before my inner self said there is no way you are missing this!  Murph is both terrifying and exhilarating but results in nothing but pride!”  Leanne Broussard-Attorney

STRONG MIND STRONG BODY – STRONG WORKOUT

Mitzi

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Well, she is one of a kind.  My running partner, competition partner, prayer warrior, and dear friend, Jennifer Thorpe doesn’t disappoint.

You can bet that if Kathryn or myself says, “what do you think about…”. Her answer is always yes.

You may see us praying at a stop sign, or before a workout, or while we’re running or on the phone before a competition, her faith runs deep.

I am blessed to have her a part of all aspects of my life.

Jenn, thank you for being my strength so many times and leading a STRONG life.

Love and Hugs.  Mitzi.

 

When Mitzi asked me to share my fitness journey a sense of nervousness came over me.

My journey? It’s not that interesting or compelling, I thought! The more I thought about my journey, the more I realized how wrong I was.

My journey so far, I believe, has been a special gift from God, and that in itself, deserves to be shared to those who will listen.

My fitness journey actually started at a later point in my life. I didn’t grow up in a home where fitness was encouraged or stressed.  I grew up in a home with a single mother, and five siblings. My mother was born and raised in Vietnam and came to the states in 1968. So, we grew up eating amazing Vietnamese food which consisted of a ton of vegetables, stir-fry’s, and soups. Even though we didn’t have a lot of money (some months there was a lot of prayers that went up on my mother’s end so we would have enough food), my mother always made sure we had a balanced plate of healthy, fresh foods. She taught us all at a young age how to food prep (cut meat and vegetables), make our own meat broth, etc. I still can remember as a young child, her bragging to people that her kids could filet a whole chicken in less than 2o minutes! So early on, I believe my mother instilled in us, among other valuable life lessons, an appreciation and dedication to eating healthy and the value of food. Now my personal journey with food is still a daily process. I’m thankful for the foundation that was given to me; however, daily choices maintain that foundation or break it down. I’m far from perfect with making “correct” daily food choices. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a delicious slice of chocolate cake every now and then, right? As a young adult, and even up until my early thirties (I’ll be 37 in December), food was an outlet for me. If I was sad, I’d eat. If I was happy, I’d eat, etc. It wasn’t until I started my quarterly cycles of Whole 30 two years ago when I developed a more emotionally healthy lifestyle with food. This is when, I believe, my foundation from my childhood, trial/error with food and how my body processed them, and finding a healthy, doable, balanced lifestyle began to click for me. Currently, I try to stick to a paleo diet, with some cheats, and cycles of Whole 30.   I have found that this life style addresses what works best for me with my health/fitness and personality. Personality, you ask??? Yes! I’ve always been a little of a Type A (who would have thought?!). So boundaries, specified guidelines, being rigid…works best for me. I like to straddle the line, live outside the box for just a bit, but thrive on order. So when I feel that my diet is on point, the water is a bit calmer for me.

My fitness journey is ever evolving as well. I think most can relate. Life has a way of changing and molding ones journey. There are ups and downs, highs and lows, some few and far betweens, and abrupt changes that can mold what we think/act upon of “fitness” or being “fit”.  Like I mentioned earlier, my fitness journey didn’t start until later in life. Growing up I loved the outdoors, sports, and being active, but I was never allowed to play sports in school or explore freely in the neighborhoods we lived in (I was born and raised in Illinois and moved to Louisiana in 1995). We just couldn’t afford participating in any extracurricular activities and playing outside, for the most part, depending on where we lived, wasn’t safe for running around. So, my journey really started in my early twenties. I joined a gym and basically just worked the treadmill and elliptical machine. Every now and then I’d go to Paul T.’s class (can I get an Amen from those who loved his class?), and this is where my “start” began. Eventually the treadmill and elliptical machines just weren’t cutting it for me. I need things that push, motivate, and challenge me. So I began exploring the running world. What a BIG world this is! I’d jog around the neighborhood, etc., yet that just wasn’t enough. Around that time, St. Mary’s Residential Training Facility where I worked hosted a 5K benefit run for the residents. I remember thinking to myself, “3 miles” I can do that, easy. Boy was I ever wrong. I think I ran a little over a mile and walked the rest of the way. When I crossed the finish line I remember being so confused and baffled about my physical ability of not being able to run three miles. This was unacceptable to me and a goal I then set to achieve. I didn’t have a plan, just knew I had to push myself harder and longer on my runs. Some acquaintances I knew at the gym a little later where preparing for the Spirits 5K.   My goal then was to run that 5K without stopping, and I did! My time was a little over 31 minutes. I still remember the feeling crossing that finish line. Thank God for that memory. Every now and then God brings me back to that moment and I reflect on how he had gifted me with ability to be active and the freedom to enjoy something I love to do. Yet, there still was a desire and burn inside of me to do better and to achieve more goals. Not to any particular standards or persons, but to myself. When I was finishing up my last year of college I worked part-time at Red River Bank. There I met a wonderful friend, Angela Sellers. We embarked on the running journey together. Boy, was it a journey!!! I still to this day am amazed by Angela’s drive and dedication. If you got excuses, leave them behind you or don’t bring them up with this chick! Ha! She pushed me to start waking up at ungodly hours to run. It was awful! But, eventually my body adapted to the early mornings and now I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Well, my friend Angela got the bright idea to do a triathlon. Elizabeth Cassano was putting on a girl’s only triathlon series, Groovy Girls, at the time. Three triathlons that progressively got harder and longer on distance and training. Folks, I didn’t know how to swim! I mean, I could stay afloat, but that was it. So why did I say yes??? Well, for one, I had to answer to Angela, for another, it was a goal I wanted to achieve. So, I got in the pool at LAC to “practice” swimming, bought a huffy from Wal-Mart, and began the training. During this training I met some wonderful women of influence. I was so amazed by the dedication these women exhibited, daily. Surrounding myself with these individuals motivated and encouraged me to push harder and to not settle. Well…I survived the series. When I say survived, I mean it guys. Do you know what it’s like hold on to a kayak at Indian Creek for about 10 minutes or float 800 meters on your back down the Cane River? Well, it was embarrassing! Yet, every time I got out of the water, got off the bike, and finished the run, a sense of accomplishment would come over me. After every finish, I knew I could push myself to do better. As this journey progressed, I was hard on myself. I knew at this stage in my life, what I wanted physically, I’d have to work for it. To be honest, I didn’t want easy. I wanted something I could reach for. I set the standard for myself, and asked God to help me achieve these goals. There would be times I knew that God would be tugging at my heart reminding me to find the balance between him, my husband, and fitness. Finding balance is part of the journey and can be hard to juggle. Life, in general, has a way of changing us and our “plans”.   So, I pushed myself harder in the triathlon world. Next goal was to learn how to swim and to get a more efficient bike. Nothing against a Huffy, it got me from A to B, but I knew I needed a more efficient bike. That following year I completed 11 triathlons. Can we say burn-out! I achieved so much that year, learned a lot about myself, and realized I had a little competitive streak in me. Somehow, I allowed my standards of achievement to shift from myself and my goals to another’s set of standards and goals. Don’t get me wrong here, healthy competition is good, but it has to be/come from a healthy state. I learned that confidence has to come within and winning the approval of others will not bring you long term happiness. This is also a part of the long journey and finding the right amount of balance in life.

The triathlon world led me into the marathon world. It was what was next on my list of goals I had mapped out for myself. Training was brutal but so doable at that time. I didn’t have kids, my husband liked to play golf on the weekends, so I didn’t have to balance my time much. I was free to really come and go as I pleased. My first marathon was in Houston in 2009. My goal was to finish in five hours. My time was 4:58. Since then I’ve completed three more, each time pushing myself to do better. I trained in 2014 to qualify for Boston but that was met with great disappointment when my nerves got the best of me and I made the decision at the split to finish the half instead. Months and months of training, down the tube, I thought. I beat myself up so much after that race. My husband sacrificed his time on the weekends so I could train, I missed so many Saturday and Sunday mornings with my son and husband, and I had wonderful running partners that invested their time with my training plan ( I’m still so thankful for that time Mitzi, Kathryn, and Amy). But, yet again, this was part of my journey, part of finding my balance with God, my family, and my fitness goals. I realize now how much God led me during this time. My connection with God was somehow a little different during these training months. I found myself praying more for others, my marriage, my child, family, friends, etc. Although I was running for me, I think God was using me in prayer and in the end, the finish wasn’t about me.

Currently, my main source of physical fitness is running and Crossfit. Both challenge me weekly. I have wonderful running partners and WOD buddies that I know without a shadow of doubt God has strategically placed in my life. Amazing women, mothers, friends, athletes…the list could go on and on. I know I can call on my girls and if I started the conversation with, “Hey, want to…” I wouldn’t even have to finish the question. They are there! Yet I also know that I can come to them with a prayer request and they are there immediately for support. Surrounding yourself with likeminded people is beneficial in the balancing process.

My journey is soon to change and evolve some more as I have another little one on the way. The dynamics will change yet again and finding balance will be harder and more challenging. I’m anxious to see what is to come. For me, my journey is far from over.

My journey is God first, family, then fitness.

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The girl that wears many hats in my life. She started out as a client 6 years ago. She just wanted a different style of workout and to find her potential in strength, speed, and healthy lifestyle. She has truly transformed. From training, she went to trainer 3 years ago. She is now not only still a client but my co-worker. She rocks as a trainer, and athlete. Her most important hat to me is her friendship one. She is one of a kind. I love and appreciate her more than she knows.

Phyllis Guillory – Living life to the fullest and chasing dreams.

Everyone has a story.

Strong – Mitzi

 

I joined Premier Athletic Club in February of 2011. I had joined to get back in shape after the birth of my 3rd child. Little did I know that I was embarking on a fitness journey that would put me in the best shape of my life!
I have exercised all my life. I started out with basketball and softball in high school. Once I entered college I did the usual aerobics classes and jogged. Jogging and aerobics seemed to get me through my 20’s until I started having children.  I continued to exercise when I had the time but nothing serious. I loved to try all the fad diets and all the latest fitness trends!


I am a wife and a mother of three children.  As I said earlier, I joined the gym when my last child was 9 months old. I ran on the treadmill and played around on the weight machines for a few months. I was really intimidated because I didn’t know how to work the machines. As I would run on the treadmill I would notice a trainer working with 2 women. The trainer was giving them a great workout and the women looked like they were having a great time but really working hard. I found out who the trainer was and asked to work with her. That trainer was Mitzi Fairbanks. I began training with her in April of 2011.


I trained one on one with her for a month then joined the 2 other ladies after that first month. Those early morning workouts became a part of my day that I couldn’t do without. I also joined a group that would run 4 miles before the gym opened. Running and these workouts became a very important part of my life. I found some of my greatest friends through these running and workout groups.
I had been working out and running about 3 years when I started feeling the desire to learn more about becoming a personal trainer. Mitzi helped me push myself more than I’d ever pushed myself before. I admired the way she helped people reach their goals and feel better about themselves. I took a personal trainer course and passed my certification test in June of 2014. I had become certified and hoped to train a few people before work and then during the summers when I was off from school. However by the end of that summer I had a change of heart. I decided to jump in with both feet and see what would happen. I turned in my resignation at Prompt Succor and Ronnie Schwartz hired me at Louisiana Athletic Club in Pineville. I taught water aerobics classes and took on clients to get me started. I have been a personal trainer for 3 years and I couldn’t love it more.

I have approximately 25 clients that range in age from 10 to 91 years. I have several special needs clients that are so rewarding. I have people who want to lose weight, tone up, become stronger, or just have a more active life. The best part is that I get to help them reach their goals. These people have become a part of my life and I’m so grateful that I get to work with them. I still use Mitzi as my personal trainer and I always have people ask me “why”. I always answer, “because she pushes me harder than I would ever push myself.” I’m very thankful for the guidance and knowledge I’ve gained from Mitzi. I’m also very thankful that I get to do something I love and help others reach their goals.

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MEET JOEL

From 400# to lacing up…

I met this guy years ago at a race downtown through a mutual friend. When introduced, he seemed like an ordinary runner.  A guy that loved to toe the line. Someone driven by health, life and fun times.

He walked off and I was told Joel once weighed 400 pounds.  There was no way.  I was looking at him in disbelief.   Everyone has a story!!!

From that day, I ran with Joel a few times on and off burning the pavement of Charles Park.  He was a key buddy runner in my Couch to 5K runs.  When you run with people, you start learning all about them.  Something about tennis shoes, and the outdoors makes you feel the most comfortable sharing life events.   It’s what runners do.

He likes to say he can’t run as fast as me but that’s not true at all.  He just likes to take life a little slower than me and enjoy being outdoors a little longer.   Whether you run in front, beside or behind, there is no better place than being in your favorite pair of Pearl Izumi’s.  Joel, I’ll run with you any day.

Joel Stevison has a story, like many of you.  He made a choice to take his life back.  Easy… there is never an easy day.  He is more aware than ever the things he has to live for and the life, love and passion he has to give others.  If you see him, you’ll always find the biggest smile on his face.  That is the smile of happiness.  He is most proud of his family. They all share the same excitement of being better today than yesterday.

Joel, you inspire so many.  I’m proud to call you my friend.

From sedentary to STRONG.

I was always a chubby child.  I grew up between my great aunt, great grandmother, and grandmother who all knew how to cook.  Everyday I ate 3 of each meal.  Growing up my only source of exercise was football.  College brought on a sedentary lifestyle.  I continued poor eating choices and began smoking.  I once held the title of 9 Bowl Champ at Luigi’s “All You Can Eat Spaghetti” Night.  I graduated from LA Tech weighing 315 pounds.  

After I was married in 2000, the weight gain continued.  Poor eating habits now included consuming an entire one pound bag of M&Ms with a 2 liter of Dr. Pepper.  I weighed nearly 400 pounds.  One day I went for a golf lesson with my friend, Robbie G.  He told me I was too fat to play golf.  That comment stuck with me.  Not too long after, the Saints won the Super Bowl.  I thought, “If the Saints can win the Super Bowl, I can lose weight.”

February 7, 2010 I started making changes in my life.  I stopped smoking.  I started making healthier eating choices.  For the next 3 years, I ate the same things every day.

    -measured bowl of cereal for breakfast

    -sandwich for lunch

    -meat and vegetable for dinner

    -$30 of apples a week for snacks

I became a member of SnapFitness.  I walked on the treadmill.  A 20 minute mile was a good pace for me.  After a year of walking on the treadmill, my friend, Todd Morrow, encouraged me to walk outside.  My goal became to run 1 mile outside.  I achieved that.  Next was 2 miles.  Then 3 miles.  In 2013, I ran the Red River Run 10K.  During those three years of strict diet, walking, and running I lost 150 pounds.  Running was now my main source of exercise.  I ran 6 miles a day and rarely took a day off.  I ran a total of 1500 miles in 2014.  I finished that year weighing 210 pounds.

Now 7 years later, my life has been through some changes.  I have gone through a divorce.  This past November I remarried.  My wife, Amanda, and I work hard to create a healthy and active home for our 3 children, Madeline, Mason, and Ella.  I am not as strict as I was in those first 3 years of my journey.  I still run 4 or 5 days a week, but only 4 miles at a time.  Occasionally there is a long run on the weekend.  If I am lucky Amanda will run with me once a week.  She is a crossfitter and good at it, but it is not for me.  We often enjoy long bike rides together.  Having someone live the same healthy, active lifestyle really helps me to stay on track.  I try to keep my weight between 220-225 pounds.  I still get on the scale every day, but I have learned not to be so hard on myself.  I struggle daily with my weight and my issues with food.  I still think of myself as 400 pound ‘Big Joel’.

Over the years I have learned there is no magic diet, potion, or plan.  Simply eat less and exercise more.  Make sure what you eat is real food.  It is important to us to cook and eat each meal as a family.  Amanda and I sit down every Sunday and plan the family meals for the week.  We shop together and fill the cart with

protien

nuts

unsweet tea

veggies

water

lara bars

fruits

black coffee

My daughter, Madeline, decided last May she wanted to make a lifestyle change.  She educated herself on healthy eating habits and joined Crossfit Alexandria.  She has lost a total of 60 pounds.  I am so glad that she learned it earlier than I did.

If I can do it, you can do it.  When I think I can’t, I tell myself “Run Fat Boy, Run”!

 

 

A Gentle Giant…

You need something, he’s there. No matter what it is, I can promise you he would do anything in the world for anyone. His size is intimidating. His heart is good as gold. His voice is sometimes bold but full of passion and heartfelt thoughts.

Everyone has a story. This man, as everyone, has had his share of ups and downs. Life, fitness, nutrition, accountability, work, etc.… He has been through it all. As all of us, he is still learning and finding what drives him and what moves him.

When I received a call from him, he said, “my wife said you could help me.”   My response was, “when and where do I need to be?” I was determined to get him on board. His sincerity was through the roof. I showed up at his office, with a Whole 30 book in hand. He was ready. We got that credit card out and went shopping, Amazon Prime time. Whole 30 ready within minutes, that was a fun.

Round 1 of Whole 30 was so successful. He was our cheerleader, our 7am Live Feed, our person for pick me ups, and we were his. It was one of the best W30 groups that I have led to date.

He is his own worst enemy, his own worst self-critic, his own leader for success and his voice is powerful. He does nothing half ass. I could not be more proud of his dedication to life and his honesty about his journey.

My friend, Freddy Boy Ruggles…

I love ya Fred.

STRONG. Mitzi

 

FRED’S STORY

Growing up in East Texas football was the sport of choice and as with most things in life, I had great coaches that demanded respect for yourself, your team mate, your elders and of course life itself. Additionally, I had a father that was very tough and discipline was a huge part of my early life. This is what, in my opinion, has given me so much success in life.

In 1984, I joined the United States Air force and 20 days after Graduation I was off to basic training to become an Air Traffic Controller. I spent the next 9 years in a Control Tower. I met a Louisiana woman named Ashley Ruggles, to which I proposed to in the JC Penny parking lot in Alexandria, Louisiana. Three months after we married Saddam Hussein decided to invade Kuwait and I was the 1st military member to deploy from Louisiana. Ashley thought it was a joke, until I walked out the door. I spent 286 days of our 1st year of marriage in the desert. The only great thing about it was I came back very tan and very in shape, not much to do over there.

1994 rolled around, our first child Grayson was born. I had coached baseball and football teams since 1985 so having my own son to coach was a big thing to this ole country boy. I was the guy that would go to the gym maybe 4 times a month. I could even, at 30, run a sub 6 mile. In high school my teammates said I didn’t have a heart because I would run the mile so fast after practice with pads. Reality was, I just hated to be beat by anyone.

Fast forward ahead to 2010, I had coached football with Roger Herrington at Menard High School. He kept asking me to go to this gym on Texas Avenue called Cross fit, said I would love it. Finally one morning at 5:30 am, I showed up! A gentleman by the name of William Albritton had me do like 1 or 3 or 7 mins of burpees. I had 9 years in the military and had never done a burpee. It was tough but I did it. Over the next 9 months I had become the fittest I had ever been in my life. I was strong, confident, and looking good, at least I thought so. You must love yourself before you can truly love others. There is lots that say it but few that do.

Being one to always be the best, I had gotten my pilots license and wanted to judge the cross fit games. I proceeded to get my level 1 certification and judged 2 regional competitions in San Antonio, Texas.

I had tweaked my lower back sleeping a weird way. That pain caused me to stop going to cross fit, around mid-2014. My lovely wife would apply emotional pressure by saying “hey you need to go work out”, I had turned 49 and weighing around 245. I was self-conscious and always worried about my belly, being tall most people never even notice my weight.

In 2016, I had heard of this, I don’t want to call it diet, but at that point that is what it was to me. I had done Atkins many years earlier, only to lose a few pounds but not keep it off, then paleo, or the cave man diet, I had done during my 1st 9 months of crossfit. This really helped my growth there.

I am not truly sure who the person was that opened my mind and attitude towards whole 30. I do know it was Mitzi Fairbanks who dropped a book by to me and requested I read the 1st 33 pages. This was like early July 2016. She had made the comment there was a group starting Aug 1. I read the pages and what I got out of it was a life change that would increase your fitness but also make you a better person. Now I have a problem in life, I cannot do anything half assed, so with Freddie boy Ruggles, you get 110%. I told Mitzi I was in. She showed up to my office one day and showed me Amazon prime. I think that day we bought over $300 worth of Whole 30 compliant condiments and food. I was excited for this new journey. I had the rules down. Steve and Trish Deville were going to have a pre-whole 30 pot luck at their house that following Friday. I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect. It was an awesome introduction to the game of whole 30. Steve told of losing 26 lbs. and not even trying but what I noticed most was his confidence in the program and it was shining through him. That night when me and Ashley left, I told her I wanted to do this challenge.

MY JOURNEY STARTS

I was so excited as I weighed myself and took pictures of myself in the bathroom, I could feel the excitement of the challenge and the life change. You see, it’s not a diet. It is a LIFE CHANGE and it creates an attitude inside yourself that makes you better. I like to say nicer person, more aware, truly more in touch with yourself. I had to make myself accountable so I weighed in at 268 lbs. It was the largest number ever I had seen on a scale. I thought to myself, damn I am heavy. Day 1 I get up and I hate eating breakfast but with this being new I made me a beautiful breakfast. I was fixing to eat it and my iPad was there, I looked on Facebook and was doing a scan of post when I saw that LIVE button. I thought hell lets announce to the world what I am doing and I will tell them at the end what I did. This started something that truly changed my way of thinking. I now know what viral meant. My first video had over 1000 views so I said, hell by doing those it is exciting and I will be accountable to the audience. Every morning I posted a video and if I went to a restaurant, I posted and in the evening, so everyone was on my journey with me.

Mitzi had started a “Group Me” chat for our group to stay in contact with and to check in on Sundays. I didn’t realize it but that group was such a key piece of the puzzle to the success. You see, as I explain it, I can let myself down but it’s hard to let others down. So, every day I read out of the book about what I was supposed to feel and then spoke of what I was feeling. Also, I had to add a message, whether it was hug someone day or high five day.  I wanted people to change other people’s life, emotionally that was very important to me. It didn’t take long. I was getting private messages from people I didn’t even know about my journey. I am a sharer so I wanted everyone to feel the excitement I felt and as I went to our Friday night pot lucks, I wanted to share my group because they were my group and they were special. The fellowship and comradery made this all so much easier.

As days rolled off, I could feel the difference in my body then I started a boot camp with Mitzi and I knew a few in the class but they all knew me it felt like. One special young lady, Jennifer Peach, gave me a “hug me” shirt that just made my heart melt. You ever notice when someone gives you a gift out of the blue how awesome it feels.   My 14 year old son Myer wears that shirt and it makes me smile.

About day 23, I started wondering what is next. My mother and sister had already rallied up a group of ladies in East Texas and they wanted to feel what they saw every morning on my video. Day 30 arrives I had made the comment, “on day 30, I would take my shirt off and show” but Ashley put a stop to that so I bought a shirt that had muscles on it and showed that but I did weigh in and had lost 26 lbs. and 6 inches in my belly!!!   WOW ! I felt good confidence through the roof. I had realized it wasn’t a diet it was a lifestyle, but now what am I going to do?

The 1st thing I introduced back into my life was milk, then lunch with pizza. It was terrible and I felt so fricken guilty. I did not maintain. Two months go by and my mom is a serious diabetic. She wanted to do it, so one Saturday I loaded up and met 8 women in Jasper Texas. I explained to them what I had gone through. They were in, so round 2 started. On day 13, I got food poisoning and was too weak to continue. I had to drop out of the group but they continued on. It was tough with them all in Texas and me here no potluck and no one to be accountable to.

Move forward to Feb 2017, Caleb Stark, a good friend of mine, calls me. He has a group that wants to eat better and feel better. We meet and go over the rules which are simple don’t cheat, be true to the group, check in on Sundays and try to participate in the pot lucks, partake in the group me chats as much as possible and be the support for each other. We started March 6th. I did my videos again and we chatted, I did the 1st pot luck and as with any group in life you must have someone that is the guiding light. My 1st round that was Mitzi. On round 2, I didn’t have one. Round 3, It was Karen Vaughn. You see someone must be the lead by example person that everyone else strives to be like. Well let me cut to the chase, I dropped out at day 14. I AM WEAK.

Let’s explore why??

You see round 1 was exciting. It was a new great group and a good time of year.

Round 2 – It was hard to be committed when you’re not in contact with the group. Illness played a big part in my opinion

Round 3 – I was doing it for the wrong reason. I was doing it for Caleb and not for Fred. I learned a very valuable lesson this round.   You see I am not a quitter. I am a winner. I carry a can-do attitude with me all the time, the only thing holding me back is myself. Attitude is such a determining factor in our lives. I have coached so many youth and they will all tell you he is tough, disciplined, over-bearing, but that he has a passion and love for each of us.

You see it goes back to yourself. You must love yourself before you can share yourself with others. Some will call it arrogance, maybe cockiness. I call it confidence. Confidence in who you are, where you are and when you get there. No matter what comes down the pipe there are tons of us in the same struggle, we are all a part of the group. We just need to lean on each other to get through each day and to hopefully wake up better tomorrow than we were today.

You see whole 30 is a lifestyle change, not a diet. It makes you a better father, co-worker, employee, friend, a better person all around.   I completed 1 whole 30 and my self-worth was through the roof. I failed the next 2 but guess what, I am still as great as I will ever be. It’s all about the choice in life. I choose to be better. Currently, I am doing Whole 5, so for 5 days at a time, 100%, whole 30 compliant.   It may turn into 10, 20 or even 30, but I am not putting restricting walls up. I just want to be better today.

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Everyone has a story. Good, bad or ugly! Sharing that story takes strength. Asking for help from a life of pain and yoyo dieting takes courage.   Hopeful at every road block she faced she would one day find her way.   Hearing her talk about her misery within herself, not being ready to leap, not willing to sacrifice other things for her and her health, not ready for change was hard for me to continually fight the fight. I could not help her.

The phone call I had waited so long for. “Mitzi, I need help.” On the other end of that phone was my youngest sister, Jessica.

We started slow and progressed steadily.   She had to learn how to be happy within herself first, and then educate her body on how and why food was to be utilized. Food would no longer control her. She made a choice.

She is 36 years old, a wife, mother of Wyatt (11) and Olivia (8). Being a nurse, she has taken care of everyone else, it was time that she became her own patient.

Her outer transformation is beautiful and her smile radiates brighter than ever. Her inner beauty and love of self is even more transforming and beautiful.   She has learned some valuable lessons in her journey.

This is her story.

I love you Jess and am so proud of you. STRONG

 

The Story of Jess…….

When Mitzi asked me to share my “story”, I was like “nah, who wants to hear my story?”.  It may even be a lot like many of yours.  Then the Lord reminded me that He would not have given me such a beautiful testimony if He did not want me to share it.  I believe wholeheartedly that God doesn’t put us through trials and tribulations for no reason.  I believe they are meant to grow us, pull us closer to Him and ultimately when given the opportunity, to be SHARED.  All in hopes that your story helps someone else.  So here goes……


This week marks one year since I made the move and was strong enough to change my life forever.  It wasn’t a decision I took lightly, and before you think to yourself “she took the easy way out” just open your heart and mind to my story.  On March 22nd, 2016, I had the Gastric Sleeve procedure- yes, I had weight loss surgery.  I had attempted this surgery 2 times before but chickened out and the timing wasn’t right.  This surgery wasn’t a quick fix.  I was blessed with a TOOL that forever changed the amount of food that I can hold in my stomach, and that’s all.  It did not change my mind, the way I felt about food, or my relationship with food.  I LOVE FOOD……..I still do.  


Let me tell you a little about me.  I didn’t have obesity since childhood, I was normal (whatever that is).  Always a litter thicker than the other girls, but by no means obese.  I danced for 14 years.  I grew up in the country, and was never allowed to sit around.  I was ALWAYS moving.  Then I grew up.  I began a terrible cycle of yo-yo dieting when I was 20.  You know the story……weight watchers, Atkins, low calorie, low fat, cabbage soup diet.  You name it, I tried it.  During college, I lost down to 150lbs (I am 5’7″) on the Atkins diet.  I maintained this 50-lb. weight loss until I became pregnant with my first child.  I weighed 216lbs when I went in to deliver my Wyatt.  I lost most of that baby weight quickly.  I went back to work in the ER when he was just 4 weeks old.  I was a very active new mom.  When I became pregnant with #2 I was 180lbs.  By this time, I had changed jobs and was working for a home health company.  I spent the next 8 months driving around in my car, seeing patients and eating fast food.  After all, I was pregnant so it was ok to eat for 2, right?  I was 236 lbs. when I delivered Olivia and I was miserable!  I again yo-yo dieted my way down to 190 lbs.  I spent years going between 190lbs & 210lbs.  I was losing then gaining the same weight repeatedly.  


Fast forward 4 years…. all in the span of 7 months I lost a job that I loved dearly, I lost my oldest sister, and then my husband was diagnosed with Lung cancer.  I felt like my whole world had crumbled down around me.  So, then I began medicating myself with the one thing that made me feel better – FOOD.  We would spend the next 2 years between MD Anderson in Houston and our home.  God began using this time to mold me into who I am today (He’s not nearly done).  I quickly learned that we were not going to beat this horrible cancer without clinging to Him and resting in His blessed assurance.  That’s the thing about cancer.  It didn’t care that we had a 6 & 4-year-old at home.  We had to learn balance.  We had to learn how to truly live one day at a time.  I would get up in the morning and thank the Lord for giving us one more day as a family, and when I would reach the end of that day I would thank Him for seeing us to the end of it.  That’s how we survived.  We did survive, stronger than we were before but it was not without sacrifice.  I put myself on the back burner.  First I was a wife & mother.  That was what was most important in the moment, not my health or wellbeing.  I never once thought “well, how are you going to be those things without taking care of yourself?”  In January of 2015 my husband took his last round of radiation and we have been CANCER FREE ever since.  


In July of 2015, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and was diagnosed as pre-diabetic.  I also was always short of breath.  Just generally miserable.  I was shying away from everything in my life that was important.  I even hid from the camera because I hated the person looking back at me.  There is a 2-year gap of photos of myself and my children because of this.  How tragic is that?  That same month some things began to change (BEGAN….very important word).  I reached out to Mitzi.  She’s my sister, she should have all the answers, right?  The very first step was drinking my last diet coke on July 9th, 2015.  Yes, diet coke meant so much to me that I have an anniversary for our breakup.  That tiny first step catapulted me in the direction I needed to be going.  None of my changes were huge changes, none of them.  The biggest thing was that I started seeing food for what it was, fuel for my body (Mitzi taught me that).  Before I put it in my mouth I would ask myself, “what will this do for my body?”  If the answer was nothing, then I put it down.  I lost 30 lbs. from July to Christmas that year.  Then between Christmas and mid-January I gained 10 lbs. back.  I was also put on blood pressure medicine.  I thought to myself, that’s it, I’m done!  No more yo-yo dieting.

 I WANT CHANGE, real change. This was my AH-HA moment.   


I started reading success and failure stories, researching the way I would need to eat, researching all the things that made a person successful.  If I was going to have this forever life altering surgery, I set out to be as prepared as possible.  I met with a bariatric surgeon the last of January.    On March 22, 2016 I was given the tool that would help me change.  A change that quickly happened on the outside, but not on the inside.  I had to change that part.  I have spent this entire year learning how to live, how to take care of myself.  Taking care of myself so that I’ll be strong enough to survive this crazy life that God has gifted me with.  I’ve had to learn to eat for fuel, not for comfort.  It’s not easy, and it’s something that I must actively work on every single day.  It’s a conscious decision I make to be a better wife and mother.  They say the 1st year after surgery is the “honeymoon” period.  So, I guess that means that the honeymoon is over now.  But what is not over is my determination to remain healthy and not be a failure, a statistic of weight loss surgery.  Weight loss surgery is not a quick fix, to be successful you have to use it like it is meant to be used- as a TOOL.  I sincerely hope that how awesome I feel on the inside is reflected on the outside.
With all of this being said, I will leave you with this.  I survived 2 more life altering events since this surgery.  I made it through both of these without gaining a single pound.  For the first time in my life I did not medicate with food.  I chose to medicate myself with the Word and my heavenly Father.  

I survived-STRONGER TODAY THAN I WAS YESTERDAY.  


Highest weight:  254lbs
Surgery weight:  234lbs
Current weight:  140lbs

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A girl who needs no introduction.  She is a beast on the road, in the gym, in a kitchen and pregnant.  Health and Fitness are just part of her standard of life.

She has been my strength through many times in my life, Marathons, adventure races, CrossFit competitions, partners in crime and best friend.  She is one of a kind.

Nothing slows her down, including pregnancy.  There are no excuses.  When your health matters, you get it done.

You can follow her at http://www.fitpaleomom.com on the web, Instagram, or Facebook.

Just to say, you can!
Find what moves you.

FITPALEOMOM STRONG – Kathryn Gassiott

My fitness journey began at a very young age. For as long as I can remember, my parents exercised and were members of a gym. I remember summer days hanging with other kids in the nursery at the Courtyard in the 80’s! It was always part of my life.
Seeing my mom in exercise classes and my dad running or jump roping with a weighted rope on the back porch was normal for me. I fondly remember those things.
I also vividly remember my mom having a cooking school when I was growing up. There were certain nights that our kitchen would be filled with people and my mom would be demonstrating the latest meal from bon appetite or whipping up pasta from scratch. Food has always been a big part of our lives.
When we traveled as a family, our meals and reservations at restaurants were a top priority. My mom would study restaurants weeks before we went somewhere and the trips were planned around our meals. I believe this is where I got my love for food and cooking.

After graduating from LSU, I moved to  in NYC and packed on a few extra pounds. Too much good food and fun in the city!  When I moved home from NYC to get married,  I started running and working out all of the time. This led to half marathons and eventually to marathons.  Soon after, I was having kids. I would have a baby, run a couple of marathons, have another baby, run some more. I had the running part down, but I still had the eating part all wrong. I would eat lots of pasta or bread the night before a run to carb up and I thought this was what I was supposed to be doing. I wasn’t getting any faster, and I wasn’t getting any leaner.

After having my 3rd child I found CrossFit.  I began CrossFit 6 weeks to the day after giving birth. I had no idea what I was signing up for ; but I was so excited for the change.  Before having the baby I had qualified for the Boston Marathon and I had 4 months to prepare for it.  I was convinced that CrossFit would help me run it.  It did in fact help me.  My body immediately began to change.

While training for Boston I heard the word Paleo for the first time.  This changed my life.  I started reading about Paleo and what it was. I literally one day said, “I’m going to start eating Paleo,” and that’s what I did.  It’s now been my lifestyle for almost 6 years. I started my fitpaleomom blog soon after and have been doing it ever since.  Now I can share the combination of my love for food and fitness with the world.  Trying and coming up with new Paleo recipes has been an adventure.  I love to convert some of my moms old recipes from back in her cooking school days to Paleo.

Fitness and Paleo aren’t just a fad for me.  This is my life and will continue to be.  I want to raise my children to know how to live a healthy life and to take care of themselves. I want to set an example for them every single day.  They already know that exercise and eating right are important. I want my kids to grow up to be healthy and active adults and I want to be around to meet my great great grandchildren.

As for now, I am 2 weeks away from having my 4th child,  and for the first time I’ve been able to incorporate CrossFit and Paleo into my pregnancy. I’ve never felt better and as a bonus, I’ve gained less weight than with any of my other pregnancies.  Being pregnant definitely is not a reason to sit around and eat; if anything it’s more of a reason to get up and move. A healthy body helps to have a healthy baby.

Over the past few years I’ve finally found a balance with food and fitness in my life. I will continue to eat Paleo and I make it a goal to complete 2 whole 30 cycles per year while also continue my training as I have in the past. I hope to even run the New York Marathon this year.

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This little fireball here.


My Claire
Determination.  Dedication.  Heart.
Drive.  Independence.  Spirit.
Some of the many qualities of this young lady.

Claire came to me with much hesitation and doubt.  Doubts of me as well as doubts of herself.  She was #1 so how do you get better?  I had to gain her trust and we had to grow together.   Making workouts fun, challenging and fast pace keeps her on her toes.

Cross training is important in every sport.  For running, agility, stamina, mobility, strength and recovery are key to a great athlete and a solid race.  Claire doesn’t hold anything back.

We have an incredible relationship.  This young lady holds a very special place in my heart.  She has more potential to come and she will excel at each of her goals.  She will continue to be headlines in your local paper.  She will be the one that parents discuss stats on.  She will be the one smiling with her game face ready to toe the line.

Don’t ever underestimate her.
Claire Vaughn… STRONG.

 

My name is Claire Vaughn and I’m a freshman at Holy Savior Menard. Since 7th grade I’ve been a member of the varsity cross country and track team. I’ve been named Cenla Runner of the Year for three years and have won numerous district, regional, and state races through cross country and track. Running is my passion and my dream is to run on a collegiate level.

In 2014 I met Miss Mitzi at my mother’s insistence. I knew I needed cross training to help me become a better runner but not knowing her made me extremely apprehensive. Needless to say, my attitude was less than stellar but basically my mom made me try. Our deal was if I was miserable after a few sessions we could move on to plan B. Well, it’s almost three years later and I still train with her twice a week. Miss Mitzi taught school for years before becoming a personal trainer and I think her background with kids has helped her coach me. She not only focuses on the physical aspect of training but also the mental. From the physical aspect, cross training improves my strength and coordination which helps me with speed but also helps in the prevention of injury. She is a huge advocator of healthy eating and has stressed the importance of nutrition and diet. Mentally, she encourages me, listens to me, and helps me be the best I can be not only as a runner but as a competitor and person. I am so thankful to have her guide, encourage and train me. Without her, I would not be the runner I am nor would I have accomplished the goals I set for myself.

 

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This girl came to me very unexpected.  She wanted a change. Time for herself and time to get her life back.  Like many others, she just wanted to tone and lose some weight.  She was about to get more than she asked for.

She was my friend before my client.  She was someone I trusted and her honesty and friendship meant more than she knew.  We spent many hours together doing community service, having dinner with one another’s family, sharing birthday parties, etc.

I was going from friend to coach.  That was a Mitzi she had not met yet.  I would push her to limits she didn’t know she had.  I would challenge.  I would show her someone she hadn’t seen in the mirror in years.  I would show her how strong this girl really was.  I would show her how to live again for her.  I would reintroduce her to Mimi Kirzner.   The person I saw every day. The strong , talented, beautiful, caring, best friend, and listener I had always known.

You are a rock star.  I will always be here for you one burpee at a time.

Mimi Kirzner, thank you for sharing your strength with us. STRONG.

 

I have volunteered a lot!  I enjoy giving back to my community.  Not all leaders are the same.  However, when the leader of the organization you volunteer for inspires you, and wants you to be a better person, you take note of who it is, and you stand next to them.

Surround yourself around those that know more than you do.  It will make you a better person.

When I met Mitzi, I knew instantly that I liked her and that she inspired me.  She was the leader of that organization.  She used to start every meeting with something inspirational.    She pushed us to want more and do more.  She does this for me in the gym and outside the gym.  I don’t wow easily.  She wows me.  I am also one that chooses friends carefully.   She has become a dear friend and confidant.  For me, going to the gym is just as much about my mental health as it is my physical health.  Even if I am having a bad day, if I can push myself to finish the workout then I leave the gym better than I started.

It is never easy.  It doesn’t get easier.  As much as you want it to, YOU DON’T WANT IT TO.  I have learned that. 

There are so many selfless stories that I could share about Mitzi.  Like the time she told me that she wanted to run the Crescent City Classic with me.  ME? I had run it two years prior.  I hadn’t run in a while and I wanted to start training again, but I needed that extra push.  I felt guilty for weeks leading up to the race.  I didn’t want to slow her down.  I knew I couldn’t run as fast as her.  I told her the day of the race that she could run ahead of me.  She wasn’t there for herself.  She was there for me.  She stayed by my side the entire time.

A few months ago, I was having a rough morning.  I wasn’t as strong as I wanted to be.  I was feeling down.  I was having a hard time finishing the workout.  I was embarrassed, and just wanted to sit down and cry.  Everyone else was finished.

Mitzi looked at me and said “WE HAVE GOT THIS” – She took off her jacket and finished that workout with me.  I was so emotional and felt so much gratitude.  That’s the kind of person she is.  She could have said…..”You’re Done”.   Nope…She knew what I needed.  That was huge for me!  I don’t know anyone else that would do that.

Four years ago I decided to put ME first.  I knew that if I wasn’t strong, then my family wouldn’t be either.  It was time for me to take back me.  I learned that no one is going to make me happy.  It is my job to make me happy.  It is my job to eat right, and my job to workout.   I am in control of my own destiny.  Growing up I was always the skinny kid.  I never had to workout or think about what I ate.  The day that I got married my eating habits changed and my body changed.  A few years later I had a baby.  I needed to find that will power.  I needed strength.  I needed someone to tell me what to do.   I wasn’t strong enough on my own to do what I needed to do.  I needed mental clarity and I definitely needed to be stronger.  When I feel healthy and look healthy the confidence radiates.   I am a completely different person than I was 5 years ago.  I am older, stronger, healthier and much happier.  Personally I like this version of me more. 

Nutrition is a constant battle for me.  I LOVE FOOD!!  I love it so much that I opened a kitchen shop and restaurant!  I think about it all the time.  We go on vacation and I have every meal planned out.  It’s quite the obsession.   I am stronger in the gym when I eat right.  I know this.  I pay for it dearly when I over eat or eat the wrong things.  I know this. I am constantly looking for that healthy balance.  Food is a drug and I have an Addiction to it.  I love it when I am on my A game and eating right.  I choose a Paleo lifestyle and enjoy rounds of Whole 30.  Enjoy?  YES! I really do enjoy it.  I love how it makes me feel.  I love that it makes me have more clarity.  I love that my skin is clearer.  It makes me stronger.  I know for me that I need rules.  Otherwise, I loose control.

I have to remember that the taste of food however good it is, it is temporary, but the bad feeling that comes with it lasts much longer. It is not worth it.

I cannot out train bad eating habits.  Do I splurge?  Sure probably more than I need to.  I am human.  I am learning it is all about balance.

Over the past four years I have learned what works for me. I like working out in small settings. I have had the same workout partner for the past four years.   I am grateful for her.  Support is huge!  I know that if I didn’t have Mitzi waiting for me at the gym I would not show up.  Relationships and trust are key.  I know that she has my best interest in mind all of the time.  She knows more about me and what I am capable of in the gym than I do. Is Mitzi tough??  Sure.  Will you sweat more than you ever had in your life?  Sure.  Will you walk away feeling accomplished?  Absolutely.   Will you be strong?  Yes! Will you be happy?  YES!!   It is all about finding out what works for you.   Some days I don’t even recognize myself.  I surprise myself all of the time.  Six months ago I decided to start playing tennis.  If you would have told me 5 years ago that I was going to play tennis I would have laughed at you.  I am not naturally athletic.  I have to work really hard at it.  You know what…I love it!   I have found a sport that I enjoy working at. I am able to play and keep up because I workout, eat right (most of the time), and thankfully my husband is a Chiropractor!

I am forever grateful.

Mimi

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I was teaching a spin class at a gym called Maximum Fitness. Greg and his wife, Hope, were regulars in the class. Greg had mentioned to me if you ever become a personal trainer, I’d like to be a client. In 2006, I became Cooper Institute certified and Greg became my first client.

10 years later, he continues to train with me. Greg is not your average 65 year old. You will see him running marathons “for fun”, tearing up the slopes in Colorado, hiking trails all over the world, traveling, and keeping up with all 9 grandchildren, ages 10 years to 5 months. He is kind of impressive.

Greg has not only been a client for these past years, but an incredible mentor. He has shown me paths to creating better job opportunities for myself and consistently pushing me to carry out my vision. This blog is one of Greg’s many ideas for perusing my passion. To you, I say thank you.

Here is Greg O’Quin. STRONG at 65.

I have worked with Mitzi for 11 years.  I started because I was bored with my personal trainer of 8 years; we did the same thing every week, over and over for years.

 Mitzi rarely repeats a workout.  They are all different and constantly changing.

 I ran my first marathon in New York City in 2007.  Mitzi coached me.  I’ve now run 9.  I have run New York 6 times, Boston, Chicago, and Paris.  She coached me differently for each.  I have made it to the starting line healthy for all 9 races – no injuries.  This is important, because about 15-20% of people training for marathons get injured during the training and do not even get to run the race.

We will be training to run the Marine Core Marathon in October, 2017.

 I snow ski 20-30 times per year.  Mitzi conditions me for skiing by changing the workout to focus on balance and my core.  I will be the only person in the gym standing (balancing) on a basketball while lifting light weights.

My workouts with Mitzi have changed since I have gotten older and as my activities change.

 Now the workouts also include coaching and nutrition.  I do not believe in diets, but I do believe in eating healthy foods.

I am 65.  I want to stay active and healthy for a long time.  I want to continue running marathons and skiing every year.  I believe that Mitzi can make this happen.

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Darcy James came into my life about 7 years ago, I was training a group of 3 ladies at the time. Darcy was a constant at the gym, a gym rat as we would call her. She approached me about training her, noting the variety of workouts, the encouragement, the fun, the yelling, and the spunkiness of those other 3 ladies and myself. We all accepted Darcy with open arms, never imagining what this girl would bring to our lives.

You see, Darcy was broken and searching. What she found that day was another family, a gym family. A group she could trust, love, lean on, admire, and work hard with. A group that believed in her and would never let her down. Seven years later, she continues to be the heart and motivator to all of us.

Darcy continues to work with the same group of ladies on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday’s. She is also in Bootcamp every Tuesday and Thursday morning. She is the definition STRONG.   There is no easy day, it is a choice to put your feet on the ground and get to your destination.

She calls me “Teacher” and brings a smile to my heart each and every day. I could not imagine not having her in my life. She brings me joy!   I love you Darcy James.

Here is Darcy’s STRONG story.

As a teenager, I was always very active. I played basketball in high school and college and I was always in great shape. Sports were always a very important part of my life and were a great escape for me from the dysfunctional family I grew up in and the depression I dealt with as a result of my family situation.

As an adult, not having sports as part of my life was something I really missed. Not being as active I slowly began to gain weight. Not massive amounts but even just 5 pounds a year added up quickly over a 10 to 15 – year period. I tried many times to get back on the healthy train – I would eat good and exercise a lot for a season, however, I always fell off the train. To be honest, it would usually start with some sort of an emotional challenge that would affect every area of my life. When I would struggle with disappointment or depression – it was very hard to care enough to take care of myself. Sometimes these set-backs would last several weeks or even months. So all the progress I had made – was usually lost and a lot of the times – I was more out of shape than ever and my weight just kept going up and I felt horrible.

My journey with Mitzi as my trainer started about 7 years ago. She was always a great encouragement to me. She would text me when I would disappear from the gym, sometimes for several weeks. She pushed me and always challenged me to be STRONG in the gym which I really liked. Mitzi continued to believe in me through the ups and downs of my journey. I had a major knee injury that required surgery and a long recovery and also went through a time of severe headaches that lasted over a year. During that time, Mitzi continued to challenge me and I always knew that she believed in me – even when I didn’t believe that I could ever stick with a pattern of healthy living.

However, about 6 months ago after losing one of my best friends to cancer, I had an urgency to take care of my body – especially since this is the only body that we have. I got very serious in the gym, started running again and in August I signed up for a Whole30. I began to lose weight and started to feel really good. Not just because of the weight loss but I finally felt like something clicked in my mind and I really had a desire to take care of myself and a confidence that I could do it. Even when tough times have hit – I have basically stayed the course and not given up. I am more determined than ever to keep moving forward to being the best and strongest version of me that I can be. And this goes a lot deeper than just losing weight and being in shape. I have found when I am disciplined and consistent in my workouts – it carries over into so many other vital areas of my life: my diet, my prayer and devotion time with God, the way I serve God and people, my emotional well-being and so many other areas.

Being a part of the gym reminds me of being a part of a church. It becomes almost like a family in a lot of ways. I am part of the early morning crew and the people I work out with during training sessions, bootcamps and on runs have become great friends to me. I am also very, very thankful to have Mitzi as my trainer but also as my friend. She saw something strong in me and continues to work to bring that out. I’m continuing to set goals and keep working toward those goals. My number one goal is to be everything God has called me to be and I believe being strong physically and mentally is a small part of causing me to be everything God created me to be.

I am excited about the future and look forward to hitting more goals. I will be running a full marathon in about a month and one day I am going to do an unassisted pull-up and I can tell you one thing – the entire gym will hear my screams (all the way up to the treadmill deck)! J Thank you Mitzi for all you invest in making pushing people to be all that they can be. You have a gift for motivating people and I am glad that I have been just one (of many) who have benefitted from the gift that God has given you.