People often ask me how I started my “strength journey”. I don’t mean to be brief or rude with them when I respond with something like “I did Crossfit and then my coach told me to compete in lifting” (which in fairness, is a true but small piece of my story). The extended version just doesn’t seem appropriate for a one minute chat in a gym before my next squat set.
It started at 5:30am on a cold as fuck morning in San Francisco, CA. Not quite sure the date, but it was definitely a Sunday. I know this because the night before (Saturday), my new roommate and I had to navigate the weekend bar crowds of the Tenderloin district to quickly unpack our yellow taxi filled with the few bags and boxes we could sneak out of the apartment I shared with my then boyfriend while he was away for the weekend. We probably had thirty-six hours to move my shit, but I was terrified that he might show up and see us packing and subsequently beat my ass (again)…so we rushed. We spent that night huddled on an air mattress in a FREEZING studio that sat four flights above a really loud dingy bar. I barely slept that night. I was all at once petrified, anxious, and extremely excited. I dozed off for a few hours and was wide awake at 5:00am. I rolled off the now deflated air mattress as to not wake my roomie. She raised her head for a moment before I left and said “girl, where are you going?!”, I replied with a childlike amount of excitement “THE GYM!”.
It had been months since my ex-boyfriend physically pulled me by my arm out of the Montgomery Street 24hr Fitness and whispered some bullshit in my ear along the lines of “I saw you talking to that dude, you fucking slut”…My membership was officially cancelled the next day. Needless to say, on that Sunday morning I could not wait to RUN to the nearest gym and reactivate my membership! That day turned into working out everyday. Which turned into me teaching “group fitness” classes, becoming a personal trainer, and ultimately where I am now. Of course I didn’t start lifting heavy right away (although in retrospect I wish I had), but the journey of finding my STRENGTH was set out that morning. I started out small. I would copy workouts from Bodybuilding.com and write them in a notebook. I’d gather my necessary equipment and head to a corner in a group training room and do my routine out of the sight of gym members and ESPECIALLY trainers in fear of ridicule. You see, I was all but broken inside by this point. I had been emotionally, physically, and sexually abused. I was told that I was disgusting and embarrassing many times. You hear it enough and you begin to subconsciously believe it. I had an actual phobia of the treadmill. Not in the “I hate cardio” way. In the way that my ex-boyfriend once told me that I was an “embarrassment” while I tried to jog because he said I was so fat and slow that I made the entire floor shake. Of course you are reading this in disbelief if you met me in the last few years. Things were not always #stronggirl #feminist for me. Slowly I began to make progress. I’d do circuit training with the “ez bars” and realized that I was now using the heaviest bars available! I was seeing actual muscles on my body for the first time ever!! I could do 20 push-ups in a row! This was getting real.
When I moved back home to Los Angeles in 2013, I became friendly with a female physique competitor and was bitten by the “lift heavy” bug for sure. She was a badass, I pretty much forced her to be my friend and training partner. When I moved to a new area, I began training Crossfit, which I was average at best at. It was clear to my coach and myself that the squat and any pulling movements were my strengths…and thus began my search for a Powerlifting program online.
The journey of self discovery and my powerlifting journey are not mutually exclusive, as I’m sure you can imagine. It is not a coincidence that the stronger I became physically, the stronger my self image became. My self worth and self image had become devastatingly poor prior to training. I was in a dark place for so long that not one self-help book, yoga retreat, meditation DVD, or even counseling could help me. The only thing I knew was that every time I pushed myself in the gym I felt better. The only time I felt attractive was while I was doing physical activity and most attractive while lifting. My new found self esteem was not due to Instagram (in 2015 when I began training for PL I had roughly 1k-5k followers–not exactly killing the popularity game) or from the attention of gym members (I trained alone or with my partner in an empty gym he owns). Rather it came from finally having proof that I can DO SOMETHING. After 20+ years of being told by others and believing that I was worthless and just not “great” at anything (especially sports), I finally had evidence of accomplishment! Every PR was like a huge “FUCK YOU” to my former self, the people in my past, and my toxic thoughts. After a while it wasn’t at all about the naysayers or the wrong doers of my past. It was about me breaking through my own self doubt. Eventually it wasn’t about my past at all. At a certain point it became about the here and now (which is written inside my first leather belt). It was around that time that I stopped being ashamed of my past and stopped hiding the painful truth of what brought me to this place. Now I am present. I see myself as an athlete (or at least athletic). My goals are not based on proving anyone right or wrong about me. My goals are simply based on challenging myself.
The woman I am today at times surprises even me. I went from not being able to take my sweater off at the gym (no matter HOW HOT I GOT) to being (in)famous for never wearing pants and having huge exposed traps! I cannot help but laugh when I think about how far I have come. How comfortable I am in my skin, cellulite and all. I wish I could go back to that day in the Montgomery Street 24hr Fitness and shake some sense into myself. But ultimately, I am grateful for it all. Every single awkward, sad, horrible, or great moment has led me to this place.