They walk around you everyday, whether you know it or not. They seem to be normal — they have jobs, they go to school, they have families and pets and car payments. They probably wear jeans just like everyone else, and they probably love pizza just as much as you do.
But they’re harboring a little known passion that, on the surface, may not be so obvious to those who only see them at work, at school, at the kids’ soccer practices, or at family functions. Despite their otherwise normal exteriors, there are, in fact, some Western New Yorkers who are dedicated to and passionate about a subject not generally associated with our region — a region which normally makes headlines for its chicken wings, its beef on weck, its unfortunate professional sports team history, and its reputation as a snow capital.
Instead, these seemingly average WNYers are passionate about fitness — about running, about weight training, about power lifting, about body building, about yoga, about martial arts, and in some cases, about several of these activities. These WNYers don’t often see the spotlight — we aren’t a region that traditionally celebrates our fitness — but I would like you to meet these people anyway.
To that end, each Wednesday, for as long as possible, I will showcase the “fitness biography” of one average WNYer who has made extraordinary efforts in his or her dedication to fitness. These people will talk, in their own words, about their backgrounds, their childhoods, their own children and families, their past and future goals, their diets, their setbacks, their achievements and their disappointments. They’ll also connect their passion for fitness to a corresponding passion for life, highlighting what lessons fitness has taught them that are applicable to everything, not just to the gym floor.
My hope is that each of these individuals will show the myriad of ways in which one can be “fit,” and my hope is that such diversity will spawn motivation, inspiration and a renewed sense that WNY can be — or maybe already is — the home to not only wings and sandwiches and snow but to truly great strength and vitality as well.
In elementary and middle school I was involved in many different sports (basketball, softball, tae kwon do, dancing). I don’t consider myself very athletic or skilled in any one sport but have always enjoyed trying new things. In high school, I began running and joined the indoor track team. Unfortunately, I also picked up smoking and other unhealthy habits, so running only lasted a few years. As an undergraduate in college, I finally decided to quit smoking. I over compensated with food, and soon my weight shot up to 216 pounds. That was when I made the committment to become healthy. I gave up drinking pop and eating fast food. Meatless Big Macs were soon a thing of the past! I began walking and decided to train for my first 5k race (Buffalo State College’s Bengal 5K race… still one of my favorite races!).
This picture was taken a few years ago. I can’t remember my exact time, but I shaved almost 10 minutes off of that first race time!! Woohoo!!
Since that first race, I’ve participated in countless fitness activities which have led me to where I am today. My current fitness activities include running, boot camp classes, jumping rope and weight training.
Many people recall a moment or tipping point that led them to a healthier lifestyle. I don’t recall having just one of those moments. I wanted running to become easier, and I knew that I would get faster if I dropped my weight. Being insecure about my weight and always feeling heavier than my friends contributed to my involvement in sports and fitness.
Throughtout the years, I’ve tried to overcome obstacles that are challenging to me and strengthen areas that I see as a weakness. Both chin ups and pull ups have always been a challenge for me. About 5 years ago, I worked out with a group of girls who were training to compete in a figure competition. All of the girls that I trained with could complete several sets of pull ups with ease. I struggled with doing just one! They were all very supportive, and it was motivating to train with such dedicated athletes! At the same time, it was also frustrating that I couldn’t keep up! That feeling of weakness pushed me to making it a priority.
Staying focused on each task and breaking my larger goals into smaller steps is what has helped me to be successful. I eventually overcame that pull up obstacle through a lot of hard work and dedication. I started by using an assisted pullup machine, then I progressed to an unassisted bar where a trainer would give a little support to help push me up. It didn’t take long before I could do multiple sets on my own!
Surrounding myself with supportive friends and competitive fitness partners has also made it possible to have fun while pushing myself to achieve my very best. I enjoy training on my own but have also worked with trainers throughout the years for support with lifting heavier weights and for added motivation to push myself to my limits.
Fitness has become a part of who I am, and I make it a priority. Even on my wedding day, I made time for an early morning workout. My workouts are engrained into my daily routine. On my rest days, I still plan something less intense to get me up and moving. Just a 30 minute walk on my lunch break gives me added energy and keeps me in a positive mood for the rest of the day.
Since I have always been interested in trying new things, I’ve signed up for many different events and various fitness activities, including the Warrior Dash, boxing, P90X, rowing, Bikram yoga, biking, golf, and even hulahooping classes for exercise.
One of my greatest fitness achievements has been completing a 6-hour Ultra-Marathon (33 miles) in the pouring rain. I am not only proud of finishing the event, but even more proud of all the training that went into it!
A few years ago, my friend Jase told me about the event, which takes place annually on the UB bike path. I mentioned the event to my trainer Chris Rombola . I was not sure if running an ultra-marathon was something even possible for me to do since I had only ever done 5ks and a half-marathon. His reaction and confidence that I could not only finish the race, but WIN IT is what made me decide to go for it! I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredible trainers over the years who have each worked with me to accomplish various goals. Chris is truly one of the best! He actively practices what he preaches. Chris participates in his own Boot Camp workouts and doesn’t expect his clients to do anything that he wouldn’t do. And there’s really nothing that he wouldn’t make us do… just ask Kristen about when we did 30 minutes of lunging around the track last summer. When I saw how confident he was in my ability for this new Ultra-Marathon challenge, I decided to go for it.
Once I committed to training for this event, a friend gave me some great advice that I now use to achieve other goals as well. She told me to never skip a training run because of the weather. So much of running is mental. On race day, you can always think back and say, “I’ve run in worse conditions.”
I trained for that ultra during the winter months and was able to look back and pull strength from those training runs when I needed it most. There were 2 runs in particular that I will never forget. First, when I set out for my 17-miler after work, it was a very windy 30-degree evening, and the rain was blowing sideways. I was literally the only one on the road that night. My husband Erik has always been supportive of all my fitness endeavors. His athleticism and strength often motivates me, so much that I find myself running further or pushing harder during my runs or workouts. As I set out for my 17 miles that day, bundled from head to toe in rain gear, Erik looked at me, for the first time, as though I was crazy to go running outside that evening. But having a training plan in place, I knew that I needed to accomplish that run to help me succeed at my goals for the following week. That run ultimately set the foundation for race day. I returned several hours later, ecstatic that I accomplished what I set out to do!
My most meaningful run was my 21-mile training run on March 30, 2010. I planned out my route on mapmyrun.com about a week ahead of time. I’m a teacher and was going to get a ride to school and then set out after the 3:45pm dismissal bell. The day before my run, I was called down to the office and told that my position (after teaching for 8 years) was being cut for the following year due to the budget. It was unexpected, and I was devastated.
I debated if I should cancel the run that I had planned for the next day. I’m so glad that I stuck to my plan, because it was during that run that I realized just how therapeutic running, and fitness, can be! During that run, I had plenty of time to focus on my breathing, strategize, learn to distract myself and, most importantly, find my own rhythm. Several months later, my position was reinstated, and things worked out for the best. No one ever looks back and says, “I wish I skipped that workout!” Instead, it’s more likely that we regret over-sleeping or not fitting a workout into our schedule. I try to keep that in mind on mornings when I’d rather turn off the alarm and go back to sleep! The accomplishment of these training runs also puts that into perspective.
I like to change my fitness activities and workouts often so that I don’t get bored. Here’s what my weekly fitness routine looks like for my current goals. Keep in mind this changes often.
*I work with my trainer 2x/week, rotating days and workouts. Training days are paired as followed: chest & biceps, back & triceps, shoulders, and leg day.
*My current post-training cardio workout includes running on the treadmill/outside or jumping rope. I also try to go for a 30-minute walk outside at lunch whenever possible.
My eating habits have improved over the years. I find that when I plan ahead and take time to keep a food & fitness log, I stick to healthier habits. Tracking portion sizes, eating times, along with any notes on how satisifed/unsatisfied I was at each meal, helps me to constantly monitor what I’m taking in and how that corresponds to my overall performance. I can then make adjustments as I see fit.
My diet is primarily vegetarian consisting of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Currently, I’m using a carb cycling approach and eating a varied ratio of proteins, fats and carbs over the course of 5 meals throughout the day. Most of my protein sources come from egg whites, whey protein isolate, cottage cheese, greek yogurt and TVP (textured vegetable protein). My carbohydrates come from oats, sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, black beans (which also have protein) and Ezekial english muffins & cereal. The healthy fats I consume are flaxseed, extra virgin olive oil, avocado and nuts/nut butter.
The one meal I could not live without is breakfast. Every morning I cook 1/4 cup of dry oats with water, then mix in a little almond milk, a scoop of whey protein isolate, cinnamon, flaxseed, walnuts and blueberries. It gives me a ton of energy and keeps me full for hours!
My diet is not perfect. Ideally, I would surround my workout meals with protein and carbs. Often, if I workout in the morning, I train on an empty stomach. I know this is ideal for doing cardio, but when I lift weights, I would like to make more of an effort to have a protein shake and small amount of carbs to provide enough fuel for muscles. I haven’t had many “cheat” meals lately. I find that if I keep healthy foods with me at all times, I am less likely to stray from my plan. Since I limit dairy, I am no longer tempted by ice cream or creamy desserts. Instead, I might eat larger portions of healthier foods. I have to be careful not to over-consume nuts/nut butters and other fats. That can get out of control fast if I wait too long to eat between meals. Knowing my triggers and keeping tempting foods out of sight really helps me to be successful in day-to-day situations, which ultimately leads to being successful at my longer-range goals.
Fitness has had so many positive effects on other areas of my life, aside from increased strength and an improved diet. Working toward my fitness goals have given me more overall confidence and ability to do things that I had not thought possible just 10 years ago. Just last summer, I tackled my fear of heights, as my husband and I manipulated our way through Holiday Valley’s new Sky High Adventure ropes course.
Motivation comes from within. Wanting to be better overall, to live to my potential and see what else is possible, keeps me looking ahead and wanting more. I have often been described as “restless” and someone who can’t sit still. I look at that as a positive quality and a trait that, when paired with fitness, can lead to endless possibilites! I also find motivation in others. When I run outside, I often stay on main roads so that I’m not tempted to stop and rest. If I know others are “watching,” even if I just pretend the people passing in cars are cheering me on as if I’m in a race, it helps keep me going. Seeing others engaged in activity, and even inactivity, gives me the drive to lace up my running shoes and put my best foot forward!