“I see that you signed up for the 90-day Challenge. Are you going to do it?”
This was the email that I received from Jamie Swagler, the Owner of Swagler Strength and Performance in the beginning of January, 2014. I had signed up for the Challenge, but I was still unsure so I had not fully completed the registration. Jamie’s question was a simple one, but also so complicated. If I responded, yes, then I felt like I was about to step off of a cliff. If I said, no, then I would be denying my obvious weight problem. So, the lawyer in me avoided the question and asked Jamie if he could give me more information. Part of me hoped that he would ignore my response. To my surprise, Jamie emailed me back again and gave me his cell number. This was just the first difference that I noticed between Swagler’s Strength and Performance and all of the other gyms that I had joined in my life. Jamie actually cared about his members.
The day that I spoke with Jamie I remember going into the bathroom away from my husband and our three little ones because for some reason I needed privacy to explain to Jamie that I didn’t have time to work out. After all, I was a full-time attorney, a mom, and a wife. I barely had time to shower, let alone get a workout in. There just wasn’t time for fitness or taking care of myself. Jamie’s response was as direct as his first question. He simply said, “If you can’t take care of yourself, then you can’t take care of everyone around you.” He was right, but I was still unsure.
On January 5, 2014, I stepped into Swagler’s Strength and Performance for my weigh-in. I had only one pair of worn-out running sneakers and two workout outfits. I immediately saw people working out and thought, ok, maybe this was a bad idea. You see the people at the gym actually work out. They lift weights. They run and jump. They sweat. They push themselves. What I didn’t realize is that the members at Swagler’s don’t negatively judge or criticize each other. Jamie must have sensed my fear because he said, “don’t worry; they are all focused on doing their own thing.”
At 5 feet 2 inches tall, I weighed in at 250 lbs and having 43.7% body fat and approximately 254 overall inches. I was morbidly obese and basically two people. I had given birth to three beautiful babies in the span of five years and after each tough pregnancy the weight had just increased. I had never weighed more than 150 lbs in my life prior to having children, but here I was at 250 lbs. I could barely stand to look at myself in the mirror while Jamie took my measurements, but Jamie was unbelievably kind, and simply said, “there, the hard part is over.”
I saw the friendly face of Michele Westfall as I was leaving, who also was there for her weigh-in. She introduced herself and smiled. In that moment, I was so mortified by my weight and measurements that Michele’s friendliness gave me hope in a dark moment. Little did I know that she and the other members of the 90-Day Challenge would help me tremendously in the next few months and become such wonderful friends.
I went home that evening and scrubbed our kitchen floor for a long time. What was I doing? I was happy. I didn’t need to do this Challenge. I was married to an amazing man who loved me at any size. I had three beautiful children and was a successful attorney. I didn’t need to change my life. The problem was that I couldn’t fit into my clothes anymore. I was winded just walking up one flight of stairs. It took effort to roll over in bed at night. I could no longer wear the high heels I had so much fun wearing when I lived in New York City. I couldn’t enjoy running or playing with my kids. All my energy was spent sitting on the couch. So, maybe I wasn’t as happy as I thought I was. Maybe I wasn’t the best I could be. That night I went to bed and cried.
The next day I walked up to the gym for my first 30-60-90 class. I stopped short in front of the door and took a deep breath. I almost turned around and walked back to my car. The gym was filled with members working out, who just scared the life right out of me. I wasn’t one of these people. They were fit. I was horribly unfit. But, I stopped myself. No, I wasn’t going to run away from this. I had
earned this weight by giving life to three little people and if anyone had a problem with that, then they weren’t worth my time.
I made my way to the back room of the gym in a blur to find Trainer Tim Guzalak waiting to start his class. Tim would become another great friend and coach in the months ahead, but at that moment, he just asked “has it been a while since you have worked out?” It was obvious that I had not worked out in a very long time, but like all of the trainers as Swagler’s, Tim was kind and welcoming.
That first 30-60-90 class was intense. I originally thought, how hard could it be? To do an exercise movement for 30 seconds, then another for 60 seconds and a final movement at 90 seconds, couldn’t be difficult, could it? Well, do those three movements for two rotations and, then repeat at three other stations. Yeah, it was intense. I was almost sick by the end of class, but I was determined.
That first week of the Challenge, it took everything I had just to get through the class warm-ups, let alone not throw-up after the work-outs. Thankfully, Tim helped me scale all of the exercises so that I could still workout. I started pushups against the wall because I couldn’t do them on my knees. I did planks, but for only 10 second intervals. I jumped rope, but took lots of breaks in between jumps. I managed wall sits, but for only 20 seconds at a time. I could barely squat down.
I wasn’t fit after that week or even the first month. I was sore as hell and out of breath. I remember asking another member and friend, Chelsea Winslow, how to handle the soreness. She told me to keep working out because it would actually help with the soreness. That just seemed nuts to me, but Chelsea was incredibly fit, so I gave it a try. She was right. By stretching out my muscles and continuing the workouts, the soreness lessened.
In the midst of these first few weeks, I had started the meal plans, too, that Jamie provided to us through Evolution Nutrition as part of the Challenge. The meal plans were perfect for me because they were based on my specific weight and measurements. These plans also took the guesswork out of what I should be eating or how much I should be eating. And, surprisingly, I was never hungry. If anything, more times than not, I was overly full of food. The downside, of course, was that I had some terrible sugar withdrawal, but by the end of that first month, I felt good.
Another part of the Challenge included weekly meetings with other members of the Challenge to discuss our successes and/or challenges faced during the week. I will forever remember meeting Carolyn Scanlon, Barb Speno-Walsh, Kathy Sage O’Rourke and Kim Quigley in those first weeks. Like Michele, Carolyn, became a wonderful friend and great fitness partner. These women were wonderfully friendly and made me feel comfortable in my own skin, despite the fact that I wasn’t. Our first homework was to set small, achievable goals for ourselves, so I got to it.
My first goal was to be able to plank for 60 seconds. I should be able to do this. I wanted to do this. So, every day for that next week I did planks until I reached that Friday and told Tim what I had been trying to do. He said, “Ok, here, look at me. You need to take small breaths like this,” and he showed me how I should be breathing and holding my core tight. “You can do this,” he said. And I did. It was amazing. It wasn’t amazing because I was amazing or because planking is so difficult. It was amazing because I saw what was possible when someone believed that I could achieve a goal and I believed it too. For the first time, I thought, I really can do this.
Throughout February, I faced more small goals and was addicted to these small successes. I worked on doing strict push-ups and for the first time in my entire life, with Tim’s coaching, I could actually did one. I started jumping rope for 90 seconds at a time. I even started doing burpees. The first time I saw Burpees on the exercise regime, I thought, “oh god, I can’t do those, I will simply fall flat on my face!” But, as always, Tim was there coaching and actually did them with me. And before long I was jumping up and stringing them together. They were slow going, but I was doing them.
By March, 2014, I had lost about 30 lbs and oddly my original goal of losing weight had changed. My focus shifted from losing weight to being able to do all of these cool exercises at the gym. I wanted to be able to have fun and push myself more by jumping boxes, doing pull-ups and trying this strange animal called “CrossFit.” I had no idea what a WOD was, but having an ultimate trust in the gym, I took the plunge and drank what everyone calls the CrossFit Kool-Aid.
In my first week of CrossFit classes I felt that they were less intense than the 30-60-90 and Tabata classes. What I didn’t understand was that it would take me a long time to have proper lifting form and get into the CrossFit groove. This would quickly change. The day before my birthday I went to the WOD, otherwise known as the “Workout of the Day”, and it happened to be the 14.5 Open WOD. The workout consisted of a total of 84 weighted thrusters, burpees, and jumps. I originally thought to myself, well, I will just do what I can and leave it at that. That is, until I got to the gym and Jamie explained that the WOD had no set time, so you either completed 14.5 or failed. I had made it this far and wasn’t about to quit now, so I started. After just the first 20 reps, I thought I was going to cry and throw-up. I looked at Jamie and said “I can’t do this.” He looked at me calmly and said, “That’s not what your shirt says,” and pointed to a logo on my shirt that said “I can do it.” Jamie stood by me, coached me and helped count the reps for me towards the end. His confidence in me and my own determination to complete the workout held me strong that morning until 47 minutes later I had finished.
My lifting form still isn’t perfect. And burpees and thrusters are still incredibly difficult. I am still having fun trying to figure out how to properly clean and jerk, snatch and squat. I still bother Tim to give me personal training lessons every week so that I can try and give my best in the WODs. But, Swagler’s Strength and Performance helped me lose an overall 40 lbs and 4% body fat during the Challenge and brought me back to life.
I wish I could say that I won the Challenge, but I didn’t. I came in second place and was heartbroken when I heard the results. But, the same night that I heard the results I went out to dinner with my husband and for the first time in seven years, I wore a pair of jeans. So, in a way, I felt that I had won.
I truly believe that failure is not defined by being knocked down, but rather by refusing to get up again after being knocked down. So, I have kept on training and still am training now. It has been almost seven months since I received that email from Jaime. I have lost 56 lbs to date, and I can bust out double unders with a jump rope, strict pushup-ups, 2-minute planks, burpees, cleans and snatches, back squats and box jumps. I am still having fun and improving. My next goals include competing at the CNY Throwdown CrossFit Competition and the Great Race in Auburn this summer. And I hope to reach my goal of 100 lbs by the end of 2014. Most importantly, though, I am a better wife to my husband, Mike, and mom to my little ones who are only 2, 4, and 5. They eat healthier and exercise now more because I do, which is priceless.
People tell me frequently that I look great and tell me that they would like to work out and lose weight, too. I always smile and think of that first very simple question that Jamie asked me, “Are you going to do it?”
Jamie Swagler,Performance Coach at Swagler Strength & Performance.