2020 tales. You’ve heard enough of them to last the rest of your life already, right? I
get it. I really do. But humor me and hear me out. This story starts in 2020, but the
tale is about something else altogether.
For me, 2020 went a little something like this: I lost my primary job in the fitness industry (the one that allowed me to financially support myself while working full time in fitness), then all the gyms shut down and I lost the rest of my fitness income along with my sense of purpose, then I got married and moved to a suburb that is 45 minutes to an hour away from the gyms I worked at so I didn’t make it back on the class schedules when they returned, and then I promptly got pregnant. As you can imagine, the stress and emotions of losing my way in the fitness industry, relocating, getting pregnant at an advanced age, and basically having to reinvent myself all took a heavy toll on my personal fitness.
By the end of my pregnancy, I had gained 100 pounds and was devastated to have to undergo a c-section following 40 hours of labor. I had grand plans of spending my maternity leave (from my new desk job) working out, eating healthy, burning all the breastfeeding calories, and bouncing right back to my pre-COVID body. Yeah. That didn’t happen. Instead, I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom by myself for nearly a week and wasn’t able to do anything more than walk very slowly for nearly 6 weeks. On top of that, breastfeeding didn’t work out.
I felt physically useless.
I hated my body.
I hated how it felt to move it.
I hated how hard it was to do even simple daily activities, let alone workout.
I hated that I wasn’t one of the lucky ones who was out running marathons 4 days after delivering (or something like that).
I was shocked at how hard it was return to exercise once I was cleared to do so. I
couldn’t properly squat or lunge. Push-ups were out of the question. I couldn’t even
do a crossbody crunch without my upper BACK cramping up. WHAT!? Why was my
back cramping during a crunch!? Cycling seemed like a nice low-impact, easy-to-
regulate form of cardio. But no. I couldn’t even sit on the seat for more than a
minute without being in agony and standing was too much strain on my weak and
recovering body. I didn’t want to try. I didn’t want to go through the process. I didn’t
want to feel embarrassed and ashamed every time I tried and failed to do
something I once found easy.
And, in all honesty, had I not been fit before this experience, I wouldn’t have kept trying. The ONLY thing that kept me from quitting was knowing that I done all these things before, knowing what it was like on the other side of all the terrible awful no good very bad exercises, knowing that my body would do what it needed to do if I kept trying. So I did. And nothing happened.
For 7 months after my baby was born, nothing happened. I didn’t lose any weight
beyond what I lost at the hospital. “Keep trying,” that steady, faithful voice inside
me said. “What’s the point? I’m doomed to look like this forever,” that desperate,
vain, insecure other voice within responded. They battled one another day in and
day out while I remained determined to just do something physical every day. Even
if for only 10 minutes. I was making progress in my ability, albeit very minor progress, so I knew things were changing in my body. If I couldn’t look good at least
I could aim to feel good.
I carried on, focused on putting in effort every day and improving my fitness level. I
started taking fewer breaks, working out for longer periods of time, lifting heavier
weights, moving through a bigger range of motion, and then it happened. The scale
started to move! And I felt renewed hope. It’s been another 9 months since that
hope sparked and I’m still far from where I was, but I feel better and get closer to
my goal every single day. I’m not great at everything, but I can do burpees, tuck
jumps, plyo lunges, run, etc. again—and it feels more amazing that I ever thought it
could. I’m so grateful to my body for each exercise I’m able to do or master again
as there was a time I doubted I ever would. I know I’ll make it to my destination in
time and while I’m grateful for that, the real treasure when I get there will be
looking back on this journey and how it has changed me. I have learned invaluable
lessons about when to push and when to support, about when to challenge and
when to accommodate, about the importance of helping someone find a way to
believe that strong, fit, great feeling place is out there and attainable even when
they haven’t experienced it firsthand.
You see, I am not a naturally lean or powerful athlete. I worked hard to achieve my
fitness goals. And because I didn’t see myself as special for doing that, I didn’t have
a lot of patience for people who I didn’t perceive to be willing to put in that same
effort to achieve their goals. Not great at something? No problem. Ability will come
in time. Not willing to try? Psh. I don’t have time for that attitude. So you can only
imagine how it felt to find myself in a situation where I wasn’t even fit enough to try
most things. My body betrayed my mind every time I attempted a workout. From
the outside, had I been watching myself in class, I would have judged me to be lazy
or unwilling to try. From the inside, I knew I was giving the maximum effort possible,
but my body wasn’t up for the challenge. Had “Instructor Danica” pushed
“Postpartum Danica” in those humbling, humiliating moments, she probably would
have crumbled and quit. Had “Postpartum Danica” never been “Instructor Danica,”
she would have needed lots of outside encouragement, empathy, and options. She
would have benefitted from having someone come alongside her who understood
how hard it is to put yourself out there when you feel uncomfortable, embarrassed,
weak, insecure, and afraid. She would have needed someone to celebrate the fact
that she was there and the bravery that it took for her to show up. She would have
wanted someone to help her feel proud of her effort and build her trust that it would
pay off in the future.
As instructors, we have a tough task before us in every class. We must somehow
make class fun, challenging, safe, and effective for EVERYONE who shows up. We
have no control over who will show up and we often have little insight into what is
going on in their lives outside of class. Reading a room to determine who needs a
push and who needs a word of encouragement, who needs permission to take a
break and who needs the level 25 degree of difficulty, who needs acknowledgment
and who wants to blend into the crowd… that’s a hard thing to master. And maybe
we never do. Maybe we all float in a range that suits our personalities and we
attract participants who are similarly suited. Maybe. But we all also have a duty to lift up each person we have the honor of interacting with. We have a duty to do our
best to help their passion for fitness flourish. We have a duty to make them feel
safe and that they belong. We have a duty to be the best part of their day. We can’t
understand what it’s like to walk in everyone’s shoes, but we can lead them from a
place of love and encouragement. Just as “Postpartum Danica” had to trust the
process and put in consistent work long before seeing results, we must give our
participants a consistent experience, so they trust us to lead them in their fitness
journeys and help them find their way to life-long health and happiness.