MY DEDICATION TO FITNESS IS FUELED BY A COLD REALITY: MY HEALTH DEPENDS ON IT
It didn’t start out that way, though. I grew up in an incredibly active family where fitness was never an obligation to me—it was a way of life. I played softball and volleyball throughout my childhood and competitively into high school, spending up to five hours a day at practices, lessons and games. But my active lifestyle came to an abrupt halt during my last year of high school.
I woke up one night with severe stomach pain and nausea. Initially, my parents and I assumed it was a stomach bug, believing it would pass within a few days. But it didn’t. Day after day, I lived in pain. Eating aggravated the condition, so I began to cut my intake. Within a few months, I went from being an active, happy teenager to so weak I was barely able to get out of bed in the morning after 12+ hours of sleep. As an athlete, I knew that I needed food to fuel my body. But my body was rejecting most food. Food had become my enemy.
I went from specialist to specialist, hospital to hospital to search for the cause of my pain. My symptoms worsened. My doctors were baffled.
Maybe it’s an ulcer? No.
Perhaps a tumor? No.
Is she Celiac? No.
Crohn’s or colitis? No & no.
My diagnosis was bittersweet. I was grateful to finally have an answer, but treatment for Gastroparesis is limited. I experimented with a plethora of oral medications, most of which provided little relief and massive side effects. At one point, I was prescribed a medication normally reserved for severely ill cancer patients. When that failed to work, my parents began importing another medication from Canada that was banned in the United States. My doctors told me that I would likely never be able to eat solid food again. I was put on a liquid diet, with few calories, vitamins, nutrients, or fiber.
After treatments at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles proved futile, my family and I decided to travel 2,000 miles for answers to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. But shortly before my visit, I received life-changing advice from a doctor. He told me that I had probably staved off the disease for years because of my active life. He pointed out that my condition deteriorated after my athletic lifestyle ended when I stopped playing high school sports. He said exercise would help my digestive system. So, fight through the pain and vomiting and exercise as often and as rigorously as possible.
I reluctantly started working out with a trainer. I had always enjoyed being active, but now I was so weak it was painful to engage in any type of athletic activity. Five pound dumbbells felt like fifty pounds. I felt fatigued after one or two sets of an exercise. My trainer began incorporating pool workouts into our routine (the kind that you see the elderly doing at the gym…) because it was easier on my body. It was agonizing, but I kept at it. And it worked.
By the time I arrived at the Mayo Clinic, I was beginning to feel better. I had gained some strength and appetite. And I was able to eat certain solid foods, so long as the portions were small and I chewed slowly and thoroughly. I spent a week at the Mayo Clinic, undergoing tests and meeting with the world’s leading doctors about my condition. At the end of the week, I received shocking news. Doctors there could see the change, though they said I still had major stomach issues.
My stomach was no longer paralyzed. It was emptying normally. My doctors, my family, and I were ecstatic. My exercise regimen had worked. Not all was perfect, however. I still had major digestive issues—a lack of stomach elasticity and expansion. Essentially, when I drank or ate, my stomach did not expand properly, which caused pain and a feeling of early fullness. My lead doctor told me to avoid any medications and to treat the condition by managing my portions, eating healthy foods (including fiber), and exercising. No more experimental medicines flown in from other countries.
So exercise and diet became my way of life. I shelved the bag of medicines, some with potentially fatal side-effects. And I began to fall in love with fitness. My interest in healthy living grew. I attended yoga classes, took long walks, jogged, and lifted weights. And when I saw that our college gym was hiring students to work as personal trainers, I applied. I was the only English major among a hoard of qualified applicants, mostly athletic training majors. I was hired, became an AFAA certified personal trainer, and became committed to helping people achieve their fitness goals.
As my college career continued, I started to explore other forms of fitness. I trained for half marathons and completed three before I graduated in 2013. I experimented with heavy lifting. And I taught myself how to swim properly, going from being exhausted after just 25 meters, to swimming a mile non-stop.
After college, I became a certified yoga instructor, an Ironman triathlete and continued endurance running. I launched a fitness and health website and then created PreGame Fit, a science-based, 12-week workout and nutrition program for those with little time, space, or money.
I have appeared as a fitness expert on television programs, such as Access Hollywood. I’ve written, edited and modeled for various media publications, including Shape Magazine, Fitness Magazine, and The Huffington Post. I have also appeared in Nike video and social media campaigns.
All of those activities were fueled by a deep appreciation for the invaluable role exercise and diet have played in my life – and can play in the lives of others. I have learned a lot of lessons over the past 10 years: stay positive, never give up, be compassionate, be caring, and be your own medical advocate. My goal is to help restore hope to those who feel hopeless, because I understand despair.
Fitness brought joy back into my life. I want others to experience that same joy.