Jill's Story

The desire to change oneself is never an easy place to be...it's an uncomfortable feeling. Born out of our human experience and knowledge that it's difficult, painful and requires more than a little sacrifice. It's perhaps the hardest thing in the world to see ourselves from the inside and know, way deep down, there is work to be done. That facing our weak spots and imperfections or taking accountability for our failures is going to hurt and we don't know what the outcome of change will be. We can hope for something better, more real and more authentic, but we simply don't know if it's gonna end up that way until we've passed through it. It's a risk. A big one and it is often times far easier to deal with the problems and pain we know than to add another layer of work and pain and sacrifice to an already difficulty place. Because let's face it, we rarely venture to change when it's smooth sailing and we feel confident and happy. It's the dark spaces if our lives that have us seeking, or desiring change and the growth and knowledge that invariably come with it. That's where I was 15 years ago...and thus begins the story of StrongLife. 

I was almost 33 years old and had just gone through a particularly rough pregnancy...I had gained 60 lbs through my 3rd pregnancy and had never really lost it between my 3rd and 4th...I didn't know it then, but depression had begun to take it's toll on my body and mind. I didn't recognize it for what it was because my parents had never talked openly about the mental illness that was prevalent on both sides of my family. I had good days and bad days and with 3 littles, lots of distraction. I had convinced myself that the feelings I was experiencing more and more regularly would pass....the feelings of lethargy, deep unremitting sadness and lack of motivation for really anything. Couple that with extremely poor eating habits and the use of food, especially sweets as a coping method to numb out the pain and fill the hole that was growing inside my soul. My husband at the time was gone 60 to 80 hours a week and I was mostly alone in raising the kids and taking care of the household. You would think that I wouldn't have wanted another baby with the physical and emotional issues I had, but having a child was a deeply validating and "feeling" experience for me and helped me to feel a sense of purpose. I felt deeply needed by my children and loved them intensely and that grounded me and gave joy in my day to day existence. I had no idea what would happen to my body after my 4th daughter was born. It just didn't bounce back the way it was supposed to. Years of abuse and lack of self care sent me into a tailspin of tremendous weight gain and postpartum psychosis. I had gained another 40+ lbs with this pregnancy and was now 100 lbs overweight! But the weightgain wasn't the worst part, the postpartum was absolutely devastating. It changed the way my brain perceived my life experience and robbed me of perspective and reason. I was paranoid, fearful of everything, panicked and at times non-functioning. Again I didn't know that this was a treatable condition and I hid my illness and isolated myself until I was suicidally depressed and having daily panic attacks. Not coincidentally I was also questioning my purpose in life....my confidence was at an all time low, I felt like a stranger in my own body. I didn't recognize myself anymore and I was disgusted by what I saw. I accused my husband of having an affair...not because I had evidence of that, but because I believed there was no way that wasn't going to happen based on my physical state and there was no way that he could still be attracted to me. I had never felt so lost. Lost like I would never be able to find myself again. At that point, I wasn't even reaching for happy. I just wanted to feel somewhat normal again. The postpartum psychosis made my thoughts an endless record player in my head. Fat, ugly, worthless, crazy, addicted, loser...this was what played in my head all day every day. This is what makes us risk change. When the pain of our current circumstance outweighs the pain of working to change. My body, my mind, my heart all screamed that I needed change. I needed to DO. Do something different. 

I am full believer when you are ready for change, your subconscious mind starts to seek it out...in perfect tandem with our conscious mind's decisions and actions. You start to choose the work of change and those that are meant to help you come into your life right when they are supposed to show up. For me that was manifest in two ways. Through wisdom amd insight given by my mother and later by my best friend Mary. They had both been privy to my delusions, depression and weight gain. They had both supported and helped me to function on my lowest days. Both had talked to me and loved me. But neither one had pushed me to get help until then. Both finally intervened after a mental break happened shortly after my husband left for a week-long work trip. I truly lost it. I was pacing, weeping, raging, hysterical and suicidal. I couldn't be reasoned with, talked to or calmed down. I spent three days in bed. My mother came over to care for my children. After the 4th day, I finally started to cycle out of it and was lucid and pliable. My mother who had never spoken about mental illness very gently talked to me. I honestly don't remember all of what she said but the gist of it was that I was not recognizable anymore. She said it was like I had lost my self, my personality, my fire and humor. That passion and spark of life that was genuinely part of who I was, I was a shell. She spoke of her love for me and the love God had for me. She told me many things. She spoke to my broken heart and told me I was worthwhile, I had a great purpose and was worth every effort to get better. She told me to get some help from my Doctor or she would find help for me. She connected with me in a moment of light and truth and something just clicked in my brain. 

A light in my head came on. Get help...ask someone who knows, surely I wasn't the only one that ever felt this way. It's funny how depression affects our reason and narrows our view so that even the simplest solutions seem out of reach...or we close ourselves off to the things that will truly help us to heal because we can't see past our suffering. The second conversation happened the very next day. My best friend Mary called me and told me that she had felt the strongest desire to talk to me about the things she was about to tell me. She told me that she was deeply concerned about me. I had changed and it was affecting every thing in my life including my capacity to mother my children whom I loved with all of me and my closest relationships. She said that she I needed to go and see my Ob-gyn and get on some anti-depressants and get into talk therapy...but she also told me something very different than my mom. She told me that she thought I needed to exercise and start lifting weights. I look back at this and laugh, because at the time...it was such a novel idea to me. This was something I could do on my own. I could learn this lifestyle change and start doing something physical that was good for my body for a change. And maybe doing something different could change my path.

I might be hard, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was like I was being handed a key to unlock myself out of my prison. I didn't recognize it then, but my best friend was connecting with me on that soul level and empowering me to change my life with my own choices and actions. These two conversations were the first rays of hope I had in a year. I clung to them like a lifeline and I called my Doctor the next day and scheduled an appointment to get some help. But I also made the decision to lose my weight and start to pursue a healthy lifestyle.The interesting thing about my best friend was that her and her husband were very much into fitness. Bodybuilding to be exact. They did local competitions and worked out everyday together. They had a crazy regimen that they followed and I was, up until that point...uninterested in it. And to their credit, they talked about their fitness journey but had never tried to push their lifestyle on to me. They accepted me for who I was, my weight was not an issue. And maybe this was why it just made sense to me to ask them for help. I trusted them. In making the decision to lose weight and be healthy, I immediately knew that I was NOT going to be walking into a commercial gym anytime soon, so I would need someone to guide me in my fitness journey and I wanted to learn to the weightlifting side. Now you have to remember that Strength Training was not a thing back then and it was relatively new and uncommon for women especially to lift...unless they were competitors. Strength Training for weight loss was unheard of. If you wanted to lose weight, you calorie counted and did aerobics. Lots of aerobics. So I called Mary back a few days later and asked (begged) if her and her husband (also my dear friend) would train me personally and I would pay them to teach me how to become fit. To my surprise, they didn't hesitate and they both committed to help me and take me under their wing. We set up a weekly schedule for me to lift and work out with them. Every day at 4pm after the kids were home from school, I would meet at their house to train for an hour. I could not have imagined how this one decision would affect me. Little did I know that this would alter the course of my life forever. But the real work was about to begin I vividly remember my first training day...mostly because I was so frustrated with what I couldn't do. It's a funny trick your mind plays on you, you still think you can do certain things...but the reality is that if you haven't moved your body against resistance for long periods of time or in my case ever...your body doesn't respond the way your head thinks it should. So needless to say, the first session was tough on me..both physically and emotionally. I don't know if I cried or sweat more, but I do know that first week the support, kindness and understanding of my trainers was essential for my spirit and resolve. At first it was just fighting the battle to show up everyday. That little garage gym became my reckoning grounds and every single battle I fought and won there was a single step down a new path. But each victory was preceded by a ton of failures and it was tough to hold myself accountable to both. This road would eventually lead me to begin StrongLife. My trainers were my guides and my tough accountability. They pushed me so hard, yet they both knew when to ease up and give me encouragement and laughter. I can say with absolute conviction that year was the most difficult year of my life. Not only was I fighting the battle of depression but I was fighting lifelong addictions and coping patterns. And I was still trying to find balance between raising my children and prioritizing my self care. It was a brutal period of self reflection and healing and the underlying thread of consistency and accountability with my trainers cannot be understated. They were invested, they were connected and they would NOT let me quit. And because I knew that, I knew they cared and had put in the hours and time it took to make sure my program was right for me and my goals, I couldn't quit on them. I wouldn't let them down because they loved me and I loved them. They were helping me to heal both my body and my spirit, while the right medicines and therapy were helping me heal the chemical imbalances in my brain. And the weight started to come off...just a little at first but as I became stronger...it seemed to just melt...It was also about this time that I realized to my surprise that I really liked to weight lift. It was always different and challenging. It began to be fun to see what new limits I could push and what new barriers I could break with my newfound strength. My confidence began to come back and I started to see what my body was actually capable of. This was very novel to me...because I had never tested those limits before. Yet it was also powerful. A daily lesson that we as humans are capable of so much more than we think. Our brains are wired to protect us from risk and place fear barriers in our way to keep us from taking those big scary jumps...but our bodies and spirits will rise to the challenge if desire and passion are there and we want to grow...despite the pain we might face with change. Those daily workouts were the building blocks of my transformation and opened a door in my heart to so many new possibilities. I began to recognize that are bodies and minds are truly connected and interdependent. When you are able to discipline your body....that discipline spills over into every other area of your life. It teaches our brains that we can do very hard things...difficult things that require many different facets of out personality to solve and a lot of pain and sweat and tears. But when we learn how to cope with pain, when we allow ourselves to sit in it for a while and process through it...instead of always running away from it or avoiding it and never changing or risking ourselves. We reap the tremendous rewards and positive growth of change. Do we need help and love and support to get though it. The answer is resoundingly YES!! But if we are seeking answers, we must choose paths that are new and different. We have to change what we DO. This is why the physical process of exercise and strength training is so powerful. It's a lesson in discipline. It's a lesson in understanding the power in our bodies and it's a lesson in consistency...that showing up is half the battle. All of those things and more I learned and internalized as I lost my weight that year. Of course it took me longer to work through many of the mental and physical issues I was dealing with, but I knew where to go for answers and I knew where to turn for help and support. Throughout this process it became clear to me how important it was to find a sustainable way to incorporate fitness into my busy life as a mom and a woman who wanted to make a difference in the world. 

I began to see my Transformation as a refining period of my life. The blood, sweat and tears I left on the gym floor began to give me purpose and a new meaning to my existence. If I at my lowest point could turn my life and my health 180 degrees around...why couldn't other women too? I began to see what a powerful tool weight lifting was in a weight loss journey. I learned that metabolic resistance training works...in a very real and personal way. After all, I did not start implementing cardio until I was about halfway to my goal...I had already lost over 50 lbs without doing any type of sustained cardio. Just by modifying my diet and lifting heavy and regularly, I had changed my metabolism and my fat burning processes. I had also learned that lifting was a powerful, interesting and progressive discipline in the fitness world, one that was severely underused in personal training programs, especially for women. I had this new passion and purpose in wanting to teach women how to utilize this tool in their own fitness journeys and more importantly helping women become healthier and happier versions of themselves. 

The idea of helping others in similiar situations was not only something that excited me, but was slowly building into this idea for a home based business. 
At this point in my fitness journey, I had hit my weightloss goal and I was actively working on building muscle and continuing to learn the strength training side of fitness. The confidence I gained in my own personal journey gave me the confidence to share what I had learned and what I knew others needed to be successful in fitness. I was not afraid to take the leap of faith to start my own business because I had just done the hardest thing I could possibly do and been successful. I believed in my path and knew I was capable. And I just knew in my heart women needed someone who would invest in their personal journey, who would care about them as a unique individual and try to understand their core motivations and strengths and weaknesses. These were the things that my trainers did for me that made all the difference and allowed me to see fitness as part of the big picture, not just a means to an end or an aesthetic. I believed if you could combine the individual connection and accountability of good coaching with a strong base of resistance training, nutrition and conditioning, the results would be there. And that is what I wanted the focus of my business to be.  Of course this didn't happen immediately. I enlisted the help of my sister Alicia to start my new venture. Oh how I wish I could have recorded that first year of training, it would have made good reality TV. It was just me and her learning how to program and progress on our own in a tiny basement gym with just the basics in equipment. We laughed and learned and tested each other with ideas and new modalities of training as we practiced and worked out every day. Of course, all of our kids were in tow playing and having a blast as we tried to be professional. I began to pursue a my personal training certification and study diet and nutrition online and she started talking about our journey to friends and neighbors as her body became lean, strong and fit. Soon enough we had people who knew us and were close to us wanting our help and guidance. So we decided to take on a few friends to "train" and see how we did. What we found was that we had created an environment where our clients could and did succeed. It was an amazing thing for both of us to witness our first real successes with people we cared about and had invested our time and training in. Despite our relative inexperience and lack of professional equipment, we were able to help our first clients transform their bodies and change their lifestyles. We realized we had found our own brand of fitness magic. But the best part, the part of me that kept wanting to repeat that magic was the relationship that we developed with the clients. It was simply the most rewarding process I had ever experienced. These women, just like me began to know themselves through the discipline and work of change. They learned hard won lessons in patience, perserverence, sacrifice, pride, self care and desire...and throughout it all we were able to nurture and love them and help them to get to that place inside of themselves where they knew they could do it no matter how hard it was or even if they had days where that was the last thing they wanted to do. And just like my trainers had done for me, we never let them give up...not when we asked them to do something so tough and not on themselves even when they wanted to and felt like they were failing. And for the most part, because they felt our love and investment, they showed up and put in the work and didn't give up...they wanted us to be proud of them and they wanted to be proud of themselves as they got stronger and saw progress. I remember distinctly one of the first clients who hit a 60 lbs weightloss goal. She just came up to me and gave me the biggest hug and with all the emotion in her voice just said "Thank You. I am forever changed because of you. Thank you for believing I could do it." It was just as powerful and as wonderful and satisfying as my own personal Transformation. I felt those words in my heart and they have never left me. I wanted everyone to experience the power and pure joy of such a transformative experience in their lives. 
Today StrongLife Fitness is a small private gym located off 134th S and Bangerter Hwy. We specialize in customized programs of Strength Training, Nutrition and Conditioning. We offer both online and on-site programs that are designed for weightloss, strength and conditioning. Our mission is to facilitate the individual journey of the client to get amazing results as well as making fitness both sustainable and balanced to the needs of each individual. Our team of dedicated and committed Trainers and Nutritionists are deeply invested in each client as well as focused on the StrongLife mission of positive connection, safe space and the most cutting edge strength and conditioning programs in Utah. We welcome all ages and fitness levels to our facility as we firmly believe that weight training is for everybody, to never give up and to find joy in your journey. Cheers to 2018

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