To become the beautiful butterfly, the caterpillar goes through a difficult process of change and regeneration and that is how it has been with me.
As a child and young adult, my health and wellbeing was taken for granted. I was a successful athlete, thriving on competition and never guessing that my perfectly performing body would ever be referred to as anything other than ‘in peak condition’.
From as early as primary school, I was involved at state level competition in swimming. At high school my repertoire increased to include state level hockey, swimming and cross country running. Then after completing school, I got involved in the aerobics craze of the early eighties, competing internationally in both individual and team events in aerobics, step and cheerleading. I even won the individual South Pacific International Championships in aerobics.
Through all this, I would have the occasional minor injury to deal with, but quickly learnt that with ice and physiotherapy, most things could be overcome, and back to training I would go, my body springing back very quickly to fitness.
At 31 years of age, with a young daughter, I decided it was time to retire from such high level competition, and focussed on growing my family in conjunction with my work in the business sector.
Over the next ten years, I experienced what many women experience after having their children – for the first time in my life I started to struggle with weight gain. What a shock it was to feel judged and unworthy due to my weight, and to discover that fitness could be so very elusive. Eventually, I got it under control and by my 40th birthday, had achieved my pre-pregnancy weight and was happily referring to myself as a “yummy mummy”!
My joy was short-lived.
Suddenly I was faced with a myriad of health issues. With each issue, my ability to exercise was blocked, and my weight increased. Multiple food intolerances added an extra dimension as I attempted to navigate the intricacies of a special diet. My work was a major issue – a 100 hour week, coupled with stress, resulted in eating whatever I could manage on the run. My cholesterol was high and my blood-pressure skyrocketed, whilst my mood dropped. My doctor was concerned enough to commence cholesterol and antidepressant medication and warned me to stop my job, or face the possibility of death from a stroke or similar within six months.
They say turn around only comes after you hit rock-bottom. I mustn’t have been there yet, because shortly after this, my husband became very ill, and my daughter also developed health issues, causing her to be unable to attend school for an entire term. My body hurt, I could sleep all day and not feel any better, and I had no desire to do anything. Constantly exhausted, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Enough was enough! I decided to take my life back.
I discovered that when I pushed myself and exercised, my pain decreased and my energy levels increased. It was hard – almost impossible – to do it alone. So I signed up for a weight-loss challenge. From barely being able to get out of bed [even though I couldn’t sleep well when I was there], I progressed over the next 12 months to a point where I had lost 30kg and run a half-marathon.
Three months in, my doctor took me off my medications [both the cholesterol pills and the antidepressants] and told me “whatever you are doing, keep doing it!” I was on top of the world, and recognised that the exercise had helped me rediscover my joy for life.
I decided to apply my experience to help others on a similar journey, and began working one-on-one with clients as a physical trainer. I employed several techniques I had developed over time that helped women who were out of condition to grow their fitness to a much higher level, and had great success with them.
In any journey to recovery, set-backs are bound to occur. That was certainly my experience. After 12 months of hard work recovering, I developed severe pain in my ankle to the point where I could no longer bear weight. Two major surgeries, and a multitude of physiotherapies later, I found myself spending two months in a wheelchair and ten out of 12 months in a moon boot, unable to exercise at all, other than the physiotherapy exercises, which I completed at home as getting to the physio was a logistical nightmare. Even after all this, I could barely walk after 12 months.
It took two years before I could walk again without pain.
As all mothers know, family health issues seem to pop up at the least convenient time, especially when Mum isn’t well! And as a mother, we always put our children’s needs first. Throughout the two years when I was recovering, my children developed some major medical conditions, so in addition to all the stress of my own recovery, I had to be present for them as well. Very little beats the stress of seriously unwell kids.
Needless to say, my weight again rose, and the chronic fatigue made another unwelcome appearance coupled with severe abdominal pain, resulting in a stay in hospital and ongoing treatment.
Again, I refused to remain in this condition.
This time, I signed myself and my family up for the September challenge of 10,000 steps. I also convinced my husband to join me for Saturday Parkruns. In 28 days, I was required to do 280,000 steps. I surprised myself with 326,984 steps! My waistline went down 5cm, my stress levels dropped and my energy grew. It was a difficult but very worthwhile effort.
One of the issues I encountered was with the calf on the leg that had been operated on. As a result of all the surgery, the muscle had depleted so when you looked at the leg, you saw bone – no muscle at all was visible. Even after two years of recovery, my calf was still 4.5cm smaller on that leg, and would cramp when I ran. I decided to implement one of the techniques I had developed for my clients on myself. This technique is a specialised interval training method anyone can use, which built both strength and stamina in my calf and most importantly, stopped the cramping. It is a delight to be able to apply my own training methods on myself with such positive results.
During the recovery time from my surgeries, I also decided to formalise my coaching qualifications, and studied an internationally recognised Diploma of Coaching, Mentoring and Leadership. Not your everyday life-coaching qualification, this course is recognised by the peak body in coaching in the world – the International Coaching Federation. I learnt and implemented life-changing techniques in breaking through blocks to success for both myself and my clients – and this is the point of difference between my business and the multitude of other health and wellbeing businesses available in today’s market. Through applying my combination of specialist knowledge and my own experiences of the depths of despair, I have a unique understanding of what is it to be a woman who wants to be stronger, fitter, healthier, but does not know or understand where to start, or perhaps just needs the support to get started. I know what works through my own personal experience.
So, my journey of health and wellness continues. Life always throws challenges at us, so I continue to work on slaying my own health demons, and continue to apply the learnings from my studies and personal experience to assist my clients as we progress together.
The butterfly has emerged.
It’s ironic that once a skinny, super-fit kid with little understanding of what it took to stay that way, I now am in a position where I stand to speak on wellness, looking a little less skinny and fit than my audience may expect.
What I have realised along this journey, is that it is not just about what you see in the mirror. In fact, the most important thing is not what is in the mirror, but what is inside. The fittest looking people are not always the healthiest, and less-fit looking people are often far healthier than they appear.
What matters is how you feel inside.
Nurturing your body alone is not enough. We need to embrace caring for our entire being – physical, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing all are part of this puzzle. Interestingly, once you embrace all this and start to love self, the rest comes easily, and the mirror often starts to reflect a physical beauty we never thought we could achieve.
That is where I sit now. My mirror reflects someone who is enthusiastic about life and has a passion to create a healthy and vibrant lifestyle not just for myself, but also for my clients. It’s an amazing feeling, and one I am keen to share as I empower other women with this same sense of achievement, enabling them to get the results they want.
Let’s all be the butterfly we know exists within us.