Today I’ve learned that my past is not my future. One year ago, I was a scared physical and emotional wreck. But, a little over one year ago today, I took my first step to change that—I had my first lesson at Superb Health with Nick Lynch, RKC Team Leader.
Historically, I’ve had a difficult relationship with food and exercise. I have always been “the fat kid.” I’m a tall woman at 5’-10”. The kicker is that I was 5’-10” in the 6th or 7th grade. Being a full foot taller than the whole class makes you stand out. Looking back at old photos, I see now that I was actually not obese. However, height and weight charts in the nurse’s office at school didn’t say that. TV didn’t say that. Magazines didn’t say that. All of those things told me I was “the fat kid.”
I don’t ever remember wearing “cool” clothes designed for children my age. I was always too tall, too husky. Puberty is already a terrible time for everyone when it comes to coordination and growing. So, being bigger than everyone else and having to wear women’s clothing in middle school rather than clothes from the juniors’ department, being clumsy, and being teased for all of that snowballed into really not caring about what I ate. I thought, “Well, I’m already weird, so who cares.” So I ate—and eventually became obese.
My athletic experiences were also terrible. Gym class uniforms didn’t come in my size, and it hurt to always be picked last for the team. I had straight A’s in every class except for Physical Education and watched my GPA plummet from 4.0 to 3.0 because no one explained how to run effectively or how to do a real “not girl” push-up. The teachers just assumed I wasn’t trying, and my grade in PE reflected it. Eventually, I just stopped trying. I became even unhealthier, physically and mentally.
This eventually led to good grades, a quick-witted sense of humor, and diving head first into the visual arts to cope. I coped with the pain of being a woman with body image issues and a very unhealthy lifestyle.
But coping is not living.
My career became my identity. I eventually went back to school and earned my Masters Degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Unfortunately, I was still only coping, not living. I was hiding behind what other people told me that I was good at. I love art, learning and writing—these are all true passions. But, it was impossible to fully reap the rewards of the focus and drive I had for my education and career when my physical body was decaying.
So many people, women especially, in similar situations of poor health turn to the well-publicized “solutions” being sold by a huge corporation. I believe that many people with poor health and negative body image issues truly want to get better. But I only seemed to find plenty of quick-fix, faddish “band aids”, and no real solutions. It was all so appealing but temporary, fast, and often dangerous. Of course I purchased these products—and of course they didn’t work! The goal of marketing and advertising is to appeal to the customer’s psychological reactions. Even “solutions” promoted by some physicians are ways to sell pharmaceuticals and bring dollars in to insurance companies and hospitals.
So, what changed for me 365 days ago? Why do I look forward with considerably less fear and the kind of determination that gave me my career?
The first domino fell when our trusted family physician said that both my husband and I were very sick. Her candid explanation of what would happen to us played right into my tendency to worry. I was now afraid of my own poor health, but more terrified to lose my husband. As a team, we had to make health changes. We knew we had to change everything. Our mantra became “not optional.”
My husband, Jim was quick to action with diet, exercise and discipline. I followed, but out of fear. I was coping. I was not living. However, I was slowly coming around by seeing him experience the positive results of a total life change.
Unlike a fad, trend, or pharmaceutical “solution,” we started slow. We did not expect instant results and unlike attempts at changing my body in the past, my personal goals were not related to a number on a scale or a size of clothing.
We started eating healthier. Slow and steady, first focusing on portion sizes. Next came education on nutrients as fuel rather than eating for boredom or comfort. We started to eliminate alcohol from our social lives and dug out our bicycles from their 10-year hiatus in the basement. Instead of eating out, then hitting a bar for entertainment, we joined up with other friends and rode bikes from coffee shop to park to trail nearly every weekend. Then we started commuting to work on bikes when the weather permitted. We really got into maintaining and fixing our bikes. We bought cool accessories and gear.
Then winter came to Milwaukee and biking stopped. Jim discovered kettlebells and instantly fell in love. I was skeptical and thought it looked dangerous and that it required a lot of coordination. To me, exercising with kettlebells looked like something that belonged in the military, and something that was “for dudes.” But, I was still determined to follow. I focused on our mantra: “not optional.”
I focused on the positives I saw—kettlebell training and the accompanying exercises such as ballistic body movements, battle ropes, etc. really looked “cool” in a Rocky Balboa, Sarah Connor kind of way. I have a passion for sports stories (fiction and non-fiction) and this looked like Rocky, Muhammad Ali, Iron Mike Tyson stuff. This was Clubber Lang. This was “Eye of the Tiger.”
In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah Connor is shown doing pull ups at the Pescadero State Hospital on the frame of her bed. She was preparing without Universal Machines or sports shakes. “The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” That’s in the movie too, and I knew it was true. “Not optional.”
So I signed up for kettlebell class.
In the beginning I needed 3 chairs to do a squat—one for each hand and one for me to sit on. Years of sedentary life and a desk job had destroyed my posture. It took at least 6 weeks to begin to remember each “step” of the Turkish get-up on my own, let alone hold a weight above my head. I swung a 10 pound kettlebell for at least two months.
What changed for me? Why did I continue to come back to Superb Health? Why was quitting never an option? Even though I was struggling, why did coming back every week to Superb Health make me so happy?
In the past, I would have quit even before I started, but now I had a forward focus unlike anything in my life. In hindsight, getting accepted on scholarship to art school, or completing my master’s degree was easier, because I had the talent and love going in. This was different, everything was hard. Yet, everyone at Superb Health was supportive. It was safe. I would not be made fun of. I was encouraged to try. It was ok to go at my own pace. I was instructed with patience. Now, someone took the time to teach me how to do a push-up …and then I did one!
I learned that it’s a forward focus, a safe community, plus support at home that gave me results. I learned to relish each victory. Maybe doing one push up is not significant to anyone else, but to me it was like winning a gold medal. Every victory led me to desire more victories. I wanted to knock down all the dominoes. I learned that coping is not living when I actually felt what living feels like.
Less than nine months since my first class at Superb Health, I participated in the HKC in Milwaukee, WI and am now a certified Dragon Door HKC instructor. Each small victory was like a domino that pushed the next domino down. It starts slow, but the chain reaction gains momentum with determination and focus.
One trip around the sun can truly change a person. Reflecting on the past is still uncomfortable. But, today, it’s glorious. Learning from the past instead of worrying and coping is living. Living is freedom and I want to share this. I know there must be so many people, especially women, who share similar stories. I want to help free others from merely coping. Superb Health, Dragon Door, and the RKC / HKC methods are promoted as beneficial to so many types of people. But what I want to add an 8th item to Dragon Door’s “Our Difference” checklist:
- Are you scared? Do you feel like you don’t fit in with the typical “gym scene”? Do you feel like there’s just something “missing” in your life but you can’t put your finger on it? Do you feel like powerful corporations have mistreated you with profits over people as the mission? Do you feel overly self-critical from years of a beat-up psyche? Do you feel like you are so out of shape that you can’t make a change? Do you feel too old to change your health? Do you feel like you are out of options? Are you tired of industry standards of beauty? Are you just coping and not living? It’s time to start living.
I want to thank my husband. Changing your life is hard and his example was all I had in the beginning. I want to thank Nick Lynch at Superb Health for offering our community a safe place for achieving health and fitness goals. I want to thank everyone who is a part of the Superb Health family. They are true friends. Finally, I want to thank Andrea Du Cane from Dragon Door. Andrea taught me how to start turning fear into power, and with that power I’m learning that I can do anything.
I’m so excited to continue to learn and improve. I can’t wait to see what the next trip around the sun brings.
This is living.
Karen Gasparick is a certified HKC instructor, owns The Beardy Apothecary with her husband Beardy, and is a full time Designer at Interior Systems, Inc. In Milwaukee, WI.