Iman – My Journey to Fitness

Unlike a lot of kids, I didn’t play sports.  I wasn’t athletic.  I joined a couple of teams, but even though I was tall, I never dominated. Now, because I’m tall and have an athletic build, people stop me to ask if I played basketball or ran track.  If they saw me as a kid, though, they would not recognize me.

I’ve suffered from asthma my entire life and used that as an excuse for not being active. I couldn’t run from one side of a room to the other without needing my inhaler. For those of you who have never experienced an asthma attack, each time gasping for air is the worst feeling in the world. Running around outside or playing any kind of sport on a regular basis was out of the question. Instead,  I sat on my butt playing video games. Nintendo seemed to be a lot safer and more fun than getting winded. So not only was I not active but I loved food… all kinds. I remember coming home from school heating up leftovers as my after school snack- it could have been steak, spaghetti or whatever we had the night before – foods that were most likely tasty but not healthy. The video games and unhealthy eating eventually led to weight gain. I remember getting teased by kids at school for my size and for my health issues. It made me sad because I hated being different. I wanted to be “normal” and just blend in with everyone else.

By the time I was in middle school my health had gotten worse. The side effects from my constant inhaler usage were causing me to develop epileptic seizures. This caused my parents to take some action and look into alternative medicine. I started seeing a homeopathic doctor which, in the mid 90’s, was a really alternative solution. I feel blessed to have parents who were open-minded to seeking other options when it came to my health. After using homeopathy for about a year my seizures went away and I haven’t had one since the 8th grade. Soon, I didn’t need my inhaler and I still only need it occasionally.

At this point, I was beginning high school and the last thing I wanted to do was be an overweight teen. I wanted to be skinny and look like a typical attractive high school student which, in my mind, looked like a cast member of “Beverly Hills, 90210”. I decided I needed an action plan. I needed to educate myself because a healthy lifestyle wasn’t consistent in my home. My mom had VHS exercise tapes laying around that she had done sporadically over the years so I decided to start with those. Once I mastered one, I would go on to the next and soon,  I had mastered them all. I used my own money to buy exercise tapes and I did them all — Jane Fonda, Denise Austin, The Firm, Richard Simmons, Elle Macpherson, Cindy Crawford, Paula Abdul… the list is endless! The summer in between 8th and 9th grade I lost 10 pounds from working out alone. It was so nice seeing the difference not only on my mother’s scale, but in my clothes. This only motivated me to do more. I started buying fitness magazines and books, reading up on nutrition and portion control.

Since my parents didn’t cook, I started cooking my own healthy meals. I read about steaming vegetables [so THAT’S how we use that weird metal spaceship with holes in the back of one of the kitchen cabinets!].   More importantly I stopped eating junk. I went an entire year without eating fast food. This helped me lose even more weight. I lost 30 pounds by the end of my freshman year of high school.

Then came the dreaded plateau! My weight wouldn’t budge anymore. I would weigh myself multiple times a day and get annoyed when the number didn’t drop. I was still working out and eating healthy but I wasn’t losing any weight. I became desperate and frustrated. I did crazy things to try to make the scale budge. I ate minimal calories and slept a lot on weekends so I wouldn’t have many waking hours to eat. I got down to an all- time low of 130 pounds. I had no muscle definition and was just thin.  Thankfully, I realized quickly that I needed more calories to be healthy and continue to work out. I eventually went back to eating a healthy diet and stepped up my workouts even more. I convinced my mom to buy the newly released Tae-Bo videos and made that my daily exercise routine. I also added evening walks around the neighborhood after dinner.  I was happy with my progress but was getting bored with my home exercise routine. I was ready to try something different.

I decided to look into a local health club and after my first visit decided to sign up for a membership. I enjoyed the different options they had to offer: aerobics classes, cardio equipment, weights, and personal training. I loved it so much, in fact, I applied for a job and started working there. I remained employed there even when I went off to college. I would come back and work over the holidays and weekends when I was in town. It was there that I took my first Spinning class. I came back and took more and soon it became part of my regular fitness routine. After taking the classes for about two years I decided I wanted to try teaching them. I became a certified Johnny G Spinning instructor and for the next several years I taught at various health clubs in the area. I even became promoted from a front desk receptionist to a manager. After I graduated from NC State, I worked there full-time for a year before deciding to advance my career.

I decided to begin graduate school at NCCU in the Physical Education and Recreation department. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do professionally but I knew I wanted to work in athletics or fitness. I also was offered the opportunity to work as a graduate assistant in the Department of Physical Education and Recreation and the athletics department at NCCU. After my third year with the program, I was finished with classes and it was time begin my master’s thesis. At this point, I was so burned out with school, working part time at the gym, teaching spinning classes, and being a graduate assistant, I felt like I needed a break. This ‘break’ led me to agree to train for and run a half marathon. The morning of the race I woke up thinking about how far I had come. I had been overweight, unhealthy and out of shape.  I had managed to lose weight and it changed my entire life. I was now running 13.1 miles for FUN. How about that! I remember around mile 10 my joints and everything in me began to hurt but I never stopped running. When I got close to the finish line I saw my friend Beth and as I crossed the finish line I wanted to collapse on the ground. I teared up at that moment- partly due to the cold weather and the pain in my legs, but mostly because I finished it. That was my most proudest moment yet.

Fast forward to late 2011, I had finally finished my master’s thesis and graduated! I was relieved to be done with my degree but I needed my next challenge. A friend of mine had been competing in figure competitions for the past couple of years and I always admired the sport. When I was first getting into fitness I got into reading Oxygen magazine and had a huge box full of them from over the years. I wanted to look like those women in the magazines and be strong like them. I never really thought that I could do it because it was ME. I put them in a separate category. How could I ever look like that? How could I ever compete like that? The fact that my friend Beth did it made it seem more real, though. She was a real person and I thought if she could do it—why not me?

In 2012, I took Beth’s advice and got in touch with her trainer, Leigh Ann Yeager, who I had known from my previous gym job. We had both worked at the same health club when I was a spinning instructor/ membership consultant. I remember being intimidated by her. She was a personal trainer and would walk around with her pigtails and bandana. I remember having only one conversation with her on the elliptical machine one day and it felt like I was speaking with the first lady. She scared me a bit so when Beth recommended that I contact her I was crying inside with fear. I didn’t want this chick to train me. I was afraid of her. I wanted to train with someone that I could have a good relationship with. I reminded myself that my 2012 New Year’s resolution was to get out of my own way. It was time to stop making excuses for not doing what I wanted and for not having the life I wanted anymore. I contacted Leigh Ann and we had our first meeting at Bean Traders. I had no idea what to expect. I remember ordering my latte and thinking “Should I get a latte or regular coffee? Would she judge me and think I wouldn’t be able to hang if I got a latte with sugar in it?” By the end of our meeting, I discovered she wasn’t as scary as I thought.

I began my training and diet preparations in late February of 2011. Leigh Ann e-mailed me my daily workouts and eating plan. It seemed so hard at first. For the first time, I had to weigh all of my food and carry it around with me everywhere I went. I learned quickly that it required planning ahead. My first workout was terrible. I completed it but the next day I was so sore it felt like I had been beaten. Simple tasks such as sitting on the toilet were extremely painful. Her response to me was it was to be expected and that I should soak in a hot bath. In my head I was thinking, “Really that’s it?” Yes, that was it.

As I progressed over the next several months I saw a transformation in my body that I never would have expected in a million years. I was amazed with the amount of muscle definition I had developed in only a few months. Here I was… training for a figure competition. Me- the overweight adolescent with asthma- was transforming into one of those women I had admired years ago in the Oxygen magazine. That’s what gave me the motivation everyday to push myself through those workouts. I was finally excited about fitness again. I had the spark and love about working out again. I wasn’t just going through the motions anymore. I had e-mailed Leigh Ann and told her that I was interested in becoming a personal trainer and if there would be room for me at SYNCSTUDIO. I thought maybe this is what I’m supposed to do. I had tried my hand at something else and I never felt that same passion as I did with fitness. Working in an office environment wasn’t for me. I had come back full circle and it felt like home.

I couldn’t wait to see what I would look like when I finally got on stage. That’s what made me stick to my diet and workouts everyday. There were several temptations around me. As much as I enjoyed the workouts, they left me sore and in a puddle of sweat. I had to kick my own butt because I was training alone. There were several days that I didn’t want to go to the gym after working 10, 11, sometimes 12 hours a day. There were times when I wanted to quit. About 4 weeks out from getting on stage for my first show I really wanted to quit. I was still so tired and sore. I was sick of eating tilapia and tuna. I wanted real food. I wanted cookies, cupcakes, just some real sugar. I wanted to feel normal but then I looked back at how far I had come. I wasn’t a quitter, so I pushed through. The week of the show, I hit a wall in the form of a cold. I was so worried. I felt miserable. I even missed work a couple of days but still went to the gym for my workouts with my throat lozenges and tissue in hand. Leigh Ann reassured me that I would be fine on the day of the show. Just make sure I drank all of the water each day that was in my plan for the week and it should help get it out of my system. Despite wanting orange juice and chicken soup,  I stuck to the plan and, as Leigh Ann said, by the day of the show I was ready for the stage.

After about 8 months of preparation it was the day of the Elite Muscle Classic. My nerves were all over the place. I had never been to a show before so I had no idea what to expect.  The night before, I got my very first spray tan. Yes, black girls get spray tans for figure competitions too. I had on my sparkling two piece suit that I had borrowed from a friend and I looked AMAZING, better than I could have ever imagined. As I stepped on stage I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I was so nervous! I had been a shy person my entire life so getting on stage almost naked was a challenge. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.  There were six women in my height class and only five would become qualified for national competitions. As the MC announced the top five women, I heard my number on the loud speaker. I felt a little disoriented. I thought maybe it was a mistake. Did I really make the cut? They announced the 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd place finishers.  At that point, I could hear my sister and my boyfriend in the audience cheering for me. It still hadn’t hit me that I had come in 1st place. I couldn’t believe it. My body was shaking and I couldn’t stop smiling. All I wanted to do was compete in a show. I did it to prove to myself that I could do it. I never expected to win! That was one of the greatest moments in my life. To finally win at something, especially at something that someone with my health background should never had been able to do.

A couple of weeks after the show, I came down off of my high. I contacted Leigh Ann again about becoming a personal trainer. I began studying for my personal training exam and on January 8, 2013 I officially became a trainer at SYNCSTUDIO– a decision that, every day, I’m so happy I made. I have come a long way but I remember what the struggle feels like. That’s why training others feels so natural to me. I can sincerely look into a client’s eyes and tell them I understand what they’re going through. I know how hard losing weight can be. Looking back through all of the health and weight issues I’ve had, I’m so glad that they all happened. It has allowed me to finally begin living the life that I’m supposed to live and doing what I love to do. This is only the beginning. The best is yet to come.



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