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Growing up I had a love for Shirley Temple, reading, writing, swimming and being active. My parents described me as an outgoing child, always with a big smile on my face, not much has changed here. I was fortunate to have had an incredible childhood which I believe has helped shape my life today. Since I can remember I was running around the neighborhood, swimming in our pool and in the winter skating. I took piano, acting and singing lessons but soon my commitment to swimming took over. I was training 2-4 hours a day starting at the age of 10.

I was a competitive swimmer for over 13 years. I swam three years at the varsity level after which I decided to end my career. I told people my passion wasn’t there anymore, but the real reason was I couldn’t handle it mentally anymore. I was a good swimmer, but I never truly reached my full potential. I’ve always had bad anxiety and unfortunately a lot of this anxiety occurred during my races. It would happen out of nowhere and suddenly in the middle of my race I would have a full-blown panic attack. Sometimes I could continue the race but other times I would have to slow down drastically or stop all together. Not only was this devastating for me as I put my heart and soul into the sport and had one of the best work ethics on the team but I also felt humiliated. No one else had these struggles, or so it appeared. I was embarrassed, felt alone and felt I was letting the team and myself down.

Walking away from swimming I never really dealt with it. Instead I masked it with partying. I started drinking a lot. I was getting black out drunk 3-4 times a week, doing poorly in school, and doing things uncharacteristic of myself. I was a mess. I started working out in the gym with weights and this is what helped to pull me out of this phase. I loved how I could channel my problems and use exercise as therapy. I loved the feeling of working as hard as I possibly could at achieving something. It gave me passion that I had missed since quitting swimming. Most importantly it took me out of the party scene, and for this I am thankful.

Few months in, I was hooked and signed up for my first fitness competition. As much as the experience was incredible, and I did win. This was my first mistake: I rushed into something, I was naïve, I didn’t know much about it all, and I trusted a coach I knew nothing about. Due to my inexperience and lack of education I didn’t understand how to properly reverse diet, nor was I given help to. I had a bad rebound which left me gaining 50lbs over my stage weight. This experience did, however push me into the direction of a Kinesiology degree where I was able to properly educate myself.

I attempted to start the prep for my 2nd show and this is when my body shut down, which is common after a bad rebound. My body wouldn’t respond. I wasn’t losing any weight despite how hard I worked. I ended up backing out of the show and I spiraled into a deep depression, unhealthy eating behaviors and extreme body image issues.

I’ve always had depression and anxiety. I was diagnosed at 18, and have been seeing a therapist for over 7 years to manage symptoms. I have also had body image issues since I was young. I remember when I was 11 or 12 and I hit puberty. My body changed, now I had hips and curves and looked different from the other girls who I swam with. I would constantly compare and wonder why I looked different. It left me insecure and feeling bad about being different. This is when the body image issues really started.

The phase after backing out the show in my life was dark. I was afraid of food leading to anxiety with food, restricting and binging. I was disgusted with the way I looked and I was miserable. I lost my passion for fitness, well for everything. I’ve hit rock bottom a few times in my life with depression and this was one of them. Through therapy, my support system (family and now fiancé), proper medication and seeking a new coach I was able to turn things around.

I competed successfully and passionately for another two years up until recently where I decided I needed to take a step back from the competition world, perhaps forever. I have always loved being active but it’s taken me a long time to find the healthy balance of exercising and eating healthy because I love it and feel amazing doing so and not just to look a certain way, in hopes to seek happiness, or a way to have control over my life.

My story has been a rocky one, many ups and downs along the way. Taking a step back from competing was the best decision I could have ever made for myself. I have started working hard on my own mental well-being. I now take time to work on the mental side along with the physical; verses constantly obsessing over the physical, and destroying the mental side.

I have learned through my experience a few valuable pieces of information: fitness is more to do with health benefits, how you feel physically and mentally verses a set weight or body fat percentage, despite once thinking so. You don’t have to compete to be into fitness. If you have body image issues, losing weight won’t cure this, likely It’ll make it worse. If you suffer from anxiety and depression use exercise as source of therapy, through its many benefits of the brain NOT as an avoidance tactic, things always come back one way or another. If you want to lose weight, or shape your body do it because you want to, you want the challenge, you love the process NOT because you feel the need to by society. If you only ever base your happiness or self-worth on looking a certain way, you’ll never truly be happy; or you’ll have glimpse of “happiness” due to looking a certain way before you decide you still aren’t good enough and focus on another physique goal.

I now believe in fitness for different reasons. To be healthy and adding longevity to your life. To be healthy mentally, as exercise aids in this, especially for those (like myself) who suffer from mental health issues. To set goals for yourself, to challenge yourself but still being proud of yourself each step of the way. To not be afraid of food, or have anxiety with food but to have balance with food and use it properly to nourish the body.

I strive towards being an advocate for women to help them achieve their fitness or health related goals through a smart, balanced and healthy way. I want women to embrace their bodies for what they are, and only seek fitness change for the right, healthy reasons not because they hate the way they look. I want to be an advocate to help reduce stigma associated with mental health issues, and allow others who also struggle to know they aren’t alone. Along with helping others to achieve their life, fitness and self-love goals, I dream to get into acting as it has been a passion of mine since I was younger and I have reconnected with it again at this point in my life. I am currently taking acting classes and love them.

I am working on getting back to the free-spirited bundle of joy who dreamed of being Shirley Temple. I would look the part with big curly hair, pretend to know how to tap dance with my Nana’s old shoes (giving full effort, I might add), singing my little heart out to Whitney Houston “I will always love you” and I mean really hitting those high notes. I genuinely did not care about what anyone thought, I was me and thought I was awesome. I would write stories, songs and poems. I smiled so bright, radiated positivity and had the opportunity to do whatever I wanted. I was following my heart and loving every moment of it.

I have learned the way to live life and being whole-heartedly, genuinely happy is to follow your dreams despite how unrealistic they may appear. To seek inner happiness above all else and placing true significance on who you are as a person internally verses externally. To never giving up on what you love most because of the barriers you may have to face along the way. To be kind to yourself and others. To open your heart up for love, even if you are terrified in doing so. To always be grateful for what you have today, regardless of what you are striving towards tomorrow. And, finally life isn’t always going to stable or secure, that’s what makes it exciting. You must go out of your comfort zone to achieve the things you truly want.