Susie’s Story

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

I am Fit: And No One Is More Surprised Than Me
By Susan Cooper

Growing up, I was never very physically active. I didn’t like sports and considered myself to be generally goofy, uncoordinated and terrible at anything physical. In fact, I was thrilled when a bad concussion in 9th grade got me out of taking PE for a whole year. Really. A serious head injury was preferable to me over physical activity. As an adult I tried to get in shape to keep the pounds off but didn’t really know what to do other than walking and playing around with the machines at the gym. I was prone to muscle strains and had frequent back, neck and knee pain.

I will never forget the first week of 2009 when I threw out my back so badly that I couldn’t get out of bed for a week. Standing and sitting up were excruciating and all I could do was lie flat on my back and take muscle relaxers. It sucked. My orthopedist told me that my problem was that I was actually too flexible with no core strength to support my spine and joints and keep my muscles from overextending. If I wanted to stop straining my back, I needed to get in much better shape and build muscle. He recommended pilates, strength training and more cardio.

I started trying out a few pilates and yoga classes around town. I found that I was really pretty good at yoga since flexibility comes naturally to me. But I began to realize that increasing my flexibility was not really beneficial to my new plan. I needed to start focusing more on strength! My friend Angee found Karen’s Core + More class on a neighborhood website and we decided to give it a shot. It was just what I needed. Karen pushed me to lift weights, do real pushups, strengthen my core and made me realize how I could actually enjoy working out! I loved the small classes and personal attention. After about 6 months of taking Karen’s class, I realized that even though I was starting to get stronger, I was still seriously lacking in cardio!

The cardio machines at the gym bored me to tears and I didn’t really know what else I could do since I couldn’t even keep up a jog for more than a minute or two. I had heard about the Couch to 5k running program so I thought I should at least give it a try. Running for one minute at a time sounded doable. And you know what? It was. I was shocked. I’m not saying it was easy but each week of the program, I found that it was manageable. Even the dreaded jump from 8 minutes to 20 minutes straight of running was hard but totally doable. After 3 months, I realized that….….I was…a runner! Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that. I was (and still am) a pretty dang slow runner, but for the first time, I started to see myself as maybe a little….athletic.

I started running neighborhood 5k races here and there and also started supplementing my strength training in Karen’s class with more weight lifting at the gym. The owner of my gym (Powerlady: Ladies Workout Express) provides customized weight lifting routines that are tailored to your skill level and goals. I was shocked the first time I met with her and she commented, “You’re already pretty strong.” ME? Strong?! I couldn’t believe it. I never expected to be described that way. It was so motivating! I realized that I could actually be someone who is fit! Not just someone who exercises because you’re supposed to. I also found out that I really enjoyed lifting weights. It made me feel strong and tough. Because suddenly I was strong. I still struggled with cardio but strength training was totally empowering.

This is when I started to see real changes in my body. I went down two sizes and started getting actual muscle definition. You could actually SEE MUSCLES IN MY ARMS. I was astounded. You mean all this stuff I’m doing makes me look different too? I can fit into clothes better and I’m actually craving exercise?! And the best part – my back was better! It didn’t hurt anymore.

Over the last year, I’ve enjoyed running a few 5k races here and there and have really loved teaming up with my husband on some muddy obstacle course races like the Warrior Dash. I typically exercise about four times a week – taking Karen’s Core + More class, running, lifting weights and sometimes taking spinning classes. I also track my workouts on Fitocracy – an online game/social media tool that gives you points for different exercises and helps you track your progress. I feel great and start getting antsy if I go two days without exercise. I have completely changed my self-image. I was always mentally strong and confident but now I’m physically strong too. And it feels pretty awesome.

Is it weird that now, at age 34, I wish I could still take that 9th grade PE class?