I love Mark Hoover and I love Newspring Church. His messages bring me hope each week even though they challenge me to take a long, hard look at my life.
However, he talks a lot about the body being temporary, and six pack abs won’t get you into heaven and your body is going out the same way it came in.
Yes, this body is temporary. But I’ve entrusted my soul to Jesus and I know I’m going to heaven. As a personal trainer, should I be looked at as vain? Does it REALLY matter what this body looks and feels like here on this earth? Because, after all, it is temporary. I am a soul with a body, and not the other way around.
But I want to make one thing very clear: Jesus has called me into the ministry of personal training. And you can argue that it’s not a ministry, but I believe with ALL of my soul that it is. Because I’ve never felt more alive – I’ve never felt more purposeful in what I am doing than I am now that I am a personal trainer.
And I firmly believe that physical fitness most likely saved my life. Not 8 years ago I was an alcoholic smoker who had NOTHING going for her. I didn’t know God, not truly. I grew up in the church, but religion did nothing for me (as I am sure many feel about growing up in the church). When my high school cross country coach was on his death bed, I made a choice: To put my health first. That choice led to so many other amazing decisions in my life.
So what I have learned is – although this body is temporary – physical fitness can be the gateway to self-discipline. That self-discipline is what I needed to help me break my habit of self-destructive behavior. That self-discipline is what led me to my husband, who in turn led me to Newspring Church. Newspring Church led me to a true relationship with Christ – and knowing what it actually means to be redeemed.
So while this body is temporary – I am a firm believer in the healthy, positive, self-loving choices that fitness can bring to your life. Not drinking to excess, not eating to gluttony, not spending my cash on bars and partying, not giving my soul to men who never really cared about me.
Fitness taught me to value myself. And once I valued myself, I finally saw a glimpse of what Jesus saw in me enough to save my soul.
God made me for a purpose. And I am so blessed to be living with purpose as a personal trainer.
By the age of 20 I was addicted to alcohol and had a DUI.
Don’t get me wrong – I had a fairly normal/happy childhood. My parents stayed together for almost 25 years and waited until I was out of the house to divorce. We had food on our table. We took camping trips. By the time I was 5 we even had our own rooms. We did chores and played outside and played way too much Nintendo (the original) and Legos and Barbies. Yes, by most standards I had a great upbringing. Mom and dad worked a lot, so I learned to be fairly self-sufficient and what I couldn’t do for myself I had a big brother and big sister to pester until they gave in.
I found an affinity for running while I was in middle school. My middle school cross country coach also happened to be a school counselor – so he was pretty good at telling us kids exactly what we needed to hear. Running made me feel like I was good at something, and I could get as good as I wanted, depending on how much work I put in – that felt good. That felt right. Injustice is something I don’t deal with well. When something is unfair I tend to get pretty upset. I was told my whole life if I work hard and don’t give up, I’ll get where I’m going and good things will happen. This is also how I earned love as a child. Do good things = Be loved. This will come into play later.
So besides a short season of basketball my 8th grade year where I basically fouled out of every game I played, running was my thing. Coming into my freshman year, we had a core group of girls that were pretty darn good. We won. A lot. And I liked winning. This is when Coach Ron Koppenhaver walked into my life. He was a burly, old, grumpy man… until you got to know him. He called us things like Ignorant Sluts, but it was endearing – that type of old man. He was also my Spanish teacher, which meant not only did I spend a lot of time around him during school but also after and before school at practice for much of the year. Needless to say the man had a profound effect on my life.
The summer before my junior year, I learned beer was pretty easily accessible, and I liked the way it made me feel – invincible, dangerous, thrill-seeking. From the first sip I could feel adrenaline course through my veins because I knew I was doing something bad. Being a Straight A, Class President, church-going girl, I became addicted to these feelings pretty quickly. It wasn’t long after that that my newfound love for beer turned into a nicotine addiction. It was cool to smoke. I felt cool. I felt grown up. I felt dangerous sneaking to the flag pool by the practice fields to smoke during seminar.
As you can imagine, smoking and drinking didn’t have a great effect on my running abilities. Though I had steadily gotten better throughout my freshman and sophomore years, running just didn’t seem to be much of a priority any more. I still did it and was mediocre at best. I remember one day Coach called me into his classroom after school. Very simply, without looking up from the papers he was grading, he said, “So I hear you’ve been smoking.” It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t a request for explanation. He just wanted me to know he knew. I said nothing, then he looked me square in the eye and asked, “What they hell are you doing?” I uncomfortably shuffled my feet and stared at the floor. “I don’t know,” was all I could muster.
And that seemed to be the theme for the next 7 years of my life. What are you doing? I have no idea… I drank too much and smoked almost a pack a day. At the age of 20 I got so drunk at a party that I tried to drive home and blacked out at the wheel, hitting a fire hydrant and totaling my car. Thankfully no one was hurt – I still don’t know how. The cops came knocking on my door and I spent a lonely, cold night in jail. When I called my dad he only had one thing to say, “See you in the morning!” The officers were so scared I was going to hurt myself they put me in solitary and had a therapist come speak to me. I told her, “I don’t need to hurt myself, my dad is going to kill me when I get home.”
You would think that would have been rock bottom. My car totaled. My (young) life savings gone in an instant paying for damages and legal feels. My license was revoked and I spent a year driving around with interlock blowing into a hand-held device before my car would start.
I still didn’t quit drinking.
In the spring of 2011, I got a call from a former cross country teammate of mine. Her tearful voice explained how coach was really sick and he wasn’t going to get any better. He had battled cancer for a few years and he was just tired.
I remember sitting in studio apartment that night. I lived in a terrible part of town by the university. I was so broke I used my student loan money to pay rent some months, but somehow I always managed to find enough money for booze and cigarettes. I worked at the humane society full-time and went to school full-time, though I wasn’t really sure why I was there. Everything seemed so pointless. I lived for the weekend, or at minimum, 7pm when I’d walk down to the local bar and down at least a pitcher so I could walk home and fall asleep. Or if I didn’t have the money for the bar I’d buy a cheap bottle of whiskey and some Coke and listen to music way too loud, talk to guys on the internet, and finally fall asleep. Come morning I’d always be nervous I was still too drunk from the night before to be able to drive my car to work, and on several occasions I’d have to ride my bike or beg a co-worker for a ride.
As I looked at my life and what I’d done with it so far, I began to cry. He was on his death bed after living a life of impact and selfless giving as a teacher, coach, mentor, and friend… and I was an alcoholic with no plans of a future beyond what bar had karaoke that night or which boy I was going to sleep with that weekend.
I made a decision in that moment: I was going to run a marathon in coach’s honor. And that’s exactly what I did. The funny thing is, when I think back, I don’t remember the training being hard. I found a 6-month training program and I stuck to it. I naturally started to drink less and go to bed earlier because 8+ miles on a pitcher of beer isn’t all that fun, so I learned. I had to call family and friends to help me train – to meet me at mile 12 to give me water or make sure I wasn’t dead on the side of the road somewhere. Little by little, I felt a little better – about myself, about my health, about my future. The marathon gave me purpose for the first time in years – and it was something bigger than me.
I rolled into College Station, Texas with my mom as my only groupie. I was nervous and excited. I only had one goal – don’t walk. If you’ve never ran a marathon, I’ll tell you – halfway is not mile 13.1 – halfway is mile 18. It was right about 18 that my right knee began to give and tendonitis set in. But I kept going. I thought about Coach on his death bed. I thought about all the crappy decisions over the last 7 years. I thought about how much pain he was in and how what I was feeling was nothing compared to that. And I kept going. I crossed the finish line and bawled my eyes out.
Back at home the following week, I visited Coach in the hospital. I brought him my medal and gave it to him. I told him I did it all for him, and I just wanted to do something that would make him proud of me one more time. He couldn’t speak, but he smiled and hugged me. And I knew I accomplished my mission.
That was December of 2011. He died January 30, 2012.
I often think back on this time in my life fondly. I remember finishing my marathon then looking in the mirror and thinking, “Why the heck are you still so chunky?” My diet consisted of ramen noodles, triscuits, and tuna. I probably drank more calories than I ate. I used to be buff in high school because I actually lifted weights and enjoyed it. So I started doing my research. A friend pointed me to a website with free workouts and nutrition advice (bodybuilding.com) and I took it and ran with it.
The gym gave me structure. It gave me purpose. It gave me self-discipline. It showed me that if I put in the work, I would get the results (remember, this is a staple of my core beliefs). Little by little, as I valued my body more, I valued myself more. I got up at 4:30 to be at the gym by 5 so I could be at work by 8. The idea of building and re-shaping and re-working who I was was so fascinating to me I became obsessed. On lunch breaks, at night, on the weekends, I read and studied and learned. This is when my love of fitness really began.
In April of 2014 I competed in my first bodybuilding show in the figure division. It was by far the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life – even harder than marathon training. Denying myself food and drink for 16 weeks, training twice a day, meal prepping, posing practice… it was a tremendous labor of love and I will be forever grateful for the experience. Through it I learned to deny my inner demons. It wasn’t always fun or pleasant – there were more than a time or two that I broke down crying just wanting to be “normal”. But in the end my stubbornness and will to win propelled me forward.
It was about this time I started to realize I wasn’t made to sit behind a desk. I start coaching friends and family for free and worked at the YMCA before and after work to earn some extra experience in the fitness world. I wanted people to feel the joy I felt of taking back their lives and their bodies. There is freedom in structure and too few people will ever know what that feels like.
In May of 2015, with the help of God, I quit my desk job and got my foot in the fitness industry door by working at a boxing club running the front desk and cleaning floors. 6 months later, God opened another amazing door and I was training at the facility of my dreams with an almost full book of clients. I was at the gym by 5 and stayed until 7 or 8 some nights. In between clients I tried to eat and train or prepare for the next event/client/or competition. I built an all-women bootcamp program from the ground up and was nearing the 6-figure mark but I was running on fumes and didn’t know it. I tried to let money be my motivation and rationalized if I just worked hard now I could relax more later. Then it happened.
Anxiety and depression. I had my first panic attack in my own bedroom. I was lying down to take my afternoon nap and I became so angry and overwhelmed I remember screaming into my pillow and crying until the tears flowed freely. I cried myself to sleep that day and called in sick to work that night. This would be the first of many panic attacks. At first I recovered well. I would re-group, re-focus, and try to take just a few things off my plate by delegating here or re-working my schedule there. The problem with high achievers is, once you reach a certain level, it is unacceptable to go below that. The more clients I took off my plate, the less money I made and the less impact I felt like I was making. Every client lost, every hour I freed up in my schedule, just added to the mounting anxiety and pain I felt of not being good enough. Most days I had to pry myself out of bed. I became a shell. My sessions were crap and I knew it. I was there but I wasn’t. I tried to put on a good face, but the panic attacks kept coming. My husband listened patiently night after night about how burnt out and exhausted and unappreciated I felt. My therapist told me to quit. I ignored her. I thought this was just how life was supposed to be. You have to work hard or you’ll never “make it.” You can’t avoid the hard work. I’d read every personal development book on grit and perseverance. How was I just going to give up now? Just when I was almost to the top? I was ashamed. I was angry. I was empty.
This lasted for nearly 2 years.
When Covid hit in March of 2020, I finally gave in. I walked into my boss’s office and quit. I had no more to give.
I felt a welcome peace after that. During these last several months I’ve been able to step back and see what God was trying to show me all along – He can’t bless what I don’t include Him in. So while I know His will for my life is to be a coach, it wasn’t until I fully surrendered that part of me to Him and His will did I begin to gain clarity on where I should go and what I should do from here.
I wanted glory and fame for me. I wanted to be important. I wanted to create impact for MY gain. I wanted money to live comfortably on MY terms.
If there’s anything that we’ve learned about happiness, it’s that the happiest people live a life of service. They step outside of themselves to meet the needs of others. They seek God’s will above all things. They practice gratitude daily, living in an abundance mindset. And that’s what I strive for today.
I still have my demons. I still battle alcoholism. I still have to stop myself when I become too focused on the numbers. But I know I am living more aligned with God’s will for my life now more than ever before. I may not be as rich. I may not be as popular. But I’m more at peace. I’m restoring parts of me that have been dead and lifeless for more than half of my life.
And I’ll continue to fight this battle daily until the day Jesus comes back to get me.