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My Journey To A New Me - Robin Wonsley

I doubt myself, my capabilities, my looks, my intellect, my intuition, my body every single day. I can attribute the presence of my harsh and insistent inner critic to the sexual abuse I suffered as a child and teenager, or my familial expectations and pressures to be exceptional at everything I did, or my eating disorder, or my depressive disorder. The list can go on for miles. Either way, I have delivered forceful emotional and mental gut punches to myself everyday for the past 22 years, for not living up to my own, my family, my communities, and society’s (unrealistic and unhealthy) expectations. You can imagine that such a daily and abusive practice does not help you foster a healthy and loving relationship with yourself. But in 2017, something snapped within me. I had finally grew tired of hating, critiquing, and judging myself. I wanted and needed to radically transform my relationship with my mind, body, and spirit. I was at a life or death point in my life, and if I didn’t try to do something fast, I feared that I would eventually be devoured by that inner hatred and judgement, and even worst, maybe even take my life one day. I was conflicted however, because just as much as I hated and doubted myself, I intuitively knew that I had a purpose to fulfill in this world, and that I was deeply passionate about cultivating socio-economic growth, restoration, and change for my (Black) community. So I had to do something, and began seeking out spiritual and physical opportunities. Fortunately, my Zumba instructor of 4 years and her fitness company (Noir Elite) launched a 10 week fitness challenge in February 2018. The challenge would provide group training and nutritional support to all participants, and I just knew that I had to take advantage of this opportunity. Even though I had to wake up at 5am, 4 days a week, brave icy roads and cold winter mornings, and then voluntarily get my ass beat by our fitness instructors, I completed the challenge and lost 13 lbs. Also, the challenge prompted me to take my therapeutic journey seriously, and I got me a new and trauma-informed Black therapist to help me figure how to begin healing my psyche and other areas of my life. Having been so inspired by the challenge, I decided to complete two more. By the third challenge, I had not only lost more than 15 lbs but physically felt ready to challenge myself. I didn’t know the type of challenge I wanted, but I knew I at least wanted to get stronger and lose more weight. So I connected with the fitness challenge nutritionist and owner of Revival Training, Lucienne (Luci) about my fitness goals. And, phase two of my fitness journey began. _____________ On my second or third session with Luci, I remembered seeing some of her clients, most of whom were women and women of color, flipping, lifting, and sprinting with heavy weights and objects. I was instantly mesmerized and shook. I had never seen anything like that in my life. I wanted to be like those women but my inner critic instantly reminded me that I could and would never be as strong as them. So I continued being inspired on the sidelines until one November day, after a training session, I saw three guys training for a upcoming Strongman competition. Like Luci’s dope clients, these men were moving and running with heavy weights and objects. After realizing they had a fan, the guys invited me to try some of the training activities, and I immediately accepted and fell in love with Strongman training. Within 20 minutes of joining their training session, I practiced a 150 lb yoke walk and a 75 lb keg toss. Watching and training with those Strongman guys ignited something within me; that something was my growing desire and need to be stronger than my critic, my traumas, my depression, and my eating disorder. To sum, I desired to experience true freedom within my mind and body, and something about strength and Strongman training made me feel like my dream could be actualized, even if for a hour or two. After that training session, I sent my practice videos to my trainer, my loved ones, and even posted it on my Facebook page. My trainer immediately told me that I would be doing a Strongman competition, and that “Strongman” had chosen me. Her supportive texts were followed by critical calls and texts from my loved ones. Many of them didn’t understand why I had attempted something so “crazy” or feared that lifting heavy objects could either (1) eventually make me look like a man, or( 2) injure myself and negatively impact my fertility, or (3) emasculate my husband, since I would be as strong or god for bid, stronger than a man. My heart sank after getting those texts and comments from my loved ones. Here I was, doing something that was not only healthy for my body (and spirit) but was essentially saving my life, and the folks who I assumed would be my cheerleaders were more worried about how my husband felt and my reproductive functions. For a few weeks afterwards, I questioned whether I would even explore Strongman training or even continue my overall training with Luci. I even broke down crying after a training session about my family’s lack of support to a fellow Black woman client of Luci’s and 2x Strongman champion. She shared that she too had dealt with the same thing, and encouraged me to keep going, to stop worrying about my loved ones approval, and to realize that I was embarking on this fitness journey for me, and me only. With her, my Tribe, and Luci’s encouragement, I decided that I would compete in a Strongman competition, which took place on June 29th. __________ After 6 events, a shoulder injury, and vengeful sun burns, I finished my first Strongman competition in second place. I am still processing the day, but I can say that just as much as it was a battle of strength it was also a battle of emotions for me. For most of the competition, I felt like my inner demons got the best of me. I compared myself to my competitors. Every lift missed made me feel like a failure and a loser. I doubted why I was even there. I felt like I didn’t belong and wasn’t fit to compete with my fellow competitors. But fortunately, my trainers, my Tribe, and my amazing loved ones, who came out by the dozens to come support me, helped me to move through and beyond those feelings and thoughts. They reminded me just how hard I worked to even compete with some of best in the sport. They reminded me that my journey had inspired so many others to become the best versions of themselves. They reminded me that this competition and my journey was much bigger than me and this one competition. Since the competition, I’ve held onto and reflected on those encouragement and sentiments. Additionally, I now realize that I went into the competition with my inner critic leading; I expected myself to flat out win each event, and win the competition. By winning, my fitness journey be valid and worthy of all my dedication and sacrifices —-worthy to whom or what, you may ask,—-my inner critic does not know. It never knows. But that was my mindset going in. However, just as much as my inner demons showed themselves throughout the competition, so did my wholesome and healing energies. There were so many memorable moments where I just allowed myself to cry, laugh, meditate, reflect, receive love, and love on my bruised and battered body. These moments ultimately showed me that if I could create and appreciate moments of genuine joy, peace, love during a stressful, tiresome, and painful competition, then I can definitely do the same in my daily life. With that said, I’m still contemplating on what I want to do next in my fitness journey; I am very much interested in doing another Strongman competition, but I might also take a jab at Powerlifting. Either way, these past seven months have shown me that there’s no limits to what this body can do, and that I am truly the master and creator of my own freedom, peace, and happiness. Furthermore, these past seven months of training for Strongman has been such a extremely rewarding and challenging experience. It has entailed me accepting unexpected and unwanted changes in my body. It forced me to dig deeper into my healing work with my therapist, being that I would experience unexpected and unexplainable emotional outbursts and panic attacks during some of my training sessions. Most importantly, it pushed me to make me a priority in my life. While training, I not only worked full-time, but was also finishing up my first year as a PhD student, and dealing with a long immigration process for my husband. I would get overwhelmed by these important and long-term commitments, and put my fitness, diet, healing and therapy work, and overall wellness on the back burner. And when I neglect me and my wellness, my inner demons to come out to dominate. But my training sessions provided me with a restart button, enabling me to restart and refresh my relationship with my mind, body, and spirit. It also forced me to be fully present and to take a break from all the mindless mental chatter. You can’t worry about what might or might not happen in the next hour or tomorrow when you are trying to quickly move or lift some heavy shit. To conclude, this entire journey has gotten me closer to that initial desire and dream. With every week of training, every PR, and ultimately, the competition, I showed myself just how strong I am and can be. If I can lift more than 700 lbs over the course of 5 hours in the Satanic heat, then I can definitely figure out how to fill my life with joy, wellness, and peace. - From the new me, Robin

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