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My 8 Year Fitness Journey. Here We Go...

Not once have I ever successfully explained just how physical activity has changed my life. Sure, I have shared pieces here and there on social media, with clients and friends. But every time I attempt at really putting it all down and laying it out, it becomes this jumbled mess with so much at play that I never know how or what to share when explaining the process that has been my fitness journey. Instead, I tend to ramble – all over the place. It becomes this giant map where connecting the dots is a task in and of itself. So today, I am laying it all out. Here is my attempt at piecing it all together and explaining exactly WHY fitness has become such an ingrained part of my life and who I am as a human being.

In my early teens, I turned to self harm as a coping mechanism for a traumatic childhood and stressful upbringing. I did not give a single crap about myself or my own existence. At the time, I felt worthless and useless and undeserving of a life. I battled with depression and anxiety and I had no idea how to cope. Cutting myself was a way to release the pain that I felt, by causing a pain that I could control. But it became an addiction. The elevated heart rate and release of endorphins, creating a rush sensation. That is what it was, and I was ashamed. I did not want anyone to know. It became something that I felt I needed to do, and I no longer had control over it. I had to wear long sleeved shirts everywhere so people wouldn’t notice, and I would wear shorts instead of regular bikini bottoms at every swimming event. I could not get out. I felt trapped.

One day when I was 16 (Spring 2012), I got really upset and felt like I was being suffocated. I could not breath. I just needed to get out of the house, so I grabbed my shoes and left. I started by walking, but it wasn’t helping. My heart was beating so fast. I started walking faster, and faster. Nothing. I picked it up into a jog, then a run. Things were starting to feel different. I ran faster, as fast and as far as I could. My legs felt so heavy, my lungs were on fire, and I was hurting everywhere. When I stopped, I was so gassed. I just dropped to the ground and cried. At that moment I noticed I didn’t feel like I was suffocating anymore. I could finally breath – the air felt crisp and fresh instead of thick and heavy. My whole body was beating with life. I hadn’t felt that alive in so long. I was crying, but in relief. I felt a release that was even better than cutting myself. And I felt so exhausted. I had no energy left to overthink or to stress. I walked home, took a shower, and went to bed. That was one of the first nights in a long time that I had actually slept. It’s kind of funny. That run was less than 10 minutes, but I felt like I had just ran a marathon. Little did I know that this event was going to be one among many others that would change my life completely.

From that day on, I went outside almost every day and ran. Not because I made a goal, but because it made me feel better. It was my new escape. My new coping mechanism. There was no structure, no set time or pace. Nothing. Just me, my cheap old Walmart shoes, and the cement pavement, rain or shine. And it saved my life. Long story short, I ran throughout the rest of high school. When I entered University in 2013, I joined the University of Manitoba cross country and long distance track and field team. I wasn’t even a very good runner compared to everyone else. But I did it because I loved it and I wanted structure. I learned a lot training with the Bisons team, but I was constantly getting injured. Hip, back, hamstring, etc. I went to see an athletic therapist regularly because of this, and that was where I discovered Kinesiology. I had no idea a degree around exercise science and human movement existed, but it sounded like a dream come true! I applied and, to my own surprise, got accepted! In the meantime, I had quit the Bisons team because I was suffering from extreme fatigue and didn’t know why until a few months later when I was diagnosed with severe anemia (I sometimes wonder what I would have been able to do if I had known sooner, but it is what it is I guess). I went on to continue running on my own, training for half marathons and 10k races, using the knowledge and workouts I had acquired while on the Track and field team for 1.5 years.

Back when I was in high school I had also started going to a Bootcamp in my small town, Morris Manitoba, twice a week. After every single workout I would go home and write down as much as I could from memory, and do them again on my own. I am pretty sure I was the only one that did this. I actually still have these workouts somewhere in a booklet in one of my storage bins. I truly felt passionate about what I was doing in this Bootcamp. I wanted to push myself and I wanted to get better. I knew nothing about form or what my body was doing at the time. I just knew that they were fun and helped me feel something different besides my usual runner high. When I quit the track team, I started taking fitness classes at the University 2-3 times a week to help supplement running 4-5 days a week. When I entered the faculty of Kinesiology in 2015, I was just a tiny little endurance athlete.

My best friend, Jessica Sutton, and I met in class during my first year of Kinesiology. She needed a friend to workout with and keep her accountable, and I was scared of working out in the gym at the Active Living Centre alone. The ALC was a big place, with a lot of people and a lot of equipment. And at the time, I did not like to stick out or be seen (I still struggle with it sometimes, as hard as that is to believe). This is where my love for lifting weights began. Of course, it was a process. I used to spend 45+ minutes on the elliptical before even starting my strength workout. But Jess, a tiny human too, was a strength girl. I remember her telling me she wanted to get jacked and I truly did not think I wanted to. Not the way she was describing it. I had a fear of gaining weight (And I still struggle with it sometimes). I just wanted to lift and build some muscle, but I did not want to get huge (at the time). Jess was the first person to tell me that a girl with loads of muscle is attractive and could be something that someone wanted to strive for without being shamed about it. We had consistently worked out together almost every day of the week at like 7/8am for a year. After that, our schedules were no longer the same so even though we didn’t workout together all the time, I continued to workout there. I could not stop. It was my new favorite thing. We did a typical bodybuilding style split; chest and triceps, back and biceps, legs, shoulders and arms, etc. I don’t even remember the specifics. All I know is that it was not the best programming, but we definitely got our beginner gains. And even though I was still running (about 3 times a week), I really enjoyed lifting weights (about 3-4 days a week). I still battled with running injuries though, and the thought of doing a bodybuilding competition had started popping up in my head again. I was looking for something more.

In November 2016 I met CJ, a short and jacked woman who was also strong as frick (still is). She was literally my back muscle goals. She was from a powerlifting gym and had offered to train me. I did a session with her, and it was my first time ever bench pressing anything for only 3 reps. I left shaking with excitement because I had never had that much weight on the bar, and the rush that came with it was crazy. The high from lifting ‘heavy’ shit had never hit me so hard before in my life. I had never been that pumped or felt that empowered before. For the first time ever, I learned what feeling ‘strong’ and wanting to be stronger was like. I of course hired her, and we worked together for 6(ish)months. She taught me so much. From form, to programming, to consistently showing up and sucking it up. I admired her. She converted me over to the squat, bench, deadlift, powerlifting compound movement side of the world where I fell in love with lifting heavy, proper form, and lower/upper splits. Squats were my favorite. I also stopped running at that point and learned how to eat more food to fuel my body. As a result, I gained some weight and grew muscle pretty darn quick. The scale scared me, but that is because I had no understanding of what this weight gain meant for me. That I was growing and getting stronger, tougher. That my bones and my muscles were setting me up for the rest of my life. I was too scared to do a powerlifting competition, and eventually we went our separate ways. But I continued to workout and learn. Throughout my Kinesiology degree I focused on chronic disease, injury treatment and prevention, and strength training. I kept training, and I got a Strength and Fat Loss Certification so that I was certified to write programs/train people.

I wanted to help people experience just how big of a role physical activity can play in changing someone’s life. Especially strength training. Lifting weights, getting stronger, and gaining weight led to feeling more confident and being okay with taking up space. It taught me that hard work pays off, and that you can push through a lot and do more than what you think you’re capable of if you set the bar high and put in the work. At some point in my Kinesiology degree I shadowed a gym and learned about their semi-private training model. And I absolutely loved witnessing the use of physical activity as a tool in helping people become happier and healthier versions of themselves. It was amazing. That was the point that I decided I wanted to be a trainer of some sort. In 2017 near the end of my degree, I did an internship with Sport Manitoba at the Sport for Life Centre. I worked in the Performance Centre and the Fitness Centre. I learned so much about movement and programming on both the performance/athletic side and the general population health/fitness side and I loved it. I wanted more.

That is also where I learned how to Olympic lift. Yay! A new sport! I took a 10-week course in how to Olympic lift, and less than a year later I took a weekend course on how to teach Olympic lifting. Throughout this timeframe, I injured my back very badly. It became a chronic injury from not bracing properly, not having enough core stability, and not listening to my body. I continued to push through things I was not ready for and should not have pushed through. The diagnosis is still not actually official, but the conclusion that made the most sense was that I had sprained my L5-S1 facet joint. I struggled with this injury for over a year, while working with an Athletic Therapist (Brittany Swanson) trying to get back into the squat rack again after being out for months, and she had helped me a LOT. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know where I would be!

Fast forward to February 2019, still on the mend but minimal flare ups, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life fitness wise. All I knew was that maintenance was boring, my injury was finally going away, and I needed a new goal besides ‘heal and get stronger’. I needed more. Bodybuilding had popped up in my mind again as an option, but a friend (and massage therapist) of mine asked me to do a CrossFit competition with him in April (Two months to learn how to CrossFit.. Oh boy). I knew very little about CrossFit. I had only tried it for a month the year before – pre back injury. But I decided to give it a shot. This is where I fell in love with the sport of CrossFit and its all-encompassing aspects of fitness, variety, and hard work. I love that there are so many things to get better at, which constantly keeps you motivated but also overwhelmed at times. I spent that summer having a blast in Intermediate competitions, and in October 2019, I started training with Terry Hadlow, who helped me with my Olympic lifts, strength (especially squats) and all-around fitness. It was a great experience. He is one of the hardest people I know. I trained with him for about 6 months, until gyms closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19.

I went off and did my own stuff in my apartment (at home workouts FTW) until June 2020, when gyms opened again. This is where I asked David Spurr to help me get better at CrossFit specifically as a sport. I needed someone else to do the thinking for me, someone who is good at what they do, and who I could trust. I do not enjoy putting my programming into someone else’s hands, but I knew that if I wanted to keep working on my business while continuing to workout and progress, someone else needed to help me, or I was going to burn myself out. And I wanted to get better at CrossFit! Not just overall fitness. Dave is the guy for that; the best of the best in Winnipeg when it comes to CrossFit coaching. I was nervous at first, but it has been one of the best decisions I have made so far. I have progressed so much which just feels insane because it's like I'm experiencing beginner gains all over again even though I’ve been working out (specifically strength training) for 3-4 years now. But I love it. It reinforces the notion that coaches need coaches too sometimes. There are always things to learn and nothing beats learning than experiencing it firsthand.

Now, here we are. December 2020. A fitness journey that started about 8.5 years ago. Going from a small, fragile, and scared frail little girl, to someone who stands up for herself, takes no bullshit, but all of the space, and wants to get stronger than all the boys around her. I have come a long way. And physical activity has been a huge role in helping me get here. Strength training has built me up, shown me what I am capable of and helped me prove to myself that I can achieve anything if I put in the work. Physical activity and exercise have been an outlet for me for 8 years now. It is something that I put a lot of my effort and energy into because I know that it makes me feel better. It helps me serve myself so I can help to serve others, and I cannot imagine a life without it. It helped me through my teen years as I struggled with depression, early Uni years as I was adapting to my surroundings, and later Uni years as a way to cope with stress and anxiety/panic attacks. I was on medication for anxiety and working out helped me come off of them. It continues to help me through both stressful and non stressful times, and has become as much a part of my routine as brushing my teeth. What started out as a coping mechanism (quick fix adrenaline rush) became a part of my life as a way to keep me strong and healthy and help me live a long and independent life. And I want other people to experience the benefits physical activity can provide them as well.

Well, there you have it friends. My fitness journey. 8 years summarized as best as I can. 4 years of mostly running, and 4 years of strength training, with the last (almost) 2 years being more geared towards CrossFit and Olympic lifting. And I have been grateful for every workout, every PR, every bit of knowledge I have gained, and every person I have met through physical activity in this industry. And the coolest thing ever is that it is not over. This is still just the beginning. And I’m looking forward to continuing to learn, grow, meet, and help new people.

Thanks for reading!

Mercedes Wyenberg

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