You are here

Real People Reveal: How Fitness Changed My Life

Running and Yoga HelpedMe Conquer Breast Cancer

1 of 14

All photos

Name: Jen Embry, 31

The Crisis: "I was diagnosed with with Stage IA breast cancer when I was 26, after finding a small tumor was near the surface of my breast."

The Change: After an initial positive prognosis from her doctors, things took a turn for the worse. Jen's cancer had spread, and she faced a five-year survival rate of less than 25 percent. "I began researching everything I could find and came across information about Gerson Therapy, which is basically cancer treatment through nutrition. I began a vegan diet and focused on my fitness. I started weight lifting to help maintain my bone mass, running to increase my energy, and yoga to help with my depression."

The Cure: "Cancer destroys your body from the inside out. I had days (and weeks) where I could barely make it to the bathroom, let alone go to work. Running really helped with my energy. When I started, I could barely run for one minute, but less than one month after I got the official remission announcement from my doctor, I ran my first half marathon. I was also dealing with anxiety and depression. Yoga really helped me through those days when I thought I just couldn't go on."

Jen's Tip: "Your health is one of the most important things in your life, and you really need to make time for it. I was too busy with things that ultimately didn't matter to take care of myself, and I believe that's probably why I wound up with cancer."

Group Fitness Helps Me Manage Fybromyalgia

2 of 14

All photos

Name: Suzi Fevens, 31, of Confessions of a Fitness Instructor

The Crisis: "After being sick for the majority of my life with headaches, mysterious body aches and pains, insomnia, and a long list of other ailments, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia early in my 20s. At that time, I was as close to a walking zombie as you could get. I was only sleeping a few hours (of unrestful) sleep each night. I was in constant pain, and all I wanted to do was sleep."

The Change: "I started seeing a naturopath who helped me get on a decent sleep schedule so that I didn't feel so exhausted all the time. Next I started walking and later moved into running and workout videos."

The Cure: "Over a period of five years, I went from being inactive, overweight, and in so much pain I could barely stand it to being 30 pounds lighter and a full-time fitness instructor. I still deal with the pain of fibromyalgia but at a much lesser degree than I did five years ago. I credit exercise in general for saving my life. Without it I know I would be on countless pain medications, overweight, and still working that 9-5 job."

Suzi's Tip: "Start small and keep at it. It really is difficult at first because exercise can really rile up muscle and joint pain when you aren't used to doing it. Start by walking for 5-10 minutes at a time and slowly build up your time. If you are sore the next, day don't give up, try to walk for another 5-10 minutes. Each day the pain will lessen. I promise."

Walking and Meditation Helped Me Overcome Mental Illness

3 of 14

All photos

Name: Mike Schiemer, 27, of Frugal Fitness

The Crisis: "I've always struggled greatly with low self-esteem, clinical depression, mood disorder, and severe anxiety, as well as alcoholism in the past. These have been exacerbated by working too much, putting too much pressure on myself, not taking care of my health and fitness, along with other external stressors."

The Change: "[Eventually] I became so stressed out, depressed, and chemically imbalanced that I was incapacitated and couldn't get through normal daily activities… I nearly committed suicide before turning myself over to the emergency room last minute."

The Cure: When professional medical help wasn't giving Mike the relief he wanted, he started exploring lifestyle changes. "I had to slowly start out walking one to two miles and after many months, I eventually progressed to running four to six miles. This helped to boost my natural endorphin production, which in turn helped my mood." Next, Mike added weight lifting, meditation, and breathing exercises to his routine. Eventually, he says, the exercise "helped save my life by naturally reducing stress, improving my breathing abilities and patterns, helped me slow down my breathing, balance my body's chemicals, clear my head, give me more energy, improve self-esteem, and return my testosterone levels to normal healthy levels."

Mike's Tip: "I've learned the hard way that you need to ask for help when things aren't going well. You need to talk to qualified professionals, get medical support, and not feel ashamed or try to 'tough it out.' It isn't easy, but there is hope and things do get better."

Running Helped Me Beat My Eating Disroder

4 of 14

All photos

Name: Katelyn Block, 19, of Chef Katelyn

The Crisis: "The end of my junior year of high school, I fell into a deep eating disorder. Within six months, it was to an unsustainable and unhealthy point, at over 45 pounds under my current weight."

The Change: "My dad was hit by a truck while training for his umpteenth Boston Marathon on December 1, 2010. At that point, I had a realization: While my dad was in the hospital because of an accident, I was about to be there by choice. Because I had starved myself. I decided I had to start making changes."

The Cure: "I've always been an athlete, but while I was sick, I had virtually stopped exercising, with the exception of the occasional light 20 to 30 minutes on the elliptical. Once I decided to get back into running, I had to fuel my body properly if I wanted to be strong and run fast. I made the decision to build my body back from the ground up. Within a few months of hard work and determination, I graduated high school with an again-healthy body and a healthy mind."

Katelyn's Tip: Find a support group. Katelyn credits the blogging community for helping her to sustain her recovery. "When you have an entire community of people telling you you are beautiful, strong, intelligent; it makes you want to be that person for them. It wasn't until I read those words every day that I realized how far I had strayed from who I used to be, and could be once again."

Running Restored My Faith After Losing My Olympic Dream

5 of 14

All photos

Name: Amalia Biro, 24, of Live Travel Eat and Run

The Crisis: Amalia was an avid horseback rider with her sites set on the Olympics, until one day she was thrown off a pony, leaving her left knee badly injured. "I couldn't walk right, and I certainly couldn't ride. After years of dreaming and working for something, it crushed my spirits. For years after I didn't do any exercise, gaining 50+ pounds in University, and then beginning a serious battle with depression."

The Change: "The turning point was when a good friend of mine was running a 5K and asked me to come with her. It was a first for her as well, and the idea of doing it together somehow made it less intimidating."

The Cure: "Running lets me clear my head. In moments where my depression would get the best of me, I found myself starting to turn to running instead of withdrawing from my social life and habits. It was on a run one day where I decided to tell my boyfriend everything, talk to my parents, and gather a support group around me. At the time I wasn't suicidal but I wonder what would have happened. It's incredible now that friends and family describe me as a 'woman who is making her life an incredible adventure.' "

Amalia's Tip: "Don't ever, ever be afraid to ask for help. Funks are normal but if it seems to start lasting forever, it's not okay. The worst part about depression is that you feel like you're being unreasonable because you convince yourself there is nothing real to be upset about. But remember, you can't help it. And the best thing to do for yourself is to find people who support you, cut out the people who don't, and if you feel like it, go for a run."

Rock Climbing Saved Me From Myself

6 of 14

All photos

Name: Sarah Jane Parker, 28 of The Fit Cookie

The Crisis: While some people are paralyzed by a fear of something scary (large crowds, airplanes, etc.), Sarah Parker found herself debilitated by her fear of... being afraid! "I had a lot of fear and anxiety about different things: fear of failure, fear of change, fear of rejection, to name a few." While she says she was never formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear was taking over her life.

The Change: "I was tired of being afraid all the time, and I knew that I couldn't let fear control me or I would miss out on my life!" Sarah faced her fears with a workout that would make most people's hearts skip a beat or two. "I decided to try indoor rock climbing with some friends. It took me a while to decide to try it, and I was very nervous my first time climbing. But I loved it!" Eventually she used the skills and courage she gained from climbing to try other challenging workouts, like her first mud run.

The Cure: "Each time I climbed, I learned how to move past my fear and problem-solve my way through difficult situations. I later became a Zumba instructor, started two fitness blogs, and became a personal trainer, all of which would not have happened if I had continued to walk in fear and hid in my comfort zone."

Sarah's Tip: "Don't let fear hold you prisoner! Learning new skills and doing new things can be scary at first, but we can miss so many rewarding experiences in life if we let fear dictate what we do. Acknowledge your fear, then knock it out of the way while you live life!"

Spinning Helped Me Walk Away from Two Car Accidents

7 of 14

All photos

Name: Kimberly Whittaker, 25

The Crisis: Two car accidents in one month took Kimberly from doing yoga three to five times a week to "having joint problems in both knees and pain in my lower back and neck" that made it so she could barely sit or stand, much less work out.

The Change: "I was emotionally a nervous wreck and physically had gained weight and felt stiff. Plus, I was losing more and more mobility every day. I knew then that something had to change, so I joined a gym and started doing light cardio and spin classes to get my body moving. At first it was painful and discouraging, but over time I began to feel less anxious."

The Cure: "Now I work with a physical trainer three time per week to help me strengthen my muscles and joints. Some days I am in a lot of pain, but I am slowly but surely on my way to a full recovery. Without exercise, I feel as though I don't have an outlet to release the stress and anxiety. The spin classes were the most helpful because I felt like I was able to zone out and focus my energy just on pedaling one foot in front of the other. I was able to find clarity."

Kimberly's Tip: "It is difficult to recover from a traumatic event like a car accident, but you cannot let it consume you. Start slow and steady and hire a certified trainer if you need help getting started and want supervision."

Running Helped Keep My Heart Pumping

8 of 14

All photos

Name: Lynda Trujillo, 26, of Hit The Road Jane

The Crisis: "For over a year I had a slew of episodes that included tachycardia, blood pressure spikes and dips, dizziness, tingling, and shortness of breath. It started at home one night while I was relaxing and I thought I was going to die. I was taken to the ER that night and from then on, the scares (and numerous ER trips) continued for months with a lot of invasive testing. I was misdiagnosed and put on serious heart medication that made it worse. I didn't feel safe at work or going out alone for fear that another episode would occur and I would pass out. I was terribly depressed, scared, and felt like I had no control in my life."

The Change: "I decided to find another doctor at the Mayo Clinic and they were finally able to give me some answers. When they helped me figure out what was wrong (I was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome and vasovagal syncope), it was like the clouds lifted and I decided that my circulation problem would not define or limit me. With my doctor's approval, I signed up for my first half marathon, the Disney Princess run, even though my longest run had only been four miles long and the race was a month away."

The Change: "Crossing that finish line that day was my greatest accomplishment. I had control again and I felt stronger than ever. Racing saved me from depression and restored the confidence I once had with my body. It helped me focus on something bigger and thus took away my fear of getting sick again. Running also helped me change my diet. I avoided triggers that could cause my heart to race like caffeine and ate small meals which helped my sugar levels stabilize. I made sure to hydrate with electrolytes and the extra sodium helped keep my body from having episodes."

Lynda's Tip: "Always seek a second or even a third opinion medically. Listen to your body! After all, no one knows it better than you do!"

Running Helped Me Cope with Losing Loved Ones

9 of 14

All photos

Name: Kris Olsen, 48, of No Limits Running

The Crisis: "Within three short years, I lost my best friend, brother, and father to cancer. I was with my brother and father during the entire journey of their battles. I became a caregiver to them while also taking care of my family and being the support system to my mom and siblings. I took no thought of what I ate, when I ate it, or how much I ate. I just ate."

The Change: "After my father passed away, I went in for a checkup and was shocked with what the doctor said. Obesity, depression, and stress was taking over my body. My doctor gave me a choice: I could take it off by making healthy lifestyle changes or he would give me medicine, and a lot of it."

The Cure: "My friend had me run a 5K with her in 2009. Even though I really walked most of it, I discovered that running gave me an outlet to let go of all the emotions I had bottled up inside me over the past years. I found that I could just cry as I ran. Plus, running gave me the "'me time' I had not had in so many years. Listening to music (and singing off-key) as I ran became a therapy too." After a follow-up visit with her doctor, Kris found she was losing weight and, more importantly, inches from critical places like her stomach and waist—so much so that her doctor took meds off the table. "Running gave me my life back!"

Kris's Tip: Find your own motivation. "Not only did running give me back my health, it gave me something else: courage. Coming across finish lines gives me a sense of accomplishment." She also runs for those she lost. In 2012 Kris did the Empire State Building Run Up and earned $2700 for cancer research, in honor of her father.

Yoga Taught Me to Love My Body

10 of 14

All photos

Name: Lee Hersh, 22, of Fit Foodie Finds

The Crisis: "Due to the stress and pressure of college-life, I began struggling with disordered eating and depression, lacking balance and love for my body."

The Change: "After a year of calorie restriction and high -intensity exercise, I finally realized that everyone has his or her own definition of healthy and what I was striving to look like was not healthy and did not make me feel good."

The Cure: "I began mixing up my workout routines and turning exercise into something social by meeting my girlfriends for yoga, running outdoors, and doing partner workouts at the gym with my sister."

Lee's Tip: The saying "do what you love and you will love what you do" inspires Lee to find fun and healthy ways to exercise. "Yoga helped me find peace with my inner-self and be proud of my body, no matter what shape or size!"

Dancing Cured My Social Anxiety

11 of 14

All photos

Name: Tiffany Jorgensen, 33, of Dance Lift Run

The Crisis: "Right after high school, I became severely depressed, along with social anxiety. I was more susceptible to it due to family history, but I was feeling lost and alone with no direction, and it snowballed out of control. I gained about 80 pounds within a year, which definitely added to the depression."

The Change: "Two years ago some friends dragged me to a Bollywood dance class with them. I was on dance team and cheerleading in high school, but I thought for sure I would be laughed out of a dance class at my weight. Instead, I left the class glowing with happiness and joy. I decided right then and there that I never wanted to let that feeling go again!"

The Cure: "Dance brought me back to life. When I am dancing, my soul is happy! Dancing again made me realize I don't have to keep waiting for 'the right time' or 'when I'm thinner' to live my life. I'm still on a journey to lose weight, and some days are harder than others, but I will always turn to dance to lift me back up."

Tiffany's Tip: Find something you love. "I think the very best workout, is the one that you will really do!"

Running Saved Me from the Complications of Obesity

12 of 14

All photos

Name: Rachel Wright, 28, of Runner's Tales

The Crisis: "For as long as I can remember, I have always been a 'big' girl. I wasn't huge but I wasn't small. After college, I stopped caring about my body, and my work schedule really affected my eating habits. Within a few years, I was obese and depressed about it."

The Change: "One morning in January 2011, I stepped on the scale and saw a number that scared me. I sat down on the bathroom floor and cried for several hours before I realized crying wasn't going to fix my problem." Worried about the serious health implications of her weight, Rachel knew she had to do something. "I wanted to get back into swimming but hated the way I looked so I decided to try running instead."

The Change: "Within a year, I had fallen in love with running and lost more than 50 pounds. Instead of opening a bag of Oreos after a bad day at work, I would lace up my running shoes. I learned to eat proper portion sizes again and what foods made me feel better."

Rachel's Tip: "Losing weight won't happen over night. It takes time and effort. Find an activity or exercises that makes you happy and find ways to add that into your routine. Always choose your health and well-being first."

Triathlons Helped Me Recover from Post-Partum Depression and Cervical Cancer

13 of 14

All photos

Name: Christie O'Sullivan, 37, of Average Moms Wear Capes

The Crisis: Like many new moms, Christie learned how challenging caring for a newborn can be. But she had an added struggle on top of nightly wakings and diaper changes. "I struggled with my weight and post-partum depression after both my children were born. At 55 pounds overweight, I couldn't even recognize myself anymore." In an effort to drop the weight and regain her self-worth, Christie began training for her first of many triathlons. And then she faced another hurdle.

"I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in early 2012."

The Change: "Triathlons gave me the tools to fight. It mentally trained me to keep going, to keep pushing, and to fight through physical or emotional pain. Triathlons pulled me back up. It gave me my life back. So many times and in so many ways."

Christie's Tip: "Don't ever let anything—not cancer, not doctors, not yourself—tell you that you can't."

Weight Lifting Helped Me Avoid the Freshman 15

14 of 14

All photos

Name: Kacie Phillips, 19, of Savvy Sassy Me

The Crisis: Like many college freshmen, Kacie Phillips found her life turned upside down. Nothing was the same, especially her body, and she quickly found herself "in a rut." Even though she was doing "hours upon hours on the treadmill or elliptical," she still wasn't seeing results.

The Change: One day, fed up with the monotony, Kacie decided to venture out of her safe "Cardio Land" to the weight room. "I was always too intimidated by the weight rooms. Girls were never in there; only guys! But then I said 'what the heck' and I ventured in. I have never never looked back since."

The Cure: "Lifting has single-handedly changed my life. I feel strong, empowered, and energized on a day-to-day basis." Not only did she conquer her fear of lifting, but she finally started seeing results. "Lifting has built muscles that I didn't even know I was capable of! Now I absolutely love working out, and this has truly become a passion."

Kacie's Tip: "When you are stuck in a rut, change it up. Try something new! I am getting ready to start CrossFit throughout the holiday season. I will continue to challenge myself and push myself."