Justine McCabe turned to food for comfort after losing her mom and husband in one year, but obstacle course racing helped her cope with her grief.
When Justine McCabe's mother passed away from breast cancer–related complications in 2013, Justine sank into a depression. Just as she thought things couldn't get any worse, her husband took his own life a few months later. Overcome with grief, Justine, who already struggled with her weight, turned to food for comfort. Within a few months, she gained almost 100 pounds.
"I was to the point where I wasn't even weighing myself because I didn't even want to know the answer," Justine told Shape. "When I went to the doctor's office and they told me I weighed 313 pounds, I couldn't believe it. I felt so debilitated and couldn't even do the simplest of tasks. Like my kids, at points, would have to help me get off the couch because the motion of going from sitting to standing was so painful for me."
Then, she decided to go to therapy. "I met with a therapist for a year and a half," she says. "One of the moments that sticks out in my memory is sitting on the couch telling her that I didn't want to be remembered as this sad, pitiful person who was a victim of her circumstances." (Related: 9 Ways to Fight Depression—Besides Taking Antidepressants)
I get asked all the time if I've had skin removal surgery.... that's gonna be a hard no from me! I don't see stretch marks and loose skin...I see hard work, I see dedication. Society set standards say perfect is pretty....but I'm not searching for perfection...I'd rather be strong! You can call me #JigglyBuff _________________________________________________ #ThisIsMe #TransformationTuesday #Body4Me #IAmAllWoman #Ichoosetolive #keepgoing #eatclean #Weightloss #FitFam #BodyPositive #Strong #SelfLove #fitspo #girlswithmuscle #fitness #realtalk #BoPo #SelfConfidence #fitmom #TeamJustine #growthecircle #startyourlife #phoenixrising
To help change that, her therapist recommended being more active. Since Justine had been an athlete growing up and had played soccer for 14 years, this was something her family and friends had been encouraging too. So, she started going to the gym.
"I would spend an hour doing the elliptical and I would swim a lot four to five times a week," Justine said. "I also started to switch out bad eating habits for good ones and before I knew it, my weight started to come off. But what was better is that I started feeling better than I had in a long time."
Justine soon realized that exercising could help her with her grief. "I would use that time to do a lot of thinking," she said. "I was able to process some of the emotions I was dealing with that I would then go talk about and work through in therapy."
#MondayMotivate yo damn self! Woke up feeling like maaaaaaaaybe I shouldn't have ate my weight in chips and salsa this weekend. But by the end of my workout...I was feeling all Bane. The road to my next #SpartanTrifecta in Hawaii continues. I'm not staying fit to be skinny. I'm staying fit to be strong. #ichoosetolive #chestdaybestday
Every little milestone began feeling like a huge accomplishment. "I started taking pictures of my body every single day and after a while, started noticing the tiny differences, which was a huge motivation for me," Justine says. "I even remember when I lost my first 20 pounds. I was on the top of the world, so I really held on to those moments."
As Justine began losing weight, she found that she was able to do so much more than she ever had before. When she'd lost about 75 pounds, she began going on hikes with friends, picked up kayaking and paddleboarding, and went to Hawaii to learn how to surf. "My whole life, I was terrified of anything that was considered remotely dangerous," Justine says. "But once I started to learn what my body was capable of, I started cliff jumping, parasailing, skydiving, and found an amazing thrill in chasing my fears because it made me feel alive."
It was only a matter of time before Justine caught wind of obstacle course racing and instantly wanted to give it a go. "At the start of 2016, I convinced a friend of mine to do a Tough Mudder half with me and after I finished that race, I was like 'This is it,' 'This is me,' and there was no turning back," she says. (Related: Why You Should Sign Up for an Obstacle Course Race)
#fbf The quickest way to acquire real self confidence is to do exactly what you are afraid to do. You don't start a course to find yourself, you create yourself. You create through trial and error, through pain and suffering. Your ability to conquer all things will come at your own perseverance. After running my first @SpartanRace in December...something ignited in me. Each race I've pushed, I've improved. I've gotten better. The shackles of a past life have begun to fall. If you don't challenge yourself...you may never know what you can become. And besides...when else can you be the action hero to your own life? #IChooseToLive #SpartanRace #Aroo #WildernessAthlete #StayWild #SpartanRaceBarcelona
After doing a few similar 3-mile races, Justine felt like she was ready to pursue something she'd had her eyes on for a while: a Spartan Race. "From the moment I got into OCRs, I knew that Spartans were the biggest, baddest of them all," she says. "So I signed up for one way far in advance. And even after a bunch of training, I was so incredibly nervous come race day."
The Spartan Justine took part in was longer than any race she'd ever run before, so it definitely put her capabilities to the test. "It was much harder than I could have ever imagined, but making it to the finish line all by myself was so rewarding that I set an insane goal for myself: to do a Spartan Trifecta next year."
For those of you who might now know, a member of the Spartan Trifecta Tribe finishes one of each Spartan distance—the Spartan Sprint (3 to 5 miles with over 20 obstacles), Spartan Super (8 to 10 miles and involves 25 obstacles) and Spartan Beast (12 to 15 miles with over 30 obstacles)—in one calendar year.
#MedalMonday love my body most when I'm out on an obstacle course. The way it moves, how it reacts/listens. Running double beasts to earn Trifecta x4 and x5 on the toughest world championship course may have left me bruised and beyond sore...But I'm walking away from the experience feeling strong and powerful. I learned I have the strength to endure. Push to be fearless and limitless. #IChooseToLive
Justine hadn't run more than 6 miles in her life, so this was a huge challenge for her. But to mark the new year, Justine signed up for a Spartan Sprint and Spartan Super over one weekend in January 2017.
"My friend asked if I'd like to do both races with her back to back and just get them out of the way before I prepared for the Beast," she said. "I said yes and after I was done, I thought to myself, 'Wow, I'm already more than halfway done with my Trifecta goal,' so I gave myself a solid 10 months to train for the Beast."
During those 10 months, Justine completed not one but five Spartan Trifectas and will have completed seven by the end of this year. "I don't really know how it happened," Justine said. "It was a combination of my new friends encouraging me to do more races but also realizing that my body doesn't have any limits."
"After I finished my first Beast in May, I learned that if you can go 3 miles, if you can go 8 miles, you can go 30," she continued. "You can do anything that you set your mind to." (Related: 6 Types of Therapy That Go Beyond a Couch Session)
With today being my 18th @spartanrace this season...I have face planted, fallen off from the top, slipped to only be saved by buddies, from a wet slip wall many many times. Go figure I made it with ease two days in a row when it was made much harder with shorter ropes. Fearless=Limitless #IChooseToLive
Ever since Justine realized that she'd let grief and devastation consume her, she's consciously made a choice to continue living and moving forward every single day. That's why along with inspiring her 100,000 Instagram followers, she uses the hashtag #IChooseToLive to document her journey. "It's become the motto of my life," she says. "Every choice I make now is based upon that. I'm trying to live my life to the fullest and set a true example of perseverance to my children."
To those who've been in her shoes and feel stuck because of unfortunate circumstances, Justine says: "I've started and stopped more times than I can count. [But] it really is possible to change your life. We all have the power to create something different. I have fought tooth and nail to get to where I am standing today [and] the best part is that I've done it listening to my own intuition and aligning myself with real inspiration and motivation. This is what real sustainability looks like."
Today Justine has lost 126 pounds overall, but for her, progress isn't measured by a scale. "Many people tend to focus on a number, a goal weight or magic amount they need to lose," she says. "That number doesn't translate into happiness. Don't get so caught up with an end result that you neglect to appreciate your success as it's happening."