Today I am excited to share the story of Stephanie with you. We had an awesome photoshoot session recently, which we designed together to celebrate who she is, and how she got here. Why did we do this? Well, I feel it is so important for each of us to take the time and reflect on our hard work. Self-care includes self-love - and having a visual representation of this helps engrave that feeling of accomplishment in our minds. We see ourselves for the incredible human being we are.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Stephanie for many years. For me, Stephanie is an unstoppable force of life. She faces life head on, enjoys it to the max, and wears her heart on her sleeve while doing it. Stephanie is a multi-faceted person, and one of those facets is living with type 1 diabetes. This is not the same as the more common type 2 diabetes, which is what ~90% of people with diabetes have. This chronic condition affecting her health and confidence, along with depression, bullying, and other struggles, have made Stephanie's life very different from other people's. She has faced these challenges, persisted through them, and learned not only to accept them - but to thrive alongside them. I am sharing her journey of struggle and triumph, in hopes that it helps others reflect on their own challenges and be inspired to celebrate their efforts to overcome them. We each have a unique journey peppered with obstacles, so let's stop along the way and celebrate the triumphs. In her own words:
"What am I celebrating? Why is it important to me? I am celebrating a lifetime of struggle being (mostly) behind me.
I always struggled with my health.
I always struggled with my finances.
I always struggled with my sanity.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 5 years old. A combination of that, and growing up in a very intense and volatile household, helped to make me a target for bullying, all the way until I dropped out of high school.
Every attempt I made at getting into sports was met with teasing about how fat and worthless I was to the team. Every time I was active, I felt like I was going to die from a low blood sugar. In high school, I was so depressed from the bullying and this crazy chronic illness that I had no comprehension of the magnitude of its impact in shaping my mind and mood; I gained 40 lbs between age 13-15. It wasn’t a growth spurt; I couldn’t stop eating. Of course, this made me more depressed, and when I was 15, I tried to induce a hypoglycemic seizure (blood sugar falling so much that you lose consciousness and start convulsing involuntarily), just so that I wouldn’t have to go to school. Being in the hospital was more appealing to me than going to school. My plan didn’t work, and I confided in the one friend I had what I had done, or attempted to do. She encouraged me to do whatever I needed to, in order to stay alive.
I was not getting help from the school, or my parents (to be fair, they didn’t know how bad it was; all they could see was that I was sleeping 12 hours a day, desperately trying to avoid going to school). However, my attempt at landing myself in the hospital now made me an “at risk youth”, which allowed me access to a much better counsellor, through a local “mental health team”. I was able to see him weekly for 3 years, while I cried my eyes out. I dropped out of my regular high school when I was 16, and joined adult education to get my high school diploma. These two events combined, helped to keep me alive. I was finally in a place where I wasn’t being bullied, and where I could go to school to learn. I was getting the emotional support I needed, and began to make friends.
I did end up having a hypoglycemic seizure when I was 18, not self-induced. It was the worst one I had in my life. I had seized up so bad, that I had to see a massage therapist weekly for 3 months, just so that I could walk down stairs without going “ow ow ow!” all the way down! When I was in the hospital, I was being tended to by nurses and doctors, and could see the look of fright and worry on my mother’s face. In that moment, I realized what a “chronic illness” really meant. I was not going to escape this disease, it would be with me the rest of my life. My father was also chronically ill my whole life, and I could see the drain he was on my family, and on the medical system. I was able to see in that instant, that I had two options: to become the adult that spends the rest of their life dying and causing anguish to everyone who surrounds them, or to accept my life as it was, and do everything I could to become the opposite of my father. To care for myself the best that I can, and to use my struggle to help other people.
When I finished my adult high school diploma, I was convinced I would never go further in my education. I spent some time working in various retail jobs, and felt my soul wither away in dealing with angry people taking out all of their frustrations on you - the minimum wage, low skilled worker. I knew that I could do more. I was not yet sure what, or how I would get there. I decided I would attend a local community college, to take some grade 11 and 12 math and science courses. I didn’t take them in adult ed because back then, I just wanted to graduate. I was not preparing for post-secondary education. My career goal at that time was to become a pharmacist. I wanted to help people.
In attempting to manage my blood sugars, I made many attempts to join a fitness centre. I joined a few and quit them all. I was not being supported by the staff (they seldom knew the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes), or by my “diabetes clinic team”. I quit the fitness centres because I felt like I was going to die after my workouts, so after each workout, I would go to the 24-hour Subway fast food chain and eat a foot-long submarine sandwich. I kept joining and quitting fitness centres, and I finally found one that I stuck with, longer than a couple of months. I was 24, and I was mad and upset that I couldn’t find the solution to my own problems with becoming active. So, I hired a personal trainer. I only worked out with her for 3 sessions, but her support and approach to exercise were welcoming and supportive. I asked her about her credentials, and she had a university degree in Kinesiology, and she was certified as a personal trainer. She was planning to do her master’s degree in Physiotherapy. I observed carefully what she was doing, and I began doing my research into her field. I found the career that I was seeking. I could do her job. This would allow me to help people with their struggles, and empathize in a way that many others in her field were unable to do. That many in the healthcare field were not doing with me.
I finished my high school science upgrading classes at the community college, and applied to transfer to a university that offered the Kinesiology degree that I decided I needed. I pursued this career field full hog. It was the hardest thing I have ever done before. I was never a good student, I never learned how to do that in high school because back then, I was trying to survive. I had to repeat a few of my classes, but that didn’t stop me from graduating. Every job I got along the way only reinforced that I made the right decision, this was the field for me. I chose Kinesiology because I liked how I could choose which direction I wanted to take my career - it gave me a greater sense of personal agency; the path I would carve for myself would be for me, and it would be impossible for me to become disappointed. As I tried a variety of jobs in the field, and learned more about what options were available to me, I decided that I would take an additional certification after I graduated, as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist. Working as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist would allow me to use my skills in a way that would provide me with joy and purpose, and would give me financial security, so that I could look after my own personal health needs and goals.
When I began with my current employer, I finally had stable work hours. I decided on Jan 01, 2016 that I was going to train my body the way that I wanted to. No more stress from university, no more stress from being in a new city (I moved around a few times during my life), no more stress from not having enough money to feed myself. Nothing was holding me back any longer from the life that I wanted to live. I got back into running (something that I started and stopped a few times in my life) and resistance training. For years, I had heard about obstacle course racing (e.g. Spartan, Tough Mudder) and decided in 2016, that I was finally going to do one of those, too. I heard about a race called Rugged Maniac through an email from Groupon, and the day worked for me, so I signed up for it. It was AMAZING and so much fun! Everyone that I was meeting and the energy was incredible. This was going to become my new obsession.
I have been pursuing obstacle course racing with all of me.
Since August 2016, I have been doing a race every month. In the Vancouver “off-season”, I did road and trail races to keep up with my training. In 2017, I have done three 5-kilometre road races, a 5-kilometre trail race, an 8.5-kilometre trail race, 2 Spartan Sprints, and 1 Spartan Super. In the remainder of 2017, I have the Rugged Maniac race coming up, another Spartan Super, potentially my first Spartan Beast, and going to Ontario for 2 races at the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships. I also just won a lottery draw for an entry to the Boston half-marathon, and am hoping to do a fun 5K zombie-themed obstacle course race in Montreal.
On Jan 01, 2016 – I could barely run 1 minute.
Today, I can run over 60 minutes.
In September 2015 – I secured stable employment with consistent hours.
In April 2015 – I had carpal tunnel surgery in both hands. I had to cease most resistance training and could not hold the handlebars of my bicycle for a while leading up to the surgery.
With a stable life in place and with the amazing encouragement from my obstacle course race training club, my friends and loved ones, I could finally work toward the life I wanted. This photoshoot helped me to celebrate how much progress I have made and also, to mark how much farther I have to go. My “progress” has really only been for the past year and a half; however, my whole life has felt like an uphill climb and if you had told teenage me where I would be today, I would have never believed you."
I am so happy to have been a part of Celebrate Yourself: Stephanie! I reached out to a few of her other close friends and asked them to share in one-two sentences their thoughts about her. I invite her other friends to add a comment below and do the same!
To follow Stephanie's journey and be inspired, check out her blog Enabling Fitness.
Stephanie inspires me to be my true self. She grabs life by the jugular and says "I'm fucking doing this".
- Jen H.
Stephanie is fiercely ambitious. When she wants to achieve something she deems important, nothing can stop her. I admire her for that.
- Renée J.
For me, Stephanie is an unstoppable force of life. She faces life head on, enjoys it to the max, and wears her heart on her sleeve while doing it.
- Radina D. (me!)
Stephanie is surely amongst the most positive and uplifting people I have known. We met about 15 years ago when I lived in Vancouver, but it wasn't until a few years later, when she recognized me on a plane from Edmonton to Montreal that we really got to know each other. Since then we've become opposite-coast besties, travelling across the continent to see each other whenever we can. Through amazing times and serious rough patches, we both know we can count on each other to understand where we're at: to celebrate the highs, and to soldier on through the lows. She kicks ass!
- Murray P.