“I knew John Butler…”

Posted in Articles on November 16, 2016 by oldcountrystrong

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit….” J.R.R Tolkien

I just returned from a ten day trip to Germany. I had no idea how important this trip was going to be to me when I first booked it. I love to teach and I work with a number of gyms in the southern part of Germany. So it just made sense to extend my trip out from the first course I taught and to go visit them all and spend time with them. I wanted to get to learn their communities and meet the faces I see on social media that are members of what we call our Club.

But the week before I left I found out something that would change this trip for me forever.

You see I have number of tattoos. Most people will judge a book by its cover even though your not suppose to. I’ve been told that you should know what your getting yourself into when you walk into my gym and see the coach has two full size pinups girls tattooed on his calves. Well I wouldn’t get them if I didn’t find things like that funny or amusing. All my tattoos have a story and thats important to me. Everything from my wrists to my back have some kind of meaning to me.

But the tattoo on the outside of left forearms means the most to me.

It’s a classic style American Eagle and at first glance you’d assume it just flows with the rest of them. And yes I do like a classic style of tattoo but that isn’t the reason that eagle is inked into my skin. It has so much meaning to me that when that eagle and this trip crossed paths it seemed to me like what a lot of people would call fate.

I got that particular piece like some of the other during a hard time in my life. Things were bad and I actually had taken myself back to where my parents were from in Iowa. My grandma (whom we all called Nano) stilled lived in the house my Ma grew up in and we’d visit it every summer growing up. Nano was amazing to be around and just her presence made everything feel right in the world. But I knew once I went back to the world she wouldn’t be there and my problems still would be. So there was someone I needed to talk to, I needed to talk to my Pa.

Pa was what we called my Grandpa and he was the patriarch of our family. I don’t use the term lightly and if you know me I make a kicking motion anytime I use 10 dollar words and says “who needs them.” But thats what Pa was. He was the head of our family and we all loved and respected him above all else.

When he passed away much like when my Nano left us I spoke for my brothers and myself at the funeral. Some people say I’m good with words and public speaking is a gift my Mother ingrained in me as a child. But it was more the fact I could see my brothers grief and I wanted to speak for all of us cause I felt I could get the words out before breaking down.

You see even now Pa is always with all of us. Even later in his life when his sight left him he would still swing dance with Nano at wedding and travel to Seattle to sit and at me and my brother wrestling matches and football games. He just wanted to be there for us. I learned what family means from my Pa.

But when I went back to Iowa that year Pa wasn’t there to talk to, but I needed to speak to him. So I told Nano the following afternoon I was going to visit him. The cemetery was just down the street from the house we spent our summers at and we actually use to go play there when we were kids. I still remember the day we laid Pa to rest. It was full honors. A 21 gun salute and the Air Force did a fly over performing a missing man formation for him. Everyone loved and respected Pa, everyone.

Now that Nano isn’t here to read this I’ll admit I grabbed a case of beer and went to the cemetery that day. I stood in the snow and talked to Pa. I talked about life and what was wrong and how I wished he was there. We all had a bond with Pa so I can’t say mine was closer then anyone else’s. He loved us all, he loved his family, I just needed him. But as I stood there talking out my problems I began to feel better. I knew he was with me even if he wasn’t there in front of me. And I had one of those moments where things just made sense. Once I had said my goodbye I went back to Nano’s and took her out to dinner. When we got home we watched tv and then when we were getting ready to go to bed I turned to her and said, “I’m going to Iowa City in the morning, I’ll be back for dinner.”

In the morning I got in my car and drove into town. I walked the streets I’d walked with my family those Summers in the cold snow and just wandered looking for a tattoo shop. I had no idea where one was and I didn’t care I just walked and walked. This is not how I would recommend picking a shop to get a tattoo mind you but it made sense to just walk until I found one. And as I started to get frustrated in my search I happen to look at the ground and see something with an add on it for a shop on it. I bent down to pick it up and I realized the address was literally right above me in the second story of the building I was in front of, Sting Rays, the name alone could have sold me.

I walked up to the shop and to the front desk. “I’d like to get on the books for an classic American Eagle today.”

Oddly enough the guy scratched his head. “Man no one here does classic.” This should have been a sign to leave the shop honestly. “But hey let me call Sting Ray he’s the owner he does classic.” Now we were getting somewhere. When the owner arrived Sting Ray was everything you could have imaged in an old tattoo artist. He whipped up a quick image with a banner like I requested and before I knew it I was in the seat.

“We don’t get to many request for eagles anymore.” I found this very odd, but whatever.

He went about working on my arm and at one point said he needed a smoke break, I just nodded I was use to this from guy back in Seattle. Except Sting Ray just leaned back in his seat and lit one up, yup this place was awesome. While we were sitting there he asked me.

“Aren’t you a little young to be getting “7-20-1944” on your arm. I just nodded,and then I told him.”

“7-20-1984 is my birthday and 40 years prior to that my Grandpa was shot down over Germany during the War.”

You see Pa loved us all. But that date was special, the day I was born was the anniveray of Pa surviving jumping out of his B-17 after taking heavy fire over Chemnitz. This whole story could be about that epic day. Pa dodged falling debris and another plane while he drifted to earth. This was after being pinned against the open door of the plane and being unable to jump as the plane began to go down. Prior to that the story of the battle they engaged in before taking to many hits and losing control of the plane still give me chills. I didn’t only know this man he was my Grandfather.

Pa was captured after slamming into a roof in Chemnitz. Being an officer he was interrogated repeatedly before finally being placed in a prison camp. Pa kept a log of everything that happened to his crew and a diary as well on toilet paper during his time in the camp. This would go on to be know as “The Toilet Paper Diary” and has actually been published in a book called “Only the least of me is Hostage.” This book is still for sale and if you want to read about the man John Butler was during that time you can pick up a copy and read the entire story.

I loved Pa, and everyone in my family had a connection to this so amazing man. When we lost him there was a big hole. It was hard to not have him there but he is always with us in our hearts and minds.

The week before my departure my Ma said I should go visit the crash site. I told here it could be on the other side of the country for all I knew and I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it. So we researched and my breath was literally taken away when I saw that Chemnitz was only three hours from where I would be staying most of my trip.

I knew nothing on earth would stop me from getting there.

With he help of my family and friends I set aside a day to take the train to Chemnitz and be in place that held so much meaning. It was important and I had to do it. It felt like fate was calling me there.

Last Thursday I undertook that journey. The trip itself was beyond hectic and included missed trains, sprinting though the streets of Nuremberg and undertaking some challenges that would make it that much more rewarding to me.

After 4 hours of travel by train I arrived in Chemnitz. The whole train ride there I looked out the window and imaged it all. I read the documents of it all that my aunt had sent me and I read Pa’s words from the diary. When I stepped off that train and looked into the sky where my Grandfather had flown I never felt so connected to him or a place in my life.

I walked the streets until I found the perfect bar. It was in an old castle style building and was very much what I had pictured the whole trip in my head. I sat down at the bar, pulled out a picture I had carried with me the whole trip of Pa and his crew set it down and just looked at it. The bartender came up to me and I asked for glass of whiskey. When she place it down I just sat and looked at it and the man I knew in the picture.

With a heavy but happy and full heart I lifted the glass and toasted the man I wished I could be more like every day of my life.

I finished my drink, paid and began my trip back to meet a friend who had driven three hours to come pick me up. As I walked I thought about Pa and I thought about the last time I talked to him.

The story brought tears to my eyes as I made my trip on the cold streets of Chemnitz. I pulled my beanie down low over my face unashamed of the tear but not wanting to draw any attention. This was my time in a special place and I wanted that time to remember Pa.

In our last conversation I had visited Pa at the nursing home down the street from the house he had lived in with Nano and raised his daughters and taught me about life and what a real man was. At this point life was trying to steal him away from us and sometimes he had trouble remembering things. But that day we talked. He told me stories like he use to and I sat and listened. At the end of our talk he simply turned to me and said, “I’m tired now, my grandson is going to come visit me can you let him know I’m sleeping.”

To say this broke my heart would be a lie. I had gotten to stand there and talk with him. I had gotten to hear stories like I use to and I was able to be with my Pa. That will always stay with me and I will always remember him as he was and the man he was. Last week I got to stand where he had survived his plane being shot down. I got to be somewhere very important somewhere he would start his own journey and make his way back home and raise a family. He’d have a daughter with hair so blonde it looked white who would give birth to her 3rd son on 7-20-1984, 40 years after that fateful day.

In my eulogy at his funeral one thing I said that still stand out was the following. “Pa would come and watch me wrestle every year. And even though I knew he couldn’t see me I knew he watching me.”

Pa is always watching over all of us. He’s in our hearts and in our minds. You keep the people you love alive there and nothing can ever take that away. Last week I got to be in a special place and remember one thing, he may have been my grandfather but he was so much more then that. And I can honestly say one thing that makes me proud in life.

I knew John Butler…

Posted by: Z

LiveForward

“Cause thats what living is, the six inches in front of your face…”

Posted in Articles on November 6, 2016 by oldcountrystrong

Last weekend I had the honor of taking one of my best friend out for his big night before his wedding. Luckily for me this friend thinks so much of me he wants me to stand next to him as his Best Man.

No, this isn’t a story about a bachelor party its about the return trip and something I remembered on that trip back that had helped shaped the man I am today. Much like boys will do we swapped stories about our past. One of mine include a bunch of stuff that went down in high school and the talking to I received as a athlete from a coach. You see I’m a coach, I value the coach athlete relationship. It’s a bond, you put your trust in someone and without question you do as they say. And if you don’t you really should find another coach.

You see the thing about this talk was I had let my coach down. It happens, no one is perfect and to all you coaches out there you need to be ready to step up and deliver the right words when something goes wrong. I was a freshman, I’d like to say I didn’t know better, but I did. And one by one as folks walked into the coaches office I sat on the bench in the locker room waiting. I was going to be the last one to talk to him cause he had only know me for part of a season.

When my name was called I stood not knowing what to expect and walked into his office. This coach wasn’t just some coach to me either. You see he had a huge impact on me as a real coach can have. I have to this day tried to mold myself after this man and coach. So when my name was called I walked in. He told me to sit, and I did as I was told, cause I had so much respect for this man that my defiant streak disappear in his presence. He looked at me from under his heavy eyelids and with calm but angry voice he asked a simple question.

“So Zach why did you break the rules…”

I looked at the floor like any 15 year old boy would do and tried to think. Then I knew, I looked up at him and simply said said one thing.

“Coach I wanted to be part of the team.”

He looked back at me with that calm emotionless face that you knew he meant he was pissed and said something I had forgotten until last weekend but left its marks on the man I was to become.

“Well Zach if the whole team jumped off a bridge would you?”

And with no defiance of the man sitting across from me I answered him.

“Well yes if my brother was jumping off a bridge I would too…”

He looked me in the eyes and said something I had forgotten but would be a cornerstone of my life.

“Well Zach, an attitude like that will take you real high or real low in life.”

And with that he waved me off and I walked out of his office. I can’t tell you if he was pissed or proud but now that I’m a coach I know.

I’d be proud.

He could have torn me apart for my answer. He could have called me a loser or told me not to be on his team. I wasn’t trying to be a smart ass it was the truth. Family mean everything to me. And there are two kinds of family. The ones your born with and the ones you choose. You see in my line of work as a coach I choose to allow my feeling to dictate who I am. Sometimes its a good thing sometimes its a bad thing but I decided to let that attitude define me.

I love my Mother, I love my brothers, I love my family. But then there is the family you chose. I was closed off most of my life to be honest. I thought the less people near me the less chance I had of getting hurt. But the ones I loved, I love with my who heart.

I remember telling this story as a joke and when I came to what coach had said to me I became aware of the power someone like that can have in forging a person.

Yes I was wrong, yes I could have made better choices. But looking a man in the face whom I respected above all else and saying I’d follow my family anywhere still speaks to me. I loved that coach. I loved that team. And I’ll tell you the truth, love is a difficult emotion for me. But I meant what I said and I’d wish if he could see me now he’d be proud of the man he helped build.

The quote for todays article is from “Any Given Sunday” and as I sit on plane bound for German to teach other coaches I can’t help but be proud. I still want to be that coach. The one that cried at wins and losses and actually gave a fuck about us. I try for that every day, be it with someone older or younger then me because that is where life has taken me.

“An attitude like that will take you real high or real low in life.”

I think coach was trying to tell me something. And since that day I have followed my heart on that. Love your family and love your family. The friends I have managed to hold onto through all the years of my life fall into that family category. I’d do anything for them sometimes to a fault. But I’d rather see my life like this then take some road that would lead me somewhere else.

This article isn’t random and isn’t only brought on by the talk I had with my boys on the trip home. You see I havent been off the traveling scene per say but I’ve had to focus on my gym at home and not the other things I do. And as I write this on a plane to Germany I can’t help but think about those at home that not only allow me to leave to do things like this but support it.

I had people give me special passes at the airport. Make “international survival” kits for me and genuinely tell me that they would miss me when I was gone. Life is the six inches in front of your face not whats behind you. It doesn’t mean don’t remember the past and allow it to inspire you but don’t let it define you.

Everyday you wake up is new day. I have chosen to be part of peoples life for the better in whatever way I can with my job, and that is a rewarding thing. So to quote the Notorious B.I.G “I went from Negative to Positive.”

“An attitude like that will take you real high or real low in life.”

Thank you coach, I am the man I am today because of your influence. I hope I can do the same for other people like you did for me. Love your family be it blood or the ones you chose. For me personally, I found that family in a gym and as a profession as a coach. I hope anyone reading this can find there own way to to take it far in life and not be afraid of the road less traveled.

#LiveForward

Posted by: Z

“It can’t Rain all the Time…”

Posted in Articles on October 31, 2016 by oldcountrystrong

Every year we remember my friends brother Officer Tim Brenton by performing a workout called “Lumpy” in his honor.

Matty Brenton and I have been finding ways the last couple years to make things more difficult each time we do this.

I recently lost my uncle and during the weeks following his loss I did just about every awful training piece I could. This included everything from 40+ minute workouts to Fran. Training has always been a outlet for me so it just made sense. So this morning I decided to start this special day by redoing Fran and getting a 8 second pr dropping my time down to 2:02. The pr itself wasn’t all that important, it was the meaning of the effort.

I figured since I did this as a way to remember and cope with the loss of Tom that I would get myself ready for tonight by doing this again. This kinda behavior may seem off to other people but I find it pretty damn therapeutic personally. And I always talk about the journey in physical culture and if you could take something and feel back in control of your life by making your body do something and reflect on those you care about I say fucking do it.

“It can’t rain all the time,” isn’t a simple quote from a movie to me. Sometimes when it’s actually raining I’ll just stop and tip my head back. I close my eyes and feel it on my face. It’s reminder that the bad times come and they go. But being able to sit there and not allow it to define you is powerful medicine.

Matty you are good man and friend. You Betsy and Derek mean the world to me. I am forever honored to be a part of this day with you. Can’t wait to see you tonight my friend. Once more into the fray, Pals.

Posted by: Z

“Being in the same room with people and creating something together is a good thing.”

Posted in Articles on October 27, 2016 by oldcountrystrong

Does anyone else every click on those “Blank years ago” tabs on Facebook? Honestly I never really use to until just recently. It’s kinda funny looking back at it all sometimes.

I’ll admit it, I’m horrible with remembering dates. I have my birthday memorized since that ones a given. But I usually mess up the number of years I’ve been coaching when giving my intro at seminars. And don’t ask me to remember anniversaries and other peoples birthdays… I’m the worst. And thats what calendar and post it notes are for. If you’ve ever been in my office its like a scene from Memento, remember this, don’t forget that.

And this is all funny cause I can recall some things at the drop of a hat. Examples being all my athletes pr lifts, I can also tell you exactly how to structure training cycles to a science and know more teaching progressions dealing with physical culture then I care to write down. It’s not that the other stuff doesn’t matter too me, it is, they just seem to be the things that slip my mind.

So yesterday I happen to click on one of those “Blank years ago” tabs and I was surprised what I saw. It had been 4 years since I struck out from the first gym I helped build on my own to start what would eventually be NorthWest Strength and Performance. There was an article that was being reshared that day that I had written on this blog. I reread it as I hadn’t personally revisited that piece in some time. It was a good refresher for me that things were going in the right direction.

When I left that first gym I had no idea what to expect. I just knew I was going to give everything I had to the idea I had written about in that article and give something back to my community. I mean after all one of the biggest reasons I love my job is the connection you get with people.

Well something awesome happened when I made that jump, things took off. The gym grew, I started traveling all over the world teaching courses and it became so very easy to focus on work. I mean work was always my main focus but much like this blog use to be it was something I enjoyed. And no I’m not saying I lost sight of my joy of coaching. But I did become very focused on the business. The goal became the dream and the dream was never just the goal of building my gym. It was about giving something back.

So when I say things came full circle it has nothing to do with the fact that I was able to provide a new facility for the people I train. It didn’t involve being able to outfit that facility with coaches I respect and trust. Those things are great but they aren’t what I’m talking about. No it has to do with something thats very important to me and has been a constant as of late in conversations and posts of mine.

LiveForward

As much as I live my life out in the open I am still very much a private person like many of us are. Being “open” can be vulnerable and thats just uncomfortable for a lot of people. I’ve never been one to shy away from being uncomfortable. I have hard conversations, asks questions when I maybe shouldn’t and have made choices that I wish I hadn’t. Life itself by nature is uncomfortable. But so is training and that is why I identify with my job so much. The struggle to get better, healthier or just plain fitter is a journey for everyone. I love being able to give what guidance I can for folks on that journey. And thats the thing about all this. The journey is yours, it’s yours and no one else can live it for you.

But to think your alone is just the opposite of being strong.

A “lone wolf” is a term people like to toss around. Sometimes someone getting that description is thought of as strong. And yes, yes they are. But to quote the jungle book, (yeah I watched it with my niece and nephew) “The strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

A lot of times in life there are things outside of our control. This can be work, family or any other number of things that fall into what some people misleading say are “just life.”

Well I’m here to tell you that just doesn’t have to be true.

LiveForward is a project I have undertaken with a number of people I really admire. They aren’t afraid to be uncomfortable either. And they do it through their honesty. And I guess thats something I need to work on myself. Being strong isn’t being alone or internalizing all the time. It not always tackling issues on your own. It’s not turning a blind eye to something wrong. It’s being able to be unashamed that there are problem that may not be fixed with hard headedness, being stubborn or just buckling down as a workhorse to distract yourself.

No, sometimes being really strong is allowing yourself to actually lean on other people. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life building my gym and my business. I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. But when I say four years has past and things are coming full circle its because I have finally been able to find another way to give back. And even though it’s uncomfortable for myself to tackle these issues there is just to many people out there with out a support group to lean on.

These people may not be lone wolves. They may just be going through hard times with loved ones, lost them or just have their own personal issue and need support.

And thats the root of LiveForward. I have been lucky enough to find myself connected in a network of people who not only care but want to help. So to put a basic label of LiveForward its a peer support group. But if you find yourself alone or needing someone to to talk to its not that basic.

Your not alone.

We will be holding monthly support groups at our gyms in SODO. If you’ve lost a love one to suicide or a lost someone at all and find yourself weighted by it we’re here. If your feeling alone, we’re here. If you feel that you may be alone in dealing with your own personal mental health or being the support for someone else we’re here.

If this article makes you uncomfortable maybe stop and think if your like me and thought strength was the only answer. Training is an outlet, a healthy one. I tell folks all the time “Build strong habits.” These habits can come from training but don’t be to proud to be the one to see that it may not only end at a barbell or lifting a pair of bells.

Four years ago I set out to build my dream. Along the way I created a gym that I am very proud of. A community I’m proud of and friends that I am proud to stand by. Now four years after closing the door of the first gym I helped build I feel that circle closing and I am able to offer something to anyone who needs it.

There is no shame in needing help. Be Unashamed if your in need of support, your not alone, and LiveFoward will continue to offer it’s support to anyone who needs it.

I’m proud to be a LiveForward supporter. You don’t have to be alone in this, there is support, the first steps the hardest but there are people to take it with you.

Posted by: Z

“Courage is Found in Unlikely Places”

Posted in Uncategorized on October 6, 2016 by oldcountrystrong

Well I had a good talk with a friend of mine last night. Among the regular bullshit friends talk about and plan when having such conversations I received a interesting question.

“Why don’t you write anymore?”

It was a legit question that I had a number of excuses for but nothing that could back why I had stopped. Words have always been a outlet for me. I’ve always found my footing and grounded myself in using my words and vocalizing them. And when a friend told me last night that things I had wrote about didn’t only ground me but other folks that read them too I had to stop and look back at how much words meant to me. And in that conversation I realized how important writing was too me.

“Courage is found in unlikely places…”

Tolkien said that, he is far and away my favorite writer. Everyone has a favorite writer, you can honestly not read that much and still find yourself drawn to someones words, thats the beauty in them. When I was younger I was fearless with my words. Therapy to some people is talking with someone. To me it’s always been words. Written or spoken its how I’ve felt I could be the most authentic and honest with myself.

My brother and I use to write on this blog three times a week. It all started as that place to be honest and authentic. We wrote about about training, movies and hardships in life.

But the more I wrote, the more people started reading. And honestly it became hard for me to be honest. A small blog about life, training and movies was easy when it was a small blog about life, training and movies. And then like that I lost grasp on why I was writing and at certain point it started to feel like a job. And that’s when it became easy to lose focus on what was important and just see the job. That’s when I stopped writing.

I didn’t enjoy it anymore. 

I lost focus on what made me happy and made what I needed to get done my only goal. And to get back to being honest, that isn’t anyway to live life. Your goals need to be your goals and your life needs to be your life. And you need to live it. And if words help you express yourself in that journey then should just fucking use them (good to get back to swearing in my writing too, sorry Ma).

In a era of vapid social media its easy to not want to not write these. But as I was told if three people find what you write to be meaning then you should write it. So I’m going to do it. After years of writing three times a week to taking years off I can finally requote one of my favorite movies.

“Believe me… Nothing is trivial…”

 

Thanks Joe. (No proof reading as you requested, wouldn’t be me if I did)

Posted by: Z

Transfer Complete

Posted in Uncategorized on January 15, 2013 by oldcountrystrong

You can find the NEW home of Old Country Strong by following this link http://morganjunctioncrossfit.com/oldcountrystrong/.

All of our content from over the years has transferred to the New Site.

“Stand Fast…”

Posted in Articles on November 29, 2012 by oldcountrystrong

Four brave individuals have decided to stand on the line with those that came before them this week.

If you aren’t moved by the stories of triumph this week I have no idea what motivates you. People finding power, love and belief in themselves through strength. This is our small way of giving back to something that has given to us. Roo has written for the Message twice. She was the first one to say she wanted to draw the line in the sand.

I’m not going to lie it was a bit nerve racking at the time. The night I posted Roo’s original article I sat up late just looking at it. This isn’t something new for me. I’m a night owl and posts go up late. But this one was different. Roo was ready to make her statement but was I ready to let her make it?

How were people gonna respond to what we had to say? Were we gonna lose our jobs posting about what we were gonna post? Did the conviction of our friends that knew what we were gonna speak for help us feel we we’re doing the right thing?

It did. The support of our friends meant everything to us.

Every time I read an article about the things you hear people go through but never expect to have happen to your friends I’m taken back. I’m taken back by peoples honesty and the fact that they will not let what they went through be swept under the table.

Our last writer has been with us since we first wrote for Strong is Beautiful. In fact she was one of the main reasons we decided that a line was needed.

Her name is Julie Liu. And her story is one of the reasons I’m proud I walked onto that line.

– Z

Consider this my own self therapy: to undo my distorted relationship with food, culture, and body image. When Zach and Roo asked me to be a featured writer for “Strong is Beautiful”, I immediately said, “yes” I felt so honored, yet, terrified at the same time. So here it goes.

 I can’t share my story without starting with my parents’ upbringing. Mom grew up in Vietnam and Dad grew up in Laos, both of which lived through different wars as adolescents and young adults. To say my parents and my family grew up poor is an understatement. They lived on very little income with many mouths to feed amongst one another, so being frugal was not just a way of life: it was the only way to survive. When you wake up each day not knowing whether you will live because bombs are firing off in your town, or whether your next meal might be little-to-nothing, it’s no wonder my family decided to flee from their war-torn countries in search of the American Dream.

As a first-generation American born Chinese; I struggled a lot with my own identity. My parents had their ways of raising us in a Chinese household. They demanded that we would never waste and would always finish our food.  At the same time, we were expected to never be overweight; and if you were, expect to be told daily that you are. To be overweight was just unacceptable and I didn’t fall into the mold of the typical skinny Asian girls I was used to seeing. I was never overweight in American standards growing up, but I couldn’t accept my larger-than-average butt and thighs.

I was raised with many contradictions, which led to very distorted body image ideals: from dieting at a young age to making myself sick, which led to Bulimia. I was as young as twelve years old when I first made myself throw up. I would binge eat until I made myself so uncomfortably full, then just stick my finger in my mouth over a toilet, after each meal. This continued on and off until I was about twenty years old. Nevertheless, I was that same girl who would continue to have an obsession about her body image and would do whatever it took to achieve the skinny figure.

Fast forward to April 12, 2010, for my first day at the gym; which, up to that point, I was doing Bikram yoga five to six days a week. The thought of giving myself more rest days in a week was unfathomable, all I knew to do was to workout all the time. I was getting stagnant with my yoga practice, so that’s when I decided I wanted to add Crossfit into the mix. Who knew that the day I walked into the gym would change my life forever. I remember that day as if it were just yesterday, when I asked Zach three different times whether “I’d bulk up”…yes I was that girl. Months passed and I began incorporating paleo style of eating, Crossfit, and full time Bikram classes. It was around June 2010 that I realized my body was the leanest it had ever been, and I enjoyed every bit of what it had become. But then a few months later, I started noticing how my clothes were fitting differently around my shoulders and that my traps were significantly bigger, so I began to panic.

It was a constant battle within myself, out loud to my closest friends, and my sister that I wanted to quit the gym and stick to just yoga, because of how the gym was changing my body–all I wanted was a non-muscular body type.

I recall approximately two years ago having a phone conversation with John Winters, where he was trying to talk me off the ledge about quitting the gym and not being comfortable with how my body was changing. Shortly after that conversation, I received an email from JW on November 9, 2010 where he shared with me his personal battles of weight and body image. His candidness in sharing his own story and struggles really allowed me to open my eyes and accept the woman I was becoming. These words guided me towards a different attitude of what “Strong is Beautiful” was all about.

A few weeks later, the very first installation of “Strong is Beautiful” Week kicked off, and each story that was told spoke to me, and the email from JW (that I turned a corner with) helped gain self acceptance and confidence in who I was becoming–and embracing the strength I had. To be honest, I don’t even know who that girl was, who walked into the gym that day and asked Zach about bulking up, or the one who contemplated quitting the gym altogether because of the fear of gaining muscles from lifting. She is a stranger to me.

Embracing lifting heavy weights in my life has led me towards a healthier relationship with food, my body, and most importantly, who I am within. Whether it is reaching my goals of doing a strict pull up, squatting more than 200 pounds, my first handstand push up, or just purely lasting ten minutes for my long cycle event in Detroit, my life with this gym has pushed me beyond limits I never thought I could ever reach and will continue to.

It was in March of 2012 that I decided to get a tattoo that translates as “Strong and Beautiful” in Laotian text on my left shoulder blade that my dad designed for me. There was no better way for me to exemplify the importance of beauty and strength in women other than having it permanently scribed on my body. I am forever grateful for this community for changing my life and continuing to always support this very important message.

Posted by: Julie

In Closing By: Z

It takes courage to say the things people have said this week. 

It takes Strength.

Strength isn’t in your size. It’s not in your muscles. It’s not in someone telling you that you have to be “lean and Strong” or your not as good as someone else. True Strength comes from a place inside your self. It comes from standing for something you believe in something you know can make a difference.

The pressures of body image on friends, family and children now a days is heavier then any weight anyone will ever lift. It’s force can crush someone worst then any Bell or Bar ever could. But the power of Strength can change a life or even save it, 5 brave writers decided once more this year they had enough. They needed to let others know something that changed their lives for the better.

It’s just a simple line without anyone standing on it. Please do not let others stand alone, have a voice.

Strong is Beautiful.