Gratitude, Personalized.

I turned 39 last Monday, and I pretty much loved it. I got to have some amazing celebrations with family and friends, and one such celebration took place last Saturday, when a group of some of my favorite kickass women treated me a to night out.

All through that night out, I remember looking around the table and feeling overwhelmed with gratitude to be surrounded by so many strong, smart, funny and generally awesome women…and they were all there to celebrate with me!

To express my gratitude, I had this grandiose plan to write each of them a personal thank you note on fancy stationery.

Well, it’s almost a week later and I have not yet purchased any fancy stationery…so the odds of me finding the time to do so, and write those individual notes, are getting slimmer by the hour.

S0, allow me to take this opportunity to do what I do best: shamelessly exploit the existence of this blog to publicly acknowledge awesome people.

I heart these ladies.

I heart these ladies.

They wined and dined me and would not let me pay a cent. They tried like hell to get the fairly lameass DJ to play SOMETHING worth dancing to…and when he didn’t, they wandered the streets of New Haven trying to find somewhere we could dance. We never did, but just the same I wouldn’t trade a minute of that night.

Each has brought something awesome to my life for which I am grateful:

Cari: You are a perfect combination of New York-style attitude and genuine kindness and caring. I would never be stupid enough to piss you off–anyone who would is obviously a complete moron–but I count myself lucky to have you as a friend. You are a smart, hilarious, straightforward tell-it-like-it-is hot mama, and I love you for it. THANK YOU for celebrating my birthday with me, even though I missed yours. ❤

Karin: What can I even say to convey how lucky I feel to be your friend? You have brought dance back into my life, both literally and metaphorically. Your friendship, your support and your sweet-ass choreography have brought me so much joy and laughter, and I continue to aspire to be as strong as you someday. THANK YOU for dragging me out of my seat even though the music was meh. (That’s a metaphor, too, you know. Love ya.)

Anna: Let’s not even talk about the fact that you were like, in the Olympics, which automatically makes you a complete badass. (I guess I did just talk about it…uh…moving on…) Instead, let’s talk about how much I admire your amazing spirit of compassion, combined with a no-nonsense, let’s-get-shit-done attitude, and how much I appreciate your sense of humor–especially in more stressful moments– your insight, and your sweet dance moves. THANK YOU for being brave enough to move my cookie out of the way when they were bringing the cake. I sincerely apologize for the 2 seconds during which I legitimately considered stabbing you with my butter knife.

Maria: It’s the quiet ones you have to look out for…that’s you, my friend! You have one of the best deadpans I’ve seen, and an uncanny knack for remaining calm that I admire greatly and wish I could duplicate (unless there’s another yet-to-be-revealed side of you that I’ll look forward to meeting someday!) You were probably the best person to be sitting across from me when I got the “We’re in the ER!” text! THANK YOU for celebrating with me, and for keeping me cool when I panicked about the Tough Mudder obstacles.

Kathrin: Another quiet one–but watch out! I’m so glad I get to work out with you 2+ times a week, because for someone so soft-spoken, you kick serious ass. You always inspire me to add more weight, see if I can do more, push a little harder…and you are one of the kindest people I know. There’s something about you that just radiates warmth, and I count myself very lucky to experience it. THANK YOU for being there.

Samm: Where do I even start? You embody friendship to me. I admire your kindness, your wisdom, your continually optimistic and honest, unmuddied outlook, and your loyalty. If I could go back to my 20’s, I would try like hell to be more like you, although I know there’s no way I would succeed in being that cool. THANK YOU for being my friend through some crazy adventures, and making me always strive to be the best version of myself that I can.

Leah: So how often do you play the straight (wo)man to my dramatic outbursts? I’m not sure I can quite convey how grateful I am to have you in my life; it’s like having a piece of solid ground to stand on when life feels like a swirling vortex of doom. (Me? Being dramatic again? WHAT?) You are one of the most intelligent, thoughtful, and funny women I know and I can only hope I am deserving of the gift of your friendship. THANK YOU for arranging to bring all these wonderful women–including yourself!–together for my birthday. It was an amazing night, and you made it happen.

As a special gift (and since Karin forgot the Homeys tattoos), I give you all this:

Who remembers his name?

Who remembers his name? Was it Jerry?

If I haven’t said it enough yet, here’s one more THANK YOU for a special night I won’t soon forget, and for the privilege of calling each of you my friend.

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Badass Tribute

So today would have been my aunt Donna’s birthday.

We lost her to pancreatic cancer last year on what was the saddest Christmas ever. (Side note: PANCREATIC CANCER SUCKS.)

Donna was my godmother, and she was the awesomest kind of badass woman you could imagine: a tiny, feisty little Italian lady who was smart, motivated, ridiculously organized, and full of energy and compassion.

She was a role model to many, including me.

Some of her life I only know from stories I’ve heard from my family and Donna herself. But I hope to share my remembrance of her as best I can, even if the details aren’t exact. Starting waaaaaay back during a groovier time…

Lookin’ good in the late 60’s or early 70’s. My mom on the left and Donna on the right.

Oh yes, that adorable little baby is yours truly.

Of the three Bigna girls (my mom and her two sisters), Donna was a typical oldest child. She was the responsible one. The one who did all the dishes while my mother hid in the bathroom. The one who got the best grades and went to college. The one who argued passionately with my grandfather about the social justice issues of the time. The one who married the right guy–my Uncle Bruce.

Now, I moved around a lot as a kid. We moved to FL for awhile when I was 5, and then my brother and I came back up to CT to live with our dad when I was in fourth grade.

Once we were back in the same state, we saw my aunt and her family every year around Christmas. My cousin Ryan was an only child and therefore–I believe–got better toys than my brother and I. So we played hours of Coleco over there…but I digress.

The Christmas visits became a tradition, a very important one for a kid like me who didn’t have such a rooted childhood. As I got older, it morphed into a Christmas Eve dinner tradition and I refused to give it up when I got married. Christmas Eve at my aunt’s was a non-negotiable. And really, who wouldn’t want to go to a Christmas Eve dinner with my aunt and her tacky-but-awesome Christmas vest?

There was also wine involved, as evident from all our red cheeks.

Now me, I love an adventure. A new challenge. I’m always looking for the next thing, and I have a related habit of letting go of things too quickly. From my aunt, I learned about the importance of tradition. Of laying down roots, keeping commitments, and being a person that people can rely on. I’m so grateful.

And you could always rely on Donna. When my daughter Emma was gravely ill and we were in the Yale PICU for two weeks, Donna called every day, at the same time: “Just me, honey. Checking in.” Her voice became such a comfort to me, and in her last few months, I made a commitment to her and myself that she would hear from me, every day. While I wasn’t able to call or text her at exactly the same time every day, I honored that commitment and I think–I hope!–it comforted her in some small way.

Donna was full of both passion and compassion. She was an amazing badass combination of kindness and serious Sicilian attitude.

From her, I learned to stop giving up so much of myself, to instead say “enough” or “that’s all I can do.” I thought I was being giving, but I was really making myself disappear.

My aunt taught me about boundaries, where to draw the line to preserve myself and my own family instead of spreading myself too thin just to try and please others. Which happens to be a very, very bad habit of mine…but I am working on it, thanks to her.

Donna didn’t take any shit. There were schedules, people. There were lists. You followed the goddamned schedule, you kept things moving, or woe to you. You’d be at the business end of Donna’s ire, or, more likely, just left behind as she briskly went on with the plans. Your loss.

My aunt listened. It didn’t matter that some years we only got together two or three times. She listened to my marital problems, my struggles helping my dad through two recurrences of brain cancer, my trials and tribulations with my career, and my mom victories and complaints.

She gave great advice. Sometimes it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to hear, and she (usually) delivered her pearls of wisdom with firm kindness. Because–duh!–she was always right.

I am a better woman for having heard and internalized all she’s ever taught me.

Donna loved fiercely, and was fiercely loved.

My badass aunt is most assuredly running a very tight ship up there in Heaven, but down here, she is missed every day, by so many.

Happy Birthday, Auntie.

 

Badass: A Love Story

I interrupt this vacation to bring you a brief Profile in Badassery. Because my husband Drew is the awesomest badass I know, and today we’ve been married 13 years.

Awwwww! Look how cute we were!

I can be a little…impetuous. Capricious, you might say (cough, cough). And sometimes, being a badass means being the one who holds the shit together and keeps things steady and grounded in reality. Without Drew, who knows what kinds of crazy tomfoolery I would’ve gotten myself/us into.

But this is not about me. My husband is a total badass in his own right. He is a thrill seeker, and wows me on a regular basis by doing things that would have me crapping myself. I believe this picture speaks for itself:

skydive

Um. He’s smiling? Hello? Falling through space and time and SMILING?

Total. Effing. Badass.

Drew’s been training with Mike for about a year now and is looking pretty hot these days. Although he wasn’t heavy like me when he started, he’s lost fat and definitely gained a ton of muscle from working hard and eating clean.

Last month, he ran his first mud run. As we drove up to the ski slope where it was held, he seemed anxious, and I was surprised. This was not like him. I came to understand that he didn’t just want to participate, he wanted to COMPETE. To really see what he could do. And, no surprise to me, what he did was pretty amazing: he finished 5th in his heat and 56th overall (close to 800 people ran the race). Drew attacked that run and totally kicked its ass. I could not be prouder.

mud run

Badass.

Even though he’s a personal risk-taker, Drew has typically been very conservative and “safe” when it comes to his career. I’ve always encouraged him to be less focused on stability, and more focused on getting to where he wants to be–where I know his brains and skills can take him. But being the awesome husband and father that he is, it has been difficult for him to think about walking away from a steady job that guarantees he can provide for his family–even though it may bore him to tears–to do something more challenging but possibly a little riskier.

Guess what? My badass husband just gave his notice at a 100+ year old insurance company to join an old friend and colleague in a new, much more challenging position with a fledgling company. He’s going to really be able to flex his management muscles and make a positive impact on how the company will grow. Yes, there’s risk, but also potential for big, big payoffs. And, with the outcome weighing quite a bit on what Drew has to do with it, my money’s on him (I mean, it actually is…but it metaphorically is, too!) I know he’s going to drive this company forward and make amazing things happen.

Did I mention he’s an amazing dad?

Drew with newborn Emma. Aaaaaand, my heart just melted.

We have weathered many storms together. A few times, we got sidetracked from what was most important and almost lost our way. It was Drew’s loyalty and steadfastness that always brought us back. Now, we are a strong, united, unstoppable team creating the life that we want for ourselves and our kids.

I am so lucky to have shared a life with my badass husband for the last 13 years. I can only imagine what awesomeness the next 13 will bring us. Happy Anniversary, babe.

Christa Doran: Mom, Entrepreneur, Athlete, Trainer, BADASS.

christa doran reason for your challenges

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I saw Christa. To set the appropriate context, you should know that it was May 2010, and I was over 250 lbs –at my heaviest and my unhappiest, knowing I had to make changes but having no idea where to start or how to find something I could stick with. After hearing about Tuff Girl Fitness “boot camps” from a friend who was already taking them, I had set up my first complimentary class. I drove to East Rock Park, where classes used to be held in the old days, and sat in my car for over 10 minutes trying to work up the courage to get out. I was terrified.

When I finally did start making my way to the class, I immediately picked Christa out. She was wearing a sweet pair of Top Gun-ish aviator sunglasses, and I was totally intimidated, not gonna lie. But as soon as she saw me, her face opened up into a huge warm smile, and she came right over to me. “You must be Stephanie! I’m Christa. I’m so glad you’re here!” While I can’t say this welcome put me completely at ease (since I was still crapping myself about the workout) it lessened my anxiety and reassured me I was in the right place.

I feel like this first meeting perfectly demonstrates who Christa is. She can seem intimidating–she is, after all, a determined, driven, totally kickass strong woman who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals–but she is also a warm, compassionate person and a fierce advocate for and supporter of the women she trains. It is my privilege to share her badass story with you.

About Christa

Christa is a dedicated mom to two adorable girls: Liv, 3 years, and Lea, 14 months. She and her husband Mike are co-owners of Bodyology Fitness Studio in Hamden, CT. Bodyology is the home of Tuff Girl Fitness (Christa’s original classes for women only) and Bodyology Co-Ed Group Performance Training. Although she has always been fit and committed to living healthfully, Christa recently undertook a no-excuses journey to earn her best body and has reached a level of fitness awesomeness that most women would call “impossible.” But that’s Christa for you–tell her it’s impossible and she’ll work her ass off to prove you wrong.

What Makes Her a Badass

This is sort of ridiculous when it comes to Christa, because everything about her screams “badass.” She pretty much defines the term as I perceive it. In fact, so overwhelming is her badassery that I have to split it up into several different categories.

Badass Athlete

Christa credits much of her determination to her high school basketball coach. He was the first person who really pushed her beyond her limits, who broke her down and then built her back up again. Ever since then, she’s been through many different levels of fitness, pushing herself to get faster, get stronger. She was an avid runner in her 20’s, often running 6+ miles almost daily.

While she was always “fit,” Christa wasn’t getting the results she wanted. Over the years, she refined her training, gradually moving away from running and into High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and lifting progressively heavier weights. She got real with herself about her food and eating habits, and committed to eating clean and cutting the crap. Over the 2+ years that I’ve known and trained with her, she’s continued to tweak her eating habits to best fuel her body, build serious muscle, and lean up.

Have a look at this progression, and notice that in none of these photos would you say Christa was heavy or out of shape, but DAMN! You can definitely see the amazing results in physique that come from dedication to clean eating and training hard:

before photo

fitness photos

And here’s what Christa looks like now, after a year of focused dedication to hard work and clean eating, 95% of the time:

fitness photos back

fitness photos shoulders

I know exactly what you’re thinking, and “Holy Shit!” about sums it up. Christa set a goal, worked her ass off, and crushed it.

Badass Mom

Some idiot doctor told Christa she would never be tough enough to have an unmedicated vaginal delivery. (Pause for laughter. Seriously. What a moron.) As with all her other goals and decisions, Christa knew what she wanted to do, and opposition that she faced only strengthened her resolve.

She gave birth to her daughter Liv in January of 2009, an unmedicated water birth. Just over two years later, little Lea was born the same way:

unmedicated water birth

If you can look at this picture and not shed a tear or at least catch your breath, check your pulse. You might be dead. Or maybe you’re a Vulcan. Seriously.

After Lea was born, Christa set out to prove that having a baby (or two) doesn’t mean a woman has lost her ability to have an amazing body and, most especially, cut up abs. And as much as I love words, I’m going to let these photos speak for themselves:

post-pregnancy abs

post-pregnancy abs

post-pregnancy abs

And, the finished product:

Beyond her dedication to being a role model of healthy, fit living for her 2 daughters, Christa has just about perfected the art of the work/family balance. She created the life and livelihood she dreamed of so she could be be there for her children and not have to compromise her family OR her passion for training. And speaking of her as a trainer…

Badass Business Owner

Badasses are huge risk-takers. They know that unless they’re willing to put faith in their awesomeness and make some scary leaps, they’ll never get the huge rewards, and instead will end up living humdrum mediocre lives. Unless you’ve been asleep for the last 900 or so words, you know that’s not how Christa rolls.

She started out as an Occupational Therapist, helping kids with varied issues and disabilities rehabilitate. When the bureaucracy of the job began to get in the way of her actually helping kids, Christa left. She worked in pharmaceutical sales next–a job that she hated, but it paid good money so she stuck it out for awhile. This is where she met her husband, Mike.

Christa was always training clients on the side, doing in-home boot camps on nights and weekends, driving all over hell and creation because her clients were so widely dispersed throughout Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts. That all changed when Liv was born, and she left her job in pharma for good.

In May 2009, Christa took a leap and started Tuff Girl Fitness with just 5 clients who met up in the park. Her plan was to grow the business over time, and eventually get her own studio once her kids were in school. You know what they say about the best laid plans…

What happened next was truly amazing, and I credit Christa’s passion, dedication, and hard work 100%. Her business exploded, pretty much all through word-of-mouth. When I started with her in May 2010, I’d say there were maybe 30-50 women attending classes regularly…I don’t know, maybe it was closer to 100 at that point? I’m not sure. (Stop badgering me about it! You know I’m not good with numbers!!!) She added a few more classes. They got more crowded as more and more women kept showing up at the park to work their asses off with Christa.

In early November 2010, with Liv not quite 2 years old and Christa just a few months pregnant with Lea, Bodyology Fitness Studio–home of Tuff Girl Fitness–opened.

I just want to make sure you caught that: Christa opened her own fitness home for a huge group of clients that she attracted with her passion and awesomeness, all while she had a toddler at home AND was pregnant with another baby. A. MAZ. ING.

fitness studio

Christa at the opening celebration for the studio

The cycle continued. More classes added, followed by a part time trainer, the also-awesome Karin Christley. Annnnnnd, more growth. Classes got fuller and fuller as the word continued to spread about the fitness family Christa had created.

Just before Lea was born in the spring of 2011, Christa and Mike took a SERIOUS leap, the one that completely awes and inspires me. Mike left his secure, very-well-paying, benefitted job in medical sales to come on board full time at Bodyology as well. (And Mike is pretty awesome, too…check it out:)

deadlift form

Mike, demonstrating good form on deadlifts

trainer TRX

Mike coaching a client on the TRX

Now, they had a family business that they were putting everything into. Is the idea of both earning spouses walking away from steady paychecks and benefits as terrifying to any of you as it is to me? Terrifying! REALLY!

But Christa’s doubts were few and far between. As she told me, she was never afraid of failure; that wasn’t even an option. She was afraid she wouldn’t be able to balance her passion for training and empowering women with her role as mom; she didn’t want her kids to lose out if her attention was divided. Her other fear was that, in trying to accommodate the overwhelming growth of the business, they would have to compromise the integrity of their program.

I’m here to tell you that her fear was completely baseless. She and Mike–and Karin, who came on full time in June to accommodate ever MORE growth–are all conscientious and relentless trainers, completely focused on driving each of us to give our best and nothing less in a safe and motivating environment. Just look at how badass they all are:

fitness trainers

I can only imagine how amazing it is for Christa to see what she has grown from her own hard work and passion, to know that she has not only taken huge risks for huge professional payoffs, but that she has also done it in such a way that doesn’t compromise her family or her integrity. Talk about inspiring.

IN HER OWN WORDS

What have been your biggest challenges along the way?

The challenge for me has always been finding time for myself and my family. The lines were becoming really blurred for awhile, so I had to work to set some clear boundaries between work and home life. For example, I won’t answer emails after 2pm on a Saturday. Saturday afternoon, and through the day Sunday is our time for our family. I want to be there 100% with my family, just like I’m there 100% with my classes, with my own training–with whatever I’m doing!–and setting those kinds of boundaries lets me do that.

What are your proudest moments?

“[As a Mom], my proudest moments were the birth of my two daughters, and having a natural and unmedicated birth for both of them. I am also extremely proud that I am raising respectful, kind, polite kids.

[As a trainer], I receive 3-4 emails a week from women thanking me for helping them, and these are all proud moments. Sometimes, it’s as simple as doing a box jump or a deadlift–an exercise they were afraid of–and my encouragement helped them do it. But it goes beyond that…I am so proud to empower women with fitness. I’ve had clients who have found the courage to leave abusive relationships because of the empowerment they felt during our workouts, and I am so proud and so honored to be a part of that moment when women conquer things they are afraid of and overcome their challenges.”

What advice would you give to all of us on a fitness (or other) journey into badassery?

“Hard work pays off. If you’re not willing to work, don’t expect to get it. The best things in life take time and patience. All of my accomplishments didn’t happen overnight; I saw every day as an opportunity for growth and used it to get to where I am. You’re stronger than you think you are, and you don’t know what you’re capable of until you put yourself out there and go after what you really want.”

With this long of a post, there’s really only one thing left to say: Christa Doran is a total BADASS, and I am so lucky to have been able to share her story with you.

Hey Steph, What’s a Badass?

So, I’m going to start this whole new section on the blog, “Profiles in Badassery.” And I talk about peeps who are “badass” all the time throughout the blog (in case you haven’t noticed).

You probably have your own idea of what defines a badass, but so do I, and I wanted to make sure that you knew exactly what I was talking about when I call someone a badass–because it’s really one of the highest compliments I can give. And it’s what I aspire to be.

Steph’s Components of Badassery

1. Determination

determination

A badass sets goals that seem impossible–or are at least seriously challenging–and then proceeds to crush them at every turn. No excuse gets in the way, because excuses are recognized for what they are (e.g., total bullshit) and then flushed down the toilet.

Badasses may stumble along the way, or even fall flat on their faces. They don’t let it stop them. Ever.

Takeaway tip for being a badass: It’s going to be hard, maybe close to impossible. You’re going to want to give up. DO IT ANYWAY.

2. Courage

nelson mandela courage

Nelson Mandela: BADASS

Badasses are afraid, but they never let it stop them. No risk is too great, no obstacle too large or scary to stand between a badass and his/her goals. A badass looks fear in the face, acknowledges its presence, and then says, “Suck it, fear!” (Maybe not out loud…but you get the point.)

fear and courage

Takeaway tip for being a badass: It’s going to be scary. You may want to crap yourself. DO IT ANYWAY.

3. Hard Work and Perseverance (aka Hard Work…again and again and again and again and again and again…)

hard work and perseverance

Badasses don’t dick around. They don’t flit about, wondering when their ship will come in. They build the damned ship themselves, even if it takes years.

You won’t hear a badass calling a leisurely stroll around the track a “workout,” or blaming “bad genes” for their obesity.

A badass takes responsibility for mistakes, then puts in the work needed to get the job done. Over and over and over. Even when there are challenges, badasses keep working. Even when they are tired, badasses keep working. Even when no one else is doing it, badasses keep working. Even when it gets harder when they think it should be getting easier, badasses keep working.

Takeaway tip for being a badass: It’s going to take a lot of work over a long period of time. You’re going to get tired, and you might want to make excuses so you can stop working. DO IT ANYWAY.

Do you know someone who is a total badass by my definition? (Maybe it’s you!)

Shoot me an email at thefitfatgirl@gmail.com and tell me about them. Maybe I’ll feature them!