The first time I met River he walked into the gym looking tired and acting relatively quiet. He had signed up for a 6-week challenge at Chi Bang Bodies. To be honest, he looked like he needed a crisp high five or maybe even a nice 30 second hug (that’s when it gets good, or potentially awkward). Anyways, over the course of six weeks I got to know River better and I observed his mood and his physique change. At the end of six weeks I wanted to give him a chance to tell his story about how health and exercise changed him.
So, folks, here is River
Justin: You posted a video about your transformation on our Facebook page. I think at times it’s incredibly brave to just say, “this is who I am.” Can you tell us your story?
River: Chi asked me to tell ‘my story’ about why I wanted to join the 6-wk challenge. The truth involved being a transmasculine human healing from top-surgery, and being excited about having a renewed positive relationship with my body. **Disclaimer, I can only speak to my own personal experience. Every trans person has their own unique journey and may or may not decide to pursue a medical transition (hormone therapy and/or gender affirming surgeries), which makes no difference in one’s trans identity**
I was assigned female at birth (AFAB), and have been on HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) for 3.5 years. Last June, I had top surgery. It was the best day in the books. “Freedom” is how my surgery date was marked in my calendar. My entire life (as a gender-non-conforming individua) I’ve struggled with finding a safe space to work out.
Testosterone has given me the privilege of now being read as masculine, which makes it easier to enter and exit public restrooms (than trans women or gender non-conforming folk). However, due to the harassment I’ve received in the past, and the real possibility of present violence, the thought “what would I do if someone kicked the door in right now” goes through my mind every time. In a gym, it’s even more intense. The hyper-masculinity is intimidating. “What if someone sees my scars and wants to mess with me?” “What if I shower and someone sees my bits don’t match their bits?” Most of the time, this was enough to keep me out of the locker rooms all together, and decide eventually it wasn’t worth the stress.
I knew if I came out immediately as trans in the video, sharing my truth, I would find out if C3 would be a safe place for me. It is important for me to be visible and out, because I there are so many who cannot be for a variety of reasons. In addition to the visibility, (if all went well and I stayed), I figured it would be an important piece for my trainers and nutritionists to know and factor into my goals and plans.
When things make me nervous or feel risky, I’m finding myself leaning into those more…getting curious about what’s going on there, and what it means. My gut is also one hell of a compass, and I’m learning I can trust it even when it has the butterflies.
Justin: What made you walk through the door at C3 and say I want to make some healthy changes?
River: Some folks make alcohol-induced Amazon purchases. I made a sleep-deprived and desperate click on a FB advertisement for the 6-week challenge. I needed this. There were reservations, and I wondered (a) whether or not this was too good to be true, or (b) if I could even pull off 6 weeks in a row doing *anything*.
This is going to sound like a bad country song, but no. This is where my life was prior to showing up at C3. My partnership and marriage ended this summer. Two weeks later I found out my dog had a malignant mass. The vet is going back and forth as to whether or not he’s a candidate for surgery, and they find he has a dual-diagnosis of a kidney disease. He’s my little heart beating outside of my body, so I was devastated. I’m a full-time graduate student nearing graduation, with just my thesis to complete. I accidentally started dating someone (happy accident), but distance proved to be too much. (Or maybe it was me? Haha I digress). Regardless. All variables.
I wasn’t eating regularly or nutritiously. It wasn’t that I was trying to starve myself, but I’d get busy and forget, or just not have an appetite (being sad helps with that).
Yen talked to me about what the program entailed and when I found out there was a nutritional piece, it sealed the deal even more. I only know a handful of Chamorro recipes (which are *delicious* but very labor intensive), and my schedule wasn’t open enough for me to do a full-on cooking show every meal. What she was describing sounded *doable* even for where I was in that moment and how I was feeling.
She told me what the parameters were, what the plan would look like, and I dove in head-first and heart-strong. I had to do this for myself. My body, my mind, and my spirit needed tending and I knew starting with my body would have a ripple effect in balancing out my mind and spirit.
Lastly, financial accessibility to this opportunity would not have been possible had it not been set up the way it was (free if I achieved my goals and abided by the contract).
Justin: How did changing your physique through fitness help you be the person you want to be?
This process reminded me of who I *am*, (the resilience I’ve shown in the past was still there). It also showed me exactly where I am is where I’m supposed to be—-change will happen whether or not I want it to, but that I can make different choices and affect the trajectory.
I wanted to take care of myself, and I allowed “life” to get in the way before (excuses, or “priorities”, according to coach sir Patrick). Depression and anxiety depleted and reassigned the energy I needed to give this a go on my own.
I wanted to be someone who could push through again, keep showing up, even if I didn’t feel like it or didn’t want to. I wanted to believe in the process again.
My body has taken care of me for decades, and in varying degrees, I abused it because, deep-down, I hated it. Post-op was a whole-new world. What I was seeing in the mirror *finally* made sense to me, and I was excited about the possibilities. I know part of why I’m here is to help people, but I can’t do that without helping myself first. Doing so will allow me to share this part of my journey with others who may relate.
I wanted to get a little ‘dub’, a small victory, a reminder that “I can do hard things” (awesome camper quote from Camp Aranu’tiq). The physical transformation was a very cathartic process of realizing I am already the things I ‘wanted’ to be. I am. I’m not sure how it happened, but actually seeing and feeling the work and effort of the past 6-weeks have completely shifted my perspective. The most exciting part is knowing I’m just getting started, and there’s only room to grow from here (including the new ‘wings’ thanks to Justin’s pull-up plan).
Justin: Looking at your before and after pictures, aside from the physique changes, you just look like a happier person (with a better hair cut 🙂 ). How did taking care of yourself through diet and exercise have an impact on that?
I cried when I saw those side-by-side for that very reason. The before picture I looked and felt like a shell of myself. I was underweight, sad, lost, and stressed out. The after picture there is light in my eyes again. I feel so much better. The self-care need was an 811, maybe even a 911. Working in the mental health field, and growing up an athlete, I knew these facts—-but had forgotten how impacted I am in my own mental health when diet and exercise is present versus when they are not.
First, the workouts were not easy. My body was physically spent after each one. Even though my mind has a tendency to race at bedtime and refuse to take a nap, being exhausted combined with diaphragmatic breathing helped me go to sleep quicker. Historically, I had gone the route of some not so healthy coping mechanisms. I wanted and needed different results, so I thought I would step out of the loop. I opted not to have a 6:00pm beer with friends if I had class at 8:00am. My routine ‘nightcap’ became less and less. This lead to me waking up earlier, with more time to do meal prep. (Working out brought back my appetite with a vengeance).
Meal prep meant the complete dodging of “hangry” (a new emotion since HRT), light-headedness, foggy cognition, and lack of energy. Doing it all in one shot saved me time, and money. I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to afford the food on my grad-student budget, but ended up spending less during the challenge than the past 6 months leading up to it.
The plan itself was easy to follow. I needed to know DETAILS. Seriously, like what am I supposed to buy, how much, and now what? All of those questions had answers, specific to my plan. The program came with a cookbook. I saw other folks post pictures of meals that looked tasty, and they provided recipes.
Before the challenge, I was only going to work and school. No social life to speak of, limited contact with humans, no community. I went from not saying a word on day one, to running around giving high-fives and hugging folks at the end of workouts. (I’m not saying working out will convert someone from an introvert to an extrovert, but for me, it reminded me of being on teams as a kid. We were all there with the same goals (to survive the hour together), and we bonded. Faces became familiar, and friendships began to form.
My coaches would encourage me, help me fix my technique in the moment, pushed me beyond my comfort zones (and what I thought I was capable of) *every time*. <<What’s that? Confidence? Hello, old friend. It’s been a long time.>> I’m a hard worker, and they saw that and brought it out again.
Next thing I know, I have more energy to play with my lil’ Eli (ma’ besty pup), have more clarity to work on my thesis and participate in classes, and I’m interacting with other humans (like I’ve done it more than twice in my life—haha). It was definitely a ripple effect.
My clothes fit differently. I carry the groceries with greater ease. My balance is better (in every way). My heart feels lighter. I needed a big reminder that reps matter. Showing up matters. Baby steps count, and that if I keep taking them I’ll end up somewhere different than where I began, and I did.
Justin: I used to tell my female athletes that in one year they would be deadlifting 200 lbs. They all looked at me like “you want me to do what??” maybe you thought the same when I told you you’d be doing 20 pull-ups in no time…what did you learn from being consistent with a routine? Did you find anything out about yourself by working hard and conquering a challenge?
When I first approached you with my goals of growing ‘wings’ and told you my PR was 11 with pull-ups, I did not expect you to say 20 was achievable for me (in any amount of time, much less the ‘no time’ you mentioned so casually).
I laughed at you, that’s what I did. I thought you were blowing smoke, being nice, unrealistic, just trying to make me feel better about 11. I was skeptical and intrigued at the same time. Really? 20? Prove it.
You were like, “Boom. Here’s your plan.” Still not believing you, I did it. Every day, like you said.
It seemed manageable. 3 sets of 7 was my first task, followed by max reps, and this alternated-ish for a 5/7 days. The next week was 3 sets of 8. The next was 3×9, and so on. The last day, at our weigh-in, you wasted no time directing me to go get 20. At that time my max was 18. The pull-up bar was different (higher, a different angle, aka: much harder than my home set-up), there were 40 people staring at me. “No way this is happening” was still my thought. I did it though!
I learned that consistency is the key. Random pull-ups with no set number goal or plan to build hadn’t worked, but this did. It makes me want to see what else I can do. Create and establish new goals. This translates to life in general for me and how to deal with my anxiety. It’s easy for me to get flooded with the big picture, so many ‘what-ifs’, and before I know it I’m out before I’ve even started. This plan helped me see a lot can be accomplished with chipping away.
Just like in music and visual art, consistent reps will automatically yield progress…I don’t have to know where or what the final destination looks like, but I rediscovered I navigate fitness best with a map drawn by someone who knows their way around (Chi, Justin, Laura, Carolyn, Patrick and Matt). Eventually I won’t need the ‘training wheels’, but achieving my goal and exceeding it feels like a rocket-boost of a start to the rest of my life, and I couldn’t be more grateful to you and the team for helping me get here.
Justin: On the last day of the weigh-in you told me “I got the bug.” Sounds like fitness is going to be a strong part of your life now. What would you say to anyone who is hesitant about just getting started or staying consistent?
You’re right. It is. I can’t imagine going back to the way ‘things were’ prior to the 6-week challenge.
For someone who is hesitant, all I know is what worked for me…I had to dive inward and evaluate how things were going and if I was okay with it. If yes, then carry on. If not, time to make a move.
Once I decided things needed to change, the first step was looking to see what was out there…(I found C3 on FB), the next was entering my information into a form…the next was answering a phone call…the next was commuting to the gym and talking to someone…the next was showing up for class…Each one of these events was monumental for me in the process. It was just the next thing to do.
I personally needed the class or small group environment, because having a gym membership and being left to my own novice devices had not worked for me in the past. I had never been to a class before (for some reason what I imagined in my head was more Jane Fonda circa 1980’s VHS series, which couldn’t have been more inaccurate). The real-deal was very much reminiscent of being at practice with my teammates, back in the days of playing team sports.
Knowing what didn’t work in the past helped lead me in the direction of what did. We all have different preferences of the types of environments we feel more comfortable in. Factors ranging from financial accessibility to personality types could help determine whether or not that means one-on-one training, classes, or an app and a home gym.
All trainers are not created equal. The team at C3 practice what they preach, and that meant a lot to me personally.
Regarding consistency, signing up for classes and assigning blocks of time specifically to work out (and nothing else) was very helpful for me because I needed the structure.
I reminded myself of why I started this and where I was emotionally, mentally, and physically. Just that reflection alone was helpful, because even though I hadn’t accomplished any tangible goals yet, I was already better than where I was.
When I could, I would use self-care treats like soaking in a candle-lit Epsom salt bath with a good book or podcast, or imagining my chest in a fresh new black t-shirt at the finish line…Honestly whatever it takes to keep going back.
I’m sure the contract had a lot to do with my consistency as well, so setting up some reasonable stakes may be beneficial in holding oneself accountable. I needed external motivation to pull along my internal motivation in the beginning. I knew my teammates would be let down if I stopped early, or didn’t show, so that helped me keep showing up as well.
If it’s important, it will become a priority. I am still learning to protect the time and space, because otherwise anything can and will get in the way if I let it. Thanks to the team at C3, I’ve made myself a priority again. For those out there on the fence, or feeling down about where you are, you deserve to feel better too.
Wherever you are is just fine. Start there. You’re worth it. The process is worth it. I can’t make anyone believe me, but hopefully people can see the difference in my spirit, and I have enough energy now to root other folks on—(styrofoam oversized “#1” finger and all). I started with one pull-up and a broken spirit. Now I’m up to 20 pull-ups and time is healing the heart. I’m so grateful.