In this life one of the greatest keys to happiness is to realize one simple fact: you are who you are and unlike anyone else. Yet the great challenge of this existence is to live up to that responsibility, to simply be YOU.
Much of the drama in the journey of life is to stay on that path – and open to its possibilities, with every distraction and diversion we are apt to face.
If we strive to be the best version of ourselves, with the many failures and successes we will encounter, we will have quite a story to tell.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (151): Finding Me
“Life isn’t about finding yourself; it’s about creating yourself. So live the life you imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau
Balance. For Nicole Zimmerman that single word was missing from her vocabulary. The world seemed to be on full-tilt. Working to complete her doctorate in physical therapy, starting a new job and watching a 3-year relationship dissolve before her eyes. It was a lot to juggle, emotionally, physically, mentally.
For a young woman in her mid-20’s, the weight of the world was laying heavy. She found herself feeding her body and starving her self-esteem. Nicole says she needed a new beginning.
“I was feeling really low,” says Nicole. “It was a three-year relationship and a bad breakup. Plus I had to take my boards for my physical therapy doctorate, I was newly employed and eating about a pound of pasta every two days, it was ridiculous.”
For Nicole she knew she needed a change, and it was a call to a friend and a conversation that turned things around.
“If you can change your mind you change your life.” – William James
“I contacted my friend Tisana Downing,” says Nicole. “We were talking about getting in shape and she said ‘why don’t you start training with my husband Steve.’ I had no idea what I was in for. I started training three times a week and it was Steve who suggested that I compete in a body building competition. I didn’t know if I was ready to see myself up on stage in a bathing suit, so I went to check it out. One of my friends, Kelly Quinn was competing and she told me, ‘you could totally do this.’ So I decided to give it a shot.”
Nicole turned up the volume and started training harder and more often with Steve and with a nutritionist, Bernie Centrella. Before she knew it, Nicole was training four-days-a-week, then five, then on certain days, twice in a single day, including the early bird special. “On one of the two-a-days I would wake up and meet Steve at the gym at six in the morning,” says Nicole. “It was called fasted cardio. I would do the stepper, or run, or push a sled with weights on it. All with the goal of increasing my heart rate and burning fat. All of this done on an empty stomach to burn the most I could.”
Then there was the food aspect of the training, something called IIFYM, If it fits Your Macros. IIFYM is a method of dieting that revolves around meeting daily macro-nutritional intake targets. That is, you plan your daily meals to provide you with so much protein, carbohydrate, and fat, based on your goal. It’s not easy. Nicole was measuring every portion and eating just the right kinds of meals. “It was a lot of oatmeal, fish, especially cod, which I ate nearly every night for dinner,” says Nicole. “Extra lean turkey, chicken very low in fat, rice cakes, egg whites and my favorite snack, almond butter. It was easier for me then for some people because I have IBS and some other food sensitivities.”
Building muscle, burning fat, eating just the right amounts. Nicole said she was learning a great deal about herself and in the process of transforming her body she was molding her mind, healing her heart and finding she was more than the sum of her parts.
“This type of training has so much more of a mental component,” Nicole says. “People think it’s physical, but you really have to be dedicated and have a steady mindset. My dad and I always talk about not getting too high or too low, about not getting too competitive, doing it for yourself and seeing your own gains. I had to stay consistent to see results.”
“Mind is everything. Muscles – pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am, because of my mind.” – Paavo Nurmi, Olympic Legend
The social scene for a woman in her mid-20’s can be quite active and a training regimen like this presented plenty of opportunities to take Nicole off track. “I went to weddings, bachelorette parties, baseball games and didn’t drink and stuck to my diet. If I went out with friends to dinner I couldn’t succumb to the stressors, I had to do what I needed to do for me. It’s a hard battle every competitor faces.”
Nicole is no stranger to battles in her life. Her parents divorced when she was only two, her mom ended up remarrying, bringing two brothers into Nicole’s life and then her dad gave her a scare that nearly rocked her world. “My dad came over to aunt’s house,” recalls Nicole. “I still remember it, I can still see the whole scene. I was sitting there watching Moulin Rouge – my dad looked at me and told me he just came back from the doctor and he started crying, he said he had a brain tumor. It ended up being an AVM, (arteriovenous malformation, a tangle of blood vessels in the brain), but it led to serious anxiety for him and some other scary moments. I was only 10 and I thought I might lose him. I’m 28 now, and I’m so grateful to still have him around.”
Then there was Nicole’s own health scare, just as she was embarking on her college career. “I was diagnosed with fibroadenoma, basically a lump in my breast. I was only 19 at the time. I had no idea what was going on, they simply said to me do you want to biopsy it, or have surgery. I ended up having the surgery to remove it and all was OK. It reminded me of how things could be taken away from you in a second, it reminded me of the importance of life and of what you need to do in this life.”
“Some steps need to be taken alone. It’s the only way to figure out where you really need to be.” – Mandy Hall
Fast forward to August of 2016. The training, the fasting, the hard work, battling back from the mental lows. Nicole challenged herself with all of it and in August of last year found herself standing on stage, competing with other women in a body building competition, the Mid-Atlantic OCB, (Organization of Competitive Body Builders), Battle for the Belt. Nicole took 3rd place in the Bikini Novice and the Bikini Open in Class A. (The classes are set by the height of the competitors).
Buoyed by her success and with a renewed mindset to boot, Nicole decided to give training and competition another shot. Just because she had been here before, didn’t make it any easier. In fact this time around the challenges were more pronounced. “The second time around the mental part was the hardest,” says Nicole. “The first go-round I had a scale and I could weigh myself to monitor my progress. When that training ended I would still weigh myself and I wasn’t happy with the results of gaining a few pounds at a time. This time around Steve took the scale away, I had no idea, I had to rely on Steve simply telling me I was on the right track, without knowing my numbers at all. He also took away my favorite snack. The day he took away my almond butter I choked up with tears,” laughs Nicole.
Although facing tougher mental struggles, it was increased support from her family, friends and the other gym-mates that made the difference. Nicole says: “there were people at the gym I really don’t talk too much, but who would come up to me in the middle of my prep, and say, ‘you look great. I can tell you are going to do this, keep pushing.’ This really affected me and gave me inspiration, especially on those mental low days.”
“Sometimes what you think you know gets in the way of what’s possible. If you believe you can do something you can figure it out.”– Jack Canfield, Chicken Soup for the Soul
The inspiration worked and it goes both ways. On May 20th, in the OCB Jersey Natural Open, Nicole earned second place in the Bikini Open and this time around she took the top spot in the Bikini Novice, Class A.
Her first-place finish brought her mom, Sherry, to tears and filled her dad, Brian, with tremendous pride. Brian knows all about the results of putting in the hard work to reach a goal. A top-producing salesman and sales leader for most of his adult life, Nicole says her dad taught her to be strong and independent. Now here she was, showing-off her physical muscles and mental fortitude. Nicole says it’s always been her goal to make her parents proud and to set the bar high for both of her brothers, Liam and Jack.
She’s also learned through her tough training and triumphs, that she’s having impact above and beyond what she even imagined when this challenge began. “A lot of people have been coming out of nowhere to see me and ask me for help,” says Nicole.”They are telling me what an inspiration I have been for them. This has helped me 100%. I feel like I’m more comfortable with my daily life, my family, friends and self-esteem. I’ve affected my family in how they eat, exercise and live. But also there’s also this renewed sense of you really can accomplish anything you want to if you put your mind to it. I would tell others not to limit themselves because of fear. Don’t let so-and-so tell you that you can’t, or doubt yourself, because you will fail before you even try. You can surprise yourself. When you really go for it you will get the results you want. Like my dad taught me, you will fail ten times before you succeed even once. You can dictate your life. You have the choice of what you want to do with your life, if it’s not going right you can make the choice to change it.”
For Nicole so much of this journey was about answering the question – who am I? As she engaged in the process of transforming her body and her mind the answer came to light. “This journey helped me to find out who I am,” says Nicole. I’m not there yet, you never really get there because the day you stop learning is the day you stop living. I got my old self back. I tell people think back to when you were a little child, like 5-years-old, when you are really not influenced by anything yet. You are genuine. Go back into that space of being a child to see who you were and you’ll find again who you really are now.
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
Author: The Sunday Series. Real Stories of Courage, Hope & Inspiration, Volume I (https://www.amazon.com/Sunday-Mark-Brodinsky-Stories-Inspiration-ebook/dp/B0722MJL55/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1494160949&sr=8-2&keywords=the+sunday+series)
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