I like to eat. I like to drink. Combining those two qualities with my Hispanic genes often results in the inevitable “Fat Mexican Lady” destiny that’s been creeping in on my life since the day my metabolism stopped functioning at the age of 23. This is the same destined nightmare that continued to haunt my Grandma (god rest her soul) well into her 77th year of life as she’d regularly barked out in frustration, “I will not die a Fat Mexican Lady!” as she drank wine and ate nothing but chocolate while weighing in at a measly 98 lbs. The rest of us Mexican women aren’t as lucky as my Grandma was…but we’re generally a lot less likely to reject that second plate of tamales topped with beans and rice.
When I was younger, it never occurred to me that I could actually be overweight. While I’ve never been considered a naturally “skinny” girl, my body has always taken on a more athletic figure. Which thanks to my parents, is entirely due to the fact that I played every sport imaginable as quickly as I was able to walk. I played volleyball, soccer, softball, tennis, swim team and Junior Lifeguards…as well as regularly dominating tether-ball every recess.
At seven years old, I competed in a Stud Iron Man race which consisted of four miles of beach running and two miles of swimming, including laps around 15 buoys and the entire length of a pier, and somehow having the strength to not contract hypothermia during the two hour event at 6:00 AM. By 10 years old, I’d been thrown off multiple piers and tossed off the backs of speed boats resulting in my body taking the form of a human rock that had just been skipped across a large body of water. In Junior High I was frequently recruited from the boy’s football coach to out-run and out-catch my adolescent male peers at their own game, in which I undoubtedly always won, resulting in the winning prize of various boy band posters for my bedroom wall (My favorite being a poster of the band 98 Degrees dressed as firemen and surrounded by flames). And lastly, I competed in three Junior Olympic volleyball tournaments in various U.S states before the age of 16. The most memorable being the match of absolute mass destruction against a team of Puerto Rican girls who’d been training on sand their entire lives and therefore could jump eight feet in the air. Murder is an understatement.
Point being, with a childhood like that…skinny was not a possibility. I was athletic, I was strong, and I was never going to meet my “Fat Mexican Lady” destiny so relevant to my genetics and culture. Right? WRONG! I finally met my maker after I moved away to college, abandoned all athletic activities from my life, and focused my time and energy into maintaining a healthy social life consisting of Jaeger shots, craft beer and late night pizza topped with a chaotic and inconsistent sleep schedule. Before I knew it, I was so large and bloated that my other Grandma once said straight to my face, “Boy, you’ve gotten so chubby!” while she was drugged on pain meds following an intense hip surgery. The truth comes out when you’re under the influence, and the truth was…I was fat!
When I finally moved back to my hometown after eight years, in which five of them were dedicated to gaining 40 pounds, I decided to focus all my time and energy into re-discovering my “old” self. I started going to a regular fitness gym and was able to drop a quick 20 lbs with the help of a treadmill and elliptical. But, I quickly became jaded by the amount of douche bag gym rats flexing for a selfie in the mirror, simply to show off their totally rad Beats by Dre headphones. I got sick of having to catch numerous creeps staring at my boobs bounce while I ran on the treadmill, to quickly turn away the second they caught a glimpse at my middle finger. And I got sick of the fact that I’d plateaued and could not shed another pound regardless of how healthy I ate and how many hours of cardio I performed a day.
I realized I needed to get back into a competitive sport in order to feel motivated, inspired, and to have some sort of direction again. Somehow boxing came to mind, and the more I researched it, the more I was positive this was meant for me. The day I got confirmation that it absolutely WAS meant for me was the day I received a very unsupportive response from my boyfriend when I told him about my interest. He seemed confused, hesitant and somewhat turned off by my interest in learning to box. I asked him to join me for a free class so we could both try it out and see how we liked it. I had no intentions of convincing him to join the gym, but I thought it would be a fun new activity for us to do one Saturday morning together. Well, at last minute he canceled because he “remembered” he had a prior commitment he’d made that he “forgot” about. Come to find out, he ran off to his art studio to work on some photography and light stretching while his girlfriend waltzed into a predominately male boxing gym filled with confidence and excitement; hoping to get the chance to knock someone out.
Needless to say, I got my ass kicked harder than I had anticipated. My adrenaline was pumping in ways I’d once remembered but hadn’t experienced in years, and I knew without a doubt that I’d just found a new piece of myself that I was already falling in love with. I signed up for a membership that day and never looked back. Oh, and my sensitive artsy boyfriend and I were broken up within a month.
It was eye opening to discover that the UFC gym carried a different type of “gym breed” than what I was used to. I somewhat expected to find that same sleazy group of wannabe “personal trainers” or “fitness models” who spent more time staring at themselves in the mirror than working out. But what I found was a group of extremely hardworking athletes who were running the gym, and a group of highly motivated and determined members who were dedicated to the challenge. While I can’t speak for every UFC gym out there, this gym was full of very inspiring people all focused on becoming healthy, becoming fit, challenging themselves, bettering their lives and motivating and supporting one another. It felt like a family, and it was one I very much wanted to be a part of.
It’s been nine months since I’ve joined the UFC gym and my body transformation has been unbelievable. While I have not lost a single pound on the scale, I’ve dropped two pant sizes and one shirt size. My body is muscular, toned and fit…but most importantly, I’m healthy again. For the first time in years, my confidence level is off the chart and I have a never-ending spike in serenity and positive mental health. I feel happy, I feel alive, I feel productive, I feel healthy, I feel inspired, I feel comfortable, I feel excited and I feel ME again.
Getting back in tune with my athletic roots has given me a sense of self I didn’t know I was missing. I’ve realized that so much of my internal happiness is due to the way I treat myself. When I eat healthy and use the body I’ve been given in an active and progressive manner, I ultimately feel at one with myself emotionally, mentally and physically. I’ve gained a newfound respect and love for myself that I believe will soon transpire into other aspects of my life that I have less control of. If I keep exerting the happiness and positivity I feel about myself out into the world, then the rest will eventually fall into place; my career, my love life, my friends and family, and my writing.
I’ve now realized it was never about rediscovering my “old” self, rather reminding myself of who I actually am – then and now. Sure, people change and develop over time but there’s still a sense of self that lies within your core. You know, the things that make you excited, the things that get your wheels spinning, and the things that leave you feeling accomplished and proud. For me, those things have always been music, athleticism and writing.
It’s really easy to forget who you are. Sometimes it can happen naturally while transitioning through different stages of your life. Sometimes it can happen subconsciously with the mere distractions and stress of everyday obstacles. Sometimes it can happen unexpectedly when you surround yourself with negative people that don’t have your best interest at heart. And sometimes, maybe the universe just throws you a curveball to wake you up and ignite some sense of enlightenment and understanding about oneself.
Either way, the older I get the more I understand and accept the quote, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Just like beauty, happiness is also in the eye of the beholder. But in order to have happiness, you’ve got to have the drive to achieve it and make it a reality. Nothing is going to happen if you sit back and watch your life pass by you. Take risks, challenge yourself, and do something.