Category Archives: Health

“HEAR”‘s to 2020!

Throughout the years, I’ve shared more than a few stories of pushing through injuries or putting them on the back burner until they couldn’t be ignored any longer. I guess I can file this post under the same category as I’m finally addressing a health issue I was diagnosed with back 16 months ago. Today marks day number six that I’m wearing a hearing aid.

Rewind to the summer of 2018, and that’s when I woke up one morning with what felt like a huge ball of cotton in my right ear. After a day of straining to hear out of the ear and several unsuccessful attempts at “popping” it like I would during a flight or an elevator ride in a tall building, I assumed I had a wax buildup and made an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist. To my surprise, the doctor found no wax and sent me down the hall to his audiologist for a hearing test. My next surprise was learning I had significant conductive hearing loss in my right ear. A few days later, a CT scan confirmed what the doctor already suspected to be the cause: a rare condition called otosclerosis.

WebMD offers the simplest definition of this condition that affects a little more than three million Americans:

“Otosclerosis is a condition that causes hearing loss. It happens when a small bone in your middle ear — usually the one called the stapes — gets stuck in place. Your stapes bone has to vibrate for you to hear well. When it can’t do that, sound can’t travel from your middle ear to your inner ear. That makes it hard for you to hear.”

In addition the main symptom of hearing loss, I also experience tinnitus – which alternates between roaring and ringing sounds in my right ear. (Click here to learn even more about otosclerosis.) With a definitive diagnosis, I had to figure out what to do. In full disclosure, I initially found myself a bit depressed and more than a little scared about being diagnosed with significant hearing loss at the age of 44. So, I did what many of us do when faced with unpleasant surprises: absolutely nothing.

My Newest Accessory

Fast forward to December of 2019, and I’d had about enough of straining to follow conversations in crowded places (which is practically everywhere when you live in New York City!) and asking people to repeat themselves. During a very informative consultation with another ENT -where another hearing test indicated my hearing loss had deteriorated since my initial diagnosis- I learned I had two options:

  1. Stapedectomy: a surgical procedure where an ENT removes the non-working stapes bone and replaces it with a micro prosthesis or
  2. Try a hearing aid.

I decided I had nothing to lose with giving the hearing aid a shot. Now my only regret is not having tried one sooner. The very first day I wore it, I attended a Church dinner for a volunteer group I joined last year. Halfway through the evening, I nearly started crying when I realized I was having a conversation with two women sitting to my right and I could hear them despite the din of the crowd and music playing in the background. Since then, I’ve had easier conversations with friends in a crowded wine bar; watched TV at a lower volume and even heard whispers in movies without much difficulty.

I am sharing this particular story in the hopes of preventing others from suffering in silence. If you’re experiencing  any of the symptoms I described, talk to your primary care physician or see an ENT. Getting a hearing aid can be a an overwhelming experience, and I realize I was fortunate on many fronts. My journalism background definitely helped on the information-gathering process, but I also had the guidance of a dear family friend who happens to be a retired ENT; advice from a childhood friend who has worn hearing aids for many years and I also found a very patient and compassionate audiologist. Now I have a 60-day trial period with my hearing aid and can make adjustments if needed. I’d like to think this will do the trick and that I won’t need surgery down the road. For now, it’s one day at a time.

If you have any other questions about my hearing loss journey, please don’t hesitate to ask. While I never expected to be wearing a hearing aid 20 days shy of my 46th birthday, I’m optimistic it will continue to have a positive impact on my quality of life. As I approach the start of a new year on this planet, I look forward to seeing and hearing more of what this crazy life has to offer. So, when life throws you a curve ball, don’t be afraid of getting the facts you need to take control of the situation and get back on track with your plans to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

 

Hello 2020!

Jumping Into 2020!

Well, here we are already eight days into 2020. I hope the start of this New Year has been good to you so far and this Workout Wednesday and all the days ahead are full of good health, happiness and adventure!

So how are those healthy resolutions going? If you’re struggling a bit, don’t sweat it! Even the biggest fitness fanatics feel your pain. Since my kickoff to 2020 took place in sunny St. Lucia, I’m still trying to get my daily calorie intake back under control and return to my physical therapy and cardio routine. (I do hope to get the all clear from my physical therapist on my arm issues by the end of this month.)

As we all work to find our footing on the road to healthy living in the New Year, I’ll share one “trick” that’s helped me since turning the big 4-0 nearly six years ago. I now focus on setting goals and deadlines for reaching those goals instead of “stressing” over how well I’m changing my overall behavior. Sometimes making the commitment to eat green vegetables with every single meal or workout six days a week can be daunting, and the temptation to throw in the towel can sneak in if you indulge in one “naughty” meal or skip one workout. Instead of stressing over daily slip-ups, ask yourself one question:

Is there something I want to accomplish this year that requires stepping up my physical activity and making healthier choices in my diet?

As I’m sure you recall, I went to the ultimate extreme in 2019 by competing in the NPC Brooklyn Grand Prix. This year, inspired by my husband, my cousin and several friends who have caught the running “bug” at various stages in their lives (thank you, James, Annie, Rita Joan, Jeannine and Pamela!), I hope to enter my first 5K by the end of the summer. So James, who knows pretty much everything there is to know about running, has started coaching me with a treadmill workout plan for the next couple of months. (Stay tuned on that front!)

How about you? Is there a fundraising walk surrounding a cause you’re passionate about that you’ve always wanted to join? Maybe this is the summer you play for a team of touch football at the annual family get-together  instead of watching from the sidelines. Or maybe while on vacation, you take one or several long walks with your spouse or that friend you haven’t seen in awhile. Whatever it is, having a specific goal surrounding an event can keep you motivated since you know there’s a finish line to cross after all the hard work.

So if you’ve been doubting your ability to stick with your plans to make this your healthiest year yet, stop right now! Think about the positive steps you’ve taken so far and forget the slip-ups. Focus on today, one minute and one hour at a time. If you get to the gym today, kudos to you. If you don’t, pack the gym bag for tomorrow and try again. Remember, it’s the small steps that add up to big strides in our lifelong journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

Merry & Happy Everything to All!

It seems only fitting to use this Throwback Thursday to share what’s become my annual holiday gift to my wonderful LauraLovesFitness followers. Like many of you, I find myself a bit overwhelmed this season thanks to Thanksgiving being as late as it could be, cutting back on the prep time for Christmas and Hanukkah.

Between the holiday hustle and bustle and my continued efforts at physical therapy to fix the damage I did to my arm during my bikini competition prep, I’ve decided to make this my last post of 2019.  Since the hardest part of my recovery is a six-week hiatus from my favorite workout, I thought I’d offer a kickboxing addict’s version of…

The 12 Days of Fitness

On the first day of fitness, my workout gave to me…my favorite kind of therapy.

On the second day of fitness, my workout gave to me…two boxing gloves and my favorite kind of therapy.

On the third day of fitness, my workout gave to me…three sets of squats, two boxing gloves and my favorite kind of therapy.

On the fourth day of fitness, my workout gave to me…four minutes of tabatas, three sets of squats, two boxing gloves and my favorite kind of therapy.

On the fifth day of fitness, my workout gave to me…five roundhouse kicks! Four minutes of tabatas, three sets of squats, two boxing gloves and my favorite kind of therapy.

On the sixth day of fitness, my workout gave to me…six speed bag intervals, five roundhouse kicks! Four minutes of tabatas, three sets of squats, two boxing gloves and my favorite kind of therapy.

On the seventh day of fitness, my workout gave to me…seven side kicks, six speed bag intervals, five roundhouse kicks! Four minutes of tabatas, three sets of squats, two boxing gloves and my favorite kind of therapy.

On the eighth day of fitness, my workout gave to me….eight back-fist punches, seven side kicks, six speed bag intervals, five roundhouse kicks! Four minutes of tabatas, three sets of squats, two boxing gloves and my favorite kind of therapy.

On the ninth day of fitness, my workout gave to me…nine jab-cross combinations, eight back-fist punches, seven side kicks, six speed bag intervals, five roundhouse kicks! Four minutes of tabatas, three sets of squats, two boxing gloves and my favorite kind of therapy.

On the tenth day of fitness, my workout gave to me….ten burpee push-ups, nine jab-cross combinations, eight back-fist punches, seven side kicks, six speed bag intervals, five roundhouse kicks! Four minutes of tabatas, three sets of squats, two boxing gloves and my favorite kind of therapy.

On the eleventh day of fitness, my workout gave to me…eleven side planks, ten burpee push-ups, nine jab-cross combinations, eight back-fist punches, seven side kicks, six speed bag intervals, five roundhouse kicks! Four minutes of tabatas, three sets of squats, two boxing gloves and my favorite kind of therapy.

On the twelfth day of fitness, my workout gave to me…twelve reps of lunges, eleven side planks, ten burpee push-ups, nine jab-cross combinations, eight back-fist punches, seven side kicks, six speed bag intervals, five roundhouse kicks! Four minutes of tabatas, three sets of squats, two boxing gloves and my favorite kind of therapy.

Whatever you and your family are celebrating as another year winds down, I wish you a very happy and healthy season ahead. I close with a huge thank you for all the support throughout a big year filled with unprecedented events amidst the usual highs and lows. Here’s to ringing in 2020 with a bang (and a punch!) and welcoming all the new chances to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

It’s Gobble, Gobble Time!

It happened again. I blinked and here were are on the eve of my favorite American holiday! That means it’s time to serve up my annual recipe of survival tips for another calorie-filled Thanksgiving:

  • Move it!  Remember, even ten minutes of exercise today and tomorrow are better than none! The bonus is you’ll have the mental boost knowing you made an effort prior to the Turkey Day feast. Even if you’re hosting tomorrow’s holiday fun and can’t leave the house, you can pop in an exercise DVD or bang out a Tabata first thing in the morning. If the weather permits, maybe you can even sneak out for some fresh air and a brisk power walk or abbreviated run. Your gym is open? Great! Try a morning group exercise class or attack some cardio and core work. A few solid planks can make you feel strong before filling your belly with delicious eats.
  • Eat breakfast! Be sure to eat something sensible on Thanksgiving morning to kick-start your metabolism. If you’re not feasting until late afternoon, make sure to follow breakfast with a small lunch or sensible snack so you don’t go overboard later. Two ideas: non-fat plain Greek yogurt with a serving of almonds mixed in or a piece of toasted Ezekiel bread topped with a sliced hard-boiled egg and salsa. These protein-rich snacks will keep you feeling full longer than those high in sugar.
  • Portion Control: Use a salad or other small dish for your meal. Start with salad or veggies and then add the turkey. Use the remaining space for the potatoes, stuffing and other starches. There simply won’t be as much room left as you’d have on a regular dinner plate.
  • Savor the flavor: Eat slowly! If you do clean your plate, wait 10 minutes before going back for round two. This will help you decide if you’re really hungry. If you aren’t, you’ll feel good knowing you had one helping – before moving on to dessert, of course!
  • Keep Track of the Libations: This is the perfect day to follow the every-other-drink-is-alcohol plan. Enjoy a glass of wine, beer or cocktail then have a glass of still or sparking water before moving on to the next cocktail.
  • Make Doggie Bags! Hosting the holiday feast? Don’t be shy about giving some of the uneaten turkey and trimmings to your guests.

There’s really only one thing left for me to write: I offer my heartfelt wishes for everyone to enjoy a very Happy Thanksgiving! This year, I can add being happily married to the list of things I’m thankful for, including my family, friends and the ongoing support I receive from my “fitfam,” which includes all my loyal readers. One final note: If you end up breaking the calorie bank this Thanksgiving, don’t sweat it. Remember, laughter, good food and even some good wine are all part of many holiday traditions and part of our ongoing journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

All Too Familiar Territory

I am a firm believer we do indeed grow wiser with each passing year. For us fitness fanatics and serious athletes, however, that wisdom can be tested when setting our sights on a new or big goal. Unfortunately, I’ve failed that test yet again on the subject of do as I say and not as I do. That means I’m spending a good part of this Workout Wednesday back in physical therapy.

Rewind to mid-July of this summer, and I was exactly halfway through my 15-week prep process for my first ever bikini competition. After seven-and-a-half weeks of serious weight training, extended cardio sessions and strict dieting, I noticed a twinge in my left shoulder and left pectoral muscle. That twinge turned into serious pain almost overnight and spread down my arm, particularly in the bicep area. My coach got me in to see a master manual therapist who worked on the angry muscles, but the temporary relief wasn’t a permanent fix. My coach of course gave me the option of taking a break and possibly putting my competition plans on hold. Long story short, I made the decision to keep grinding on. I had the window of opportunity to train this summer and had no idea what would happen later this year or next in regards to my parents’ health or life’s other uncertainties. So, with some modifications to the upper body workouts, I kept training. As you all know, I made it to the show on September 28th and it was an experience I’ll never forget or regret being a part of.

Fast-forward to the beginning of November. The pain remained, but it had centered mainly in my bicep. When the discomfort started waking me up in the middle of the night, I knew I couldn’t ignore the problem any longer.  I saw the same sports medicine orthopedist who helped me conquer a knee injury last year, and this time the diagnosis is biceps tendonitis. The doctor basically told me if I want to heal, I have to totally refocus my energy on physical therapy and stop kickboxing and other heavy duty upper body work for six weeks. If not, the severe bicep tendonitis could lead to a tear or rupture – and fixing either of those problems would require surgery.

I am well aware there is only person to blame for this mess: me. However, so many serious athletes face decisions like this all the time. There’s a drive to push through the pain and red line it just enough to reach that goal, to hell with the consequences. In the grand scheme of things, six weeks “off” is obviously a much better outcome than surgery. While I’m mad as hell at myself for letting it get this far, I know I’ll heal. And I’ll shift my be-a-good-solider focus to following my physical therapist’s instructions, taking my prescribed anti-inflammatories and babying the arm as much as possible. Some sacrifices now will only lead to a healthier Laura later.

At the end of the day, I realize not everyone makes such extreme choices. But when we do make a not-so-smart decision -in or outside of the gym – we have to accept the fact that we can’t go back in time and change it. We can only go forward, use what we’ve learned and hopefully not make the same mistake again. It’s just another part of the sometimes crazy learning process that comes with traveling the windy road to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

 

Seven Weeks To Go…

I hope you will forgive the mini-hiatus. Since I didn’t take my usual break over the summer so I could share my weekly adventures of bikini competition prep, I needed a brief reprieve from writing. On this Transformation Tuesday, I’m back just in time for what I consider the pre-holiday, holiday rush.

Thanksgiving lands as late as it can on the calendar this year. That means the onslaught of decking the halls, shopping and celebrating (which most likely involves eating and drinking) arrives in just two weeks and continues at lightning speed for the last four full weeks of 2019. So now is the perfect time to take stock of your healthy habits and consider taking them up a notch before the holly, jolly and high-calorie time of year kicks off.
For this short and sweet return to the blogosphere, I offer a few tips to help you feel better when the holiday season officially arrives. Exercising a little caution now could help with feeling not-so-guilty later when the holiday splurging begins.
  1. Drink water: Hydration is crucial year round, regardless of the weather. Not only does water helps regulate our body temperature and distribute nutrients and oxygen to our cells and organs, drinking water can actually alleviate fluid retention and decrease appetite. I’ve been doing my best to keep up my competition prep habit of drinking at leas one gallon of water each day. To make it easier to track how much water you drink in a day, treat yourself to an early Christmas or Hanukkah present and get water bottle that measures for you.
  2. Make Necessary Adjustments to Your Workout Schedule: The end of Daylight Saving means darker days are here till the spring of 2020. For many people – including yours truly – fewer hours of sunlight can wreak havoc on motivation to workout at the end of the day. If that includes you, consider switching to a pre-work workout. With so many on-demand fitness programs, you can even roll out of bed and right onto a yoga mat in your own living room to break a morning sweat. You can also consider designating a workout buddy to help you stay accountable for getting exercise sometime during the day. Finally, this is also a chance to check your gym’s group fitness schedule for that class you were curious about but never got to while you were outside running or walking during the summer and early fall.
  3. Be Prepared: I’m doing my best to continue cooking chicken, turkey, brown rice and veggies in bulk so I have several go-to healthy meals available each day. Just like you may know what time you’re working out on any given day, it can help to also have a game plan for what your meals will look like. Make sure you have healthy snacks with you at work or in your purse or gym bag. Raw almonds and green apples travel well. If you have access to a fridge, hard boiled eggs; non-fat plain Greek yogurt and of course, full meals with a healthy balance of protein, carbs and veggies can always be close by.
This year has been a whirlwind of unprecedented events, but it’s still impossible to believe we have less than two months left until we usher in a whole new decade. Here’s to wrapping things up knowing we made every effort possible to have fun, be fit and feel fab!

Loose Ends

Cheers to the Day We Don’t Need The Walks Anymore!

As I continue to recalibrate in this post-bikini competition life, I imagine you’ll forgive this short and sweet Transformation Tuesday post. As this unprecedented transformative phase continues, I’ve come to realize it’s good to embrace change in this life. Sure, it can be scary, but it can also open the doors to so many opportunities and experiences you never even knew existed.

One welcome form of normalcy came over the weekend when I joined a sea of pink zig-zagging its way through Central Park for another American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. Each year, I find myself in awe of the warrior spirit that pushes a great deal of walkers to complete the course with the assistance of a cane or the steady arm of a loved one. We differ in age, race, religion and political beliefs. However, on that Sunday morning, we were united with survivors, sons and daughters of survivors and those who lost a loved one to a disease that I hope will one day be nothing more than a footnote in an old textbook. To that end, it’s not to late to make a donation for this year’s Walk. If you’d like to join the fight as another Breast Cancer Awareness month winds down, simply click here to be taken to my Making Strides page. Every dollar counts in the fight against breast cancer and to help those battling the disease with everyday challenges. To all my generous supporters to date, I offer my heartfelt thanks.

The other event most likely coming to an end this week is my unexpected run in the Maxim Magazine Next Cover Girl contest. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support that helped this 45-year-old make the quarterfinals in a competition filled with beautiful women more than half my age. I ask you to continue casting those free daily votes for two more days so I make a strong finish in my group. (The quarterfinal round ends on the 24th at 11 pm ET.) Simply click here to view my link on the Maxim page. Thanks again for making this a surprising and fun ride!

As the fall marches on with lightning speed and we continue to adjust to cooler temperatures and a little less daylight every 24 hours, let’s get psyched for the challenges and surprises that lie ahead. Thank you to all my readers for sharing in so many big adventures in 2019. Cheers to what’s next in all our efforts to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

The New Normal

The Grind Continues

Nineteen days have passed since I stepped off the stage and started showering off the spray tan, but I’m still dealing with the aftermath of the NPC Brooklyn Grand Prix. While my daily routine isn’t as physically taxing as it was in the days, weeks and months leading up to my first bikini competition, I’ve been struggling with some anxiety and stress as I now have no excuse not to focus on the “what’s next?” in my life. I think it’s easiest to break down the state of my psyche into three areas:

  1. My weight: Since holding water can change the numbers daily, I’ve gained between six to eight pounds since show day. I knew I could never maintain my stage weight. Aside from living on a low-calorie diet, by competition time you’re not just a little “hangry,” you’re dehydrated, too. A big part of peak week is cutting back on your water intake so you look as “cut” as possible on stage. While I realize my weight today is a healthier, more sustainable number (which still comes with its own demand for discipline), it’s amazing how your mind can get the best of you if you let it. I shared this in last week’s post, and it’s something I find myself repeating to myself almost daily again this week: we should never define ourselves by just a number. Instead, we should focus on how we feel and most importantly, if we have the energy to do the things we enjoy with the people who matter the most.
  2. My diet: Of course, there’s a very simple reason for the weight gain: I’ve been enjoying the things I denied myself during 15 weeks of contest prep! The day after the show, I savored every morsel of sunny-side up eggs, crispy bacon and buttered rye toast. For dinner, it was filet mignon tidbits on top of a bed of buttery mashed potatoes and two glasses of Prosecco. However, in between, I was back to a prep meal: four ounces of chicken, a half-cup of brown rice and a cup of spinach. Since then, I’ve been trying to strike a balance between eating those clean prep meals during the day and enjoying a non-restrictive, but healthy dinner. (Yes, wine is usually involved…and probably some version of dessert, too.) James and I have resumed going out to dinner or ordering in a few nights a week. Most nights, I’ll be “good,” nursing one libation to go along with a grilled chicken paillard covered with greens. Other nights, I’m not-so-good, enjoying two drinks along with yummy cheat foods including sliders; mac-and-cheese and chicken parmesan. Nothing is off limits anymore, but I’m still working on getting my groove back to the no guilt, everything-in-moderation lifestyle I followed in the 45 years leading up to the competition.
  3. My workouts: What’s been the best part of post-show life? A return to kickboxing! After months of work in the weight room, I was ecstatic to feel more power than ever before when I unleashed hell on the heavy bag despite not attending a class since May 20th. I’ve also kept up with my weight training, and plan to stick with it. While I’ve never been a fan of leg days, I’ll make sure to keep a couple of them in my weekly routine. However, instead of five sets of goblet squats, leg presses or deadlifts, I’ll probably do four. Making some gains in the off-season can only help me start another prep period even stronger than the first time around.

The hardest part of my post-show life is the daily struggle to not be so hard on myself. If I need to go to bed a little earlier or crave another carb-loaded meal, I need to “forgive” myself and let it go. Luckily my husband, parents and friends are helping make the adjustment from pre- to post-show life more bearable. I know I accomplished a lot in 15 weeks and put my body and mind through something unlike anything else I’ve experienced. Now it’s time to be thankful for what’s happened and plan for what’s next. It just goes to show striking a healthy balance for the body, mind and soul is an ongoing challenge in our never-ending journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous.

The Ultimate Post-Show High

The REALLY Big Day!

I realize this is a completely out-of-the-ordinary day for me to share a post. Considering life has been pretty unusual during the past five moths, I figured I’d roll with it.

September 29th marked the beginning of life after the Brooklyn Grand Prix. I’m sure most people assumed I’d recover from the 15-week prep process by enjoying a little down time, taking a brief break from the weight room and re-introducing some libations and sweet treats into my life. However, as most of you probably know, I spent the seven days after the show gearing up for the true main event in my life – my wedding day! On October 5th, James and I surprised my parents – and the rest of our family and friends – with a beach-themed wedding on Long Island. The picture-perfect sunny day went off without a hitch and we started the next phase of our happily ever after. With the big day behind me, I’m now dealing with the ultimate physical and mental crash. After months of following a restrictive diet by the book; weight training six days a week; putting my social life on hold and planning a wedding day, my mind and body are basically screaming: “Okay, Laura, you pulled it off. Now it’s time to regroup a bit.”

Of course, I’m sure my fellow type-A personalities will agree sometimes taking your foot off the gas and regrouping can be the hardest part of reaching a long-awaited destination. As I mentioned many times throughout the process, I realized the contest prep lifestyle would never be sustainable if I wanted to get back to my normal social life. I’m totally fine with that. However, I’m now challenged by my mind making me second guess those second glasses of prosecco with dinner and the extra slice of leftover wedding cake. I even find myself worrying about adding too many “cheat meals” back into my daily life. That’s a pretty strange concept since before the contest-prep phase of my life, I always considered myself to follow a pretty healthy lifestyle. Now, having plain a nonfat Greek yogurt with some blueberries and almonds -none of which I ate during prep – is a “treat.” Also, I haven’t been on the scale and have no plans to hop on it anytime soon. Because my heart knows we should never be defined by just a number. Life is about finding our own balance to feel good, and doing our best to stay healthy. I just experienced the happiest day of my life, and I will do all I can to not sabotage that with feelings of guilt over celebratory meals with the people I love. Life’s too short for those kinds of regrets. I know I’d have bigger regrets if I started turning down social outings because I was worried about my diet.

The Grind Continues – On a Smaller Scale

This is also going to be a time of regrouping in my professional life. I truly don’t know what I want the next step to be, but I know I can’t stand still any longer. Maybe I’ll find a way to combine my love of health and well-being with my skill set as a journalist and producer. Maybe there’s an entirely different line of work out there just waiting for me to discover. Stay tuned.

Next week, I plan to share a bit more of my diet and fitness routine since the contest. I’d also love to know what lingering questions you readers may have about the whole process. Don’t be shy – ask away! As always, a huge part of keeping this blog going all these years is providing all kinds of information that’s helpful for everyone’s journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous! I

The Main Event

3rd Place Bikini Novice C (My Height Class)

Wowza. It’s been four days and I’m still at a loss for words that truly describe the experience. While I spent nearly 16 weeks preparing for my first bikini competition at the Brooklyn Grand Prix, the surprises I faced throughout the process and particularly on the big day made this journey all the more amazing.

I’ll start with show day. As you can imagine, I barely slept Friday night. Still, I was up and raring to go early Saturday morning equipped with my base coat of spray tan and a rolling suitcase filled with everything from a pillow and blanket to rice cakes and peanut butter. Arriving at the venue before 8 am, I met three women in the gymnasium that served as backstage. We were all first timers competing in the novice category, and three of us also signed up for the 40 and older masters’ division. As the day wore on, I didn’t look at these women as my competition. I got to know them as fellow warriors who shared the same ups, downs, cravings and jitters I experienced through the prep process. Thanks to the tanning and “glamming” process that takes place in an open space with very little privacy, Stacey, Kelley and Melissa saw more of me than some of the friends I’ve known since grammar school. By the time we lined up to take the stage for pre-judging nearly six hours after we arrived, we were practically holding each other up – both literally and figuratively.

My Amazing Squad!

Once on stage, I put on my biggest smile and truly had a blast. Nearly four months of posing practice came down to less than 20 seconds of doing my thing in front of the judges, which you can see in the video below. The extra boost was having my fiancé, James, in the audience along with my coach, Jen, and a whole row of friends whom I’ve known from various stages of my life. They cheered, they clapped and even held up signs. To my show squad: James, Jen, Elisa, Keith, Jeannine, Barry, Molly, Jim, Rita Joan, Adam, Sue and Andrew – a huge thank you. Your presence, along with all the texts, emails and messages I received that day and those leading up to it from family and friends near and far still overwhelm my heart. My eyes are actually tearing up thinking about it as I write this post. As I regain my composure, you can check out my stage swagger:

After pre-judging ended, there was nearly a three-hour break before finals. During that time, I happily enjoyed every morsel of my first hamburger in four months and some downtime with some of the squad. The day ended around 9:30pm, and when it was time to go home, I didn’t want treats. I simply wanted to take a long shower. Sweat mixed with two coats of spray tan, glaze and bikini “bite”(the glue they use to help your bikini stay in place) had my skin feeling like a potential biohazard. After the shower and one glass of bubbly – which went straight to my head – I slipped into a blissful sleep and woke up to the most amazing realization: I had nothing on my agenda for the first time in 16 weeks. The only thing I had to do was rest, enjoy a couple of cheat meals and get to Church.

My Rock!

During Mass, I had a major emotional moment as I acknowledged how blessed I was to make it through this journey. Back in May, I set my mind to attacking the prep process like the other projects and assignments I’d tackled as a journalist and producer and followed through on the directives to meet my deadline. I pushed on through the cravings for wine and chocolate; the pain of a few injuries and less-than-optimal workouts and more than a handful of days of potential mental sabotage when self-doubt threatened to get the best of me. The hardest part of it all was how I missed spending time with family and friends and skipping all the usual social outings that define my favorite season of the year. However, it was those same friends and family members who checked in on me – some every single day – to offer words of love and support.

So now for one final and heartfelt thank you. To my parents, family, friends, readers, followers and fellow “fitfam” members: while this journey was extremely personal, I couldn’t have made it without a strong community behind me. I know some of you never understood why I wanted to be in a bikini competition, but you respected my decision to turn a dream into reality.

I am beyond happy to have crossed this item off my bucket list. Will I be back on that stage again? Probably. I’ll share more about post-show life next week. For now, I leave you with the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this experience: if there’s a goal you’ve had on the back burner for too long, stop making excuses and take a first step toward making it happen. No one is guaranteed tomorrow, so go big today. Taking a chance can be a game changer in this ongoing journey to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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