A Life Well Lived

I leaned over and kissed his forehead.

It was ice cold, and I surprised myself with the gesture. 

I guess that’s what you do when words won’t suffice. I couldn’t tell him I loved him. I couldn’t tell him that I was sorry I didn’t see him when I was home for Christmas. And my mind felt too cluttered to pray. So I bent into the casket and kissed his forehead before tearfully walking away. 

 My Uncle "Smitty" Clair, home from Vietnam. 

My Uncle "Smitty" Clair, home from Vietnam. 

During the funeral, the priest asked what it meant to say that we had a life well lived.

My brothers and cousins carried the casket to the front of the church, draped with the American Flag. My mom’s younger brother served his country in Vietnam, where he was exposed to horrors I’ll never know. He worked in the coal mines and later in the prison before living the final six years of his life crippled by a drunk driver. He was married to my godmother for 44 years. He was the best man in my parent’s wedding. 

He had only 67 years, but it was 67 years of a life well lived. That was evident by the stream of visitors who filled the funeral home to pay their respects. It was evident in the tears - from his 11 year old grandson to his 74 year old brother; by the eulogy that both of his kids struggled to get through. 

They spoke not of what he did, but of who he was. A father who taught them what it meant to be a good person, who inspired them, and who made them laugh. 

We strive every day for a life well-lived. I believe that all of us, whether we feel lost, confused or hopeless, ultimately want to feel that when it comes to the end, we’ve made the most of the time we’ve had. Even when the trials of life wear us out and beat us down, I believe that it’s the sincerest desire in all of our hearts to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. 

For the longest time, I thought that meant checking certain boxes. I thought that a life well lived was, at least for me, a college education, a master’s degree and authoring a book. I thought that a life well lived was more about what I did than who I was. I thought that legacy was doing something big that landed you in the history books, or these days, with a Wikipedia page. 

Sometimes I still think that. 

In the end there are no checkboxes for what really matters. There’s no place to mark how much you loved - how much you made others laugh - the way you made other people feel. There is no measuring stick for touching another person’s life. 

At least I guess, there are kisses on the forehead when words will not suffice.  





My Place in this World

My first class was a disaster.

The exercises were chosen, the stations were set up, and I arrived at 5:15 that morning, groggy from my 3:30 wake-up and two hours of sleep.

 I am lucky. 

I am lucky. 

I looked around the empty gym, quiet from the night, chilly from the cold spring morning, and tried to calm the butterflies in my stomach as I prepared to coach the 20 people about to walk through the doors of what was then, Spurling Training Systems.

By the time the class was over, one person left with a bad knee, others looked bored, and still others were skeptical of "the new coach."

The class ended and I walked to the window, looking at the red sky of sunrise, wondering what the hell I'd gotten myself into. 

Before the next class, one of the other coaches pulled me into the office to give me some feedback. From Doug. Who wasn’t there.

“He watched from home,” the coach said, when I asked how Doug was giving me feedback. “There are cameras.”

I walked out to the parking lot and called Sheila.

“I don’t know what the f*** I got myself into, but I'm not staying past April."**

That was two years ago, yesterday. 

April 5th, 2016 marks the date of my arrival. It’s the date when I finally docked my boat after years and years of sailing around, trying different ports.

Remembering dates is a trait I inherited from my dad I suppose, who can tell you with ease the day he finished his four years of service in the Navy, the day he started in the steel mills, and the birthdays of hundreds of cousins and family members. (Yes there are hundreds..)

In turn, I can tell you that I got my driver’s license on October 19th, 1994, we adopted Rooney on July 11th 2008, and that Jamie Gillespie’s birthday is December 12th. (Hi Jamie!) 

But perhaps no date is as important or memorable for me as April 5th.* 

I stayed past April (clearly), but almost left for a second time that same summer. I loved the work, but the hour-drive and long days were wearing on me. It was a tough decision, and was teary eyed as I told my decision to Doug and the staff.  

What happened next, was something I could have never anticipated.

Doug made an effort to keep me. 

It was the first time in my professional life that I felt valued. Don’t get me wrong, I’d worked plenty of places where fellow co-workers and even supervisors valued me and treated me well. But few were in a position to do anything about it. 

Every few months, I send Doug a text, thanking him for my job. It probably seems like overkill, though I know he appreciates it. But so many nights, on the drive home, I think about the long nights I spent keeping stats at sporting events. I think about weekend trips to random places in Vermont spending time away from my family.

I think about the day in 2011 when I was folding t-shirts at a retail Nike store wondering how, at 34 years old, I ended up here. I think about the 70 hour weeks at a local college, making 25k a year, making no impact on the world, and wondering if I was going to die in a job like this. 

I think about the throws of anxiety and depression.

And that’s when I thank Doug.

I get emails like this. 

 She's a fellow Yinzer too...

She's a fellow Yinzer too...

I get to help people.

I get to help older clients feel more independent. I get to help younger clients (hopefully) enjoy the gym. I get to watch women and men do things they didn't believe they could do. 

I get to work with people like Jayne. 

I work with a staff of guys who are beyond their years (sadly, not in musical taste) in their passion for helping others and in their true love for clients and for each other. I work for a guy who works as hard on being a better person as he does on being a better businessman. 

I get to see the world through the eyes of positivity, struggle, and humor.  

I'm reminded as I write this post, that careers and relationships and good things are not always love at first sight. That even when you find yourself on the right path, there is still work to be done, brush to be cleared, and mountains to climb. 

April 5th will never be just a date for me. 

It will be the date that I came home. 

And how lucky am I that I get to say that.

Thank you, to all of you. Who read my site. Whom I get to work with personally. Who support me in my struggles and let me support you in yours. Together, with positive energy and love and appreciation for each other, we get to move this world forward and shine a light through the darkness. 

And we need that kind of light now, more than ever.

Thank you Doug, Josh, Chris, Trent, Melanie, Judy and Amy C.

Thank you to all of the clients I've had the good fortune to meet. To all of the clients who have become such good friends and the friends who trust me enough to be clients. For every facebook message you write or text that you send.

Thank you. 

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** I bust Doug's chops about this all of the time now - as a business person, he uses the cameras to check on traffic flow at the gym, and he was watching because it was really important that our group training classes were successful. I told him to give a girl a head's up next time though ;-)

*Except the day I met Sheila of course...:-)


Using your injury as a teachable moment

Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.
— Pema Chodron

I’ve referenced Buddhist nun Pema Chodron a number of times over the past few years, and in looking for something to write about, came upon the above quote. 

I looked down at the boot on my right foot and sighed.

 I tried to find the origin of this image and had no luck. But yes, pretty much this. 

I tried to find the origin of this image and had no luck. But yes, pretty much this. 

I mentioned a few weeks ago that my great white whale is the marathon, and I’m signed up to do one in June. The stress fracture in my right foot has sidelined my training, and because I work on my feet, it hasn't quite healed yet.

Ok, also because I continue to train...I'm not running, but I'm not exactly staying off of it. 

I read the quote again and looked back to my foot.

Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. 

Injuries are probably one of the most frustrating things that we deal with in our sports and fitness journey. I watch professional athletes pitch a fit at being pulled from the game and I both admire their competitive nature and admonish their stupidity. 

Probably because I identify with both. 

As a coach I scold people who go through a workout without disclosing an injury, yet know that I'm sometimes guilty of doing the same. I think injuries become more frustrating as you get older - you get in a good groove with your workouts and you're finally feeling good and then bam - you tweak your back. Your knee swells up. You've got a pinched nerve, a bum shoulder or a stress fracture. 

I've always trusted my body to do the things I want to do - to run, to lift, to help someone move or hike a mountain. I literally work a job now that I can't do without my physical health. 

It becomes harder to trust our bodies and do the things we want to do. So we either ignore the injuries and just plow through the workouts (yes I've done this), or we throw in the towel entirely. As a friend once told me, her aunt quit working out because her back was sore and that was 30 years ago. 

While I do believe it's really important to continue working out around an injury to keep your habits strong, I also believe there are lessons to be learned along the way.

Yes, I'm mostly talking to myself right now. 

Because I’m pretty sure my foot is trying to teach me a lesson right now. 

Or maybe it's the universe speaking. Or some cosmic energy. 

Regardless, there is a lesson to be learned here and I've had my nose in the sand, ignoring it. 

My lesson might be patience. I got the diagnosis on my foot, was given a boot, and hobbled through the next week at work making my foot worse. 

Maybe the lesson is to listen: to professional advice AND to my body. I've kind of ignored both. 

To slow down.

This might be my biggest lesson of all with this injury. 

Lately I've been going a hundred and ten miles an hour. I am (quite happily) spending almost every waking hour working on something for either Spurling or for my personal business. I've ignored social engagements, time with my other half and even time with my dog in favor of work. And my marathon training was isolating me even more. 

I think more than anything, the lesson to be learned here is to put the brakes on. Savor my first cup of coffee. Stop "nexting" in each moment. 

Maybe if I can acknowledge the lessons this experience is trying to teach me - just maybe, this injury will go away.

Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. 

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Yes, this is anxiety and depression

I shared a post this morning from a friend’s facebook page that spoke about anxiety and depression.

It was an accurate, spot on description of the catch 22 that those afflictions present in my life. 


In many of your lives as well. 

For me, I don’t think it’s the fear of failure, though I have some of that. My fear is that I will waste my life constantly wanting to do more but with no urge to be productive. 

That feeling tortures me. 

It’s wanting to get out of the bottom of a well but not having the strength to grab the rope someone is offering. The teaser is that the rope is often right in front of your face and you stare at it, trying to will yourself to reach out and grab it. 

Just reach out and take the rope, you think. It’s that simple. 

It’s that difficult. 

Then comes the self-judgement. Other people grab the rope. Other people never find themselves in the bottom of a dark and damp well. Other people seek light while I back away from it like a vampire in the desert sun. 

I’m preparing to release my first fitness product in April. I’ve filmed videos, written programming, hired a business coach and a life coach to help me see this product through to completion. I hired a designer to make it look pretty and have solicited the help of friends and clients. 

For the past two months I’ve ignored most social engagements, choosing instead to work - and for the most part that pursuit has felt good and satisfying. 

Finally, I thought. Finally I will see something through to completion. 

Then last weekend, as I began to close in on the final four week push - sending out more emails, advertising on Facebook, doing more Facebook live videos, I hit that familiar, frustrating but ever-present wall of self-doubt. 

And I’ve been paralyzed ever since. 

I don’t write this post asking for sympathy - far from it actually. 

I simply write it as my authentically honest truth right now. This is my journey. This is my world. This is my reality. 

That's ok. 

This is how we get through, you and me. 

We understand one another and hopefully, know that we are not alone no matter how lonely our struggles feel. 

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The things we carry

Note: Yes this title is a take on one of the best short stories of all time, Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." 

The day after I broke the school record for wins by a softball pitcher, I asked my teammate and good friend Aimee, who did the school tv news in the morning, if she would please not make a big deal about my achievement the next morning on the announcements.

I was proud, don’t get me wrong, but I absolutely melted in the face of attention.

She promised. 

The next morning, when her piece of the news was complete, I was relieved that she had mentioned the highlights of the game without making a big deal about the record. 

Then the camera panned to Andrew, a theatre major who was made for tv. Aimee hadn’t mentioned the record, but she gave Andrew full license to go on and on and on and on about it. He had a giant sign, maybe some streamers, and was shouting at the top of his lungs, Howard Cosell style. 

I was mortified.

 Actual photo from my 1995 yearbook, with apologies to all of my classmates who maybe didn't want their 1990's hairstyles on the interwebz. 

Actual photo from my 1995 yearbook, with apologies to all of my classmates who maybe didn't want their 1990's hairstyles on the interwebz. 

(Aimee is now a sports psychologist and director of player and team development for the New Jersey Devils, so presumably, she was doing her early work in exposure therapy). 

As my classmates trained their attention on me, I opened up my book bag and stuck my head inside.

Yes, I really did this. 

My reaction to attention, positive or negative, is visceral - my face turns crimson, I tug at my red hot ears; I can't make eye contact.

People get awkward just watching my awkwardness. 

But hey, the good news with being 41 years old is that I'm past that stuff, right?



Two months ago, my coworker Judy brought in her microphone headset for me to try out during a team training class. My voice doesn’t carry well and as our classes have gotten bigger, even my best outside voice loses the battle to the blaring music and hum of conversations. 

I knew I needed to at least try a microphone, but took one look at the headset in Judy's hands and was a teenager all over again, frantically looking for a book bag in which I could stick my head. 

Judy turned the headset on and talked into the microphone.

“See?” she said, talking into it. “No big deal.”

Right, I thought. Right. Totally. I’m an adult. No big deal. Nope, this is fine, totally fine. I’m basically on stage everyday when I coach. Yup, totally got this.

She put the headset on me and I walked over to the class of 20 people waiting for me.

It's like I'd been dropped into a Wonder Years' episode. 

I looked around for a moment before shaking my head and ripping off the microphone. 

“Sorry,” I said to everyone as I tried to pull my ear off of my head. “You’ll just have to listen closer.”

I’m 41-years old and comfortable in my skin.

But in that moment, I was 17. And the experience was completely unnerving. 

In retrospect, I'm grateful I was so completely triggered. 

Because I work in a field that is ripe for that kind of reaction. 

Middle school and high school are tough years for many of us. We're figuring ourselves out, finding what we like, who our friends are, what we're good at. And many of the people, women and men alike, who walk through our doors have had some sort of traumatic experience in a gym or fitness setting. 

I actually don't know how to swim. In high school when it was time to swim for gym class I would stay in the shallow end of the pool and tell Mrs. Pompa that a person could drown in as little as two inches of water and that it was abuse to make me wear a bathing suit.

But really I was humiliated that all of my friends were swimming laps and I was hanging out in the shallow end. 

We are hard wired to remember those feelings.

We don't forget what it felt like to be picked last for kickball, to sit on the bench during soccer or finish last in a relay race. We don't forget what it felt like to wear those horrific polyester gym uniform shorts that were only three inches long while Mrs. Pompa made us square dance (promenade!). 

Sometimes it's easy to forget what people carry when they come through our doors. Not just what they carry now, but what they carry from 30 years ago. The white hot scars that never go away. 

It's easy to look around, as coaches and fellow clients, and make assumptions about the people we see. We all carry our experiences, both old and new, and those experiences inform who we are and what we've become. 

I guess that's why my go-to saying and sign off is to be strong and be kind. 

Be kind. Be gentle. You never know what someone else carries.

I promise to do the same. 

Did you know I have a newsletter? It's true. I do. I send out weekly emails with tips and tricks in fitness and nutrition. Did you also know that I'm releasing my first fitness product in April? And that I'll be giving away a free copy to someone on my newsletter list? No, you didn't know that? Well, now you do. Sign up here.  No, I won't share you email. That's just not cool.