I have never finished a Life Time 60-Day Challenge, and I have a few wristbands in my apartment to remind me that I fell short on previous attempts. But this Challenge was going to be different because Crohn’s disease was no longer disrupting my life, unlike the last 18 years. In addition, the memory of my mother, whom I lost in March 2017 to cancer, was now inspiring me to be my best, and I knew that I was not doing this alone.
Although I have lived with Crohn’s disease for 18 years, the lowest point of my life with Crohn’s came just a year and a half ago. In March 2016, I was informed that I would likely die if I did not receive surgery but was too malnourished at 106 lb to recover from the procedure. My only chance of survival was to take back control of my life from the disease—hoping that it wasn’t too late. Knowing that medical treatment alone could not make me strong enough for surgery, I assembled a team of healthcare professionals, including a new gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic, a dietician, an acupuncturist and a chiropractor, as well as Lifetime Highland Park trainer Paul Tuura and Yogi Jan Johnson. We worked together over the next seven months until I was finally well enough for surgery in October 2016. While recovery was long and complicated, I knew that I had an opportunity to live a better life than ever before.
However, as my health improved, my mother’s health rapidly declined. Her battle with metastatic breast cancer was ending—there was no surgery or treatment that could cure her. She was at the brink of death, yet she remained positive, driven and mentally strong, as the disease devastated her body at an ever accelerating pace. I left Minnesota, so that we could spend her remaining weeks together as a family, grateful that I was healthy enough to travel and spend time with her in the hospital, which would have been impossible a few months prior with the state of my health.
My mom’s death derailed me. Without realizing it, grief took over my life, halting development into the person I wanted to become (the person my mom and family knew I was already). I returned to Pennsylvania to help my dad get settled into a life without my mother. Grief-stricken and focused on family matters, I stopped taking care of myself. I was overworking, overeating, exercising inconsistently and without direction. I gained over twenty pounds and slept poorly, became irritable and withdrawn—unsure if I was helping anyone. I had lost sight of what mattered.
I returned to Minnesota in late July out of shape and out of mind. I needed to reverse the downward spiral I was on, but knew I couldn’t do it alone. I started working with my team again, and, in consultation with Paul Tuura and my support network, decided to use the 60-Day Challenge as an opportunity to get back on track to becoming the best version of myself.
Aware that I’d failed to complete fitness challenges in the past, Paul designed a simple plan for me in two 30-day periods. The first 30 days were aimed at preventing burnout. We trained together twice a week. I completed a lower body and upper body workout by myself, as well as five weekly Coach Dan AMA zone workouts with a daily step goal. I recorded my nutrition to maintain a caloric deficit five days a week and restored glycogen twice a week. The second thirty days were more intensive to prevent plateauing. We increased the daily step goal, intensified the workouts, and dropped to one glycogen restoration evening while retaining the caloric deficit six days a week. Weekly acupuncture and chiropractic appointments helped prevent injury along with stretching and yin yoga every night.
My success depended on following the plan one day at a time. Each day was a clean slate so prior success or failure didn’t disrupt my goal. Every night I reflected on the day, which was very important in helping me become more understanding and compassionate toward myself. I began reaching out to old friends and family during long cardio sessions and made new friends in the gym. I approached school with a more positive attitude. I felt better. I found myself becoming the person I wanted to be.
The last 60 days taught me that I can do anything if I make a plan, follow it a day at time and do it in collaboration with others. No day was perfect, but I believe I was my best every day. I will take that lesson with me for the rest of my life and apply it to everything I do. I am thankful for my father, sister and brother-in-law for always being there; my friends who center me; Dr. Kane and Dr. Lightner at Mayo; Denise Lewis and Caron Chiropractic; Megan Harrington at Target Center; Chris at Highland; the Coach Dan Team; Yogi Jan Johnson; and, of course, my metabolic specialist and trainer for life Paul Tuura. Finally, I would like to thank my mother—a fiercely determined individual who gave her all to every challenge she took on, who was always there for me, no matter what, and still is, no matter what.