I AM ALFA because I have worked hard to achieve my fitness goals. I believe more than ever, whatever one sets their intentions and mind toward is achievable.
Photography by: Ali Sohrab
Venue: Olympians Gym
I have an early memory of when I became body conscious. I was about six years old and someone made a comment to the effect, “She’ll probably always have to struggle with a few extra pounds.” This dug in, and became the impetus to prove this to be wrong, and an awareness that made me measure my value based on my weight. I was a chunky kid and very self-conscious about it. As I was so young, I did not have the mechanisms or know-how to change it at that time. I remember being introduced to calorie restricted diets as early as the age of ten. My parents signed me up for soccer in an effort to combat the extra pounds. To no avail, as I was put in goal likely due to the fact that I was not gazelle like in swiftness or speed. I remember my clothing choices were always to hide these extra pounds as much as I could.
A memory that sent me further down the rabbit hole of being defined by my weight was the dreaded (by me, and perhaps many others) ParticipACTION campaign. The government launched this in schools in an effort to promote healthy living and physical fitness. Kids were put through a series of activities from the timed flexed arm hang, sit-ups, to 300 yard run and high jumping. Your measurement was really based on your DNA. Where you were on the spectrum of natural athleticism really determined how well you would do. Awards were given out based on the results in four to six events against the national standard. A mere participation award for those who did not qualify for bronze, silver, gold or the award of excellence. These were not activities we trained for or practiced for, which is how the measurement should have been done. It should have been based on how well someone improved. This program was discontinued as they finally ascertained it discouraged those it was intended to motivate. It also facilitated self-debasement and destructive eating and exercise practices particularly in young girls. School athletics were built around team sports. I felt I needed to participate in one of these activities in order to be deemed athletic. My interest in these sports was non-existent. I participated more in individual sports. I swam, downhill skied, and ballet danced. Because I did not particularly enjoy volleyball or basketball, I remember a comment from my PE teacher that athletics seemed not to be my thing. Something I never forgot which made me determined to make it my “thing”.
A Motivated Change
Once high school hit, I was up and down in weight depending on where we lived and activity level with friends. I reached a high point in weight gain for obvious reasons when I had a part time job at McDonald’s. The following year was my grad year and something clicked. I engaged in more health and fitness learning by becoming a lifeguard, swimming instructor and believe it or not, a fitness instructor! Knowing I had a grad dress to feel good in by the end of the year motivated me to swim every morning with a friend and start going to the gym. I also took up cycling and was the youngest competitor at eighteen to compete in our local triathlon. I was very proud that I had met this level of athletic success, as it was a big accomplishment for me being that I felt so unaccomplished in this area.
This new-found love of fitness drove me to study Physical Education at college with the intent of becoming a PE teacher to help those youngsters with fitness that the school system leaves behind as I had felt. I then switched gears and sought out world travel which was an invaluable education in itself.
I taught English in a very small town in Japan, and travelled around other parts of Asia. This was pre-internet, pre-bilingual TV, so English was hard to come by where I lived. What a bonus! This was the best way for me to immerse myself in the Japanese culture and study the language. I lived there for a total of two years and I am proud that I was strong and fearless to move to a foreign country with no knowledge of the language and thrived in its environment. Certainly, a thinking on your feet, sink or swim mental toughness required to make that work. A wonderful experience and time in my life.
I was able to parlay my knowledge of Japanese into a job working for an airline as a flight attendant, which fits beautifully into my love of travel and experiencing different cultures and people.
I had maintained a love of fitness but always had the, “Will have the battle of a few pounds.” in my head as a constant reminder to keep towing the line of healthy eating and exercise to maintain my happiness.
I had a dream, a dream of looking fit and muscular. Why could I never get there? I had various trainers, embarked on different fitness programs, tried different diets etc. I believed that what I needed was only consistent cardio to keep those extra pounds at bay and did not realize I was going about it all wrong for what I was dreaming to achieve. I tested the waters with a new trainer at a gym who blissfully opened up my eyes to building muscle for longevity and a toned physique. I saw many before and after photos of her clients in fitness competitions and couldn't believe the transformations! She assured me that it was possible for me also if this was something I wanted to do. The challenge was on! I began the weight training and kept my cardio to a minimum which seemed so counterintuitive to what I had otherwise thought was the road to becoming fit. I started to see change, and that was all I needed. I embarked on a full training program with a meal plan and competed in my first bikini competition eleven months later. I was so proud of myself, having made it that far and I was proud that I looked like I belonged on that stage even at the age of forty-nine.
The Journey Afterwards
Through weight training with wonderful coaches and trainers, I have learned it’s about longevity and strength. It’s not about training for a competition, it’s about training for life. Having muscle is not about aesthetic goals or wanting to compete. It’s for increasing metabolism, strengthening bones, joints and ligaments, controlling blood sugar, decreasing cancer risk, improving mental health, increasing life span and anti-aging. While looking fit is an added bonus there are clearly so many important reasons why strength training is so important. I am learning more about intuitive eating to go along with strength training, finally bringing me to a place where I no longer feel defined by my weight and knowing it is not a measurement of my success. In sum, Fitness has taught me that my goals are achievable with mental fortitude and by simply making the decision that it’s a non-negotiable.
I AM ALFA because I have worked hard to achieve my fitness goals. I am continuously learning and improving along the way. I am empowered by the challenge of becoming my best physical self and in so doing, the mental growth that has come along with it. It has been nothing short of life changing. I believe more than ever, whatever one sets their intentions and mind toward is achievable.
When was the most ALFA moment in your life? Please explain why? The moment I committed to doing my first bikini fitness competition, and seeing it through to the end. I had only dreamed that this was something I could do.
How Has Covid-19 impacted your daily life and what did you learn from it? Thankfully, Covid-19 has not affected my life terribly as it has for some. What it has taught me is that there are workarounds for lack of access to gyms etc. and that we need to persevere.
Please share up to 5 things people don’t know about you.
I grew up in the outdoors hunting, fishing and camping.
I enjoy organizing and optimizing.
I lived in Japan and was an English teacher there.
I am obsessed with podcasts and audio books.
I take pleasure in classical music, particularly the violin of which, I plan to participate in learning to play at some point.
Please name up to 5 ALFA people you know.
My sister Wendi Shirriff
My friend Erin Nunweiler
My friend Shannon Marion
My friend Regan Deleeuw
My friend Maxine Ritchot
What would be the ultimate tips you could share with everyone about LIFE in general? First, Never say never - I believe in life, it does not serve us well to be black and white on all issues. Life is grey sometimes and until you have walked in someone's shoes, be open to other opinions.
Don’t burn your bridges - Be kind to everyone, you never know when someone could turn out to be your colleague, confidant or your boss!
Say Yes - You never know when something may turn out to be fun or you may have an opportunity to meet someone special.
Be discerning with your time and who you let in your life - Don’t fill your time with people who do not give back and feed you. Your time is your most valuable asset, it should only be shared with people that value you and treat you with respect.
Your top favourite quote.
Whatever you are, be a good one.
Where people can find both of you?