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Paula Wischoff Yerama  

I AM ALFA because I refuse to give up. I believe that everyone has alfa qualities and that everyone is unstoppable – sometimes they just need the right opportunity to shine.

Photography: ALI SOHRAB

I grew up on a farm in Northern Alberta with my father, mom, and younger sister. We lived simply. A wood stove and a fireplace heated our four-room house. Household water was accessed from the cistern outside through a pump in the kitchen. We didn’t have indoor plumbing and bath time involved setting a galvanized tub up in the kitchen, filling it with water, and heating the water with an electric heater. Most of our food came from our livestock – meat, eggs, milk; we even made our own butter and ice cream – and our garden. My mom cooked, baked, and canned everything with the wood stove. She did laundry with a ringer washer and hung everything to dry on a clothesline, even in the winter. My sister and I were the first ones on the school bus and the last ones off. There were no more than 100 students in our elementary school. There were many tailgate dinners and coffee visits with neighbours and birthday parties with friends. I didn’t appreciate the simplicity or the immense amount of work that way of living was until I was much older.

The summer between grades 5 and 6 we moved to Olds, Alberta. I came to learn that what was normal to me wasn’t normal to others and that some of the things I had experienced were wrong – very very wrong. I didn’t know how to make sense of what had happened to me. I tried to find ways to fit in – to be normal. I tried to escape the growing pain and shame and worthlessness and hopeless I felt. During junior and senior high I moved around a fair bit – in and out of group and foster homes until I finally got my own place in Sundre, Alberta. I went to school and I worked. I made bad decision after bad decision that resulted in bad situation after bad situation. It was attending my first year of college that I got married. Not even a year later I was separated, and in the process of getting a divorce.

The summer after I graduated with a business administration diploma. I ran a student painting company in Red Deer, Alberta, and moved to Lethbridge, Alberta to continue my education. Shortly before I moved to Lethbridge I learned I was pregnant. I moved to Lethbridge anyway – alone, broke, and without a plan. By the end of the first semester of university and the second trimester of my pregnancy I knew I couldn’t continue. I made more bad decisions that resulted in more bad situations. On March of 1997 my beautiful daughter with corn silk hair and ocean blue eyes was born. She was perfect. I found a way out the bad situation I had gotten myself into with the help of my mom and we started a new life. I worked and went to school and did my best to ensure she had everything a little girl could want or need. We didn’t have much but we had enough. In 2004, when my daughter was 7, we met the man who would become her dad. In 2007 we became a family.

I still worked and went to school and did my best to ensure she had everything a young girl could want or need. I started a business and then another and did my best to ensure she had everything a young lady could want or need. Everything I did was for her. Every decision I made was for her. I lost myself along the way and I was still trying to escape the growing pain and shame and worthlessness and hopeless I felt.

I played sports and participated in athletic pursuits periodically during school but was never much of an athlete – I was usually the last person picked for teams and I wasn’t naturally talented. Throughout my 20s and 30s, as a single mom working full time and going to school full time I didn’t make time for me.

When I finally found fitness at 40 I was at my breaking point. I couldn’t handle one more day feeling the way I felt about myself. I couldn’t continue pretending everything was ok when it wasn’t, or that I was ok when I wasn’t. One class, one race, one hike, one fitness adventure, and then one workout, one competition at a time, I started to notice changes – physical and mental changes. I started to make friends. I started to want to live again. I started to dream again. Not every day was perfect but there were definitely more good moments than bad moments. Not every day is perfect but there are more good days than bad days.

Because of fitness I finally started taking care of myself. Because of fitness I finally sought the help I needed to deal with a lifetime of abuse and abusive relationships. Because of fitness I finally started trusting again and believing that I was worthy of good things.

I accepted a Personal Trainer position at my local gym the day after I won the I AM ALFA Unstoppable Cover Model Contest. It was not something I had thought seriously about until my coach encouraged me to apply. Without any formal education or training I didn’t think I would have anything of value to offer. I was assured that what I had to offer could not be taught and that what I lacked in formal education or training I could learn. I am excited to support my future client to be unstoppable!

I AM ALFA because I refuse to give up. Despite all of the bad decisions I have made, the bad situations I have found myself in, and the obstacles and challenges and circumstances that have tested me I have always found a way over, under, or through. Each and every decision, situation, obstacle, challenge, and circumstance has provided me with a lesson I have been able to use to support, encourage, inspire, or motivate others. I am alfa because I refuse to let others give up. I believe that everyone has alfa qualities and that everyone is unstoppable – sometimes they just need the right opportunity to shine. I AM ALFA because I AM UNSTOPPABLE.

This writing by Nikita Gill is a beautiful reminder that we are all unstoppable.

“On the days when you feel ashamed of your scars, your mind only registering how ugly they are rather than the beauty they prove of you having survived, remember that there is an entire art form dedicated to filling the cracks of broken things with lacquered gold. An entire art form that proves that even the broken and damaged history of an object is beautiful and should be treasured. Remember how much more you are than an object. Remember your survival, your journey, your scars deserve to be treasured too.”

What are the most rewarding things that Fitness has brought you? Fitness has brought me the physical, emotional, and mental strength to cope with the day to day stressors of life and to adapt to adversity and uncertainty. It has brought me the courage to trust and to try. It has brought me the confidence to live. Fitness has given me my life back.

Fitness has also brought me the opportunity to travel, try new things, and make new friends. Hiking the West Coast Trail; competing in the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships at Blue Mountain Resort in Ontario; participating in the Sinister 7 Ultra in Crowsnest Pass, Grizzly Ultra Marathon in Canmore, Spartan and Mud Hero and X-Warrior races throughout Alberta and British Columbia; and competing in two WNBF bodybuilding competitions in Calgary are experiences I will treasure forever.

When was the most ALFA moment in your life, and why? One of my most alfa moments was competing in my first World Natural Bodybuilding Federation figure competition in May 2018. Leading up to that day, despite a long list of personal and professional accomplishments and achievements, I lacked any semblance of self-esteem or self-confidence; I believed my entire life that the sexual, physical, emotional, and mental abuse I experienced was entirely my fault and that I deserved it; even when surrounded by people who loved me, I still felt completely alone; I cried in the shower, the car, behind closed office doors, in public washrooms, and at the gym because I felt useless, worthless, incapable, and undeserving; I had no shortage of kindness, compassion, and strength for others but not for myself; I was the first to celebrate the achievements of others but the last to recognize or accept my own.

Standing on that stage in my sparkly green figure suit, high heels, and dazzling jewelry with my body tanned, my hair styled, and my face made up I felt different than I had ever felt before. I knew going into that competition that I wouldn’t be the most muscular, conditioned, or poised athlete on the stage and I knew that I wouldn’t win or place but I had made it to stage. I had accomplished something that I had been told I couldn’t and wouldn’t and shouldn’t do. In that moment I felt powerful. I felt a sense of belonging I had never felt before. I felt proud. On that day I started to love myself, and forgive myself, and be kind to myself. I committed to making myself a priority and to never stop working toward being a better version of me every day.

In the days, weeks, and months following that day the messages of support and encouragement I received were overwhelming. To have people tell me that I was an inspiration to them was confusing at first. I didn’t understand how that was possible. I understand now that it was my vulnerability and authenticity leading up to, during, and after that moment on stage – and all the moments in between – that made me alfa.

How Has Covid-19 impacted your daily life? While much of my work pre-COVID was done from home I did travel across Canada a fair bit for meetings, consultations, strategic planning sessions, and conferences. Not being able to meet face to face and in person with colleagues has been a challenge – not an insurmountable challenge, but a challenge none the less.

After several years of working from home…and alone…having my husband and daughter transition to work and school from home was a huge adjustment for all of us.

Going from being in the gym at least twice / day to not at all, it was hard to imagine how I would be able to keep up with my training program. Fortunately, I was able to adapt my training plan for what I had available and my husband and I even built a squat rack for the basement together!

If you had to choose any positive thing about isolation, what would it be? What would be your message to the world? My message to the world would be this:

Before you speak, THINK…Is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? More than anything I think the pandemic forced me out of my comfort zone to maintain my commitment to and focus on the things that were most important to me. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to maintain my training plan without access to gym but thanks to the help of a few friends and my husband I was able to put together a make-shift gym. I spent time reading and watching videos to adapt my workouts for what I had access to. It strengthened my passion for bodybuilding and it reinforced just how much self-control and discipline I had.

It also forced me to get creative with my training. I had next to no equipment at home. I was able to borrow a couple of things from friends and my husband and I built a squat rack together with a leg press attachment. Thanks to YouTube I was able to modify my training plans with the limited equipment I had. I think I became even more focused and diligent with my training and nutrition because of isolation – my goal was still to step on stage in September and I refused to let the gyms being closed curtail my progress.

I put extra effort into helping people – something I felt I had let slide because I was always too busy. I helped a friend out by volunteering to deliver flowers for her business, I made and delivered food to friends, I checked in on people regularly to offer my support, and I developed some initiatives for work to help keep people current and connected.

I am grateful for the time – the time for evening walks, and baking, and gardening, and calling friends, and doing puzzles, and cleaning out filing cabinets, and dreaming.

Please share up to 5 things people don’t know about you.

I am left-handed. When I was in Grade 5 I broke my left arm and was in a cast that made grasping a pen impossible. During the time I was in the cast I was writing a report about Trumpeter Swans for one of my classes. Wanting the report to be “perfect” I rewrote it over and over and over again with my right hand until the writing was almost as good as it would have been with my left hand.

In my very early teens, I had the opportunity to participate in an Outward Bound adventure that included rock / cave climbing, backpacking, whitewater canoeing, and jumping off a trestle into the Similkameen River. We slept on the riverbank under our canoes at night and one day while we were hiking I came face to face with a rattlesnake.

From the time I was 16 my dream was to work in the area of Dolphin Assisted Therapy. That specific dream did not become reality but I have had the privilege of supporting individuals to live inclusively in their communities, providing career development services to individuals of all ages and backgrounds, and soon I will be starting a certification program to become a personal trainer.

In August of 2019 I applied to be a Reserve Force member with the Canadian Armed Forces. I successfully passed the Canadian Forces Aptitude Test, fitness test, interview, and medical. My application was in the background and reference check stage of the recruiting process when the lockdown started in mid-March 2020. I remain optimistic that my application will be successful and that one day I will be able to call myself a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Nothing melts my heart faster than being called “Mama” and “Mermaid Gramma”.

Please name few ALFA people you know.

Everyone I know has Alfa qualities that I admire.

Jan Bauer, Barbara Bouwman, Leanne Cameron, Jenna Koller , Michelle Thiessen, and the list goes on.

What would be the ultimate tip you could share with everyone about LIFE?

Be kind – share compliments and smiles freely.

Give what you can, when you can, how you can.

Be curious – never stop learning.

Take action toward something you care deeply about.

Be unstoppable!

Your top favourite quote.

“You have a choice! You can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat off your face!” ~ Anonymous

Where people can find you?

Instagram: @paulawyerama

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