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Become Who You Are: My Fitness Journey in 6 Stages and 4 Lessons

“Become who you are.”  I once saw this anonymous quote pinned above the calendar at a friend’s house, and just as any solid saying does, it caused me to think for days and I am now returning to it in the context of my fitness journey.

Robin Sharma, my favourite author, used to write a lot about how as children we know who we are and we know how to live.  We don’t let our fears stop us, and we instead run towards them in a spirit of adventure.  We don’t care about the judgements of others, and we simply do what makes us happy.

Somewhere along the way though, most children forget how to live like this.  We start looking outside, to society, for valuations on who we are.  Instead of embracing fears, we hide from them.  As we become adolescents judgements of others push us towards jobs we feel we should have, or drive us to seek the body we think will be seen as ideal.

I too have struggled with fear and with judgement and I want to share my fitness journey with you backwards, in 6-steps and 4 lessons, as I seek to become who I am.  I am still certainly a work-in-progress; I am not the finished product, but I have learned to be totally content with who I am right now while still having an unquenchable hunger for progress.

It seems like an impossible combination – being completely and utterly accepting of who you are, while still wanting to be and achieve more, but I believe it is not, and it is really all encompassed in this call: “Become who you are.”

Life is a journey of becoming who we are – of becoming our best self – and to do this we must find a way to combine that childlike lack of fear with the skills and perspectives we have acquired as adults.  We need to learn to accept ourselves as we are in this present moment, all while running head-first towards our fears and our dreams.

Thank you for sharing in my journey towards becoming who Brittney really is (as an athlete), backwards in Six stages.

Stage 6. The Season of Gainz (Present)

Bulk Season With appearance and body image, I have only learned to accept myself as the unfinished product that I am in the last three months of my life.  I used to always struggle with looking in the mirror and wishing that I saw a leaner Brittney staring back at me, but I joined the Barbell Shrugged Muscle Gain Challenge in June and since then, I have put on ten pounds (something past Brittney could have never imagined trying to do) and along the way I have learned to be able to look at every picture ever of myself, and be proud of who I was.  Right now, my stomach might stick out over my spandex shorts, but guess what?  I’m not finished yet, and that’s okay.  Also, I can squat over 300 lbs, deadlift over 335 lbs and bench over 175 lbs, and my snatch and clean and jerk are on the rise, so who cares what I look like, right?

When I joined the challenge I signed up to improve my Olympic lifts, but I also figured I could probably afford to put on 3-4 lbs of muscle and remain within my competitive weight classes for powerlifting and Olympic lifting, and all the other people in the group (mostly men) signed up to gain weight, so I said to myself “When in Rome…” and I ate the pizza (okay, I mostly still eat whole foods, but I have been eating 3000 calories a day consistently, so there is more room for pizza for sure.)

I don't know what you think, but I don't think I look too bad 10 lbs heavier. :)
I don’t know what you think, but I don’t think I look too bad 10 lbs heavier.  However, if I was obsessing over being lean, I would have never learned that.  🙂  I struggled with the idea but I was told “Booty and quads are the new abs” so I embraced the gainz and I am starting to agree.  I ran towards my fear of gaining weight, and I discovered more of who I could be as a result.

Stage 5. Lean Mean Gymnastics (And Powerlifting?) Machine

Before hopping on the gainz train I was pretty lean (the main photo on this blog is from two weeks into my Muscle Gain Challenge – that is my normal set-point, about 132 lbs), and the next photo is from a few weeks before I competed in powerlifting nationals about six months ago.  I was a muscle-up master (okay, maybe not quite…) and super competitive in my weight classes, even giving bigger women a run for their money in strength sports.

I can look back at pictures of when I was super lean and see the person who worked so hard to get there, but also know that I am a better version of me now than I was then.  This was one step along my journey of becoming who I am.

Hitting CrossFit Open workout 15.5 a few weeks before powerlifting nationals (March 26, 2015). Photo Credit: Amanda Ubell, Dare to Dream Photography
I had abs once.  I will probably have abs again.  I look at this picture and kind of wonder how the 65 lb thrusters in CrossFit Open workout 15.5 did not break my tiny limbs, but I am proud of who I was then, because I worked so hard to be there.  I weighed about 126 lbs in this photo and I got abs not because I worked for abs; I got abs because I needed to fit into a 57 kg powerlifting weight class.  Powerlifting and CrossFit have played enormous roles in helping me find myself.  Photo Credit: Amanda Ubell, Dare to Dream Photography

Stage 4: CrossFit Newb

I will say nothing about this time of my life except that this was when I began to learn the beauty of focussing on what your body can do, rather than what it looked like.  I trained alone in my basement most of the time, and my friend Lindsey emailed me workouts and YouTube videos to learn.  Here are some photos of me doing newb CrossFit things. 🙂

IMG_6466IMG_6467That newb handstand and deadlift though! :’D  I was so cute.  I tried so hard.

One thing I will share though, is about the beauty of a max deadlift.  There is nothing like going for a max deadlift, because for many of us, this is the lift in which we can move the most weight.  I think I attempted that 240 lb deadlift pictured above three times, with Lindsey finally saying the third time, “I am going to take a picture, so you have to get it!”  This video is me deadlifting 337 lbs probably close to exactly two years later, and guess, what?  The fear and the doubt of a max deadlift never changes!  “Will I even be able to make it budge?” we wonder if we can even break the floor.  This deadlift in the video was for a provincial record, and you can bet I had no doubt in my mind I would move that weight. 😉  I am getting better; I am becoming who I am.

Stage 3. Bikini Brittney

I was once driven only by appearance and not performance, but this lasted for about two months of my life.  In five weeks and with the help of my friends chicken breast and vegetables, I leaned out to compete in a bikini competition.  I trained with only leg days, boot camp style workouts, and cardio.

This was me the day of the bikini competition. I didn't get any of the professional photos of me on stage, and I deleted the pictures of me in my phone because when I found CrossFit I became ashamed of this appearance-driven time of my life. Looking back, I know I could have kept them and appreciated who I was at that time, while knowing I am now so much closer to who I want to be.
This was me the day of the bikini competition. I didn’t get any of the professional photos of me on stage, and I deleted the pictures of me in my phone because when I found CrossFit I became ashamed of this appearance-driven time of my life. Looking back, I know I could have kept them and appreciated who I was then, while knowing I am now so much closer to who I want to be.

I got third in that bikini competition, and was devastated.  I chalked the loss up to my lack of boobs, and thank God Lindsey Barber introduced me to CrossFit shortly after and taught me that there was still a non-surgical way I could have a front rack.  It was a few years later when I also learned that “traps are the new tits” anyway. 🙂

Stage 2. University Gainz, the Wrong Kind…

I didn’t drink and party, but I did love going for nachos.  I was happy and confident in who I was, but I hadn’t yet discovered CrossFit, powerlifting, weightlifting, or strongwoman – any of the things that have helped me discover my potential through performance.  I played hockey and I was a decent player, but it was only in strength sports that I found a way to harness my anxiety into something positive – when nerves hit be before a game my performance would suffer.  When I get anxious at or before a meet or CrossFit competition, I just get more awesome!  I definitely wasn’t a finished product.

I wasn't always lean, and this is something I share with clients when they come to me wanting to lose weight - though not in picture form. This was a Brittney in University who liked nachos, worked out like a normal person at the gym, and played rec hockey. I was healthy and happy, but at about 148 lbs and a height of 5'1
I wasn’t always lean, and this is something I share with clients when they come to me wanting to lose weight – though not usually in picture form. This was a Brittney in University who liked nachos, worked out like a normal person at the gym, and played rec hockey. I was healthy and happy, but at about 148 lbs and a height of 5’1″ this was not the best version of me.
Trash talking the opposition.  Jk, I am too nice for that.  This is me in the white and blue and my friend Nicole.
Trash talking the opposition. Jk, I am too nice for that. This is me in the white and blue and my friend Nicole.  I was good at hockey, but never great.  It was a sport I played along the way until I discovered the sports in which I could excel.

Stage 1: Tomboy Brittney

Brace yourself for what is coming is a grade five version of Brittney.  I share this picture, because I can remember being this young and being totally happy about who I was – I looked like a boy, and I didn’t care!  If you asked me then, “Hey Brittney, aren’t you afraid of looking like a boy?”  I would have laughed at you.  I have been asked in the past few years, “Aren’t you afraid of looking like a man?”  My answer is the same.

Don't get too big meme

I was the most joyful tomboy and I believed I could do anything the boys could.  I remember when the teachers would ask, “Are there any strong boys who can help us carry some heavy things?” jumping up fueled with a fiery resentment no child should probably have, and doing my best to lift the things better than the boys.

I also had an early predisposition to fitness.  I badgered my parents for a Bowflex for years until they consented to buying me 1, 2, and 3 lb dumbells at the age of twelve.  I remember even thinking then “What the heck am I supposed to do with these things?!”  (If only then I had known about external rotations – I could have maybe prevented the shoulder struggles I have had lately).  I wanted to lift real weight.

My point?  Become who you are.  You know who you are when you are a child, and you somehow become distracted along the way.

“The child is father of the man.” – Wordsworth

Grade 5 Tomboy Brittney, sitting up straight AF because she was pissed she had to sit at the end of the row because she was the shortest.
Grade 5 Tomboy Brittney, sitting up straight AF because she was pissed she had to sit at the end of the row as the shortest. “I’ma sit up taller than all of you.” Even this Brittney was hungry for gainz and to beat all the boys at whatever they could do, and guess what?  She wasn’t afraid of looking like a male.

Back to the Present

I have learned to combine my childlike dispositions and lack of fear with the new things I am learning as an adult and a maturing athlete.  I am learning these four things during my muscle gain challenge:

  1. “Auto-regulation” – that as a lifter I will have good days and bad days and there are ways I can learn to pay attention to my body’s signals to make every day a successful training day, even if I have to drop the weights down from the prescription and hammer technique, or if I have to literally drop the weight and take a nap instead.
  2. I still like to look like a girl while lifting more than many grown men.  I like to do my hair and makeup some days, and to not do it some days, and I accept myself in both cases.  You might see me training in my garage by myself with makeup on because I like it.  And guess what?  If women follow a muscle gain challenge followed mostly by men, it can turn them into a curvier lady. 🙂  You can lift all the weights and look like a lady.
  3. You can accept yourself as an athlete just as you are while still striving to become better.  I am not satisfied with where my lifts are at, but I am happy about my progress so far.  I have improved a lot, but I will lift with the best in the country for weightlifting this year, as well as powerlifting.  I will continue to make tiny progress every day until my lifts don’t look so far off from theirs, and until my numbers are similar.
  4. You can accept your body as it is, while working to change it.  I love my current fluffy body.  I have only felt “too big” a handful of times, and all it takes is walking past that mirror and seeing some glute-activation as I stroll, and I am again happy about my gainz.  But I am not finished yet.  I will maintain this weight then I will get back into my weight classes and I will be just as lean as before, but with bigger muscles.  I will be a quadzilla with the buldging abs of Annie Thorisdottir. 🙂

In fitness and in life I am not finished, but I have learned to love myself at every aspect of my journey, and I want to leave you with a quote my gal pal Lindsey shared on Instagram today, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” – Coco Chanel.  As a child, we don’t know anything other than being ourselves – as a tomboy I was 100% confident in who I was – but somewhere along the way we let society get to us and we question who we are and what is ideal.  We strive to become that ideal – for me this was a bikini competition.  You can live your life striving to become someone else’s ideal, or you can instead spend your time discovering your true self and using your days to become who you are.  As you see your progress and your changes over time, there will be no way you can do anything but love yourself in every single picture and in the bulk of your moments.

My friend Lindsey Barber, lifting weights like she is ripping the head off of a lion. You will see her and myself post pictures of ourselves like this all the time. We don't always look cute and perfect (in fact, we probably never do when we are actually lifting heavy things), and we are more than okay with that. This is who we are. It is about what we can do. And nothing makes us feel more beautiful than discovering our limits. Follow her on instagram @_lindseybarber
My friend Lindsey Barber, lifting weights like she is ripping the head off of a lion. You will see her and myself post pictures like this all the time. We don’t always look cute and perfect (in fact, we probably never do when we are actually lifting heavy things), and we are more than okay with that. This is who we are. It is about what we can do. And nothing makes us feel more beautiful than discovering our limits and becoming who we are (and lifting weights like we are ripping heads off of lions). Follow her on instagram @_lindseybarber.  Follow me @idealisticisabel.

Main photo: Me, setting up for a bench press.  I always take a second to breathe and focus my energy into crushing a lift before I set up.  Powerlifting is one way I discover myself and return to the child who wants to be able to do more than all the boys. Thanks to Warne Noyce of Warne Photography for capturing this.  http://www.warnephotography.com

I couldn’t write this post without thanking some people who have helped me along in my journey.  I am not the finished product, and this might sound like an acceptance speech by someone who has achieved something major, and I know my major achievements are still yet to come, but I think it is so important to acknowledge the people who help you along the way – whether it is through coaching me or encouraging me or being a role-model of a strong woman with a focus on performance – these people have helped me.  I will just list names: Lindsey Barber, Marc Morris, Amy Smith, Jason Cain, Chad Benko, David Spurr, Colin Woods, Alex Maclin, Ryan Stinn, Rhaea Stinn, Taunia Stevens, Tracey Halladay, Rachel Siemens, Whitney Darchuk-Parenteau, Alex Parker, Alyssa Uzelman, all of the CrossFit Lair members, all of my fellow Muscle Gainerz, all of my friends esp Melissa Madson and Ariane Lewis, Renee Iron and Raylene Kennedy, my mom and dad (Stan and Georgina Bergen) and all of my sisters (Marcy Bergen, Sandy Singer, Jacqie Walz, and Shanley Bergen).

Now I spend my days working with these two beauties - my sisters Jacqie and Shanley - as well as running my own online business. I can now appreciate athletes in both body building and the strength sports world for their hard work and progress, and I accept myself for who I am while pushing myself to become better in the future. Now if you will excuse me, it is time to DEAT (Drop Everything and Train). These quadz aren't going to grow themselves! Photo Credit: Warne Noyce www.warnephotography.com
Now I spend my days working with these two beauties – my sisters Jacqie and Shanley (so grateful I get to share something so important with my sisters) – as well as running my own online business. I can now appreciate athletes in both body building and the strength sports world for their hard work and progress, and I accept myself for who I am while pushing myself to become better in the future.  
Photo Credit: Warne Noyce http://www.warnephotography.com

Check out:

Warne Noyce Photography – http://www.warnephotography.com

Barbell Shrugged – for programs and podcasts to help you become more awesome, also, check out their merch page for a DEAT t-shirt like I am wearing – http://www.daily.barbellshrugged.com

These Fists Fly – especially their “work” shirts http://www.thesefistsfly.com

Inner Strength Products for all of your gear needs, and the fastest shipping http://www.innerstrengthproducts.ca

Polyhealth – for nutrition or powerlifting coaching from people like Marc Morris and Amy Smith http://www.polyhealth.ca

Rachel’s website for blogs that inspire me to be stronger and for weightlifting things – http://www.siemensweightlifting.com

My coaching programs: https://idealisticisabel.com/are-you-ready-to-unearth-and-invent-your-true-capacity/

5 thoughts on “Become Who You Are: My Fitness Journey in 6 Stages and 4 Lessons

  1. Great article Brittney! This is something that has taken me 49 years to learn. Learning to truly love who we are (quirks and all) is probably the greatest lesson any of us can learn!

    Liked by 1 person

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