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When Katherine first came to work out with me, she could barely make it down my basement stairs and then had to sit down to catch her breath. Katherine was in her early 50s and weighed over 350 pounds. One of the first things I asked Katherine was what her diet was like. She looked me straight in the eye and emphatically said “don’t f**k with my food”. “Well,” I thought, “there are definitely some issues here.” I decided that the best thing I could do for Katherine was to help her become stronger, more mobile and functional.
Katherine was a loving, giving person, and as a nurse, had put taking care of everyone else ahead of taking care of herself. She was doing administrative work at the hospital because she could no longer handle the rigors of working on the hospital floor. When she needed to fill in on the floor, the task was almost too much for her. Katherine had already had both knees replaced and was petrified of falling down because she knew she wouldn’t be able to get up if she did.
The first time I had Katherine step off and on a 3” step, she was so terrified I thought my fingers were going to turn blue from her gripping them so hard. As she became stronger physically, I saw Katherine’s confidence increase. Before long she was on and off that step like it was nothing, but the one big fear remained “if I fall down, I won’t be able to get back up”.
Weight benches are not made for a wide girth. One day Katherine went to sit down on the bench, missed and landed squarely on her butt on the floor. Katherine looked at me and I looked at her and I knew we were both thinking “now what?” The next thing I knew Katherine started giggling. We both sat on the floor and laughed until we cried. “Ok,” I said, “let’s try one of the techniques I learned in one of my personal training classes for getting up.” I showed Katherine the technique. I don’t know who was more shocked, me or Katherine, when she turned over and hopped right up. After that, she wanted to do floor exercises as part of her workout because she could! “It’s not pretty,” she would say, “but I can do it!”
When I put the risers on the step and told Katherine it was time to climb higher, I saw the fear come back. Once again she was petrified of that step. After I got the feeling back in my fingers, I told Katherine “you conquered the first step and you were just as afraid—I know you can conquer this one as well.” And she did!
One day my phone rang, it was Katherine calling me from her vacation. “Thank you,” she said with tears in her voice. “I was able to walk up a hill today without getting out of breath. I can finally enjoy my vacation.”
Katherine’s life partner, Pat, was a huge Jimmy Buffett fan. Katherine knew how much it would mean to Pat to go to a concert but Katherine was afraid she would not be able physically to attend because it was at an outdoor venue with lots of walking and bleachers to climb, but Katherine bought tickets anyway hoping she would be able to get handicapped access.
Things didn’t work out the way Katherine planned and they ended up having to park across a field and climb half way up the bleachers—and she DID IT! She was so proud of herself, but more importantly she was glad to be able to share that special event with someone so dear to her.
Shortly after that concert, Pat was diagnosed with cancer and only had a few months to live. While she was building strength, Katherine had no idea how she was going to need it. Because of being physically strong, she was able to care for Pat during her illness. Katherine continued to work out because she found out how much it helped her deal with the stress of Pat’s illness.
Losing Pat was very difficult for Katherine but she gave herself permission to feel her grief and was working through it as she continued to work out to take care of herself.
Katherine loved babies. When her cousin had a new baby she was so excited. She decided to take a vacation to enjoy her family and love on that baby. She was so proud and happy when she told me she was able to get on the floor and play with the baby and to take him for a walk in his stroller.
The last time Katherine worked out with me she wasn’t feeling very well and thought she’d caught a bug on vacation. Two days later I got a call that Katherine had suddenly passed away.
No, Katherine never got a body beautiful, but she had quality put back into her life by becoming stronger physically. She had no idea how she was going to be called on to use her strength, but when the need arose, she had what she needed to step up to the task. You may be thinking how sad it is that Katherine’s years were cut short. I think it is sadder how much life was taken from her years by the limitations of her body. Fortunately, she was able to reclaim some of that life. Katherine was a warrior—she conquered the fears that were self-limiting. I still have the Christmas card from Katherine with a simple note saying “thank you for guiding me back to myself.”