I'd like to introduce you all to a very special, amazing and inspirational woman who is part of the Biggest Winners (BWs) group. Jana Archer came a close second to being crowned the biggest winner of our last session. She lost an incredible 44lbs and 36 inches in only 12 weeks. Jana recently joined us in BWs after doing some personal training through BDHQ. Every time I see Jana in the gym I am so proud of how far she has come. She is always smiling, even through the squats and pushups, she has this way of always having a smile on her face and keeping all of us going. So when I asked her if she was willing to share her story with me for this blog I was delighted that she was willing to be so open and honest. It's not an easy thing, especially early on in your journey, to be so honest with yourself and others about why you got to this place. But don't let me tell you, let Jana tell you and i'm sure you'll agree that she is amazing.
Why did you start?
To be completely honest, I started because I had a friend at work (wonderful Sherry McKay), who wouldn't leave me alone! My sister, Heather, also played a huge part in it even being possible. That all being said, I also think I was ready to start taking control of my life and my health.
In summer 2010, Heather heard me napping at home one day (as I did almost constantly) and said to me, “I think you have sleep apnea.” She had recently been diagnosed with it and with her new CPAP machine she was feeling better than she had in years. I knew I hadn't been sleeping well and was struggling through each day to stay awake and function through work and other activities. Somehow I was managing, but I was exhausted all of the time. I often had to pull the car over on the way home, just to close my eyes for a few minutes and muster the energy to keep driving. Sometimes I’d sit in the car after I got home and not even have the energy to get out of the car and walk up the stairs into the house.
It took a bit of time, with my sister calling doctors to make appointments for me (I was too afraid), for me to get in and get tested. I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea; the night I got tested I stopped breathing over 450 times. I was told it was a wonder I hadn't died in my sleep. This moment was the beginning of my transition. I got my CPAP machine and suddenly, I had energy once again. The day after my first night sleeping with it I was hyperactive the entire day because I had actually slept well for likely the first time in 6-7 years. This was in August.
Going back a bit (as these pieces overlap): In spring 2010, I was at work and a woman in the hallway said hi to me. I had no idea who she was but we conversed for a bit; I left the conversation very confused as to who I had talked to. When I saw this person again, I still didn't recognize her but near the end of the conversation she said something that triggered a memory. I realized it was Sherry, but still was rather puzzled because I didn't recognize her at all. I went to a friend of hers and asked if something had changed; that when I was told how much weight she had lost. I was stunned and realized this is why I didn’t recognize her. Of course, I had very much wanted to lose weight for some time so I went and talked to Sherry about it. I asked what she did and how she did it; she very openly shared her story. She asked if I wanted information about her gym, and after I said yes she forwarded it to me. I looked at it... terrified...and thought - there is NO way I could ever do this. I told her about dealing with my sleep issues and how I'd consider it AFTER that was dealt with. On the inside, all I could think was that there was no way I was going to open myself up to the humiliation I thought I would feel when I stepped into a gym.
But... Sherry persisted. She kept checking in on me, asking me if I wanted to go in with her one day or set up a personal training session. I avoided her for a few months and at the same time, went to the doctor and got my CPAP. Once I realized I had lost my excuse to not go to the gym, I transitioned to avoiding Sherry at work. I would duck into bathrooms or try not to make eye contact whenever I saw her. I thought she got the hint, but then one day I received an email from her trainer, Lovisa. Lovisa suggested we go for a walk and talk about the trying some personal training. As much as I wanted to, I decided I couldn't be mad at Sherry for this. And as much as I wanted to say no to Lovisa, I said yes... noting that "walking and talking and I didn't get along at all". Lovisa said we'd just chat on the grass outside of the building where I work. Of course, this wasn’t the case - we walked all around the Royal Jubilee Hospital site where I work. I could barely breathe half of the time or move due to pain in my lower back. One thing I noticed was that Lovisa never once pointed out my struggles. She just stopped every once and awhile, letting me catch my breath, stretch my back... She didn't ostracize me, she just chatted with me like I was 'normal'. I got less scared. At the end of the walk (longer than I had walked in a few years), she asked me if I wanted to come into the gym on Saturday. I was still terrified, but now also intrigued, hopeful, and... unable to say no. So I went. On the Saturday, I trained with Michele Shorter. I can’t remember much about what I actually did that first session, but I know I could barely lift the three pound weights and do the step-ups. I worked out and she pushed me to work, but supported me the entire time. She helped me get up off the floor when I couldn’t. I cried at one point when we talked about what brought me to this point. At the end of the session I was emotionally and physically exhausted, but that hope that started after I talked to Sherry and that grew after my walk with Lovisa was now stronger. I realized this gym was different and that maybe I’d actually succeed… so I made the commitment to keep coming back.
How long have you struggled with weight?
I've struggled with my weight for a very long time; at some point in my life I developed a habit of eating to make myself feel better or deal with stress and anxieties. I remember being overweight in high school, but not significantly. I was maybe 20-30 pounds more than I 'should' have been, except in grade 12 when I dropped to my lowest weight of 143 pounds. Things got significantly worse about nine years ago. I gained a lot of weight after I moved out of my parent's house and into an apartment with my new husband. Although I was exercising quite a bit (cycling and swimming), poor eating habits, insane hormones from the birth control pill, and then a knee injury, started the spiral to where I ended up a year ago.
What inspired you to start BWs?
It was actually more practicality than inspiration that led me to the BW program. First, while personal training was awesome, it was more than I could afford for the long term. I considered lessening the number of personal training sessions I was doing (from three back to two) but this contradicted another fact – I wanted to work out more. I had grown to love working out, but two to three times per week wasn’t cutting it. The BW program was less than half the cost of my monthly personal training sessions and I would get to work out a minimum of four times per week. I was scared about going from a safe, one on one atmosphere to a group, but it was the best and most logical answer.
What keeps you coming back?
Bri, you asked me to make this post quite awhile ago. Since that time I've struggled with actually putting all of my thoughts on paper and even when I finally did, I couldn't send it. I thought maybe it was just because it wasn't good enough yet, or that I was procrastinating (or just forgetting to send it as is often the norm for me). This morning I had one of those light bulb moments that made me realize this was completely off the mark. I've been afraid. I've been so terrified of putting myself out there, opening myself up to people who may not be up to date on where I'm at and who I am. It's hard, to think about people who knew me at “my best” now knowing that where I was and where I am. But you know, along with this realization this morning, a new feeling hit me: I do still care about what people think of me, but I care a whole lot less than I did before. I am so incredibly proud of myself right now and while I may have been thin back then, that wasn’t an indication of my overall health. Now, I'm taking on something that has controlled my life for too long and I'm moving toward real health in the process.
There's my physical health: I now actually love running, boxing, lifting weights, circuit classes, and so much more. I could even dance for three hours at one of my closest friend’s wedding without breaking much of a sweat! I can get into cars without worrying about the length of the seatbelt and I can go to restaurants and not worry about fitting into a booth. These are just a few of the small milestones I have experienced, but there are so many more!
Even more importantly, however, it's my mental/emotional health: I used to be terrified of going out of the house, because the looks and comments I would receive from people on the street tore me up inside. Now, if I get a look or a comment, I react completely differently. I realize that yes, I'm currently bigger than many people but that's only temporary, and hey... if only they could have seen me awhile ago! I feel sorry for these people who feel the need to tear someone else down possibly because of their own insecurities. Then I get this feeling of pride - that I am doing so much and doing so well. I'm moving forward in my life and its SUPER exciting. I have a great family, wonderful and caring friends, an awesome support system, a great job, and so many possibilities on the horizon. Nothing is going to stop me - and although I may have rough patches as I work to change my patterns that got me to where I was a year ago - I know I can take them on because I am and will conquer one of the biggest struggles in my life. That makes me strong. That makes me confident - and I don't want to be afraid anymore. That makes me excited - because there is so much to be excited about. This, and all the other little accomplishments that I'm experiencing daily, makes me keep coming back.
What is the hardest part?
As much as I said the mental/emotional health piece is getting better, this is also one of the hardest parts. I can make it through muscle or joint pain after a good workout, but sometimes it is so hard to shut off the voices in my head that say that I should stop, that there’s no point, that I’ll never get to my goal, that I’m not smart enough, good enough, or worth enough, or that I simply can’t do it. It’s a constant battle and it’s draining. But amidst that, I’m making choices to help myself.
I’m spending time with family and friends – those who encourage me and lift me up, while I can be there for them as well. I'm finding healthy ways to handle my anxieties and make positive decisions in my life. I’m taking time for myself doing such things as going to the beach with a latte on a cool fall evening. I making an effort to raise my head up as I walk and look at nature, and getting out with my camera and taking pictures again (my passion for photography was blocked until now due to my inability to move well). I’m trying to remember that “I can” rather than “I cant”. This doesn’t mean that it’s easy and that I won’t struggle, but I am making progress.
Total weight loss to date?
84 pounds! I lost 44 pounds in my first session of BW and 40 pounds before that since I started personal training at BDHQ.
If you could go back in time and talk to yourself before this process what would you say?
You CAN do it and it will be one of the best things you’ve ever done. Trust me.
Jana said "I was ready to start taking control of my life and my health" well you have absolutely done that, look at what you've accomplished in such a short period of time. I cannot be more proud of you for what you have done in so little time and I know everyone else in your life is as well. You have blossomed from someone who is hiding beneath the weight to and stronger, more vibrant woman. I am so happy to be a part of this journey with you Jana and I know you will succeed and keep going, even if there are bumps along the way, always remember where you came from and how far you've come and continue to be proud of yourself for that. LOOK AT YOU NOW!!!