Hi there! My name is Natalie and I am a recent graduate from the University of Oregon. (Go Ducks!)
Like many students coming into college, I never really thought about working out until I got there. I actually didn’t find any desire to go to the gym until my junior year of college.
In high school, I’d always got my exercise and a sense of fulfillment from riding horses. This is where my fitness journey really started. Starting at age 12, I would spend hours at the barn riding, cleaning out stalls, and spending time with friends.
High School Athlete
In high school, I continued to ride, but this time as a competitive athlete. As a rider, I never put much emphasis into working out outside of the barn. To be a better rider, it was more of a necessity to spend time in the saddle than doing exercises in a gym.
My passion for riding is what drove me through my years of high school and even early college. I was competing nearly every month. I made friends there who shared my passion.
I literally lived and breathed horses. My goals were all about horse riding: to be a better rider and to compete at the highest level I could. These were my focus for nearly a decade. So when one day, I woke up and realized I no longer had the fire to pursue these goals, I didn’t know what to do.
My Favorite 21st Birthday Present? Fitness.
After I stopped riding consistently, I felt lost and incredibly bored. I no longer had an outlet to relieve all the build up I stressed I had from school. I tried going to group exercise class with my sorority sister. I always had a blast hanging out with sisters, but I would never go on my own, because I didn’t really enjoy those types of workouts.
So after months of on again and off again workouts, I gave myself the best present for my 21st birthday, and it ended up changing my life for the better. I bought myself a three-month training package at my school’s gym with one of the student trainers.
This is when my fitness journey really begun to take off. For three months I met with my trainer 3 days a week were we worked chest one day, back another and lastly legs. I enjoyed weight training so much that I came into the gym three more times on my own and did the same exercises I did with my trainer on our training days.
I loved working out with this trainer so much that three months turned into nine. I learned to squat and deadlift, and I even got over my fear of benching. He helped me find a new passion in fitness that filled the whole of horses used to be.
Lifting gave me an outlet to burn off steam from crazy days of tests, classes and projects, but I missed competing and working toward a bigger goal. And thats when I found out about body building competitions and the bikini division.
Bikini Competition: The Good and the Bad
Competing was such an interesting and amazing experience. Competing was the familiarity of being judged, but with a new sense of excitement. I got my hair and makeup done and then, cupped with fear, stepped on stage in a bikini and heels.
Throughout my prep, I was never sure that the dieting and tough workouts were going to be worth it. Still, I pushed myself to the limit during the weeks leading up to my show– at the gym, in school, and in my relationships. I was determined to do my best to keep my life outside of prep intact. No ghosting here: I was going to balance it all.
I felt amazing and glamorous on stage, but I was also not myself. I had fought hard to lean out my body in the weeks prior, and it left me feeling light and weak. I stepped on the scale every morning and placed my food on the scale before every meal: these things made me feel like I was on point and entirely in control during my prep. But like many competitors, post-show I fell into a slight depression. Suddenly, I wasn’t happy about how I looked, which I have never had a problem in the past.
I was upset that I wasn’t seeing the lean physique anymore that I had seen for weeks during prep, and I was lost without a clear direction. My goals no longer kept my need to diet a priority. I was eating more and thus gaining the weight back.
But instead of dwelling on how I looked and letting the loss of control take over, I decided to shift my focus to my strength. And I think this is what saved me from developing worsening body image issues.
Finding My Own Strength
Looking back, I now realize that this stage– focusing on my strength– has been the absolute highlight of my journey so far!
Now, I workout with a group of people of all ages and sizes. Together, we work towards being stronger and we all support each other. It is amazing how much I have been able to push myself in the last month with their support, and how much I stronger and happier I feel. I love looking back on my bikini show photos, sure– but today, standing here a little curvier and a whole lot stronger, is where I am happiest.
My fitness journey has brought me out of my shell and transformed me from the quiet, horse-obsessive girl I was to a more outgoing, strong, and confident woman.
I know that I have accomplished many goals so far, but I’m not done yet: I have a lot more ahead of me.