What it’s like to go to the gym with a bigger body

“Why don’t we start with the elliptical.”

It was 2012 and my first session with a personal trainer.

“Okay, sure,” I thought. “A warm-up would be great…”

Then he continued:

“…because the weights will be too heavy for you.”

“Wait what?” I wondered: “Too” difficult† Why would you say that?”

He kept talking: “We have to get that belly off after all!”

I looked down mortified. My belly. Like the rest of me, it was big.

However, it was not the reason why I signed up for a training.

My fingernails pricked my palms.

Maybe, I thought, if I explain things to him, he will understand my background and my goals. My desire to please, however, kept me from talking.

Instead, I got on the elliptical.

“See you next session,” he squeaked when the workout was over.

“Of course,” I said.

But there would never be another session – at least not with him.

Kelly Fucheck has been coaching CrossFit for over five years, showing how anyone can move their bodies and be powerful, no matter their size. Connect with her One size strong

Several months after that personal training session, I walked into a CrossFit box.

When I saw the barbells — and the people using them — I lit up.

I knew right away that this was the type of strength training for me.

When the instructor told us to set up and showed the class how to deadlift, I loaded my barbell and looked expectantly at that 125lb of iron.

Then the trainer walked up to me and removed one board and then the other.

Confused, I asked, “Is something wrong?”

“I’m not sure you’re strong enough for that yet,” he said.

The heat shot up to my face.

I was more than strong enough. Possibly stronger than the smaller people in the class.

He didn’t know, because he hadn’t asked.

When he saw my body, he had assumed there was no history, nor personal records.

He looked at me and he saw a beginner, both in his class and in fitness in general. Again, I said nothing. At that point in my life I had no confidence.

I just wanted to fit in. I did as I was told.

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A lot of people are very wrong about bigger people like me.

They tend to associate a large body with weakness.

They also mistakenly believe that we have never tried to change our shape or size, which is rarely the case.

Not long ago, I sat down on an exam table for a wellness checkup.

Before asking about my history, the new doctor said, “How do you feel about trying to lose weight? If you lose 10 percent of your body weight, you can…”

My stomach turned with anger, shame and disbelief.

In the thin paper dress I felt exposed. I stared at him, blinked faster and tried to process how I was going to tell him I had already lost 50 pounds. That was already more than 10 percent of my body weight.

Again, this health professional had not asked about my history or my current habits. He just accepted.

My background may surprise you.

At 8 years old, as people say, I was a big girl, but that’s not what my father saw when he looked at me.

He saw my potential, my strength and my beauty.

Papa had big brown eyes that welcomed people, a roaring laugh that could put a smile on the grumpiest person’s face, and an infectious can-do attitude.

As he often said, “There’s no reason you couldn’t do it. Can’t never can.”

Several times a week he invited me to join him at the fire station where he worked. In the TV room was a weight bench, a set of dumbbells, and a Smith machine. As the smell of spaghetti, chili, and cornbread wafted in from the nearby kitchen, Dad turned on the music and asked, “Are you ready?”

In each of those sessions, he encouraged me to do things that I initially thought were not possible.

At least not for a girl.

Certainly not a big girl like me.

Each session left me feeling strong, capable and proud.

Inexplicably, I didn’t like it.

My parents are divorced. Dad has moved. I grew up to be a confident teen and young adult who smoked.

When I was in my twenties, the scale read 284 pounds and my doctor described me as “morbidly obese.”

I swore I would never weigh myself again.

Then, when I was in my thirties, I had a stroke and I swore I would get well.

My wellness journey started with a two minute treadmill run.

It involved daily battles with self-doubt and depression.

There were slow, uncomfortable improvements with the diet and treadmill — and eventually a love affair with the barbell.

By the time I met that trainer in 2012, I had lost 30 pounds and was running half marathons. When I met the second trainer in the CrossFit box, I had lost 50 pounds — and could deadlift 125 easily.

And now?

I can deadlift 250 and power clean over 130.

I am also a certified health coach and CrossFit instructor.

I’m not a weakling. Not physically – and not mentally.

Kelly Fucheck presses 125 pounds overhead during a barbell clinic.

Kelly Fucheck presses 125 pounds overhead during a barbell clinic.

Losing weight and keeping it off is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

And it’s right there with walking to the gym.

No matter how strong I get, people constantly underestimate me – just based on my looks.

Some people may wonder: What will keep me coming back?

I go to the gym partly because I don’t want to have another stroke. I don’t want to leave my children motherless. I also don’t want to weigh 280 pounds again.

On my toughest days, though, it’s my dad who gets me through the doors.

In 2014, he was rushed to hospital with pancreatitis. Three weeks later, at the age of 57, he died.

I still mourn his loss. Every weight session helps to keep a part of him with me.

“I’m going to do this and I don’t care what anyone else says,” I tell myself when self-doubt tries to hold me back.

“Can’t never can. Can’t never can. Can not. Never. Could be. I walk through this door.”

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time – I’d be louder, plead, educate.

Instead of swallowing my words and doing as I was told, I would explain to those health professionals that there is more to me than my size.

“Hey, I’ve hitchhiked before,” I imagine saying, “I’d love to show you what I can do.”

I would advise the doctor to take a complete history before going straight for advice.

I also wouldn’t mind telling dozens of people, “I know you’re staring at me.”

And that those “good for you, honey” comments can really sting.

But mostly I want everyone with a body like mine to know this:

Keep your goal in your pocket.

If you are scared, intimidated or unworthy – and you will be-to remind Why you do this. Keep it close to you and know that you can do anything.

Your why keeps you going. And I’ll be right there with you.

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