My Fitness Journey: Jenn Tontini
Great story today! Please take the time to read about Jenn’s amazing journey!
Jenn Tontini in her own words…
I grew up Northeast Ohio in a family where fitness and athletics were part of the norm. My mom exercised every night (and still does,) and my two younger brothers and I were active in community and school athletics. We were always outside playing and riding bikes everywhere we went. I played softball and ran track and cross country during middle school and through freshman year of high school. I never had a positive body image, though. I was one of the tallest girls in my class and had developed early, which led to a lot of bullying. I was a curvy size 5 from age 11 on, and still always felt ‘fat’, particularly when I compared my body with the stick-thin, curve-free girls all around me. I always felt like an awkward giant. My mom always tried to create and reinforce a positive body image for me, but I couldn’t hear her through all of the negative talk in my own mind.
As if a cliché, I got away from the healthy habits with which I was raised and put on weight during college. It crept on a pound at a time, and I just kept buying bigger clothes. I didn’t feel any more ‘fat’ than I ever had, didn’t own a scale, and coupled with the negative body image I already had, I was in denial of the weight gain. By the time I was 22, I had managed to pack on 70 pounds from my graduation weight of 128 pounds. I saw a picture of myself when I was onstage singing with my band, and was disgusted with how I’d let myself go. The next day, I started on the Atkins diet and joined a local gym. Within 3 months, I’d lost the 70 pounds, and then started adding a little muscle mass. I ended up at 135 pounds and looked and felt great. For the majority of my twenties, I maintained a lifestyle where I ate lean protein and veggies, ate very limited carbs, and exercised 4-5 days a week. Even though I felt strong, I was still battling the constant negative talk inside my head about how ‘fat’ I was. I still wouldn’t cut myself a break.
When I got pregnant with my son near my 30th birthday, 8 years of consistent diet and exercise went right out the window. I had deprived myself of any cravings as part of my lifestyle for so long that I used my pregnancy as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted. Over the next 9 months, I put on 80 pounds, and only 9 pounds of that was baby. I spent the next 9 months dieting and exercising like crazy, lost all that I’d gained, and then got pregnant with my daughter and put 80 pounds on all over again. With a newborn and a 19 month old running around the house, plus working full time from home, I knew I was overweight, but I wasn’t as concerned with how I looked as I had been in the past. I started going to the gym a few times a week as a break from the kids. It took me 3 years to lose 75 pounds, but I did it more healthfully than I had in the past, by eating a more balanced diet in lesser portions in addition to exercise. I would give in to small portions of my cravings instead of forbidding myself any foods, and I never felt starved or deprived.
A busy family life, a work life full of travel, a move to a new home for our family and some health issues helped me to yo-yo back up to 175 pounds by June 2015. I knew I was overweight. Over a bottle of wine during a business dinner, Jen, a client I was growing to be very good friends with, suggested that we should set a common goal of running the Disney Princess ½ Marathon race in February 2016. We toasted to our proposed success, and I started on my journey to get and stay fit.
I started using the My Fitness Pal app on my phone to track my caloric intake and exercise, and I became more aware of what fuel I was providing my body. My friend Kristie introduced me to 5:45 AM Cardio Strength and Conditioning classes at the YMCA, which got me running for the first time since my freshman year of high school. The early-morning cycling class became one of my favorite ways to start a day, and it inspired me to start riding a bike again in addition to the running regimen I had begun. I bought a road bike and started doing group rides with Black Bear Bike in Brooksville. I also started regularly attending Body Combat, Body Pump, and Strength & Toning classes, which I still absolutely love and attend whenever I can. My sister-in-law, Sheena, is a certified personal trainer, and invited me to join her team in the Savage Race mud run in October 2015 ‘just for fun’. Completing my first race helped me to prove to myself how far I had come since July and gave me the extra push I needed to up my training to the next level.
When it came time for the Princess ½ Marathon in February 2016, I was beyond prepared. I amazed myself with my ability to actually complete the race, let alone run the entire course. Jen and I started together and finished together. I am forever grateful to her for pushing me to be my best self.
Being a very goal-oriented person, it was an awakening for me: I realized that if I didn’t set goals like preparing for a race to give me a reason to maintain my health on a constant basis, that I’d be fighting the scale my entire life. I needed a purpose beyond “being thin” or “being healthy” to motivate me to work hard and stay fit. With that in mind, the day of the Princess ½ marathon, I signed up for the Disney Star Wars Dark Side Challenge 10K/ ½ Marathon races which I ran in April 2016.
I set my next goal to join the cycling group raising money for MS research, and I rode the Bike MS Citrus Tour 125 in May 2016. On the ride, I started chatting with some triathletes in the group. One woman in particular, Janet, an accomplished triathlete, was a fount of knowledge and an incredible inspiration to me. By the end of the 125 mile ride weekend, she had helped me to decide to set my next goal to compete in my first triathlon in June 2016.
I never had swam beyond a doggie paddle and floating on my back. I could ‘not drown’, but was far from being able to actually ‘swim’, and had a fear of the water. And yet, I had signed up for a race which required swimming. In addition, the swim was in the Gulf of Mexico. I have a great aversion to open water, particularly where there are jellyfish, sharks, and other critters. A triathlete I know, Andy, took me under his wing and coached me at the YMCA pool, and I spent many hours cycling and running to be able to hone my strengths and make up for my abhorrent swimming technique. I competed in my first sprint triathlon at the Crystal River Series #2 in June 2016, and placed 4th in the Female Novice division and in my age group.
Realizing that my fear of water was near-debilitating, and would prevent me from ever being competitive in triathlons, I started swimming more, and drove to Clearwater from Spring Hill to attend free open water swim clinics sponsored by Kennedy Law Racing. I still dislike the swim, but I’ve grown more confident in my ability to get through the water, and barely think about the marine life around me in the Gulf. (Okay, I think about it a little…) I completed another sprint triathlon in July 2016, with a MUCH improved swim time, and have plans for an Olympic distance race in 2017.
Even my family took notice of the ‘new me’ I was working so hard to create. My son and daughter both get excited for my races and beg to see my ‘race prizes’ when I come home. My daughter is very interested in fitness now, too. I’ve signed up to compete in the 5K, 10K, and ½ marathon distances at the 2017 Disney Princess ½ Marathon weekend, and she’s going to be running the 5K race right along with me.
My husband, Chris, consistently compliments my efforts and supports my training by taking over childcare to ensure I can squeeze training in to our schedules. Even with my own internal struggles with my body image, he’s always made it a point to tell me that he thinks I’m beautiful no matter what size I am. The biggest accomplishment for me is not needing to hear the positives from someone else to feel good, though; I finally feel good about myself. It’s become about me achieving goals and being healthy. A scale or a clothing size isn’t my litmus for success anymore, and changing my perspective has led me to be proud and confident and who I am beyond my physical appearance.
Pushing myself along my fitness journey has provided me with the opportunity to overcome obstacles which I never thought I’d face, and I’ve enjoyed battling each and every one of them. The greatest benefit I’ve found is the friendships that have been created and the opportunity I’ve had to meet new people at all levels of fitness. Setting goals for fitness made me remember why I’d gotten fit in the first place; I love feeling strong and pushing myself, and moving out of my comfort zone to be a better version of myself. Becoming more physically fit helped me to focus mentally, too. For the first time in my life, I finally feel great inside and out, and have a positive body image. I am so proud of where my journey has taken me, and can’t wait to see where my next goal will lead.
Thank you Jenn for sharing your amazing journey! It just shows how we need people in the right places and times to help motivate us to be our best selves!
Just Keep Going!