The Heart of a Warrior

Graphic created by Sammy DaGrossa
The heart is the strongest muscle in our bodies. We all know that. It is what keeps us alive. It is what drives us, what pumps blood through our veins, what keeps us alive.
I was in Vegas at the Olympia this year, something I had my heart set on for a few months. The will of a heart makes so many things possible. I wanted to see my friends from my new found family at the Super Gym compete and cheer them on – Evan Centopani, Jillian Reville and Jamie Pinder.
On the night of the Meet the Olympians, I made my way through the several athlete booths to find the familiar faces and make sure I snapped some photos. Jillian Reville was at the very end of the right wing of the concierge area where they had the booths set up all over. She was sitting quietly at a table next to Phil Heath, whose line you couldn't see the end to.
Jillian and husband Donny after prejudging at the
Dallas Europa, where Jillian earned her O qualification.
Jillian and I met eyes, and as usual, she waved and jumped to hug me. If there is any one woman I know that always seems happy or positive regardless of the circumstances, her name is Jillian Reville. Her surprised eyes, her smile, the energy and joy she felt was transferred immediately in the air. It was like a festive bubble she brought me into, where I was invited to celebrate with her one of her proudest moments: getting on the Olympia stage.
Jillian and I had exchanged our hellos and in the most nonchalant of tones, she tells me her vision on her left eye is blurry...almost completely gone. She tells me she just woke up and she couldn't see very well. She smiled the entire time while I stood there in shock, mouth wide open, looking over at her supportive husband Donny nodding in agreement.
Massive amounts of swag.
Jillian had trained her heart and soul into this Olympia prep like nothing I have ever seen from her. Despite her inability to see from one eye, she managed to get up on that Olympia stage, rock her routine like no one’s business, and place and admirable 6th place at the very first Women’s Physique Olympia. What an amazing story and honor! It is, actually, but the fact is, that’s not where the warrior in her even shows up or where the story ends.
The Olympia came and went. The jet-lag had worn out of most of us on the East Coast, and we have gone to our typical daily routines.
One Friday afternoon, October 4th, to be exact, I received a phone call from Jillian on my way to picking up my daughter from school. Her voice…there was something about her voice that I already didn’t like. She sounded …different. But still, her cheerfulness managed to break through that worrisome feeling I felt coming from her.
That’s when she disclosed to me what was actually going on with her and the reason for her almost gone vision during the Olympia weekend.
Group shot! 
Jillian had suffered a mini-stroke, something she didn’t find out about until she returned home and went to the hospital. After tests were done, it was also revealed that she has a hole in her heart. Still I hear the very positive and cheerful voice on the other end of the line while I am shaking and holding myself from bursting into tears. I did. I broke down. I am now as I write this.
The congenital condition Jillian was born with is a birth defect called called Patent Foreman Ovale (PFO). One out of five people are born with this condition, and normally, the hole closes on its own. On Jillian, it didn’t, causing her stroke. She is due to have open heart surgery in the next coming weeks to repair and close up the hole in her heart.
If you think about how strong someone’s will, determination and drive has to be in order to overcome obstacles and do something that they are passionate about, and how the mind and the heart are connected into achieving those goals, there isn’t a better example than this.
A warrior: a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness.
Heart of a Warrior: Jillian Reville.
Even in her wedding dress she strikes the famous Jillian pose

Jillian at her wedding reception this past weekend.
From right to left: Sandra and Fakhri Mubarak, and Jillian. Sitting down Kenny Wallach,
Jerry and Darin Montanari and me.
To hear Jillian's interview on Jason Adams' radio show you can go here:

The Fit Mom Controversy: My Thoughts

The controversy the fit mother of 3 who decided to post a photo of herself with her 3 very young children with the header: "What's Your Excuse?" has been quite interesting. Ouch? Or reality check?
Although her intentions were purely motivational and inspirational, I have mixed feelings about the way she chose to get her message across.

Besides the desire to want to lose weight and get in shape, there are a few factors most people don't take into account when discussing a mother's will to get fit - her socioeconomic status, and her marital status.

I could have easily put myself in that photo and said the same thing she said, except I know better. First of all, we should all be a bit more mindful and conscious of the experiences and backgrounds of others before making such harsh judgement calls. Not everyone has access to a gym nor the funds to afford monthly memberships.

I only tend to share my personal experiences when I find them useful and to get a point across. So here's a little story: My start in fitness was a rough one. I wanted to join a gym so badly but I was a young mother, with limited amount of funds (my less shameful way of saying I was broke as hell), and no vehicle to get to and from the only gym location that offered child care.
Getting on a bus would have been a nightmare considering I had 2 toddlers, would have needed a stroller to bring with me...not to mention bags, etc. I remember asking friends for rides to the gym because my determination was that strong but the means were not there for me to achieve my fitness goals. Going to the gym was a hassle most often than not.

Sure those power walks while pushing your stroller or doing pull-ups at the park on the monkey bars are an option but, is that something everyone feels comfortable doing? Interestingly enough, I see those moves coming from people whose fitness levels are higher and who feel more confident about it going out there in "public and broad daylight" to work out. They have no issues busting out a move or 2 in the park to show off.
Unfortunately, that's not the case with most women who want to get fit. In my personal opinion and experience even going onto the gym floor packed with men lifting weights can be intimidating, hence the creation of women areas or isolated rooms within a gym facility.
In most cases, it works better to have someone guide your first workouts. I also believe it's important for women, especially new moms, to get out of their "motherly or homely" environments and out into the public and the world! (post-partum depression anyone?)

In any case, it wasn't until my family was in a stable home, with our first vehicle, that I was able to make it to and from the gym. That was one obstacle moved out of the way that allowed me to, at the very least, get started in fitness.
Yet there was still tons of shifting my schedule around in order to fit in even the quickest of workouts. I had a home to upkeep, dinners to make, cleaning and laundry to do. I was also finishing my undergraduate studies, and later moved on to grad school, a job, and ...competing. I could have easily made a "motivational" poster of myself with my kids on one side, books on one hand, spatula and vacuum cleaner on the other, while in my office at the college I worked at. But I haven't. And I wouldn't. (Even though I sorta kindda just did lol). My point is, if I wanted to help or motivate other women, they don't usually find out what I do, have done, or how I lived unless I convey the message in a way  that helps them identify themselves in me or my story.

If I ever think of saying something that throws it in another person's face what I've overcome or accomplished, ESPECIALLY to another woman, with  the notion that "If I can do it, so can you", I put my foot in my mouth and take a step back and think of 2 things: 1. What else is going on with her that's preventing from getting fit (mental or physical illness, emotional distress, income, etc?) and 2. Let me shut up because I KNOW I've been afforded a privilege that some people may not have had - and that is a partner that helped me, something most single mothers don't have.

 Ms. Kang doesn't go into details about the fact that she has a spouse at home, and yes, she owns 2 businesses, but what does her daily schedule look like?
Again, speaking from experience, if you are working for yourself, you HAVE the ability to know what, I am taking an hour, or 2 or hell...3 if I want to, to go work out. Even better if your business is off the grounds and you rely on employees for things to run smoothly on a daily basis.  You probably have more freedom than most working mothers, let alone the income to support your hobby and love for fitness. Oh and let's not forget that Maria Kang also has the privilege or rather luxury of a non-working, stay at home spouse that supports her.

My partner back then worked full time yet if it wasn't for his ability to help while I was on my quest for a fitter and better body, it would have never been possible. Maria has the luxury of having someone around 24/7 with her very young children and lucky for this family, that person is their father, something most single mothers don't have.

So tell me, Maria, how many single mothers can say you've inspired with your photo?

Let's also throw in finances. Gym memberships are expensive and if you are a single mother who is financially strapped, chances are, a gym membership is the least of your concerns.
I enjoyed the privilege of being employed, but also had a double income household and this helps tremendously! Again, if you are a single mother...tell me, Maria, how would this work?

The general statement was probably well meaning but clearly poorly executed without too much thought or meaning and, mind me for saying this, even a sense of self-righteousness that no motivational purpose to any woman or mother.

There are many other ways a woman can convey her knowledge and love for fitness to other women without making them feel ashamed or horrible about it their inability to do what you, or even myself, have been capable of doing. We don't know Maria's story. I don't know Maria's story. She did tell us about her battles with weight and an eating disorder and how she was still able to get fit. We get it. I get you girl. But that's nor here or there. We all have stories. However, it is how we choose to tell those stories and what we do with them that matters in the present time. Don't let your arrogance overshadow your process or experiences. And let your story speak for itself!!!

Also, education is a big piece in our communities - educating folks on arranging finances so that it is possible to achieve their bigger goals, teaching others about what foods to eat and which to avoid, showing ways in which they can arrange their schedule, etc. Educate rather than ridicule!

There are plenty of us who are fit mothers and sport our 6 packs with pride. There are some women who have amazing transformation stories.  But they live their lives humbly while educating and helping others get fit just like they did. Maria Kang you ain't the first nor will be the last. You have an amazing thing right now, and that is the attention to the public. Use it wisely.

Link for reference: