How FFC member Ian LaBelle overcame a devastating sports injury, found a new passion and life purpose raising funds and awareness for an amazing cause.

I was a pretty average kid growing up in New England. I had a supportive family, was decently athletic through my early childhood and high school, had a large group of friends from home, and was extremely involved at my college. This may seem like an ideal way to grow up, but for me, those years felt like I was just going through the motions of what was expected of me. As my college career came to, I realized that person was not who I was. So I did something I never thought I would have the courage to do – I decided to come out to my family and friends. I knew that by doing so, everything from that moment on would capture who I really was as a person, friend, brother, son and an athlete.

As if this decision wasn’t life changing enough, I moved to Chicago just a short 2 months after graduation. I had no job and no friends. Only a signed lease for a one-bedroom apartment that I had never seen a picture of, (some may say this was very brave). I reflect back and try to imagine what on earth my parents were thinking, letting me sign a lease without seeing a single picture! They must have seen a lot more in me than I ever did – something I will forever be grateful for. That spontaneous, slightly stupid (and do I dare say brave) moment has led me to this very appreciative spot I find myself in. I have a partner who I can’t imagine a moment without, a group of friends and family that have always supported me and my crazy passions, and a massive goal to raise $25,000 dollars for the 2019 AIDS/LifeCycle bike ride this June.

Becoming an Olympic Hopeful

My partner, Chris, introduced me to FFC about 6 years ago when we first met. Soon after, I became a member and fell back in love with being physically active, setting goals, and accomplishing them. FFC allowed me to explore new outlets that I previously did not have access to. Chris always encouraged me to push myself to achieve more than I ever though I was capable of. Pipe dreams soon became realities, and two years later, I found myself toeing the line of the Boston Marathon, only a few feet behind the elite leaders, competing for the Fleet Feet Men’s Elite team.

Training at FFC East Lakeview had allowed me to discover a potential in distance running that I never knew I had. As a first-time runner, I trained for my first marathon at this location. Not really knowing what I was doing, I completed the majority of my runs through the disturbingly cold Chicago winter months on the treadmill. Living in the building the gym was located in allowed me easy access to the facility I soon became close with some of the trainers as they offered me their experience and advice as how to best optimize my training. My goal was to somehow obtain a Boston Marathon qualifying time. That spring, I ran my first race in Louisville, KY and qualified for the Boston Marathon on my first attempt.

There were tears in all of our eyes as I crossed the finish line – an overwhelming emotional response for all, comprehending what I had just done. I instantly knew that I had a talent for distance running and qualifying for Boston soon became not enough. My sights were immediately set on something much larger: the Olympics. My new goal was to run an Olympic qualifying time at the Boston Marathon. A year and a half later, I ran my best race (and time) in Indianapolis, IN. I finished the marathon in 2 hours and 28 minutes. I felt there was nothing that could knock me down after that because I felt so strong after I finished. I knew I would achieve that standard.

Dealing with Devastation

About two months after Indianapolis, I found myself at doctor #3 trying to get to the bottom of my sports injury and figure out why my ankle and calves would lock up every single time I would try to run. I would spend the next year and a half trying to get back to where I was. Every time I thought I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, I’d stumble back twice as far. I was upset, furious and depressed. I felt my identity was stolen from me.

Then one day I just stopped running. I stopped caring. I turned around and realized that the only reason I was able to still stand when I felt so defeated and torn down was because Chris, my friends and my family were still standing behind me. Even when I put them last.

In hindsight, this goal had a large price tag on it, and I almost paid that price – not only with a sports injury. Running at a high level is a very individually-focused endeavor. The running community is one of the most welcoming, friendly and passionate groups I have ever been a part of. I loved my running family. Their support was amazing, but I was only concerned about my goal and getting myself over that finish line. I was willing to sacrifice everything for that one gratifying moment. What I’ve come realize now was that my obsession to achieve an Olympic qualifying time was coming at the cost of some of those I hold so close to me now.

Related: how ultra-marathon runner Nisha recovered from her mentally and physically taxing events and found a community at FFC.

Rerouting and Recovery

The began to invest the enrichment I found in competing elsewhere: in people, friends, family. My active lifestyle became focused around doing things I wanted to do. My focus wasn’t on consuming 100+ mile weeks, monitoring my food intake to make sure I was always running at my prime weight. I realized that my previous obsession was not healthy, mentally or physically.

Chris encouraged me to get a road bike and explore a different type of endurance outlet since my sports injury were still not allowing me to run much. I still yearned the feeling of just being out on the road for hours, that feeling of an endurance high. Dave Zimmer, the owner of the Fleet Feet Spots locations in the Chicagoland area, encouraged me to come into their Deerfield location to get fitted for a bike. I will always be forever grateful to Dave, Fleet Feet Sports and my teammates on the Men’s Elite team for how they supported me through my running successes, through injury, and with my decision to pull out for running competitively.

I began riding daily, whenever it was nice outside. 50, 60, 70, 90+ mile rides, whatever I felt like doing that day. I loved where my bike was able to take me. But knowing how I got to this happy place, I knew that something was still missing. I could ride my bike for hours and hours and hours; I loved it. I wanted to find an outlet that I could channel this passion for a positive change. That is when I discovered the AIDS/LifeCycle ride in California.

Channeling Energy into a Cause

The AIDS/LifeCycle ride is a 545-mile bike ride that begins in San Francisco and ends in Los Angeles 6 days later. This ride raises funds for the life-saving services offered by San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

This was it. This was what the past few years was leading me to. This was what my talent for endurance sport was preparing me for. I had spent the last few years selfishly competing not caring who was caught in the hairs of obsessing a number. Here was a chance for me to give back to something so much bigger than myself – a chance to give back to my community.

Now, I am obsessing over a different type of number. I’m setting out to raise $25,000 for the 2019 AIDS/LifeCycle Ride in June. I am riding as a supporter of those who are living, those who have passed, and those who do not yet know their AIDS or HIV status. Most importantly I am riding for those that I personally know who have been diagnosed with HIV.

As a young, confident, gay man who doesn’t care anymore about who does or does not see me for who I truly am, I recognize that there are a lot of individuals that have sacrificed to pave the way for me.

Better, harder, faster, stronger is how I plan on taking this goal down, but this time I am not doing it alone. I am relying on a lot of friends, family, the LGBTQ+ community, my old Fleet Feet teammates, my new CÜR (Chicago Urban Riders) teammates, and FFC, to help me reach this goal. Fundraising is only half the battle, training for a 545-mile ride over six days is the other side of the coin I can’t forget about.

If I have learned anything though this experience it’s that sometimes you think you know where you are supposed to be, what you are meant to do, and who you are. Then you realize that everything you just went though was to prepare you for what’s coming next. Everything will be alright in the end, and if things don’t seem right, then it’s not the end for you.

If you are inspired by my story and want to help me reach my goal of $25,000 for the AIDS/LifeCycle Ride please visit my personal donation page:

Post written by and photos courtesy of FFC member Ian LaBelle.

My story began in 2011, and in a way that is slightly different than you’d initially expect or assume when the topic of a gym or exercise gets brought into the conversation. At the time I joined FFC, I thought I became a member because my ‘crush’ was also a member. This was the perfect excuse to spend more time together (yikes, *cringing hard*) However, what I quickly realized was that the underlying reason I joined FFC was far deeper than a 4-month crush that my naive 21-year-old self wanted to admit.

For the first month, I was slave to the elliptical machine, the bicycle, the treadmill — really, anything that I could monitor the amount of calories burned on a second-to-second basis. There was an unspoken (but consistently abided by) rule that I couldn’t leave the gym unless – at the very minimum – an hour of exercise was completed. Looking back, I’m pretty certain my younger and gym-obsessed self didn’t actually enjoy it. That being said, I would never miss a day of the gym; it was an obligation I began to resent and yet couldn’t do without. It was a dependency I had built.

Uncovering the Cause & Exercise Addiction

Let’s backtrack for a moment here to get a fuller picture of what was really going on at the time. At 15 years old, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. To shorten a rather long story, I was placed in treatment, was discharged after a month at a ‘restored weight’, and yet I wasn’t recovered. I was nowhere near recovered. Anorexia itself isn’t solely about the food, or one’s body weight: rather, these things were “tools” I was using at the time to avoid what I was actually feeling and experiencing. So, somewhat ‘inevitably’, I relapsed during my freshman year of college.

By the time I joined FFC, I had also decided to recover on my own this time, free of treatment. I was overcoming the ‘food issues’ that had been at the foundation of my life for the past 5 years, and was able to gain about 20 pounds on my own. And yet there was a new obsession beginning: control over my body’s movement (exercise) and what it looked like. Exercise became my replacement to food restriction.

Resisting the Routine

I walked into FFC Gold Coast at about 90 pounds, still extremely malnourished. I was scheduled with Jeremy, one of the trainers who I will forever be grateful for (THANK YOU). On the day of our ‘free consultation session’, he walked me right past my ever-beloved elliptical, and to an open area near the free weights. We used only my body weight to perform squats, lunges, and tested my mobility.

In my head, all I could remember thinking was: ‘this isn’t doing enough. How many calories is this making me burn? I feel like we only worked out for 15 minutes total. Guess I’ll have to do more right after. This isn’t ENOUGH.’

However, the other side of my mind (the rational side), said that something about the session was empowering. It was scary and filled with uncertainty, but empowering enough that I decided to give up my usual routine. It didn’t happen overnight – rather, over the course of a year. The most common goal we hear upon joining a gym is to lose weight. My goal transformed into one of weight GAIN. And so I did: FFC helped me gain 25 pounds through exercise. In other words: FFC was part of what helped me gain my life back.

My words make it sound somewhat simple. It was far from: there were days of doubt, of wanting to relapse back to a life of obsession and of routine. And yet, the strength I built – both emotionally and physically – kept me pushing forward. I cannot fully explain in 2 pages, much less even 50 pages, what it’s like to feel alive within your body after it was destroyed and disrespected for so long. I cannot completely describe the amount of joy I find in movement: and this time, not for its purpose of burning calories, but rather for ADDING strength and power to my life. I can’t express the appreciation I have for a gym that provided such a safe space for the growth I experienced.

Related: an FFC trainer weighs in on the argument for weight lifting and why it will help you create a more well-rounded routine.

Recovered & Rewriting My Story

FFC will forever hold a special place in my heart. It is where my body changed, evolved, and transformed. It is where my MIND transformed, where I overcame exercise addiction, I rebuilt the relationship I had with my body and exercise, and where I continue to maintain such a healthy mindset around exercise. It was part of nearly every stage of my recovery. Its floors and walls hold painful conversations, fear, joy, and excitement. It witnessed my initial spoken goal of “toning my body” (AKA, maintaining my exercise addiction), to my recovered self saying, “I’m just here to feel good within my body.”

Our bodies are truly incredible; they are the vehicle to everything that we do. While I understand every individual has a different goal upon walking into a gym, I am hopeful that at the foundation of it is to show our bodies the highest level of respect that we possibly can.

There are days I want to lift weights and feel like a strong, mighty little badass. Other days, my body is craving slower movement – or no movement at all! In both cases: my body knows exactly what it needs. My role is just to listen and honor it. Exercise was never meant to be an obligation, an addiction, or a source of control over our bodies. Rather, it’s one of the greatest ways to show ourselves respect, compassion, appreciation, and to find the joy in movement.

Our bodies are truly incredible; they are the vehicle to everything that we do. While I understand every individual has a different goal upon walking into a gym, I am hopeful that at the foundation of it is to show our bodies the highest level of respect that we possibly can.

Post written by FFC Gold Coast member Nicole Ness.

About Nicole

Nicole is 27 and was born and raised in Chicago. She currently works as a behavioral therapist in private practice – and loves absolutely everything about it. Outside of the therapy office, Nicole would bring her yoga mat everywhere she goes if she could, could eat sushi for every meal (and sometimes does), and is borderline obsessed with traveling and experiencing new cultures. Her most recent trip? Bali, Indonesia, where she completed 200-hours of yoga training. She also will talk your ear off if you see her at FFC – so let this be your warning!

FFC Old Town fitness director and master trainer Eric Alexon shares the story of family member Laura, how she got involved with Myzone and FFC (which functioned as a sort of weight loss community) and lost over 70 pounds – while in Mexico, no less, along with his own takeaways on how she found success.

When It Was Time for a Change

Laura: I was my heaviest at 181 pounds about 5 years ago. My heart and the mirror were the two biggest reasons for making a change.

Eric: There is always an ‘it factor’ behind major changes related to fitness goals. The ‘it factor’ can be buried deeply. Identifying the real ‘it factor’ behind wanting to make healthy fitness changes is key. For Laura it was not liking what she saw in the mirror one day. Laura also talked about being sad, overall, with how she was feeling and what she was seeing and in her reflection.

These two ‘it factors’ propelled Laura to make lifestyle changes. Laura joined a gym in Mexico City and got a Myzone heart rate device. She met with a trainer and a nutritionist on a regular basis. These changes gave Laura knowledge and accountability and provided an environment for positive physical changes.

Related: check out FFC group fitness instructor Omar’s first-hand account of what happened when he tried Myzone.

How I Started to Change

Laura: Food was my first change. I started with a nutritionist and walking 30 minutes a day, every day, but that was initially too much, so I had to try for 15 minutes a day. With the help of a nutritionist and my brother Pablo, I started cutting carbs and focusing on portion control.

Eric: Laura turned to experts and people who were inspirational and supportive. The trainer and nutritionist helped educate and guide Laura. In the fitness industry, we say that you are the sum of your 5 closest friends when it comes to your own fitness.

Laura surrounded herself with friends and family that had/have similar healthy lifestyles. Laura’s brother, Pablo, is an amateur bodybuilder and member of FFC Old Town. Pablo introduced Myzone to Laura so he could encourage and support her from thousands of miles away!

Taking It to the Next Level

Laura, 5 years ago

Laura: I received a Myzone belt from Pablo and started going to the gym regularly, Monday through Friday, for one hour. The belt and the colored zones motivated me from the start. Initially, I was only able to achieve gray and blue. Little by little, I was able to achieve green during some workouts. Over time and with consistency, I was able to eventually reach yellow and some red during my toughest workouts.

I liked the social component – it helped encourage me. I set my cardio workouts for the yellow zone, which would give me a definite target so I knew I was getting maximum MEPs (Myzone effort points). I could see Pablo and Eric, and even encouragement from people in Chicago I’d never met, giving my workouts a thumbs up or bicep emoji. This encouragement helped me a lot.

Eric: Myzone is a great tool for accountability for people not only in the same gym, but even as far away as Mexico City. It creates a community (like a weight loss community might) and a sense of belonging. Laura has competed in many M2W competitions and uses the social component to stay connected and feel like she is on the Old Town team!

Maintaining the Results

Laura: Seeing the clothes I can fit into now is a great motivation. Seeing my old pictures helps me not want to gain weight again. I’ve maintained my weight of 136 pounds for about 2 years.

Eric: Consistency is the key. We know that even a ‘safe’ fitness program performed consistently can provide low-level results. When consistency is added to factors such as a trainer and nutritionist, real results can be achieved and maintained. The more support and accountability, the greater the chance of long term, sustainable results.

Keys to Success

Laura: Myzone, my diet and consistency have been the keys to my success. Knowing that people at FFC in Chicago can see my workouts has helped me maintain and encourages me!

July workout results

Eric: The competitions have helped motivate Laura and keep the weight off. Even though she lives in Mexico City, she can see how hard the competition works in Chicago at all the FFC clubs. For example, in July, she worked out 29 out of 31 days during one of the competitions, which makes her feel like she belongs to the Myzone and FFC communities, even though she’s never been to the United States.

Laura with brother Pablo

Future Fitness Goals

Laura: I want to keep going! Balance and definition are the two goals moving forward in 2019.

Eric: I believe that Laura having realistic goals from the beginning was the key to her success. Her initial goal was to get moving. The next was to get moving consistently. After that, it was adding fitness experts (like a trainer and nutritionist) and the Myzone belt for education and accountability. Lastly, Laura added the final appearance and performance goals of definition and balance after achieving the many other sequential goals. Through short, medium and long-term goals from the beginning, she has continued the formula to success, one step at a time.

Post adapted by FFC fitness director and master trainer Eric Alexon.

About Eric

Eric is the fitness director and a master trainer at FFC Old Town and is also NASM-certified. He specializes in TRX, PTR and kettlebell training, among other areas. Want to check out a class? Stop by FFC Old Town for one of his PTC/TRX classes, Mondays and Wednesdays from 6 – 7 AM, or Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 – 1 PM. Questions? You can also email him at!


FFC Oak Park member Gary shares his experience with fitness and wellness, becoming a stroke survivor and how it altered his course of life.

In the fall of 2007 I was 56 years old, tired, overweight and my back hurt. My job involved a lot of sitting, either by a desk or in a car. I was approaching 200 lbs, way too much for my frame. I would often get back spasms or sciatica down my legs. I was a wreck and the quality of my life was in decline. I had two choices, do nothing and continue down this slope or do something about it.

I chose the latter and joined FFC. My immediate goals were to lose 30 pounds, do a pull-up and run a 5k. The first month, I went to FFC almost every day while I altered my diet. Within 6 months I met all three of my goals, including my first 5k in April 2008, at a very respectable pace. Over the next six years, attending FFC three times a week or so, kept me sane and healthy. I continued to run one or two races each year.

Related: how this FFC member was able to avoid surgery with nutrition and exercise.

On June 9, 2014 I woke up, ate breakfast and read the Tribune. Then I dressed and went into my second-floor office to work. My wife had left for work and would be back mid-morning. I was sitting at my desk working on a report. It was about 10:35 AM and my head exploded.

I put my head in my hands and waited for the fireworks to stop. I could not imagine what was happening. With great difficulty I got up from my chair and stumbled through the hall to the bedroom and collapsed on the bed. “Maybe if I lay down for a while, this will go away.”

It didn’t. It was like July Fourth was going off in my head. After a few minutes, I finally realized it was serious. I struggled to get out of bed. One side wasn’t working right. I still didn’t understand what was happening. I dragged myself back to the office and flopped back down into the chair. With my right hand I found a pencil and a piece of paper and wrote: “Feeling woozy, it’s 10:35.”

The next thing I knew, my wife was shaking me and talking. She had found me slumped over my desk. She said she called the paramedics and that I had a stroke. I looked at her. It still didn’t register. “What do you mean?” I thought. “I had a stroke?” I pointed to the note with my right hand and tried to speak. My mouth wasn’t working the way it should and the words weren’t coming out correctly.

The paramedics arrived and asked if I could move my left side. ‘What a silly question,’ I thought. I tried to move my left arm and nothing happened. Same thing with my left leg. It was about this time that I realized that my head had stopped hurting but that I could be in trouble. I pointed to the note. They said good, that was just a few minutes ago.

I was put on a stretcher and was told they were taking me to Rush Oak Park. A fire truck and ambulance were outside the house. They carried me to the ambulance and I heard them speak to the hospital. We were there in a couple minutes. A doctor said I needed a CAT scan and they slid me in the device. Everything was happening very quickly.

Stroke Survivor

I was laid out on a bed in the ER, when they rolled a monitor up to me and said a doctor from Rush downtown would speak to me in a minute. She gave me the good news. Yes, I had a stroke. The CAT scan confirmed it was a clot and not a bleed and that was a very good thing. I would be put back in an ambulance and taken to the downtown Rush facility. On the way the paramedics would infuse me with the anti-clot drug TPA. Since I had reached this point so quickly, there was a good chance it could work. I waved at my wife with my good arm. I mumbled, “See you downtown.”

The paramedics connected me to the miracle drug and kept asking me if I was all right and if I felt anything. They asked me to try and move my left arm and leg. I began to have sensation and they moved. As the ride continued, the movements improved. I told the paramedics “look what I can do!”

We made it to Rush and they rolled me into Intensive Care. I saw my wife and waved my limbs; all of them. I had never seen a bigger smile. I was pretty excited too. Over the next hour or so, different doctors came in to examine me. I had two smaller TIA’s where the stroke symptoms would partially reappear. Then it was over. I was tired and finally had begun processing what had happened.

Later that afternoon, I was visited by other doctors. They put me through a number of mental and physical tests. I was able to answer all of their questions but it seemed to take me just a little bit longer. I could stand and walk but my left side was weaker. I did not have the same strength in my left arm and it shook when I lifted it. When I went to point at something or pick up an object, my aim was off. Not bad considering what could have been. They gave me some exercises and some toys to squeeze and play with.

Recovery – Slow And Steady Wins the Race

I was in the hospital three days and each day I felt stronger. After I came home, I immediately wanted to see if I could still drive. My wife sat beside me as I drove through the neighborhood. She noticed I was driving slower and more carefully, but the more I drove, the better I felt.

The next day, I sat down at my desk to work. My typing, which is mediocre at best, was really bad as I struggled to get my left hand to go precisely where it needed to be. That too improved. About a month later, I went back to FFC and slowly increased my workouts. In November, I ran a 5k. It was four minutes slower than the previous spring but I completed it. My work, my workouts and my grandkids were my therapy.


Over the next three years I ran seven races including an 8k and a 10k. My left side would always remain a little weaker but I continued to work on it. Life returned to normal but then I had surgery for Thyroid cancer. Luckily for me, there has been no recurrence. Due to my continuing workouts my recovery from the stroke and cancer has been strong and quick.

In the past year and a half, I’ve run four more races including an 8k. I’ve reached retirement and am still stretching, running and lifting and doing my best to maintain the quality of life I desire. FFC has been there with me every step of the way and I’m not done yet.

Post written by FFC Oak Park member Gary Belenke; images courtesy of Gary Belenke & Chad Marek.


Try FFC for free in Chicago

Countless movies, books, and fairy tales feature magic mirrors of one kind or another. Some are portals to another world. Others have a spirit living in them, or can show the past, or reveal events far off but important to the mirror’s user. The full-length mirror in the men’s locker room at the Park District’s Rehm pool in Oak Park isn’t any of these. It can’t even work the mundane magic of a department store mirror in making clothes look better on you than they do anywhere else. But it’s where my fitness journey began.

I remember the date. It was Memorial Day weekend 2015; the pool had opened for the summer that day and I had my three kids with me. We’d all just changed into our suits and were heading out to have some splashy fun. I happened to glance in the mirror as we moved to the door.

A fat old man stared back at me from the glass. Everything that wasn’t flabby was sagging, and the lingering winter pallor and fluorescent lighting didn’t help. I was shocked. Like fork in the outlet shocked. I couldn’t move, in fact, because I couldn’t believe what I saw. After a certain age and weight, you tend to avoid mirrors unless it’s necessary.

Okay, appearance isn’t everything. But it wasn’t just how the fat old man looked, it was how he felt. Here I was with my kids just exiting the locker room, hadn’t even waded in yet, and I was already tired. The act of equipping at home, transporting, and transitioning my kids from street clothes to their pool stuff had exhausted me. I was ready to lie down on a chaise and have a nap.

I had just turned fifty a couple months previously. This was no way to enter the decade (what Spalding Gray called “the Bermuda Triangle of life” meaning that it’s the time that something tends to go wrong that’ll dog you for the rest of your years). There are still plenty of experiences I’d like to have, plus the kids to launch into life.

Right then and there I decided to change.

Now, I’d bounced around a lot in the previous twenty years, gaining twenty pounds way too often, losing ten far too rarely. That ratio needed turning around, and quick. My doc was making noises about blood pressure medication and the word pre-diabetic had been thrown into the health mix. When I went to see him the next week (he was happy to hear I wanted to turn things around) he suggested just some walking to start off and a step counter. So I went to CVS and used a coupon from one of their Legion of Honor Sash-sized receipts to buy a cheap heart rate monitor. And I was off.

Related: check out this infographic to see why it’s worth considering a heart rate monitor.

Steps to Lasting Change

I started just trying to get 10,000 steps in a day and to quit snacking at night in front of the TV. Within a week or ten days I could feel a difference in me. I started swimming laps and doing things like not using my car or parking way, way out at the edge of the lot. I lost ten pounds and hit the same plateau I always seemed to hit. The scale quit moving, no matter how many steps I had on that cheap wristwatch.

After some loin-girding I joined FFC Oak Park so I’d have more options for training to keep my body off-balance. I started a strict intermittent fasting program (I found out about that from Terry Crews – I like to read celeb workout programs now and then, like how Jason Momoa turned himself into Conan). I did a little bit of everything, types of exercise I’d never tried in my life, from ballet barre (kind of a twofer, I was researching ballet for a book anyway) and battle ropes to kickboxing.

It took time. It took steady effort. It took constant change and challenge and training from people who knew a lot more than me (most of my barbell knowledge dates to the 80s). Happily, my effort and constant shifts in my types of training paid off: the weight kept falling off, and better yet, the muscle started growing. I said “hi” to my abs for the first time in decades.

Hopefully three years of new habits means this is permanent. I’d like it to be. I feel great, and now it’s the kids who can’t keep up with me.

I keep this on my desktop. Yeah, it’s refrigerator-magnet philosophy, but it reminds me of where I was and that moment in front of the glass. Maybe it was a magic mirror after all.

Post written by FFC Oak Park member Eric Frisch.

Eric F is an author who lives with his wife and three children in Oak Park, IL.


Try FFC for free in Chicago

When I first joined FFC as a new Chicagoan in 2004, my kids were two and four. I remember watching people do Pilates through the studio window and thinking, they look so graceful and… healthy. Not to mention lean and strong. I said to myself, I’ll never be those things. No way can I do all that stuff on those machines. No way will I ever lose this baby weight I’ve been carrying for five years now. Fast forward to 2016, when my kids convinced me to join again. I convinced my best friends Alan and Emily to join, and Emily happened to be a devotee of Pilates and tuned into all the Pilates benefits. So I sucked it up and agreed to try it, psyching myself up to have a positive attitude and a beginner’s mind.

Do what with my what?

I went home and cried roughly the first four times I took Pilates mat class with Carl Corry. It was humiliating and hard and upsetting. He was patient but firm, as were Cameron and Charles, who also teach there. There was so much I couldn’t do.

I kept coming back, though, because I committed to my friends that I’d try it for 6 months, twice a week, at least, to take advantage of all those Pilates benefits. And I worked on my attitude by thinking about what I’d say to my kids if they came home feeling like I did. I’d say this: “You can’t expect to be good at things right away. But if you like what this is, keep going. Get better. There’s nowhere to go but up.”

It is SO HARD to take your own advice.

But I kept going.

But… there was other stuff in the way.

There were two more things holding me back: a bunch of extra weight and some health problems that left me unable to use most of my abdominal muscles. I went to PT to address the problem which was a huge first step. (I also cried the first time I felt those muscles fire.)

And the weight was literally in my way in class. I’ve been struggling with it since I had children almost twenty years ago, and I lived with severe endometriosis my whole adult life, until five years ago. I also had some disordered eating and body image issues holding me back.

So while I sorted through my ego issues about Pilates and went to PT, I also did things like buy a full length mirror and a scale for the first time. I started to tease apart how I felt about my body from what I ate every day. Not because anyone told me to — it just seemed like they were different things.

About the weight.

After almost a year of working on something as simple as walking by a mirror without grimacing or feeling guilty about what I had for lunch, I decided to talk to FFC’s registered dietitian, Amy Silver. I have a friend who was working with a nutritionist and her success made me think, maybe this is be worth trying. After all, my insurance covers it. What did I have to lose?

My friend Alan joined me. We both knew it was good to have a buddy; that whole accountability thing. We could help each other.

At our first appointment I cried (are you seeing a pattern?). As she passed me the box of Kleenex I’m certain is always ready for this moment I said, “I’m just so tired of having this relationship with food.”

So. Much. Chewing.

At first, food felt like a part time job. I had to think about it all the time. I had to learn how to plan a whole new way of eating, I had to figure out how to get the right food to my office. I had to learn how to cook vegetables — all kinds, so I wouldn’t get bored.

And the chewing. I have to eat SO MANY vegetables. I didn’t have the chance to be hungry because of all the vegetables I was constantly shoving in my face.

Related: check out this member story about how a trip to Turkey changed FFC South Loop member Oscar’s perspective and how chewing more slowly changed his life.

Within days I noticed that my blood sugar was always… fine. I was never hungry. I never felt woozy or shaky or so hungry I could eat everything in sight. My digestive system was… happy. And then… the pounds started coming off.

But… not 100% happy.

Contrary to current wisdom around feeling confident and able to “see” yourself as healthy, I didn’t believe I could lose this weight at first. I also didn’t believe all of life’s problems would be solved if I succeeded.

Mostly I just thought, I’ll try this. Maybe I’ll feel better. Maybe it will work. Maybe not. “Don’t get too excited. These pounds have been part of you for 20 years,” I said to myself.

After seven months of mostly good behavior and making the changes more and more permanent, I currently weigh only 7 pounds more than I did 20 years ago – right before I got pregnant when I was 26. (My highest recorded weight was 193 and as I type this, I’m at 163 lbs. I’m 5’2″.)

Now and then, I feel sad for former me because I waited so long, but we do what we can when we’re able. I’ve spent a long time not believing in myself and it’s like an old record with deep grooves.

And I feel conflicted about all the success I’m having because I can’t seem to believe it. But Amy keeps showing me my sheet, and it keeps showing that the weight is coming off. I can’t argue with the data, as much as something in me wants to take success away from myself.

So now I have more attitude adjustment to make. Better late than never. And I know I can conquer my own attitude because I still go to Pilates, sometimes four times a week.

Now and then, I feel sad for former me because I waited so long, but we do what we can when we’re able. I’ve spent a long time not believing in myself and it’s like an old record with deep grooves.

Putting it all together.

FFC Oak Park Pilates benefitsI’ve been taking advantage of Pilates benefits for over a year now. It’s the only exercise thing I’ve ever done that gets both harder and more fun as I get better at it – roughly every six months. It gives me more energy and focus than even yoga, swimming and running used to. My Friday 7 AM group reformer class with Carl is one of the best hours of my whole week, and I have a pretty great life. I might even get licensed to teach, if only to learn something totally different and understand how my body works.

And the weight? Well, I’m working on my attitude even as I have to replace clothes almost constantly. 30 pounds is what a huge bag of dog food weighs, after all. And when I look in the mirror now, I see someone who looks the way I believe I am “supposed to,” which sounds odd, but it’s the most accurate thing I can think of. I mean, it also feels good to appreciate my own body, don’t get me wrong. REALLY good.

I also have noticed that in life overall, since I started working on myself consistently, I’ve started to take a longer view of virtually all things. My dad tells me it’s old age. I prefer maturity.

In the end, it’s only sort of about the weight. It’s more about feeling like myself, and feeling like my body can do anything I want – including whatever Carl, Cameron and Charles can come up with in Pilates mat class. Bring it on. I’ll be able to do it really well in a decade or so.

Post written by FFC Oak Park member Shelby Bower.

I didn’t grow up in a crunchy-granola, windbreaker-wearing, athletic family. Like many children of the Midwest, I was raised in a rural community full of good, old-fashioned folks with good old-fashioned mentalities. Was I fat? Hell no! I was “big-boned,” y’all! I was a growin’ boy with a growin’ boy’s appetite and big bones to match! The real question being… big bones.. For what, exactly?

I was the son of a marketing director and drove an Astro van to art classes after school. What on earth did I need big bones for? Sure, in some Slavic hovel on the frozen border of Lithuania, I believe there to be a need for the heartiness of truly big-boned people. But I wasn’t birthing calves in a field in the perpetual darkness of Russian winter. I was chugging Capri-Suns and going to theater camp. The reality was, no matter how much ridicule I endured at school, or how humiliated I felt needing to shop for Big & Tall clothes at the age of 13, I was told, “You’re just big-boned, baby…”

Genetic Mentality

To put it briefly, I was trapped (like so many children and, even still, adults are) in the cozy-comfort weighted blanket of “there’s nothing you can do about your genetics.” What was meant to salve the pain of unbearable otherism became a prison of accepting unhappiness as an unavoidable reality. While there is an abundance of scientific study that shows how our DNA can dramatically affect our ability to store, develop, and lose fat, the intoxicating mantra of “You come from a family of big people. That’s simply the way it is.” taught me only one thing: it’s ok not to try. Everyone is big and that’s just the way it is here.

I’m living proof that this is not, in fact, the way it always has to be.

I am a proud January Gym Baby. Though I had been working out at home since October, a friend slapped me into reality by insisting that, eventually, I would outgrow what could be done in my small, 1-bedroom apartment and I would have to join a gym. It was time to swallow my fear of working out in public and belly up to the bar. But did I know what I was doing? Absolutely not! Not a single lick of knowledge was stored in the “physical fitness” folder of my brain. When I started, all I had was a bad left knee and a body that weighed in at 400 pounds.

When I joined FFC, Tyler Sutphen was assigned to me for my new membership sessions. Internally, I groaned and begrudgingly thought, “Ok, let’s get these sessions out of the way… hopefully they won’t be as agonizing as I expect.” True to form, nothing I worried would happen came to pass. Tyler didn’t ridicule me. He didn’t make me feel foolish for trying (or for failing). In fact, no one here ever has. Tyler became more than a trainer to me. He became a rock in my journey.

In nine months, I transformed from a limping, 400-pound, 30 year-old with a fear of working out, to a 5-time-a-week weight lifter with a strong stride and a body clocking in at 275.

Member Stories: Chris Lewis - weight loss journey and 1 year anniversary

I did not do it alone, though. Having Tyler, the resources of FFC, the Myzone heart monitor… my life could not have been as easily changed without each of these. Not because any of these did the work for me, but because they provided the help to change my life on my own, on my terms. When I began, I lacked the knowledge, understanding, and ability to synthesize how to work out properly. Now, I know exactly what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and how to continue challenging myself.

We don’t all grow up with the privilege of having guidance on how to live healthfully – mentally or physically. Helping me to overcome the constant barrage of fad diets, miracle machines, and programs that guarantee results, Tyler explained to me that, quite simply, the gym is a microcosm of life with one ruling equation: consistency over time.

Related: how to be the best version of yourself (for you). Check out this refresher!

The Long Game

Working out one day a week for six hours will not yield the results that six one-hour days will. A little bit of something is better than a lot of nothing. The same is true for all aspects of life. Being a better partner? One night of attentive listening will not yield the results of several months of being present. A better professional? One day of really great work at a job is not going to guarantee success the way that slow, dedicated, thoughtful effort to a cause, a project, a process will. What trips the trolley is believing that success lies in how quickly you achieve your goals:

  • “I’ve been working out a whole week! Every day! Where is my weight loss??”
  • “I showed up to work on time every day this month! Where is my promotion??”
  • “I wrote that essay a while back! Why isn’t anyone publishing me yet??”

A need to see immediate change is the death knell of many a motivated person. And that was the lesson I learned at FFC. That was the value I was able to take away. This is a long game. A lifelong one. And even in the short amount of time I’ve been on this journey—a scant year—I’ve had tremendous ups and downs. Feelings of failure, times when the scale didn’t budge one single bit, regardless of how hard I threw that medicine ball. When the body dysmorphia struck and prevented me from being able to see the changes I have made… I trusted that this game is not a match of winners or losers. It’s simply a game of those who try, in the face of tremendous adversity, and those who convince themselves they shouldn’t.

Not everyone’s story is the same and I will not condescend to believe that this is the case. We all have different abilities, different needs—mentally, emotionally, and physically. If my story motivates you to lose weight, I think that’s wonderful—feel free to drop me a line on Instagram any time and I’ll pep-talk your ear off. I’m sharing this to make a point: simply because you’ve been told one thing your entire life, does not make it unflinchingly true.

There is a stark difference between rhetoric and reality. Find your stride. Find what is worth the consistency over time. Be kind to yourself, utilize your resources, your friends, your loved ones, the team here at FFC. But first and foremost, let your efforts be for you.

Post written by FFC Union Station member Christopher Lewis.

About Chris

Chris is a home cook, baker, and a food stylist. He styles food/drink for commercial film and print. His Instagram is an extension of that work, as well as shots of his own, and links to his food writing. Check it out here!

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When FFC asked me to write a blog for the website my first reaction was, “It’s me, Pete. You got the wrong guy!” When they asked again, I said, “When did you get a liquor license… because you must be drunk!” I finally agreed to do this because I wanted to share with everyone the secrets to success. Yep, they’re all right here for you to grab and use.

The question we ALL need to ask ourselves is, “What is MY why?” What motivates me? Find your “WHY” and run with it. I like BEER, so I work out. Thanks. The end.

(What? I need to type more? Really? Damn it. Ok.)

4 Secrets to Success by Pete McMurray1. SCHEDULE your workouts.

I’m just like you: It’s a struggle to work out some days. I have a kid. Both my wife and I work. We have a dog. I work a few jobs. I volunteer. I coach. It’s nuts. But, we ALL juggle life. Get over it. Think about the most successful things you’ve done in life. Sports, work, volunteering – they ALL have one thing in common; they have a schedule.

You don’t randomly show up for work whenever you want. You don’t randomly show up for a game whenever you want. Make a SCHEDULE and stick to it. Work out at the same time weekly. If someone said, “Hey, if you work out the same time every week for a month, I’ll give you a million dollars.” Could you? Yep, you could. So, do it! Schedule, schedule, schedule.

2. Have a PLAN.

What do you like to do? You hate spinning, but love floor work? Great – do floor work.
Love the elliptical, but hate Jacobs Ladder? Great – do the elliptical. When you go to the club, have a PLAN and know EXACTLY what you’re going to do. DON’T waste your time (you’re busy, remember).

I take classes – Austin or DC’s spinning class, Tread Express or (I ABSOLUTELY HATE) Lois’ Saturday Formula 94 class. It’s 94 degrees, you hold dumbbells in your hands & move your body for 45 minutes – what’s fun about that? The END of the class, that’s what. I try and do it every Saturday morning. Why? Because Lois and the people make it fun. When I’m done I feel like a million dollars (she is the best and her 80’s & 90’s playlist rocks!).

Related: failure to plan is planning to fail. Check out this post on how to set smart, actionable goals so you can get ahead!

3. Find your WHY.

Bear with me on this, because I’m going deep here. I come from a family of 12 kids (I’m #6). High cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease runs in my family. As for my immediate family? My dad died of liver cancer, my sister Mary is a breast cancer survivor, my brother Jonny is a prostate cancer survivor and my brother Mark is a kidney cancer survivor. Yep, cancer runs in my family. I have a beautiful wife, wonderful son and a pooch. I love traveling, having beers with friends and living life to the fullest. THIS is my WHY.

Pete McMurray with fellow member Linda at FFC4. Radar UP – #PEAKSTATE

I try to say hello to a lot of people when I get to the club. I’ve found that if you say, “Good morning! What’s your name?” People will tell you. I have met so many people just by saying hello. Linda is one of my faves. Linda turned me on to Formula 94 class, Chisel class and knows everyone in the club. My guys, like Richard lifting weights, Dan the Monday & Wednesday workout guy, MAT specialist Bill Busch (usually giving me a motivational speech), Ainsley running like crazy on the treadmill, big Kirby, Ari, Greg, the trainer talking sports or club general manager Bob taking turns with me on Jacobs Ladder.

LIFT your head, turn your RADAR on and say hello to people. When the radar is up, life happens. We call that #PEAKSTATE

Putting it all together.

Do you think running is fun? Lifting weights on a rainy Monday at 8 AM enjoyable? No, but we work out because we feel so much better… AND WE WANT TO BE HEALTHY. I keep motivational quotes in my phone because I’m a nut bag. Let me leave you with this:

“Life has no remote. Get UP and change it yourself.”

About Pete

Pete McMurray can be heard as a host on the radio on WGN Radio 720 AM, seen on television on “Fox Kickoff Sunday” Fox 32 and usually seen at FFC Lincoln Park. You can follow along with him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @petemcmurray. #PEAKSTATE


Pete McMurray and Lois at Formula 94 heated group exercise class FFC in Chicago




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My name is John Jaramillo, and I finished the 2018 Chicago Marathon. In other words, I did something that I once deemed impossible to ever accomplish. Let me give you some context around the lack of believability in that endeavor: I grew up the oldest of five children raised by a single mother in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. Exercise and eating healthy were certainly not aspects of focus. Most days it was mere survival.

Some months my mom had to choose between paying the rent and buying groceries, so it didn’t matter what was on the table or in the fridge; most times it was the food that was the most affordable and had the longevity to last more than one day in an environment of five hungry kids. Chips and brownies were prevalent; frozen pizza was a constant.

Growing up - how FFC helped member John finish the Chicago MarathonThe frozen food aisle, not the fresh produce section, was the most visited part of the grocery store. Eating out also became a regular venture as we got older; a couple of jumbo pizzas or trips to got us through when we didn’t know the next time we’d eat. When we did have groceries, our mom made some favorites: tacos, pierogis, tamales, kugela or dishes that warranted seconds. Or, in my case, thirds. Again, uncertainty over the next meal called for padding the plate while I could.

Being a Chicago Public Schools student also didn’t equate to access to the most nutritious meals (at least not in the late ‘80s through the ‘90s). I remember the prepackaged donuts offered at school breakfast that were touted as nutritious. Even the simplest and most basic need was often ignored for filler. Soda was a favorite in our household, and it was more natural for us to go through a few three-liter bottles of RC Cola than remember to hydrate with water.

Exercise? That was usually the walk to school and back. But, with the Bulls in their dynasty years and the Bears garnering significant interest during my youth, I participated more and more in pickup basketball and street football games.

However, most of my prolonged physical activity occurred running from manhole cover to manhole cover, aka the designated end zone lines, to catch passes while dodging parked cars and oncoming traffic. That running was rare, as I preferred catching the shorter passes, requiring a short little “sprint” (or whatever that was called when I attempted it). It was no wonder I was 200 pounds, without the height to carry such weight, in the middle of my teenage years.

Continuing into College

This context carried into my college days. While I gained more interest in walking in order to get around Champaign-Urbana with no car at my disposal, I still didn’t have the most nutritious diet. Pizza and burgers were a constant. My eating got a little better as I took more of an interest in weight training as a junior and senior, but I still had the mindset that cheaper food = a more convenient choice. Cooking beyond pushing buttons on a microwave was still a mystery to me.

Those aspects remained status quo post-college, as my seemingly non-stop work schedule in a college athletic department made me think that I had limited time to work out and eat nutritious meals. Free pizza at basketball games? Count me in. All the weight I lost in college, almost 50 pounds or so, was gained right back. While the weight gain affected my confidence, it was not my biggest concern, as I tried to make an impression with my work ethic and move up the ranks.

Before the change - how FFC helped member John finish the Chicago MarathonCatastrophe to Change

Then something catastrophic happened. One day I arrived home and my mom was not feeling very well. She refused to see a doctor, which was another stubborn trait we all had, and tried to rest off the discomfort. Later that night she stood up and fell to the ground, convulsing right in front of me and my three brothers. I frantically called 911, and paramedics arrived and attempted to resuscitate her as we all stood feeling so helpless.

Our mother suffered a massive heart attack that night, an event that caused her to lay in a coma for more than two weeks before she passed away. I saw her every day during those excruciating weeks, wondering how life changed so suddenly, so brutally. Our mom constantly made difficult choices, like either having to pay rent or feed her kids, at the detriment of her own health.

The context of poor eating continued even after we lost our mom. I was 25 years old, still tentative when turning on a stove. The easier route remained to eat out. Managing everything in the aftermath of that loss felt like another full-time job, so the easier route for eating was traveled with frequency.

Things started to change about a year after our devastating loss. I felt more cognizant of my body and when things felt off, especially with my chest, I didn’t take any chances. I scheduled doctor appointments regularly, especially due to pain. High cholesterol and another internal issue were discovered.

Taking the First Steps to Exercise

My first step toward feeling better was exercise. I became interested in running and started to try out various distances, from 5Ks to the Soldier Field 10 Mile. Friends who shared a similar interest in running would sign up for races, and I would do the same with their encouragement. Running was easy; just put one foot in front of the other. It even helped burn off some of the pizza in my regular meal rotation. I even completed a few half marathons, swearing that was the longest distance I would ever run. A person of my build, with my diet, could never do anything longer than that, I thought.

I moved to Oak Park in 2012, around the time of my running rut. I had been running races during the previous four years, and it became clear that I was not getting any faster or feeling any better as a result of all that running. After researching nearby gyms and hearing from two friends about the FFC on Lake Street, I signed up and gave it a try. I was even given four free personal training sessions with the trainer my friends had seen and highly recommended: Steve Malok.

My first session with Steve was memorable in that I couldn’t finish it. I was huffing and puffing, unable to continue. It was pretty embarrassing for me, yet Steve was calm and understanding. He did not make me feel like I was a failure, even though I felt like it. I had been running all these years and completed a few lifting plans torn from the pages of Muscle and Fitness before; how could I not get through this?

I still had the three more sessions. Steve was willing to keep working with me. I was willing to keep working with him and unwilling to accept that the first session defined my fitness. The next three sessions went well, and Steve asked if I wanted to continue working with him. It was a big decision as, going forward, those were not free sessions. It’s the decision every human being has to make in different ways: do I invest in myself?

Related: do the things you thought you couldn’t. How TriMonster helped 70-years-young Maria finish her first triathlon.

A Valuable Investment

Running the marathon - how FFC helped member John finish the Chicago MarathonI decided this was an investment in myself, and I was not happy with where I was at physically, and I needed guidance to get me to a place where I wanted to be happy with my physical appearance and feeling. At the very least, I wanted to be happy with my effort to change my physical appearance and feeling.

So I started working with Steve once a week. That was all I did at first, and he recommended that I maximize our sessions and my membership by coming in a few times each week. He took time to construct plans, (even when he didn’t have to do it), and showed me how to perform movements on my own. Even though my work schedule was volatile, I made it my mission to maximize my sessions with Steve, my membership at FFC, and my time on this planet by coming in as much as possible. Regular gym visits became much easier to do by learning from Steve and being confident in my ability to do the exercises and proper movements.

I still ate poorly. I remember a Monday morning session with Steve after I had worked all day on Sunday, and he asked me what I ate after work. I slyly said chicken. He asked about the type of chicken dish I had, and of course I had not initially mentioned it was a fried chicken sandwich I picked up from Sonic. I didn’t even bring up the tater tots.

That moment caused me to rethink my eating habits and the barriers to healthier consumption. I knew I needed help and needed to invest in myself when it came to nutrition too. I finally mustered up the courage to ask for that help when I saw Amy Silver last summer. Steve had highly recommended Amy; and she was kind and nonjudgmental from the start.

You Can’t Out-Exercise a Poor Diet

Amy’s advice and information opened my eyes to a much healthier eating approach. I ignored nutrients beyond multivitamin pills. I never cared about the amount of sugar listed on a nutrition label or how I fueled myself before and after workouts. She taught me to think outside of the box (of cookies) and plan out my meals. Just like Steve taught me how to plan out workouts and stay consistent with exercise, Amy helped me evade my usual bag of excuses by providing critical tips on meal preparation, planning and, most importantly, the content of those foods.

I became aware of my ideal calorie intake and more interested in making my own meals. Years of hesitancy over cooking fish became a distant memory as I followed Amy’s initial plan by the letter and stepped out of my comfort zone to cook and eat foods that were foreign to my diet but, eventually, became regular staples. I have lost around 30 pounds and about seven percentage points of body fat since I started the Nutrition Solutions program with Amy. I felt stronger in my workouts and even felt proud with the resulting need to buy pants since I needed a much smaller waist size.

Now, to that marathon thing I mentioned at the start. For a long time, I never believed I would run a marathon. Too daunting. Too long to run. Too much time commitment. I couldn’t possibly run one in a decent time after all of those years of not taking care of myself. There was curiosity in the possibility as I started to run half marathons, but it still seemed unlikely.

Then last year happened.

I attended the Chicago Marathon expo and the atmosphere immersed me in the possibility. I cheered on runners at the 2017 Chicago Marathon and felt the energy all around. I watched Shalane Flanagan win the NYC Marathon and Meb Keflezighi finish his final marathon at that same race. The 26.2 elixir was swishing in my brain.

So I signed up for two race lotteries: the NYC Half and the Chicago Marathon. I ran the NYC Half in 2016, so I thought it would be cool to run it again. I figured that, if I didn’t get into Chicago, I had another race to train for and it would be a sign that I wasn’t meant to run a marathon.

I didn’t get into the NYC Half. I got into the Chicago Marathon. I was shocked, and I was ready to get ready for the biggest physical challenge of my life.


During the race - how FFC helped member John finish the Chicago MarathonSteve and Amy could not have been more supportive. They helped me adjust my training and my nutritional intake to support my new endeavor. I stayed consistent with strength training and mixed in three runs a week, including my weekend long run, in addition to three strength workouts. I upped my calorie and carb intake appropriately. I even completed an RMR test with Amy and a VO2 Max test with Chris Navin, who was quite helpful with his explanation of my test results and providing his own marathon experience and tips.

Rain or shine, I ran. I lifted. I moved around. I ate. I made it all work for me, and I felt like I had a supportive team of experts helping me along the way. The support of the friendly FFC Oak Park staff and fellow members got me through the rigors of the training. From excellent conversations to just a simple “hello” or fist bump after running 18 miles on a hot day, so many people felt like a positive part of my marathon training experience.

Then race day came, and it all came together. I thought of all the support I was lucky to have along the way. The advice I took in. The positivity I experienced. The strength I felt. The fuel I knew I had. Throughout the race I remembered my mom, and how she made things work for her children even in very adverse conditions, and how running this race was a privilege and not even comparable to such difficulties. I felt lucky to feel healthy and in this position as I waited in Corral G. After a brief bout of anxiety as Wave 2 started to cross the starting line, I calmed myself and told myself this should be fun and all of my preparation would make this a piece of cake (not literally, Amy! I swear!).

Running 26.2 miles through the city for the Chicago Marathon was one of the best experiences of my life. I felt surrounded by support, people I knew, people I didn’t know but felt a connection to just by merely being on the same course. I felt this day as a culmination of effort, planning, and changes for the good of my life. I know marathon running can be cruel, but on October 7, 2018, it gave me one of the greatest feelings of my life. I wish I could bottle that feeling up and share it with you.

My goal was to finish in four hours or less, and with a mile left to go, I looked at my watch. I knew that, barring an unexpected hindrance, I was going to be within range of my goal. I pushed through, knowing I had slowed a bit but feeling invigorated that the finish line was near. I stayed steady on “Mt. Roosevelt”, that hill going east on Roosevelt Road that I had run so many times by sidewalk, and to my delight, saw the “400 Meters Left” sign.

Finishing the 2018 Chicago Marathon

I finished the 2018 Chicago Marathon in 3:55.46. After going through a running rut six years ago that brought me down, I felt a sensational high I’d never felt before after crossing that finish line. I knew I would never win this race (congrats, Sir Mo), yet I felt victorious.

I did something that I once deemed impossible for me to ever accomplish. Thanks to the help of multiple people, with special mentions to Steve Malok and Amy Silver, it eventually felt very possible. Now the next challenge awaits, and I can’t wait to make the impossible possible again.

Post written by FFC Oak Park member John Jaramillo. 

Finishing the Chicago Marathon - FFC Oak Park Member John



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I’ve been overweight all my life, since I was a little kid in kindergarten. I was always getting picked on and seen as an outcast – all the way to high school. I always kept telling myself that things would get better, that I wouldn’t look like this, that I would be happy one day.

I don’t think there was ever a period in my life where I was consistently happy, due to me always self-sabotaging myself, believing I could never do better than what people labeled me as. I would always be furious or depressed at myself and at the people around me. Because I held onto so much negativity, I felt like I was a toxic person. There were times where I would be mean to people – even to ones who didn’t deserve it – and wouldn’t put in the effort to connect with strangers.

Related: how FFC member Lou accomplished his fitness transformation.

I remember numerous times where I would work out to exhaustion to look different, to try to force change. It didn’t matter how much I sweat, if I didn’t see immediate change, I would always relapse. I avoided lifting weights and would only focus on cardio. There were times where I believed I was destined never to be different – even when I felt like I was doing all I could. At some points during my former airport job, pushing wheelchairs, I walk walking 10 miles a day – but still would not lose a pound. People would say “you can’t out-train a bad diet” – but I didn’t care to listen and kept looking for shortcuts. I signed up with FFC with hopes of detoxing my body, but I still didn’t fully change my lifestyle, as I was afraid to get out of my comfort zone.

I decided to visit Turkey last year, in August, to celebrate my 22nd birthday because I wanted to do something different and I couldn’t think of a better way than to see and get to know an amazing country. When I arrived, I was stunned by how beautiful and interesting Turkey was. The people were the definition of generous and caring, and I never felt intimidated or worried – it was like a home away from home.

During my stay, I changed my behavior because I didn’t want to look bad or give a bad representation of Americans. I slowed down my chewing (as I barely chew my food at home) and was surprised at how quickly I was full, despite eating significantly less than what I ate back home. I also started to eat healthier, as I wanted to try new things (the food was delicious) and consistently did it for two weeks. I ate boiled eggs, pita, Turkish rice, all with the best tea in the world. I was glad I had completed training sessions with my trainer, Jose, who helped me prepare for my trip and the hot weather and terrain of Turkey; I was afraid of having of no energy to explore and get to know the amazing country. I met Turkish scuba divers who motivated me to always see the bright side of life – as they knew I was still carrying a lot of pain in my heart. They showed me the beauty of their land with their talented scuba diving crew.

FFC South Loop member stories Oscar's weight loss transformation

I found out how abundant peace and love is with the Turkish people; everywhere I went, people offered me gifts and greetings – and I felt closer to humanity. I weighed myself at the end of my visit at a clinic and was surprised to find I had lost 5 pounds in only two weeks. The doctor told me something I had heard my whole life but never listened to; one of the basic rules of healthy living is to chew more. I realized if I could manage two weeks of healthy choices, I could survive a longer period, and I was determined to try out my new lifestyle.

My time with Turkey was an educational experience – I got to see an amazing country with a unique history and meet people with hearts of gold. Traveling motivated me to become a better person and try new things to enjoy more of life. I owe Turkey and her people everything for helping me kick start my journey to become a better person. Turkey is the brightest, most beautiful and social country I have ever seen – and deserves the best out of me.

When I came back, I implemented what I had learned from my trip and started listening to my body more. I reduced my food portions and compensated by chewing more thoroughly at a slower pace. I also began to take notice of what I was eating much more seriously; every day was a new day full of research as I considered serving sizes, calories, sugar, etc. My diet changed completely. Then, out of nowhere, I was losing pounds around the clock. I would feel weird, like I was in the wrong body. I would sometimes wonder what was going on, what was happening to me. I had never lost weight before, so the experience was exciting, but a scary ride.

Each day working at the airport was progress in the making; I felt like the miles I walked pushing wheelchairs were contributing to my health. There were days where the fat in my neck and face felt like it was being shaved off as easily as butter. There were even times where I would smile spontaneously, because I was genuinely happy, even if just for the moment. I felt like I was going through a metamorphosis and there was no going back. I had co-workers telling me as I passed by them that I was losing weight. My pants were baggier, my infamous “man-boobs” were shrinking, etc. To finally get to hear those things I had wanted to hear all my life just blew me up.

My shirt size finally decreased from the double XL range down to the normal-sized L. All I had to do to finally burn the fat off was make gradual changes and stay committed to it – something so simple, yet something I had refused to do all these years. I will never forget those first two months of change – every day was a ride full of adrenaline.

There were times when I wanted to quit my new lifestyle, but became more motivated to change after my dog Daisy passed away in November of last year, due to advanced heart disease. My family, best friend and angel from childhood was gone – I wouldn’t get to show her how I looked or would look when I reached a range healthy for my body. I intend to make sure I keep evolving as I promised and become the person she always saw me as – a strong protector. It was time to get out of the prison I’d made for myself and connect more with the world; I was tired of being angry and depressed. It was time to be alive and become the best I could be for others and myself.

I took my time with FFC more seriously, by showing more up consistently and training myself to become better than what I was. Now, every time I enter the gym, I set my mindset to let loose and see my potential. I have started to come out of my shell and lift more, in addition to taking classes, which has helped me expand my horizons. I have noticed that my performance has been getting better and that I have more energy – and that is something I can be proud of; what I have been dreaming about all my life is finally becoming a reality. I now have a chance to break the chains I put on myself for all these years and strive for the happiness I denied myself.

Related: how training helped FFC member Jonathan make it to the AHL.

Member Stories - How Travel Inspired Me To Change My Diet, Make a Lifestyle Change and Lose Over 10% Body FatOne of my trainers always told me, “Take control of your life.” and that is something I go by every day, because I am tired of being on the sidelines, watching life slip by. It’s time to write my own story and start living. I’m not close to my target, but having come this far brings out the part of me that wants to keep fighting. I owe thanks to the entire staff at FFC South Loop for helping me on my journey to transform – especially Marcus, Sherry, Charles, Martin, Leroy, Chris and Jose, for never giving up on me and becoming a second family.

Post written by FFC South Loop member Oscar Florentino.


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