Healthy Living Y Stories YMCA Health and Fitness

The one word that helped Heather turn her life around

Heather poses in front of the Canadian flag wearing her Arriba shirt

Even with the support of her concerned parents and doctors, Heather had a hard time getting started on her journey from a sedentary lifestyle to an active, healthy one. Y staff and volunteers helped her transform her negative mindset: instead of telling herself she couldn’t do it, Heather came to believe she couldn’t do it yet. Read her Y Story to learn how this newfound sense of hope inspired Heather to tackle fitness goals she never thought possible and even become a volunteer instructor!

In the fall of 2014, I was in the worst shape of my life. I had just moved here from northern Alberta, and my new doctor didn’t hold back voicing his concerns: I was at least 90 pounds overweight, my blood pressure and cholesterol were through the roof, and I was pre-diabetic. Not to mention my body hurt constantly. My knees were always crunching, and it was tough for me to climb just a few stairs. Playing with my niece was out of the question.

The turning point came when one of my doctors said: “At this rate, you’re headed for a heart attack. Do you want to live like this, or do you want to die like this?”

My parents were, understandably, very concerned, so they encouraged me to join the YMCA that was within walking distance of us.

Getting started was tough. I was extremely shy and struggling with depression and anxiety. When I had an introductory assessment, I could barely do anything — my cardio, strength, and flexibility were almost non-existent. I could only make it through the first few minutes of any class I tried. I felt crushed, and would have given up if it wasn’t for the way the Y made me feel safe, supported, and included. I got through it by breaking what seemed like an overwhelming journey down into small steps: lose just one pound, and keep it off. Do just one more minute of that tough class. Bit by bit, I started to dream about bigger fitness goals, like joining a Karate class — something I had always wanted to get back into since I did it as a teen, but had never been fit enough to try again.

My mom was my real inspiration. She’d made huge strides in improving her own health, and had become an Arriba instructor at the Y. She simply wouldn’t let me quit. Her motto is “no excuses,” and I found that I couldn’t really say no to her when she wanted me to come to Arriba with her. I would never have done the class if it weren’t for her; I had no dance experience and I was super shy. Soon, even I could tell that I was getting better. The clincher was when I started making friends with some of the other dancers and instructors – then I was hooked!

I eventually decided to step way out of my comfort zone and find the courage to become a volunteer Arriba instructor myself. I wanted to give back to the community that had helped me so much. Today, I get excited about working out, and I love helping others feel that way too. It’s so rewarding to have the opportunity to encourage someone who’s feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, and to try to give them some hope by sharing my own starting point and journey.

I can’t believe how far the Y has helped me come. I’m finally pursuing the Karate program I’ve always wanted to take, have no plans of stopping my volunteer work in Arriba, and I’m even planning to pursue a career in health and fitness. I’m at a healthy weight, my blood pressure’s normal, and I’m no longer pre-diabetic! Most importantly, I can run, jump, and play with my niece. I never would have found such a supportive network of instructors and volunteers anywhere else, and it’s because of their genuine passion for helping others improve their health that I’ve been able to get fit, hone my leadership skills, and build my confidence in just a few short years.

I would have never dreamed of becoming an Arriba instructor before I came to the Y, but today, I welcome challenges the old me would have feared. Now, when I come up against something I can’t do, I remind myself I can’t do it yet. That one word changes everything. Others have definitely noticed the transformation in my physical health, but everyone’s seen the effects of my new outlook, and how I’ve grown into a more confident, outgoing, positive, and happy person since I came to the Y.