Growing up with a bone disease, Sheila Brooks came to define herself by her disability. Exercise? She couldn’t. Become an athlete? No way. By the time she was an adult, that self-story had solidified; she was downright petrified of the gym. But now she’s finally busted that mental wall — and lost 52 pounds (and counting).
“In the beginning, I was terrified.”
Only a few months ago, the very notion of walking into a gym was enough to make Sheila Brooks want to turn and run.
For Sheila, 49, of Edmonds, Washington, the gym was more than intimidating; it felt flat-out impenetrable. She never thought she’d be comfortable enough to walk through the door, let alone exercise there daily.
“I have a free membership through my work at a gym that’s two miles away, so I really didn’t have any excuse not to go, other than fear,” Sheila says.
“I was really uncomfortable with the idea of working out in front of other people. I thought, ‘I’m awkward’ and ‘I’m weird looking.’ These were the kinds of things that went through my head, and it was enough to keep me out of the gym.”
Sheila’s fear stemmed from a deeply rooted belief that she was not an athletic or physically capable person — and never would be. That’s because Sheila was born with a bone disease. Her disability, and her beliefs about it, held her back from participating in physical activity.
“It keeps me from doing any sort of high-impact stuff. Growing up, I wasn’t athletic at all,” she reflects. “I couldn’t participate in any sort of sports, and exercise itself wasn’t a part of my life.”
As a result, Sheila believed she was not strong, and her body simply wasn’t cut out for exercise. So she avoided it.
Sheila was overweight, unhappy, unhealthy, and generally feeling stuck.
Over the years, Sheila’s inner story about what she couldn’t do became more than a story about athleticism. It became an identity that held her back from experiencing everything that life has to offer.
“I was so miserable. I was very overweight and very depressed and sad about life in general. I’d shut myself away. I thought I couldn’t do anything and I hated the way I looked, so I just said no to everything. Finally, I knew something had to change.”
So Sheila took a leap of faith and signed up for Precision Nutrition Coaching, making a conscious effort to trust the program.
“I put my faith in the PN program. I didn’t have any faith in myself. So I figured, why not put my faith in something else?”
In just a few months with Precision Nutrition, Sheila learned a lot, including her “why” behind her goals, and practical nutrition basics like meal prep and portion control. Plus, she was doing her workouts regularly… from the safety and comfort of her own home.
But the gym still felt like a “big monster” that she was tired of hiding from.
Sheila decided it was time to face her fear.
She reached out to her coach for support. Coach Lisanne’s suggestion: Rather than jumping in with both feet, why not start small?
“My coach suggested I pick one exercise in my workout plan that I felt comfortable doing. For me, that was the sumo deadlift. She said, ‘Okay, go in and just do that one exercise and then leave. Don’t do the whole workout, just do one exercise and leave’.”
Sheila gathered her nerve, walked into the gym, and did 10 reps of a sumo deadlift.
“I was terrified and felt weird,” she acknowledges, “but I went in and did 10 deadlifts and that was it and then I left. It all started from there.”
That simple act turned out to be the catalyst for massive change.
After that, Sheila had a bit more confidence, so she scheduled a session with a trainer at the gym to show her around. Next time she came in, she was able to do her full PN workout.
Was she still nervous and uncomfortable? Yep. But she did it anyway.
And she knew that Coach Lisanne was cheering her on.
After facing her fears of the gym, Sheila not only shed pounds, she started shedding that old story about herself.
Sheila made a commitment to herself to show up in the gym every single day, and she kept it. At the same time, she maintained her daily PN lessons and habits, and reached out to Coach Lisanne whenever she needed a little extra support.
Sheila’s consistency paid off, and she saw results in her body: Only six months into the program, she’d already lost 55 pounds, and was looking better in her clothes.
Meanwhile, Sheila began to realize that something subtle but significant was happening.
Her old beliefs about herself — about being incapable, unathletic, or weak — were being replaced with something much more powerful.
“I began to realize that a lot of those mental scripts that I’d told myself in the past are not true.”
“For example, I’ve discovered that I’m really strong. Because of my disability, I can’t jump and I can’t run — but I’m strong. I’m sort of amazed at the weights that I can lift. Now, I’m looking into competitive powerlifting and I would have never, ever thought that that would be possible.”
She adds, “It’s like I’ve discovered that my body’s made for something, and I’m good at it.”
Discovering her strength has opened up a whole new world of possibility for Sheila, whether it’s daily life, or big adventures.
“There are little things I can do, like carrying grocery bags, that are much easier nowadays. This summer I got into hiking. I live in the Northwest and hiking is a huge thing around here. It’s actually a fun thing to do now.”
In a bold move, Sheila even took a Brazilian jiu-jitsu class. “I went because I wanted to see what it was like. I’m not as scared to try new things anymore.”
She’s even planning a countryside hike through France — an incredible vacation for someone who used to struggle to walk more than a mile.
To date, Sheila is down 52 pounds from her highest weight. (In the past few months, she has gained three more pounds of muscle, and she continues to lose inches.)
“My time with PN has been about redefining myself,” says Sheila. “I have a physical disability, yes, but I now realize that, for years, I’d been limiting myself.
“Nowadays, I realize that I’m capable of lifting heavy weights and stuff, but it’s more than that… I’m not going to define myself by what I can’t do. I don’t have to limit myself anymore.”
At last, for Sheila, the possibilities really are endless.
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