My name is Carey Simpson, and I am a really healthy person. I commit to the gym, to running, to eating well, and to getting rest. I don’t drink very much, I don’t smoke, and I would rather give up TV than my daily foray into exercise. I like to sweat, and hey, I’m good at it. Because of this I’m pretty fit. I weigh 147 lbs, am 5’8” and have big muscles. But it wasn’t always this way.
I met Rhonda through World Gym in Kelowna, and have had a few talks with her about my fitness level and exercising and what not. Through our talks, I eventually told Rhonda the story behind my fitness and she asked me to share this story with you! I hope that a few of you might pull inspiration from it, but if not, I hope you enjoy the read!
I can’t tell you where I am without telling you where I started. After leaving university2.5 years into my degree, I decided that Marine Biology wasn’t full of the charm that I originally hoped it would be and instead chose to get my Personal Training licence through BCRPA. This process took me just under a year and in the midst of finishing I took a job at a gym teaching aerobics. It was from that gym that I was recruited to work for a company called Steiner Leisure that provided all of the Fitness Professionals to all of the cruise ships currently sailing. I was 20. From the second I said yes, to the second I boarded the plane to England to start my training was less than 2 weeks.
I was shy, timid, naïve to say the least, but dying for some sort of defining epic adventure that I would look back on 30 years later and smile and say “I’m so glad I did that.” So I went. 6 weeks later I left England for Tampa Florida, where I joined the Carnival Inspiration for my first contract at sea. Talk about an eye opening experience. The people were so exciting and so passionate about where they were from and what they were doing. I met doctors from India that made more money working on the ship in the dining room than they did back home working in the emergency room. I met Italian men who whistled at every girl that walked by. I learned that each culture sees their own country in a way that you could never see it, unless you saw it through their eyes and because of that I couldn’t wait to get off the ship so I could visit these people in these amazing places. I started to grow up, and somewhere along the line, I started to grow out too.
I wasn’t super fit when I started working on the ships. I had a muffin top, and the clothing choices I went with probably didn’t help that. But I walked around at 170-175 lbs, not overly muscular but I could run and lift heavy things and I was okay with that. I had always been an athlete. I played volleyball all my life and was fit from that. I never had to work very hard at maintaining my physique, but something about the 75 cent coronas available at the crew bar, the all you can buffets served in the crew mess, the specialty coffees, the baileys on ice, the all night snack shack caused me to start gaining weight.
Oh, side bar here, the uniform I had to wear consisted of lulu lemon type pants and a t-shirt. So these clothes aren’t great at letting you know when your muffin top has become a spare tire or when your legs have exceeded the stretch ability of your jeans. It’s true that I worked in a gym, and was a full-fledged personal trainer but it is also true that drinking and partying and not sleeping took precedence over working out every single day.
The first moment I noticed I was gaining weight is burned into my mind. I was walking down a corridor on the ship and I felt my butt jiggling. I was surprised I guess because up that point I hadn’t really noticed a decline in my fitness. The more I focused on it the more I could feel it, and then I could feel my legs and my belly jiggling too. Needless to say I rushed back to my tiny cabin and examined myself from every angle sucking it in, and turning side to side, and decided that it “wasn’t that bad.”
I’m laughing a bit as I write this because I can remember that point so clear. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled and decided it wasn’t that bad. That there were lots of people out there worse off than I was and, heck, people I worked with were chubby so why should I be any different. This picture is Halloween on Carnival, maybe a year into my adventure. I’m on the left. The girl in the picture is the other fitness instructor on the ship. Who would YOU take advice from?
Anyways, the pattern of me drinking and partying more than sleeping and exercising continued. You know how they say Carnival is a party ship? Yes, that is very very true. It was almost a blessing when I got transferred to Royal Caribbean Legend of the Seas. The crew was a bit more subdued but luckily for me I managed to dig up some amazing friends that liked to party and so the group of about 10 of us continued on. And so did the weight gain.
This picture is of me 1.5 years into my 2 years at sea. I’m the one on the right. The highest number I saw on the scale was 218 lbs. I think that was right around that when this was taken. In 1.5 years I had gained 48 lbs. I was still a trainer. I was still working in a gym. I had the knowledge of what to do to stay healthy, I TAUGHT this stuff on the ship. I sold people products based upon my assessment of THEIR fitness level. I was the biggest hypocrite on the ocean. It was also right around this point that I started to panic. I knew that my final contract was over in 6 months and I knew that I was going to have to go home and face those people that knew me two years ago. The people that always saw me as thin and healthy and fit. I dreaded seeing my family. I was raised in a very fit household and I knew more than the excitement of having me back there would be an undercurrent of disappointment. So I tried to exercise again. And it sucked. I would try in the morning to go running around the deck of the ship, but I was always hung over and thirsty and my knees hurt and my back hurt and my head hurt. Did I mention at this point I had taken up socially smoking as well? No? Yeah, well that happened too. So my lungs burned when I ran and I coughed a lot. My breasts were possibly the worse thing ever. They had ballooned to an I/J cup and running with those puppies was awful. I started to feel awful too, about myself and my self-confidence took a huge blow. I think it finally dawned on me that I was fat. That the people who found me attractive on the ship might just be picking up someone with low self-esteem. I was always flattered when someone wanted to get lunch or buy me drink, but between the boobs, the naivety, and the rush of getting asked out, it occurred to me that I might just be an easy target.
I weighed 215 lbs the day that I left the ship for good. My parents picked me up in Prince George and drove me home to Williams Lake. My brother was there and my sister came to see me shortly afterward. They were happy and asked lots about my trip and time away, but regarding my body…no one said anything. No one mentioned that I was fat, or looked different. There was just this awkwardness in the air. It would almost have been better if they said “Geez Care you’ve really beefed up a bit.” Then at least I could acknowledge it and say, “I realize that! But I am going to work on it.” Talk about the elephant in the room.
I slept for 3 days. My mom says it was 4 but I think she was exaggerating. I was 22 and could not get out of bed to save my life. During this time too I had the lovely experience of getting ridiculously sick, detoxing from what I can only assume was alcohol abuse, and battling some weird shore-sickness in which I still felt the ship rocking but wasn’t on the ship anymore.
On the 4th day (fine mom the 5th day) I got out of bed and made a decision. Just as I clearly can remember the day I realized I was gaining weight I clearly can remember the day I decided to lose weight. I sat up, changed out of my sweaty clothes went to the kitchen and ate some cookies. In hind sight that was probably a bad decision and not the best way to start a weight loss journey, but at the time cookies were all I wanted. Then I made a salad. It was awful. Not the salad itself, but more the actual chore of preparing my own food again. See on the ship we had a buffet that had food prepared and laid out for us. Making that one salad took longer than eating my whole meal did on the ship. But it was a start.
Then I put on 4 sports bras that squished my chest into a watermelon shape, and went for a walk. Luckily for me I had knowledge of what I needed to do to get back into shape. It was a really simple formula. Eat well, and exercise.
I started with the exercise. I have this ridiculous sweet tooth and it was much much easier for me to put on shoes and go running than it was to eat better. I decided that it was a good start. Guess what? It worked. I was a morning exerciser, and still am, because I am great at talking myself out of exercising if I have all day to do it. So every day I would get up and go running. It was the worst thing ever. I hated it. It was cold and dark, my knees hurt so bad, my boobs hurt, my back hurt, my lungs hurt, my ribcage hurt from the stupid sports bras. My thighs rubbed together, by back fat jiggled, my face jiggled, and I cringed every time a car passed because I couldn’t image how pitiful I must look. Somehow though, I kept doing it.
I was running out of money, because I didn’t really make much on the ship and I spent most of it as I got it, so I started looking for a job. I started a personal training business and caught a few clients right away, which was great, and one of the gyms in town allowed me to train out of their facility. Then the gym changed hands and the new owners hired me on exclusively as a trainer, with the condition that I dissolve my business, which I did. The job at the gym gave me a free membership, so I started to lift weights again. I wasn’t great at it, but luckily there was a ladies only section which was normally pretty empty in which I could hide while working out. A routine was established. I would work out in the morning prior to my first client, or run depending on the day. It was EXCRUCIATING for the first 6 weeks. My body hurt so bad some days that rolling over in my sleep would cause me to wake up because it was so painful. I constantly looked like I was 90 years old because my movements were stiff and very slow. I was hopeful, and my attitude changed from one of partying to working out. I turned down invitations to go for drinks because I had to run in the morning. Then one day, I overheard two girls talking about me in the gym. They worked the front desk and I knew both of them really well. They were commenting on me and one said, “How can you be a trainer when you are that fat?” At this point I had already lost weight and was down to about 198 lbs. I thought I was doing so well, and I thought that I had the support of those around me. This marked a turning point in my weight loss. I suddenly had the realization that not all the people in my life were pulling for me to succeed and I then turned inward for motivation to continue my weight loss. I met other setbacks with people who I wanted to cheer for me. My ex-boyfriend would often tell me to stop losing weight or he would leave me. He was out of shape himself and I knew where the comment was coming from but in that I also knew that the person who wanted me to be in shape and fit and healthy, was me. So I soldiered on. The first 20 lbs came off pretty easy. I started to eat better and became one with salad and chicken and green stuff. Though still cheated a lot, the results were worth the price.
One year after I got back I was down to 180 lbs. I ran my first ever 20 k with one of my best friends by my side and my dad in the same race. This picture is from that race, I’m on the left and my running buddy Kim is on the right.
It didn’t hurt so bad to run, and I had figured out the sports bra formula so I wasn’t left with bleeding chafe marks at the end of my runs. My knees didn’t ache afterward for as long, and I worked on stretching to relieve the stiffness. This continued for the next few years. Through breakups and moving and starting school again at 25 and going into Human Kinetics at UBCO in Kelowna, my one motto the whole time was “I will never sacrifice exercise.” I toned up, got stronger, gained muscles, lost fat. October of 2010, 3 years after I started trying to lose weight, I stepped on the scale and saw 149 lbs. It was my first time ever as an adult seeing a number under 150 lbs. I was at the gym at the time and literally jumped off the scale with a fist pump and huge rush. It was some sort of righteous vindication of all of my hard work. Hours drenched in sweat, days getting up at 4:30 am to squeeze in my run, passing on everything yummy because I wanted so bad to be fit. It was worth it. In that moment in World Gym, early in the morning in October I’ve never been so proud of myself. I’m tearing up now because I can remember it so well. I wanted to tell everyone in the gym and yell it from the roof tops, but I also wanted to give myself the props for getting there. Goal obtained.
I thought then I could work on maintenance but there was this itch inside me to see how far my body could go. “Let’s see where you can take this” I thought to myself after that day. “Let’s see how fit you can get.” See, I’m built like my dad and my brother. My dad is 60 and 6’2”, 180lbs and maybe 11% body fat. My brother is 25, 6’3” and 250 lbs, say 8% body fat. Inherently I knew that I was predisposed to muscle.
I changed from a plyo style workout to serious weight lifting. I worked on upping my weights as soon as they were too easy for me to lift and though I still ran a lot, I instituted anaerobic sprints into my weekly cardio routine. I did squats in the squat rack. I did deadlifts, leg presses, bench presses, and soon enough I was out lifting a lot of guys. I super-setted everything and tried not to take breaks during my workout. I left every single workout shaking, close to throwing up and drenched in sweat. I sweated more than anyone in the gym, guy or girl. I still do! The shower at the end of those workouts was the greatest reward I’ve ever gotten. I know too that after losing weight you have to work way harder to keep it off. I know my body would rather be at 170 lbs and for some reason is always trying to get back there.
Today, 3 years later again, I have kept off the weight. I have changed composition from that day in October as I am more muscular and less fat, but I love it. I don’t mind being a muscular, fit girl, that doesn’t compete but just does this for me, to be fit and to be healthy. At first it was an ego thing but now it’s an identity thing. I get told a lot “You’re big for a girl.” Or “You’re really muscular for a girl.” And once even got asked if I was on steroids. But I also get a lot of “You look great.” And “You inspire me.” And that feels good. That feels really really good. My support system now is amazing. I have a beautifully fit boyfriend that tells me every day how pretty I am and won’t let me think negatively about my body. My family encourages my fitness and I often see my brother at the gym and talk to my dad about running. My mom and I do yoga whenever we can and my sister works out on a program that I’ve designed for her. People call me an inspiration and that’s amazing. I didn’t set out to do that, I just wanted to be healthy again.
Rhonda asked me for a picture of myself now so I am going to take one of me today. I apologize for the bathroom mirror shot! This is me today. June 25th, 2013. Nearly 6 years after I started my weight loss journey and 28 years old. It takes work, and commitment. I eat well, I exercise, I sleep well and I drink lots of water. I’m not perfect and I will work on this every day for the rest of my life, but if it means I live a longer, happier, healthier life then that is what I am going to do.
Thanks for reading, happy fitness!
Ps. This sports bra is amazing!! It’s a sports bra from Panache and is great for bigger and smaller chested ladies!