My body, 12 years later.

When I graduated high school 12 years ago, I was 5-foot, 6-inches tall and weighed in at a staggering 103-pounds. It wasn’t because of poor diet, or because of exercising. It wasn’t from illness, or anything else. It was simply genetics. I ate like a horse (and far from healthily at that). My friends would always watch in amazement as I polished off a large pizza solo, then dove into another without a second thought. I was a busy senior, constantly on the go, so that added to it.

My friends would always talk about my weight. I was so skinny. I was so lucky. Truth be told? I hated my body. I was a straight line. I had zero going for me physically. I hated the stares, the under-the-breath remarks. The implications I had an eating disorder. I was uncomfortable, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to change it. I tried eating more, moving less. That didn’t work. I just became antsy and it took more food to fill me up because I’d stretched my stomach.

Just on the other side of my 19th birthday, I was walking out of McDonald’s after work one day and passing by a table of women that looked certainly old enough to be my mother, I had a cheeseburger, half-eaten, thrown at me. I was then called a skinny bitch and told to go eat a hamburger. Little did they know, I had two of them in my bag (I lived and died for the #2 two-cheeseburger combo at McD’s back in the day).

Now, I had anger issues growing up. I got into fights at school over the dumbest crap ever. I snapped like a light switch. I just rolled with it until the day I turned 18 and realized my “skinny ass” would wind up in jail if I didn’t cut it out. So, here these three women were, old enough to know better, taunting me after I’d already put in a year of hard work curbing my anger, managing my fly-off-the-handle tendencies. To this day how I was able to walk out of there with my head high and not say anything after having food thrown at me, baffles me.

Life after high school was where I started making the changes to change me. After a Food Science and Nutrition class my freshman year of college, I started making the change from Junk Food Queen to healthy eater. The first year was rough. I was eating more, my grocery bill was higher. It sucked. But I stuck with it and now I wouldn’t have it any other way. My body loves me for the smart choices I make when it comes to food.

I started running again. I found body weight and band workouts to do in my apartment. I was deadly determined to succeed with the physical changes as much as I had always been determined to succeed in anything I did, period.

Before my 20th birthday, I hit plateau. I hit a rut and couldn’t get out. I’d only gained two pounds in four months, but my body was starting to change. There were a few new curves here and there, but I was still straight as a pencil. There was another hurdle, I was still in recovery physical therapy for a neck and back injury from a serious car accident I was in the year before. I had days where my neck and my back were in so much pain that walking seemed a chore.

In August of 2003, I joined a local gym, hired a trainer (immediately ditched that trainer and got a different one) and set off on what would be a hell of a ride over the next 11 years.

It took me two trainers to find one that would be able to guide me towards my goals. This is why I always have a free consultation with my clients. Finding that perfect fit is key to succeeding with your goals, and not just in fitness.

I took to my first program, and dug my heels in deep. I was not giving up. I dutifully went to the gym five days a week, every week, every month. If I missed a day, I had two other days that the gym was open, I’d just swap around my days.

It wasn’t until I was two years into a regular gym routine that I noticed the change to my body. I was looking at photos from three years earlier, comparing them to ones of me at that current time. I had a little more shape to my body. I’d put on just under 10-pounds in that time span (gaining for me has always been, and always will be a task). And I looked happier than I had three years before.

At that point, my trainer changed things up a little for me, because my goals had changed. I started drinking protein drinks, focusing on splits, doing different types of workouts (5×5, German Volume Training, Giant Sets, Super Sets, etc…).

Five years ago, six years into this journey, looking at photos at my parents house again (my mother was the queen of taking photos. Explains where I got it from), I felt my heart doing a dance in my chest. Looking in the mirror every day, you never see it. You look the same. The changes are never clear until you have something to compare it to. This is why I always tell people: progress photos!

Seriously. If I didn’t see myself at the age of 18 compared to the age of 25 in those photos that I held in my hands that day, I wouldn’t have realized just how much my body had changed at that point.

I had muscles. I had shoulders. I had calves! Calves! My chicken legs had faded into history at some point and I never got to say good-bye. My thighs had taken on a beautiful shape. I had clear definition from biceps to triceps. And my back… I’ve always liked my back, it was always a strong point for me, even when I was a shapeless string bean. At 25? I was borderline madly in love with it.

At 25, people you start running into the people you went to school with. I’d done college locally, so I’d stuck around (who wants to leave being 5-minutes from the ocean? Not this beach lover) and set my roots down where I grew up. When people started filtering back into town, I suddenly had people (men in particular) that wouldn’t have paid attention to me in school, interested. I looked so good! What’s my secret! You always were small, but you look just as amazing if not better! And the best of all was: Why didn’t we ever get together in school?

I did the only thing I could do… Shake my head and walk on. I was still the same person at 25 that I was at 12, or 15 or even 18. I hadn’t changed at all. Even today, at 30 years old, I’m still the same exact person I always have been. My personality, what drives me, my desires, my interests? All the same.

Courtesy of the Throwback Thursday fad that’s cropped up due in part to social media and “what’s trending”, I get to see photos of my old self regularly. Some are from way back when I was a buck-toothed, ratty-haired punk. Others are from those high school days. And some are from my early adult years. It’s fun to look at them, think of the memories that were created the day the photos were snapped, and reminisce. This past month, it’s been more for me. Particularly because there has been a lot of high school photos popping up…

I look at me then, I look at me now. Before my Body 360 class arrived this morning, going around the room, running over what they day’s exercises would be, I caught myself in the mirror.

Somewhere in the past 12 years, I’ve lost an inch in height (don’t ask, I have no idea). But what I’ve gained is amazing. From head to toe, with more than a decade of dedication and hard work, I have remade my body. There isn’t a hint of what was once there, not a trace. I’ve brought my fighting weight up courtesy of a gain of 25-pounds of muscle in that decade. I’ve gained inches of muscle all over my body, giving it curves and definition up and down.

There were setbacks. There were hard days. There were days (more at the start than now) when I questioned my sanity as I dragged my ass into the gym for a workout.

In the end, I’m happy that I pushed myself. That I believed in myself. I knew, deep down that I could do this. I still know, to this day that I can keep doing it. My story is far from done.

I’m a real person, living in the real world with a full time job, a new business of my own, a household to run, a dog to tend to. I have days where I want to sit on the couch and eat a back of M&Ms and do nothing more. I have days where quitting does cross my mind. I’m only human.

But, I’m proof that with dedication and elbow grease, it can be done. Success can be had.

Competition Series: Part Three.

Friday was an absolutely gorgeous day. Despite nerves and panic seeding itself deep only a few days before, I was able to push it all aside and enjoy the day. I got some of my yard raked, and I got to break in my new bathing suit and get a little sun on my pasty white skin while enjoying the amazing book The Goldfinch.

By Saturday morning, all of that calm was gone. Flew the coop. Then, by 9 a.m., insanity set in. I got my trainer band and headed backstage to the staging area, locker rooms and where hair, makeup, tans and the polygraphs were being done. Now, I’ve watched countless competitions via streaming on the computer or snippets here and there on television, and I follow dozens of competitors at all levels on social media. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can prepare you for what you step into when you go back stage. As a competitor or a trainer.

At one point, I was sure that I was going to be consumed by tan fumes or hairspray.

The staging area was full of chatter and minor chaos as competitors prepped, pumped up, and awaited the athletes meeting. Under it all, you could hear the hushed question over and over: Has anyone seen Mike yet?

Mike would be the Mike O’Hearn. The first part of the competition series made a few mentions of his expected attendance at the event, and clearly it was highly anticipated by all.

With some down time, we sat in the audience, watching the bodybuilding competitors do their thing on the stage. It was fascinating to see all of the different physiques flexing and working the stage. The most amazing was the Masters 50+ group. Men that truly were inspiring. I wanted to beat feet, hit the gym and pump some iron.

When the figure competitors were finally called to line up, I was lucky enough to grab a spot barely five feet from the stage. Perfect for encouraging Aimee, helping her out if I saw her not quite doing her best, and making mental notes of things she needed to work on for her second stage (and what others were doing that seemed to catch the eyes of the judges). Making first call out had me jumping up and down, hooting and hollering, clapping insanely. My voice probably dominated all of the voices in the auditorium cheering on friends and family as well as other trainers rooting on their competitors.

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Figure lineup for pre-judging.

After a quick meet backstage after the first stage, Aimee hit the stage a second time, making first call out again. She didn’t think that she was going to place, but I had faith that she would. Her posing was strong, and her hard work was clear all over her body. The cut of her muscles looked stunning under the lighting on stage.

The atmosphere was something else. It truly is one hell of an experience. I met a lot of incredible athletes backstage. The support and encouragement they all give one another was nothing short of awesome. It took me a bit to feel comfortable chatting with the others, but by the end of the night, I could roll on by a competitor and say “Lookin’ strong out there number 33!” and slap ‘em a high-five.

I heard some pretty great stories back there too. Ones that mirrored my own on this fitness journey, and ones that were an inspiration. One woman suffered a stroke two years before, but with work and dedication, was able to get herself back on stage. Looking at her, you would have never known that that was her journey. Watching her on the stage, you certainly would have never known. She was spectacular.

Standing in the hallway during a little downtime, you could hear a quiet jingle-jangle. For all of those who follow my blog, you know of my experiences with my crazy dog Dunkin. Those experiences that often detail the sound of his jingly-jangly collar, and how it helps me locate him when he’s managed to break free and run wild.

Hearing the jingle-jangle meant one thing: There was a dog in the building. Who would bring their dog to a competition (aside from someone needing a service dog of course)? None other than Mike O’Hearn. And then suddenly, boom, there he was. You never really realize just how big (or small) someone is until you see them in real life. I’m in the neighborhood of 5’4″-5’5″ depending on the day I’m having and when O’Hearn passed by Aimee and I with Stryker, I felt a smidgeon over 3-feet tall. The guy is huge.

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Sorry for the super creepy photo Mr. O’Hearn, but none of my fitness buds believed me that you were THAT close. I needed concrete proof.

Aimee, having sled dogs, quickly brushed off O’Hearn as he passed by us and was solely interested in Stryker. Me? My eyes went wide, and all I could say was “Duuuuuuuude!” and point as he passed through the doors that took him backstage. Star struck was an understatement. I knew he was going to be there, and I figured I’d see him at some point, but the actuality of him being there left me a bit “Did you just? Oh my God, that’s…”

Wanting to catch some of the bikini competitors, we ducked into the auditorium and I took up a spot on the floor. Cheering on one of the girls I’d met in the locker room, I happened to look to my right and proceeded to immediately drop my phone (thankfully it’s in an Otter Box case). O’Hearn and Stryker were no more than 2-feet next to me. So naturally, I stared and sent out a few texts to friends (OMG Mike O’Hearn is RIGHT NEXT TO ME!). Of course none believed me, so because of my awkwardness in these kinds of situations, I took this creepy stalker-like photo (proof, because I haven’t figured out how to zoom my new phone’s camera, that he was pretty damn close).

When it came time for t-walks, we were told that all competitors were to go out in numerical order. Which had Aimee and I both worried, she was to be the first figure competitor to hit the stage — directly behind the last male bodybuilder. Aimee is a very petite woman, and having her come out behind a huge bodybuilder was intimidating. But, like with everything, you’ve gotta take it in stride.

Taking up my spot just in front of the stage, I watched the bodybuilders, awaiting Aimee’s t-walk. After the last bodybuilder ducked off stage, the event coordinator stepped on stage and started talking about O’Hearn. I covered my face with my hands and said out loud “No, no, don’t do this to Aimee! She can’t go on after him!” all while praying silently that he just graces the stage in his street clothes to maybe give a quick summarization of what his seminar was going to be about.

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Mike O’Hearn guest posing during the OCB Pine Tree State Bodybuilding, Figure & Bikini Competition, April 12 in Westbrook, Maine.

Then the music started.

Then he came out.

Sorry O’Hearn, you’ve inspired me and your tips have helped me along the way, but my loyalties are strong. You’re a hard act to follow, and my poor friend was the one that had to walk out on stage behind you. I may or may not have contemplated sticking my tongue out at him.

But instead, I got the entire thing on video.

Aimee nailed her t-walk and the crowd loved her. She has a great, magnetic personality, so how could they not? Since she walked away with a fourth place trophy, I think I’m pretty spot on in that declaration.

Before leaving, several of the competitors gave me encouraging words about doing my own competition someday. Or at least, I say someday, but they all gave me a much shorter timeline. Some said a year, some said this summer. While it most certainly was an experience of a lifetime, and one that I’m happy as hell that I got to experience, I still don’t know.

Chalk.

Chalk

As a former climber, I know all about the amazing gripping benefits of chalking. I can still remember a time back in high school, climbing with the dynamic teaching-climbing duo from my school at a local spot and even though I was attached to ropes, I felt like it was just the very tips of my fingers holding me on that rock. My stomach was in my feet that day, but it was also the first day I chalked while climbing. I still am happy that I made the decision to chalk-up on that day (I’m sure my lunch that day was too).

My fellow gym rats chalk. Others in my gym, moreso when I started going almost 11 years ago than now, chalk. I was of the stubborn mindset of when doing heavier lifts, I needed to rely on my natural gripping abilities. Which I was successful at until I hit the neighborhood of 26. Then sweaty palms started happening. Not badly at first, just occasionally and more often in the summer than any other time of the year. Gotta love those Maine humid, sticky, icky, muggy summers.

Fast forwarding to about two years ago… My deadlifts were creeping their way back up well over the 180-pound mark and when I’d hit 200-pounds or over, I was only getting one, maybe two reps in before the bar was slamming down, my hands too slippery to really grip it good. So I bought a pair of sexy Harbinger hot pink lifting straps. They helped me shatter some more personal records, but it still wasn’t good enough.

Then I had the brain storm to start working on doing those fancy schmancy muscle up things. I hadn’t done pull-ups or chin-ups in who knows how long at this point, so I knew that I needed to get my butt back at the bar to start doing them again. Three weeks ago I hopped up there, started pumping out some chin-ups and then had to stop before I fell and smashed my face in. Because, sweaty palms.

I hadn’t climbed in forever, so my chalk supply had gone off and died somewhere (most likely it got tossed in one of my moves in my early 20s). As a climber, I used powdered chalk. Now, as a lifter, I had options. Did I want to do classic chalk? Or did I want to give liquid chalk a go?

They both accomplish the same thing, but liquid chalk sure as hell makes less of a mess. Since I’m impatient as hell when I’ve set my mind on a goal, I ended up having to buy classic block chalk. But, fortunately one of my fellow gym pals gave me a small bottle of liquid chalk to try.

While yes, I do like the convenience of the liquid chalk, I find myself grabbing my container of smashed up block chalk more to do my heavy lifts and pull/chin-ups. I’m a hard gripper, as is proof when you look at the palms of my hands. I blame it on years of monkey bars and those sliding ring things that we called Zippers back in the day (I could zip back and forth on those things one handed like nobody’s business). I find with the liquid chalk, I’m rubbing it off in those important grip spots with each set. With old fashioned chalk, unlike liquid chalk, at least in my experience, I can just smack my hands together, give them a little rub and it’s like I’ve reapplied. So for now, it’s me and block chalk being besties in the gym.

But damn, if I’d only jumped the chalk wagon sooner, who knows where my personal records would be. Maybe high enough to make even the heaviest lifters in my gym cry… If only…

Quinoa Fried Rice.

In the midst of all the insanity that is often known as my life, the only other thing that calms my mind and body as much as the gym is cooking. Normally this time of year, with school sports in a lull and waiting for the Spring seasons to start, I have limitless amounts of time to play in the kitchen at the stove. Unfortunately with training, getting my classes ready to take off and working on a presentable package for my fitness business, I don’t get to cook as often as I would like to.

The result is typically me cooking one big meal on Monday and milking left overs for lunch and dinner a few days after until I can cook again.

After a beautiful and balmy Saturday last weekend, I was able to get my grille out and do some grilling. But, because it was so damn good, there were zero left overs. Then of course I dug around on Pinterest. Good, old, trusty Pinterest. I’d remembered someone I followed posting about Quinoa Fried Rice and after looking around for a bit, I found it. So, while I watched my beloved West Ham Hammers defeat Sunderland, I dug my pots and pans out and cooked my heart out.

Now, my dog was a bad, bad little doggy yesterday while I was at work and peed on the corner of the storage bench/coat rack that is in the sunroom. Because he was a bad dog, it was with great pleasure I enjoyed every single bite with many “Mmms” Including each bit that had snap peas in it (his favorite). I know, I’m a mean dog mom, but he was a brat.

Of course, it’s me, and I can never cook something exactly according to directions. So the recipe below has been tweaked to match what I cooked (higher protein so it’s great for post-gym deliciousness!)

Ingredients
  • PhotoGrid_13963102498011lb ground chicken
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ¼ small onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 eggs, lightly scrambled (still raw)
  • 2 cups snap peas
  • Sauce:
  • 1 ½ tablespoons teriyaki sauce
  • 2 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
Instructions
  1. Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a medium saucepan, and then reduce to a simmer. Season with salt.
  2. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until quinoa is fluffy and cooked through. Remove from heat and let set for five minutes or so. Fluff with a fork.
  3. Set aside to cool
  4. Cook ground chicken until no longer pink. Strain and set aside.
  5. Mix teriyaki, soy sauce, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Set aside.
  6. Heat ½ tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan over a high heat. Add onion and red pepper, cook about two minutes. Add snap peas, cook another two minutes. Add in scallions, garlic and the remaining olive oil. Stir-fry about two minutes. Add sauce and mix well. Make a well in the center of the quinoa pour eggs in, scramble. Toss in the chicken, and quinoa, then mix everything together until well incorporated. Cook on low for about 3-4 minutes, then serve.

Competition Series: Part Two.

Oh and this is where excitement gets replaced by panic. Thirteen days out from competition and my mind is going a million miles an hour. Of course, it doesn’t help where I start my Weekend FITT classes within a week. So between planning that, working on weekday classes, focusing on my “day job” and this?

Brain explosion.

I’ve been stalking my usual competitor idols more than ever before on their social media accounts and pages, devouring information from books and sites, trying to in some way get myself prepared enough for what exactly is going to be needed of me on competition day. While, yeah, sure, I’m familiar with the competition world and the fitness industry, I’ve never been behind the scenes.

My brain has been on repeat, running over the basic checklist, over and over again. Every time I pick up something new, it gets added to the list. Joining the mantra.

Walking, posing, the tan, meetings, etc… It’s a flood inside my head. Worried about a misstep. Panic about forgetting something – important. Just a few days ago, when we were closer to being three weeks out, I was confident, felt like I had this in the bag. I was going to nail all the things a trainer would need to be spot on about that day… Then somewhere over the past 48-hours, the panic started to trickle in.

Looks like it’s not just the competitors who get competition day jitters…

That eating thing.

Oh where to start with this one? There is so much to say, and no clear “Start” line, so let’s just fire off that gun and get going…

First, there are two sides of the fence here. The one side that says you have to eat three square meals a day. Then the other that says five small meals throughout the day is where it’s at.

Both sides of the fence can produce valid arguments, to an extent. Are they right? Well lets delve into that…

Starting with the Five Small Meals side. While this works wonders for those training for the next fitness competition, it’s not conducive to Joe Schmoe. Your average Mary or Tom. The issues with this camp:

  • You never experience hunger (and when you do, research has shown that the rate of binge eating in high)
  • You eat when you don’t need to
  • Eating more, small meals, does not (contrary to belief) speed up your metabolism
  • Doesn’t help everyone lose weight

Why is hunger important? Well, to an extent, you should allow yourself to feel hunger. Not a starving, the Kraken is going to eat out your insides, kind of hungry. Jill Coleman explains it perfectly in her blog post, found here. But here’s a excerpt:

I deprived, then I binged. Of course I did. Furthermore, I didn’t trust MYSELF to handle hunger or be able to navigate it. So I did everything I could to prevent it, in effect never giving myself THE OPPORTUNITY to learn how to deal with it.  So of course in the inevitable instances when I did experience hunger, I was helpless to handle the resulting overindulgence.

Inevitably, to control food cravings, binges, etc… and make healthier food choices, let yourself get a little hungry. Think of the song “Crazy” by Seal, but swap the lyrics around “We’re never gonna survive unless, we get a little, hungry”. Corny, but it works.

Eating is part psychological. Which rounds us into the next part: Training yourself to become hungry at certain times between meals. This is what happens when you follow the eat-every-three-hours model (the five small meal principle). If you’re formerly of the Three Square Meal group, waiting three hours between meals at the start will make you feel as though you’re dying. Then, your body adapts to the schedule. You will be able to wait out the three-hour period, but if you go even a few minutes over, you feel ravenous. You’ve trained your body when to become hungry.

And by feeding it every three hours, you deny yourself the feeling of, let’s call it Smidgen Hunger.

You want to feel Smidgen Hunger once in awhile. This is going to become a mantra here, if you haven’t caught on to that yet. Being a little hungry once in awhile is okay.

Another argument to this side of the fence is: You’re eating when you don’t need to. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. Step away from the pantry, the vending machine (you shouldn’t be there anyway), and the refrigerator.

Now, time to scale that fence and hop on over to the other side.

The problem with the Three Square Meals argument is: You tend to eat more than you need, often by hundreds of calories, when you focus on your three meals, with snacking in between.

You become a slave to your body (in reality this is true for either side of this figurative fence). You can pack a lot of your nutrition requirements into those three daily meals, but it won’t be enough to sustain your hunger levels between meals, so you snack insanely between. Research has shown that over 75% of the snack choices have little, to no nutritional value at all. Empty calories.

Guess what empty calories do? Make you even more hungry. So begins the cycle.

It’s a vicious one, you can’t lose weight, you don’t feel well… So what do you do?

It’s all about understanding your hunger. First, are you really hungry? Give yourself about 15-20 minutes after that first hunger pang hits. Don’t dwell on food, or think about what you’re going to eat. Just chill out. Focus on your work, that TV show you might be watching, that book you’re reading, Facebook, Twitter. Just stay off of Pinterest. Pinterest when you’re possibly hungry is like the grocery store when you are hungry.

Before you get to the eating part, ask yourself: What are you hungry for? Do you know? If your craving something in particular, your body is telling you that it’s missing something. Could be a vitamin or mineral deficiency. You might need to refuel on carbohydrates. The key to successful eating is to know what your body wants.

Now, to satisfying that hunger — if you’re still hungry, and those little hunger pangs have grown a little more persistent. Grab a snack (unless it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, then go for a well rounded, nutritious meal). Make sure the snack is balanced (RE: Healthy).

Don’t obsess over food. Obsessing is as unhealthy as eating 20 Snickers bars a week. And that’s our biggest issue. We obsess over food. Just stop it.

The key, and it’s been said a million times over, is moderation. Learn proper portions, learn your hunger and what it means for you (not everyone else, but YOU), and eat according to that. It’s about you and your body, your goals. Stay away from Google. Shut the television infomercials off. And even be weary of the glossy magazines that line the newsstand racks.

Living and loving.

Saturday marked a milestone birthday for a dear friend of mine. Unfortunately, he wasn’t here to celebrate the big 3-0. 12 and a half years ago, his life was taken from him at the age of only 17.

Adam was an amazing soul. He was kind hearted and patient. We met as very young children and formed an instant and lasting friendship. One of those deep friendships that had an even deeper connection. We knew one needed the other before a word could be said.

Despite our young age, Adam taught me so many things I hold value to today.

Big and small, some of the most important were the true meaning of friendship, and just how great it can really be. He showed me that it was okay to trust someone. And I trusted him wholly. He carried my secrets with him, and I still carry his. It’s okay to need to lean on someone when times are hard. Boy, did I lean sometimes. Especially the last few years I had him with me.

The most important was love. While there are many a naysayer out there who claim that “young people cannot experience love”, we were proof that young people could. Then again, looking back, even at the age of 30, at the relationship Adam and I had, it was unlike the majority people of our age at the time experience.

But, I loved Adam. First as a friend, and then later as more. There were many nights that we would sit on the tailgate of his truck and plan out our future. What we wanted to be, where we wanted to be. We never worried about who we were with when we did this because we knew we would be together. Our dreams weren’t big, we wanted a simple, but happy life. Our way of thinking always blended together.

When Adam passed away, I can sit here and honestly say it was the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my entire life. It was not just heartbreak that I experienced, it was just breaking. Literally. My life was suddenly altered. I didn’t know what to do. On the outside, I looked to be handling it well. I was being the strong shoulder for all of my friends, making sure they were all alright. On the inside, I felt alone and lost. The person who had been holding my hand, guiding me through this crazy thing called life, was suddenly gone.

My life was forever changed that year. But something happened. Adam’s death pushed me to actually start living.

Armed with the things he taught me, I put a brave face on and set out. I no longer sat back and let things come to me, I went for them on my own. I worked ten times harder to reach my goals than I had before. No longer did I care what anyone thought of me, I wasn’t going to be stifled or held back. I held my head high and moved forward.

My dreams are still simple, I don’t want much. The most important thing to me was finding a connection, a love again. I knew it wasn’t going to be the same, but I wanted it to be true. I didn’t want it to be misguided, or only surface deep. It needed to be real, it needed to be deep and it needed to be the kind that would last through anything.

It took time, and the road wasn’t easy. There were times when I could feel Adam there, nudging me down a different path, sending me towards where I needed to be.

Inevitably (and maybe even a bit stubbornly), I made it there. Blessed is the only way to describe what I am to be able to experience love for a second time. Not everyone can be that fortunate or lucky.

Adam will always hold a very special place in my heart, but because of him, I was able to open the rest of it to someone else.

The final thing that I learned from Adam? Cherish every moment. Every. Single. Moment.