"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle"....The Universe is Made of Tiny Stories


I have read and re-read stories from people full of courage.  I applaud you. Whether your story is written in your private journal and tucked away or written for someone else to see or even for the world to see, I applaud you.  We are all products of our story. Sometimes we are in tune with them and sometimes we are unaware of them until someone asks us, "what is your story?"  When I remind myself, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle" (Plato), I also remind myself that everyone has a story. Opening yourself up to share your story is a big deal.  I have been humbly reading stories of the human spirit in its purest state.  For those of you who have shared your stories with me, thank you for this gift.  When we put into words what we think and know, it becomes real. Not that it wasn't real before, but we can see it through a different lens.  As I read your stories, I cry and I laugh, and I try to picture what things were like.   If  you have not contemplated how amazing and strong and resilient the human spirit is, then read these stories.  Each story will give you eyes, will give you hope, will give you a glimpse of the depth of the soul and the universe that lives inside of each of us.

Below are stories in words, in pictures, some long (the last one!) some short, and all worth reading. You might find some common thread or some piece that resonates for you or for someone in your world....Read them all or read just one and come back to visit another one soon.  Enjoy! and thank you to those who wrote them! You have blessed us, the readers, in ways that we might not yet understand.


What is my story? Well, I guess it starts with my motivation – my son Jacob.  In 2003 my wife was expecting our first child after having a series of miscarriages.  As my wife’s pregnancy progressed it became more and more apparent we would be parents soon.  My dad was always very active with my brothers and me, so I wanted to follow suit by giving my son the same active life.  I didn’t want to be one of those dads that couldn’t keep up with his kid.  At the time, I was within my first year of law enforcement and working at the jail.  I had lost all of the fitness I had gained in the Sheriff’s Academy and was a whopping 240 lbs.; the heaviest I had ever been.  I knew I had to do something but felt limited to lifting weights or running because, well, that was the “go-to” in law enforcement at the time.  I truly hated doing both because of the monotony of both regiments.

"My mantra: I ride because my son cannot."

As luck would have it, I was assigned to work a segment of the jail with a deputy who was into cycling.  Jeff was not only an avid cyclist but had started racing in the local USCF races.  He had just bought a new bike and offered his old one to get started.  I took him up on the offer and, well, I got bit by the cycling bug….BIG TIME! I quickly learned to love the suffering as I pushed myself to limit both on the flats and hills.  I also became addicted to the meditation that goes along with being out in the world for miles…just me and the bike.  In just about six months time I was riding four to five times a week, clocking in around 500-700 miles a month.  As a result, I lost 50 lbs and was in the shape of my life.  My son was born on December 27th, 2003 and I was confident I would be able to be the active dad my kid deserved.  Not too long after Jacob was born, I joined a local cycling club and began to set my sights on racing.  My son was my focus. He gave me wings both on and off the bike.

Six months after Jacob was born, my wife and I were dealt a severe blow.  Jacob was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.  In the months that followed we were handed more bad news.  Jacob had a genetic disorder that didn’t allow his body to absorb nutrients essential to life.  Joan and I knew our time was with him would be short.  I continued my workouts on the bike and switch my motivation from being super dad to dedicating every breath, every moment of suffering and every movement to Jacob.  My mantra: I ride because my son cannot.  Joan was amazing during this time.  She knew I needed to ride and most times was the one forcing me out the door.  She knew I had stress at work and home and allowing me to decompress on the bike would only benefit the family.

In September 2004, Joan became pregnant with our second child.  We later found out we we’re having a girl.  I remember having a conversation with God wondering if he was playing some kind of sick joke.  Here I had a child at the end of his life, another being brought into life and God throws in the news that I’m going to have a girl! I was raised with four knuckle dragging brothers for crying out loud! What the? Why the? HUH?!  I continued to ride because at this point I just simply needed to escape.  (Sidenote: Joan was an amazing mother and wife during this whole time.  I could write volumes about that fact alone.)

Jacob grew wings and flew to heaven on January 11, 2006.  With that a part of me died.  Over time getting on the bike became a chore.  I didn’t have the same wings.  I continued to ride and race but found myself doing it with feigned motivation.  In Fall 2012, when I was supposed to start my training regiment for 2013, it came to a head.  I looked at my bike and said, “Fuck it!”  I was done.  To this day, I don’t know why.  Without the training and motivation I began to gain all the weight I had previously lost.  My body hurt most every day.  I ate poorly…..very poorly.  I want to say I got up to 225 lbs but couldn’t say for sure because I lacked the motivation to get on the scale.  Oddly enough, in my complete “blowup” I didn’t lose my love for watching bike racing. Weird.

In April 2013, I drove downtown to watch the Redlands Bicycle Classic and support some of my old racing buddies.  Between races, I went to the expo on top of the parking garage to check things out.  Truth be told, I was looking for the booth with the kettle corn.  Instead I ran into a vertically challenged (I must be careful here..) woman with a British accent as I scoped out a sign that said “Energy Lab Core Fitness”.  I honestly don’t know why I stopped to look because working out was the furthest from my mind.  I’m glad I did, though. Natalie introduced herself and told me about the Lab.  She told me about TRX, Breakthrough and about the owners, Jill and Sean.  I was about to thank Natalie for her time and continue my way to the kettle corn when she said, “There’s a TRX class tomorrow. You’ll be there, right?”  It sounded more like an order than a request, so without thinking I said, “Yeah, I’ll be there.” (it actually came out more like  a question than a statement)

That night I looked through my clothes to find something that resembled gym clothes and found an old pair of shorts and an old t-shirt with Jelly Belly Professional Cycling blasted on the front.  I convinced myself they fit but in hindsight I probably looked like a sausage.  Sunday morning came and I was in bed trying hard to convince myself that going to the gym was a bad idea.  One thing occurred to me, though. In my line of work there are times when you have to council people to get them to change, even temporarily, to keep the peace.  One of my “go to” pieces of advice to people was, “Take a positive step forward. If it doesn’t kill you, keep going.”  It was time to take my own medicine.

I went to that TRX class and suffered…miserably!  I met Jill and distinctly remember wondering how one person could have THAT much energy.  And remember, I raced bikes….I know people with energy.  Jill was different. She knew how to be at peace with the intense work.  Granted, she’s been in the industry a while and built up the chops for it but, really, it’s not every day you run into that.  So, I found myself drawn into the Energy Lab culture much the same way I was drawn into the cycling culture.

Since then, I have been introduced to a better way of eating through the Ultimate Reset and Shakeology.  With that, I am not only back down to my race weight but a much more effective husband, father, and employee.  I have gotten on the road bike a few times and noticed a huge difference in power output and endurance.  I save those rides for the times when Jacob calls.

What I didn’t necessarily expect (maybe I should have but didn’t really think about it before hand) was to meet and connect with some of the most genuinely good people who go to the Energy Lab.  It’s become somewhat of a second home for me and I couldn’t be more happy about it.

So, what’s my story?  It’s still being written.  But with my Energy Lab family here, I know it will be a good one.


A story with no limits or boundaries seems that it should start from the beginning. I’m not sure if this is what you mean in telling our story but here is mine from the beginning.

I was an overweight kid that liked to play outside but my appetite seemed to tip the scale the wrong way. I learned the basics of football and baseball from backyard lessons with my dad and how to ride a bike. Participating in team sports was never suggested to me and I was too shy and fearful to ask. Finally in middle school from playing tennis with friends, I found the courage to try out for the team. My skills improved over the years and played in HS as well. There was one major difference in the HS team and that included conditioning during off season. I have to laugh now but our HS coach was also the aerobics teacher. So we did lots of aerobic conditioning pre-season. That's the first time I had to really run. I remember it being an awful dreaded thing that I hated. We only had to run for 20 minutes each practice but to an overweight teenager that was torture. Now 20 minutes is nothing. I always made it through but that’s where I learned to run stadium stairs, suicides, lunge, and squat. Those things were not as bad and now I don’t mind them at all. Also learned how to be competitive during those years.

"Working out was the one thing that I knew how to do and it was comforting."

In college, I joined the rowing team. I got to be in better shape from doing that but never really lost any weight. I only seemed to gain cardio endurance and strength. I fell in love with 6am practices and seeing the sunrise on the water. I also worked my way up to team captain and stroke seat in the boat. Unfortunately, my rowing career ended with a back injury my junior year and also with starting nursing school. So I joined a gym and got talked into personal training. I spent way too much money with no results. I joined an intramural flag football team and played until an avulsion fracture in my hand had me getting surgery the next day. Being in a cast for a while hampered the playing, so back to the gym I went and tried a new trainer and that's when I lost weight for the first time in my life in 2006. I went from 180 to 145lbs at my lightest. I was skinny! I trained with her for 8 months until she moved to a management position at another gym and would no longer be training.

At that point, I knew how to do things on my own and she encouraged me to get certified to teach cycle because I had been doing those classes for a couple years then. So in 2007 I got my cert and began teaching! I was motivating others and coaching. That helped me keep the weight off and motivation too. I also learned to love running and biking more and more. I had friends that did races and I caught the race bug and then the triathlon bug. I felt unstoppable and swore I would never go back to the old body. I did well until I graduated nursing school and had to work nights. My mind and body hated it and fatigue set in and workouts slipped to less frequent and comfort food found its way back in. So slowly the pounds came back. I still remained active and did races but always during them I felt that I had let myself down. Finally got to go to day shift 2.5 years later and I thought that would be the answer. It didn't fix anything. I would still do lots of working out on my days off but the nights I got off I didn't eat well and usually went out with coworkers for a drink to blow off steam from the day.

Then life changed about 9 months ago and I moved to Loma Linda. I knew coming out here was a second chance for me to try and set things right again. From visiting the Energy Lab with Kat a year prior, I was eager to find this place again that had kicked my butt in a 5:30 am breakthrough class. I remember that class was so different and challenged me in ways I had not been before. Plus the fact that I was paired up with Jill for one set of exercises that involved partner side planks. I've never held my abs so tight to try and hold on for dear life because I got paired up with the instructor!

So I found the Lab again a few weeks after moving here. I needed something familiar in a new unfamiliar world out here and the lab provided that for me. Working out was the one thing that I knew how to do and it was comforting. It also helped me feel not so alone in a new place. So many smiling and welcoming faces. The first few classes I took were challenging and reminded me I had not worked this hard in a long time. I was inspired by bodies I saw and stories I heard and the sweat that was dripping off me. A recurrent theme of making the best version of yourself resonated. I began this new life out here and pounds started coming off again. I am inspired by all that come to the lab and the new relationships that I have built. I want to inspire others as well by pushing my body to new limits. To be a part of a team that focuses on a multidimensional approach to the body has proved to be so beneficial. This is one thing that I will gladly spend my loan money towards.

The Lab was also my biggest therapy in getting through the first phases of grief with the death of my dad. For those first few weeks that I was back, working out was the only thing that made sense or made me feel better. There is an emotional side that has been uncovered that I never knew existed but it has made life challenging. During that time I was numb to everything including eating. Just no appetite then, but now it has come back and I don't know how to suppress it again. So as I say all this, I do still struggle with the things that I put in my mouth. I know better but sometimes cannot stop it. I can do so well one week and throw it totally off another week. I am embarrassed to say that I may need someone to hold me accountable to my food choices at this point. I don’t know if this is just because of the stress of school and the waves of grief but I want to gain control of this again. I know the “thin” body that I had once and I want it back but have failed so many times in trying to get back there. Which discourages me from my ultimate goal one day of doing an Half Ironman. The one thing I would do if I knew I could not fail.  I’m working towards building my core strength and how to hold my body to be better overall but could use more help.  I can lose myself in exercise and mentally go back to where I was years ago, but then the music stops and life takes back over and the story continues. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

kates story


Where to begin……

I have been challenged my whole life with my weight.  When I reflect back, having divorced parents, being shuffled back and forth between parents, living with other family members - I think food was the one thing I could count on and it always seemed like I couldn't get enough.  I was always the chubby girl, "la gordita" as they would say in my hispanic family. As I grew into my teens, my 20's, my 30's and 40's - I dieted, trying every fad diet and went to "the gym" only to lose weight and then subsequently gain it back and then some.  I was always so disappointed in myself because I just couldn't seem to get it - why could I not keep the weight off?
"In this really intimate setting, I really got to know Jill Rooks and her no nonsense approach to training and her genuine care for helping me become the best version of myself."
In my early 40's I took up cycling and it was great exercise. I rode and rode and burned a ton of calories - but I wasn't losing weight.  Well, was it because even though I was exercising I was still making bad choices in my nutrition?  I thought I could just eat what I wanted because I was burning so many calories.  Wrong!  I joined Weight Watchers in my early 40's and lost 25 lbs by counting points, eating "low calorie-fat free" foods.  I was really thrilled with my progress, thinking that was the way to lose weight.  But it was short-lived, I gained back about 15 lbs of the 25 lbs I lost.  Again really disappointed with myself, how could I do this again?
My friend kept talking about this place called The Energy Lab and about a trainer named Jill.  She went on and on every time I saw her about this wonderful place and wonderful person. I had never known Cindy to stick to something so faithfully as her visits to The Energy Lab and her personal training with Jill.  Something told me I had to go check this out.  My life totally changed the day I walked through those doors.
Coming into the Energy Lab, I was welcomed with open arms.  I tried TRX class, Fitcore class, but my favorite was the 5:30 a.m. Breakthrough.  Back in the day, we cycled in a circle with very low lights - with Jill Rooks leading the group.  It was such an amazing experience and all the early morning crowd was so wonderful.  In this really intimate setting, I really got to know Jill Rooks and her no nonsense approach to training and her genuine care for helping me become the best version of myself.  She was always so supportive and encouraging - but she somehow helped you reflect and figure out that it is really up to us to make it happen - setting goals, committing to a plan .  Her training style was contagious, the people I was meeting at classes, left me wanting more.  One thing led to another and I found myself at the Lab most days, signing up for special programs like PMA - seeing myself get stronger each day.  But there was one area that still needed work - my weight.
One thing I can say is that Jill never pushed us about our weight - she is so respectful to everyone - all shapes and sizes.  She would remind us now and again with push ups or pikes on the TRX that our weight is our choice.  So in essence, if you find these exercises difficult, you can do something about it :)  Jill always promoted clean eating and talked about it quite often.  Then she introduced us to the Ultimate Reset, a program that really changed the way I look at food and it has made a complete difference in my food choices, the way I look at food and through this process I have been able to keep my weight down consistently.  No more Y0-Yo dieting or eating "low calorie, sugar free"  food.  Treating my body only to non-processed, fresh foods is a way of life now.
On this third anniversary of The Energy Lab, I would just like to say thank you to everyone involved in The Energy Lab:
- Sean Rooks, you are so amazing and supportive.  Thank you for helping me through a very difficult time in my life recently, it meant so much to me.
- Natalie, Paul, David and all the other trainers - you all make workouts fun!
- My Energy Lab Family - you all inspire me to do my best.  Each of you has a story too of what brought you to the Energy Lab, I am just so thankful you landed there.  I love all of you!
- Lastly, Jill Rooks - you have made such a difference in my life - words cannot express.  You have taught me so much about myself - pushing me beyond what I ever thought I could achieve.  For helping me become the person I have always wanted to be inside and out.  There is something so special about you, a special magic that you bring to your clients that just makes us want to do our best.  To not let you down because you put so much into what you do!  I promise you that I will continue to work hard, give you everything I have towards the life long goal of being the best version of myself.
Happy Anniversary!  Thank you for creating the Energy Lab - a place that is more than just a fitness studio.  You have built an amazing community of like-minded individuals who can share and support each other in the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle and a positive mental attitude!


susie's story ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I often ask myself “What is my Why?”, “Why do I work out?”, “Do I really want to lose weight?”, “Am I trying to prove something?” These are the questions that make up my story.

As a child I was never called Adrianne unless I was in trouble. I went by my middle name which is Janell. This was shortened to Nellie. And I quickly became “Nellie Belly with the big fat belly, because I ate too much peanut butter and jelly.” Now from what I can tell from pictures of my childhood, I was always a little chubby. However I never felt like it was an issue. I was me! And I never can remember eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches…hmmm.

Growing into a teenager the weight became more of an issue, but it was shrugged off because I was well proportioned. My mom put me in dance classes so that I would get some coordination, and we were always able to find clothes in the junior’s section. (They just had to be age appropriate.)

Half way through High school I started to lose some weight. I was the school mascot, on the swim team, danced four nights a week, and barely ate anything all day. Then I met my ex-husband and gained 40 pounds. I graduated and stopped swimming, and dancing, and I started eating.

Five years later I found myself married and about 215lbs. I now started to go by my first name Adrianne, because I was an adult and didn’t want to be called Nellie with the Belly. And I was happy! You know the phrase “Eat, Drink, and be Merry” that was my philosophy of life. I was too busy working, getting my degrees, and trying to be a good wife there was no time to work out.

Until, four years later my husband comes to me (now 230lbs) and says “In another 10lbs I won’t find you sexually attractive”. GASP! Well if that wasn’t the biggest knife to my gut. I literally went out the next day and signed up for personal training. I worked like a horse, I sweat like a pig, and ate like a rabbit, but (in my mind) I never looked like a fox. And I was miserable! I was tired, ashamed, and frustrated. My marriage didn’t get any better, so what was it all for?

Three years later, I was divorced. And I was the smallest I can ever remember myself being. 170lbs. So what; I was alone, I was depressed, I was angry, and I was relieved it was all over. I didn’t have to suffer anymore with double workouts, I didn’t have to sacrifice my sleep, and I could eat again.

Two years later, I’m 215lbs and I’m happy. I have my own apartment, I’m dating, I have a new job, a new life. I’ve started over. Then I looked at pictures and started questioning my relationship. Am I too fat? Am I sexually attractive? It was never am I healthy? I would go to the doctor and have the lab tests that told me I was 100% healthy as can be, except I was morbidly obese. Now that’s another one of those hit me in the gut moments.

After my doctor asked me if I ever thought about weight loss surgery, I started to think of my weight more. I then joined a Women’s club that used hypnotherapy as a means to get down to the root of the weight issues. Which in their opinion always lead back to emotional eating. Now I’m questioning my childhood, my mom’s influence on me, my previous marriage, my self-worth, and whether I belong.

After joining this club, I started to run half marathons. After all if you run 13.1 miles you’re bound to lose weight, right? I ran my first half marathon in December 2011 at 227lbs. I ran my last half marathon in September 2013 at 227lbs. Not one pound lost over the entire process. Granted I ran 12 half marathons total, and would fluctuate a few pounds over the 22 months (my lowest being 218lbs). But no permanent weight loss. Once again, what was the point? All the effort, all the pain and sacrifice for what? Oh, the pretty medals on the wall that’s it.

Right after my 8th half marathon, I knew I hated running. I was fed up and ready to try something new. One of the fitness instructors (Jill Moore) at my gym told me she wanted to take me to this place called The Energy Lab to try TRX. The name alone was exciting. After one class, I was hooked!

So I spent the next year coming and going from TRX classes twice a week. I liked the instructor (Paul) he made me feel welcome. He didn’t judge me, he helped me, he encouraged me, and he taught me “just one more”. I still hadn’t gotten to know the rest of the staff. I was intimidated and felt like I wasn’t at the stage in my fitness to handle the other classes.

"Then Jill introduces the BHAG. She asked “What is your Big Hairy Audacious Goal?”"

Then, Paul talked me into joining a PMA session. Wow, a whole new world awakened to me that day. I still remember the workout (the most memorable day I’ve had at the lab). The Popsicle stick workout. We divided into two teams and tried to beat the other team by getting through all of the sticks before one another. As I struggled (with new movements I have never seen or done before), my group encouraged me. Paul believed in me, my teammates believed in me. We still had a couple sticks in the cup when the other team finished. I remember feeling like it was my entire fault that we lost. I was too big, too slow. Then to my dismay, rather than mocking us, the other team came in and joined us and encouraged ME as we finished the sticks. They joined us for burpees! They hollered out my name, “Way to Go Adrianne you got this!” I knew right there the meaning of PMA. And I was hooked yet again. I wanted to surround myself with these people and their energy.

2014 rolls around and Jill offers a Goal setting workshop. I realized that it’s time to get serious. Let’s lay down the steps to an ultimate goal. Initially, I threw out the idea of having a weight loss goal. It was too difficult to comprehend the amount of weight I had to lose and the amount of work that would have to go into it. Weight didn’t matter to me anymore. I was (and still am) happy to identify myself as a Full figured Athlete. Then Jill introduces the BHAG. She asked “What is your Big Hairy Audacious Goal?” Then she explains it could be the goal you would have knowing you could NOT fail. Well, that made it easy my BHAG was to lose 55lbs. (Earlier in the day I weighed in over 230lbs, and I had never seen and accepted a number that high on the scale before.)

Then I did it, I shared the BHAG with Natalie. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “That’s totally doable”, “A pound a week”. She said it so nonchalantly that is sounded completely possible. If not easy! So I agreed to move my body more and to work on this BHAG.

I started coming to the lab 6 days a week, sometimes taking multiple classes in a day. I joined the periodization training, and grew friendships with other clients and worked out outside of the lab. I finally found a place where I know I belong and know I am accepted the way I am. No one looks at me and tells me I can’t, no one says I shouldn’t, no one judges me. Everyone encourages me.

Now, 5 months after the goal setting workshop, I weigh in for the 21 day Fix, 229lbs. I lost about 4lbs in 5 months. I threw that BHAG out the window. There is no way I’ll get it now. But then I sit back and think that’s okay. Whether its 5lbs or 55lbs it’s one step closer to a healthier fitter me.

So to answer my question “What is my Why?” It’s because I can, why not? I belong. I am happy. In the words of Jill “How you do anything, is how you doing everything” And my new goal is to do it (anything and everything) knowing I am accepted as I am and I belong regardless of my weight. No need to hold back. I’m going to me the best me I can be. And I have the Energy Lab, staff, and cliental to thank for that.

So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!


My story Growing up, I danced ballet 4 times a week and swam for Redlands swim team for 4 days a week. My mom always cooked healthy, vegetarian meals and encouraged an active lifestyle. I was always fit and healthy. I graduated high school, started college and began dating my future husband. My whole life, I always dreamed of being a mother, I just couldn't wait! After graduating college I got married and prayed for children in God's perfect timing. A year after getting married, We found out we were pregnant. We were beyond excited. The excitement came to a screeching hault when I was forced to deliver our daughter, Piper at 19 weeks.

"I have more energy, and feel so great. I have now made my dreams of a healthy lifestyle a reality and most importantly I'm showing my children that hard work and dedication pay off."

Unfortunately, this was one of many pregnancies that were not successful. In March of 2010, we were finally blessed with our son, CJ who was born prematurely at 29 weeks. Finally I had my baby! With CJ'S prematurity came a 6 week NICU stay- I basically lived at the hospital; stress, having little or no sleep and cafeteria food all contributed to weight gain. When CJ came home I was so meticulous with his health, wellness and eating- but I wasn't with mine. After CJ turned 2, we started to try for another child. 4 miscarriages later, I became pregnant again and had to have a lot of help to keep my pregnancy successful; involving, surgery and bed rest with weekly steroid shots for 18 weeks-which were really hard on my body. With my difficult pregnancies and miscarriages my weight greatly fluctuated. It all paid off and thankfully, we are blessed with two healthy, perfect children. Seeing my children's tiny, brand new perfect bodies-I couldn't help but think of their little bellies being temples and what I put inside their bodies is sacred. From the day they were born I have been extremely particular with what my children put in their mouths. I want them to eat from the earth, not a bag. I want my children to crave water, not sugary, carbonated drinks. I realized I want all these things for my children, but not myself. If I'm not around who would instill these healthy eating habits? In perfect timing, I ran into to my old friend Susie at a birthday party and she told me about The Energy lab. Susie persuaded me to try a class with her, and I'm forever grateful that I did! I started working out 1 day a week for a while. Slowly, it turned into 2 times a week, then 3 and now I've been working out 4-5 days a week and I have lost 50 pounds in 9 months. I have more energy, and feel so great. I have now made my dreams of a healthy lifestyle a reality and most importantly I'm showing my children that hard work and dedication pay off. Now I am working hard toward my new goal- my overall fitness and health.


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Jill asked me to write my story, and well, my first reaction was, “No Way!” I wasn’t particularly keen on the extra homework it would entail, and I was actually scared of getting a personal training session with Jill in return. I thought, “She kicks my butt enough in classes. What if all that was targeted to me? Oh boy”. Also, I was pretty sure that nobody wanted to hear my story and that it really wasn’t particularly interesting. I thought up excuse after excuse of why I couldn’t do it: that I was busy with Sawyer, that I have to clean my house, run errands and all that, but at the end of the day, I decided to go ahead and do it. I thought, aren’t I the one always motivating everyone that they could do whatever they wanted? Now when a task was presented to me, why am I shirking away and making up excuses? So it got to me, and I grabbed my laptop and started to write. I thought, maybe it would inspire someone out there, reading my story. Maybe it will make them laugh and smile or make them sad, or maybe they’ll hate it or love it and everything in between. But maybe, it will strike a chord with someone, and let him or her know that if I did it, then they can do it too. Everyone has their story I suppose, here is mine.

I was born in Manila, Philippines, and was the youngest of 3 kids and was part of a HUGE family. We lived a traditional Filipino lifestyle, with my parents, uncles, and aunts and LOTS of cousins all living next to each to other in a large family compound (no, not like a Warren Jessup compound!) As a child it was idyllic. I had playmates all the time, and there always was something going on. My grandpa, Papa Raddy, was wealthy so we lived a pretty charmed life, with maids, nannies and butlers keeping up the house and our parents to pursue what they desired and the kids well, we pretty much did what we wanted to. Or we at least we thought we could. You might think that it would have been a recipe for Bratville, but my grandpa was a very wise, religious, strict, strong but kind man. He always taught us to be thankful for what we have and to appreciate all the blessings we had in our life. He always encouraged us to give back, starting service work very early on at church, volunteering our time and kind to those that needed. I have vague memories of being at a remote province handing out food we had packed up for the less fortunate, and also singing for the elderly, belting out Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”. I think I was about 3. He instilled in us the responsibility for all others that did not have much. That a good life shouldn’t be about what we can do for ourselves and how much we could further ourselves, but what we could offer to the world, of what we could do to make it a better place. He wanted the Samson (our surname) name to hold meaning of a noble, giving, generous and loving family. He wanted to make his parents proud (His dad was a United Methodist Pastor and mom was very active in their church). It makes me kind of tear up writing about him and thinking about him. He is such a hero of mine and I think of him everyday. He was the dad that I never had, and I am the person I am today because he was such a tremendous influence in my life. He kept our family together, showed us generosity, modeled compassion, humility and most of all love.

Alongside my grandpa, was my grandma, Mama Cora. What an amazing woman she was. I learned my love of cooking and my love of real food from her. She was a wonderful cook! Daily, she would churn out meals, REAL MEALS that nourished our families. (Note, families not family…she cooked for at least 20 people, each and every meal). We didn’t have a microwave until much later and 90% of the time it was kept in the box. Yes in the box. My grandparents were old school like that. When not it use, box it up and put it away. Anyway, I digress, back to my grandma. I suppose it helped that she had an army of prep cooks to do a lot of the grunt work for her, but her cooking, she did with SO MUCH love. She would be found in the kitchen cooking away creating lovely meals that I can still taste in my mouth until now. She was so marvelous! If I were half the cook she is, I would be a happy woman. I often joke that if you cut me, I would bleed fish sauce. Haha! It’s a common ingredient in Filipino cooking. You might wonder what a sample meal looked like back home, here you go:

Breakfast, between 8-10am (carbs + protein): Garlic Rice/Plain Rice, Eggs (cooked the way you like), Choice of Tapa (slices of beef, my favorite, especially with LOTS of fat. I know gross. I was obsessed with FAT as a kid.) or Tocino (slices of Pork) or Pinangat (fish soup) or Longganisa (Filipino Sausage). No dessert!

Lunch, between12:30pm – 1:30pm (carbs + protein + veggies): Rice, a veggie dish (Fresh lumpia, my fave!), Liempo (pork belly, grilled), bangus (milkfish). Sometimes dessert would be fresh fruit slices: Papaya, mangos, jackfruit, etc.

Merienda (snack), around 4pm (fruit mostly and maybe some carbs): Mango slices, Ginataan (sweet, thickened coconut milk with fruit), Kamote-Q (sweet potato fritters), Banana-Q (banana fritters), Saging na Saba (bananas in milk), Taho (silken tofu with tapioca balls and syrup, MY FAVE!)

Dinner, around 7pm (carbs + protein + veggies + fruit): Similar to lunch! Lots of options!

That was a lot of eating huh? It seems crazy now, but that’s how we ate then. And no, you couldn’t just eat one thing, my grandparents were adamant about square meals, filling our plates with ample portions of each food group. We ate as we were told. My grandpa always reminded us of how fortunate we were to have such a bounty of food before us, and he did so with a special prayer for every meal. We had a prayer for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They were sung. I sing them sometimes with Sawyer, but alas, I’ve done poorly trying to teach her Filipino. Sorry Papa!

"It’s funny how life goes around and brings you back things you thought you’ve lost. Or maybe shows you that path that you need to take but haven’t had the guts to do."

I’ve often said how weird it was for me when I moved here that kids and adults didn’t eat certain foods. Not that I didn’t have my preferences sure, but it was just odd for me and took a little getting used to. I suppose not everyone had such a wonderful food upbringing like I did, so of course if you never understood, made, and ate real food you probably wouldn’t like it. I believe that when it comes to food, early exposure is so key.

My favorite food memory is going to on our weekly Saturday trips to the Wet Market. It’s called a Wet Market because it is super wet. You have to wear closed toed shoes to go there. Picture super fresh fish, some still swimming in tanks, beef and pork hung up for people to inspect, veggie and fruit stands for as long as the eye can see. It was a wonderland for me. I remember going as young as 5 and getting up really early so my grandma and I can pile into our jeep with the driver, with my basket in hand, awaiting whatever treasures I would find. When we got there, my grandma would tell me where we could meet, give me a little money and I was off on an adventure. I knew most of the vendors and farmers and they knew me. I would visit the fishmonger first and watch him nail down and whack the eels (I know, sad!) and bag them up for the customer. I would go over to see the pork, beef and the butchers at the meat area, and meet the farmers. I’d walk by the veggies but run quick towards the fruit stands and get all the samples I could get. I’d eventually settle on fruit to buy. My favorites were lychees, rambutan, pomelo, santol, star apples, and atis (cherimoya). Sometimes, I would get rice cakes (puto or kutsinta), which were delicately wrapped in a clear bag with a little banana leaf at the bottom. They would seal it with a little air inside which them made them appear like little balloons of yumminess. My grandma would often find me near the fruit vendors sitting on a stool, eating and grubbing. My grandma and I, done with our shopping would walk back to the jeep at which point she would reveal another food treat she saved just for me. I relished this. It was just for me. I suppose it was because out of all 10 kids at the houses, I was the only one that would bother to wake up at 5am on a Saturday to go with her. And having 10 kids to share stuff with, well, you never get a lot of something really. You just had enough.

Enough. That’s a good word to keep in mind. I think about how food is here and plates are exploding with portions, and of not good food either. Back home, we ate knowing that everyone must have some. Grown-ups picked first and kids got to go last. I remember on a RARE Sunday after bible study, my Grandpa would drive to the local grocery store and buy ½ gallon of ice cream and we would all share that, for like 14+ people. I look at a ½ gallon of ice cream now and wonder how they did it. But I suppose that’s just what we were used to. You just had a taste, and it was ok. We relished each bite and would patiently (okay maybe impatiently await for the next time). When my grandpa would go to the States, he would bring home 1 bag of Hershey’s Kisses and that would last us months!! Also his favorite was the 6 pack Crunch bars. Those lasted equally long. He would keep them in his special fridge, which he only had access to. Haha! Every so often, he would give us one and that was so great! We didn’t get a lot of processed treats at all but we didn’t know. So that was ok.

Fast forward to when I was 14 and I moved here to the States. Hello Culture Shock! Fortunately for me, I learned English as a child, so that wasn’t a hurdle for me but the food. Oh boy! So much food! When I got to this country, my sister and I went to the local Lucky’s supermarket and marveled at the HUGE King Size candy bars. We wondered to my mom, “Who eats these?” Well lots of people do I guess. I remember coming home with a pint of strawberries and some cool whip and eating it all night for dinner. It was just for me. No sharing. I slept with a tummy ache. Hehe. I learned that people had NO idea what they were eating or where it came from. People were grossed out by blood, fish heads, shrimp heads, and fast food was the thing. Fast food over real food? My grandma would shudder. I remember telling her one time that I had had a McDonalds hamburger with friends for dinner and she looked at me and said, “McDonalds? That’s not food. Here, eat a real dinner” as she placed a plate of food in front of me. She was right. It’s not real food, people!

Adjusting to living in the States took some time. My mom kept a fairly Filipino style household and we ate versions of the food my grandma made. You see, it’s hard to do all that cooking without the army of prep cooks and dishwashers, etc. But my mom did her best. Here she was, raising 2 teens in a different country, away from her whole family, doing something outside the box, and doing it on her own. She could have stayed in the lap of luxury back home, but instead, she took the harder road and made a life for herself, for us. I am so grateful for her sacrifice. Although I didn’t see it then, for me it was more like me being taken away from all that I knew, now I know it was for the best. She has raised two strong women who are in-charge of their lives and know how to roll with the punches. Alongside this life lesson, she also taught me one of the most important lessons in life - Never compromise on food. When we moved here we lived in a tiny apartment, very different from our large mansion back home, and things had to change. But one thing she never compromised on was food. She taught me that in the future, when I have a job, my own place, and maybe a family, I could save money on clothes, a car, maybe a smaller house, but never on my food. What she meant was not that I should indulge in whatever food I wanted to eat always, but that I should allow myself to buy good food to nourish my body and soul, just like my grandma did. I still do you know. I spend quite a bit of money on food. But to me, that is my healthcare. I’d rather spend there than pay for medicines and procedures. Yuck!

Along the way, I started my happily ever after when I met Nate. What a guy! His food upbringing was, well, not like mine. His mom didn’t cook much, so when we married, it was a like a food jackpot for him. Haha!! But a lot of the family values, beliefs and love of being outdoors and being healthy, we shared. Let me back up, I met Nate when I was fourteen and we started dating when I was fifteen. Gasp! We’ve only dated each other so yes we are super lame. We cannot ever get divorced because we have NO IDEA what to do in this crazy dating world. Plus nobody will put up with our craziness, so there. This August, we will celebrate 16years together. Aww. Ok I digress, again. But I share this because I want you to know that we have known each other for a LONG time. He is my best friend and the best person in the world really. He is kind, loving, so generous, understanding, and so much like my grandpa. He loved food too like me and was so happy that I cooked. Haha!

We got married and lived a happy life and decided to have kids, and Sawyer came into the picture. What a joy she is to us! Nathan was born to be a father, and each day, I marvel at how much he loves his daughter and always puts us first. He’s really quite amazing. My grandpa would be proud that I married a man that serves others and gives from the heart. It was all those lessons he taught coming full circle. So even though he is not here with me now, I am reminded everyday through Nate. Anyway, you might be wondering where is the part about The Energy Lab? Or why does she keep gushing about this guy? Okay fine here it is.

I met Jill at LA Fitness. Pre-Sawyer, Nate and I would work out there and Nate would take her cycle classes (Tuesdays and Sundays). He talked me into going one time and I did and loved it. I remember Jill’s music rocking! And I danced through that whole class. Jill even commented on how she saw me grooving. Hehe. Anyway, you know Jill’s story, she stopped working at the big gym and opened up her place. We missed her!!!! The instructor who replaced her would say “Keep on paydaling! Pay-dal, Pay-dal!” This was not going to work out. We stopped going. Fast forward, Nate and I got pregnant and saw Jill at her booth at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. We hadn’t seen her in ages and she told us about the place she was opening and we popped by for a visit and saw it in all its paint and construction glory. So cool! I told her I’d be there when baby was out (after Sept), and in true Jill form, she urged to me go when they opened (May). I had a very easy pregnancy but I just couldn’t run. It would make me dizzy and I’d lose my balance. I would joke that I was pregnant from the neck down. Haha! But I didn’t feel up to working out at a gym and preferred daily walks with the pups and Nate.

When Sawyer was born it was another story however. This next part is gross and you may want to skip over it if you have a weak tummy but it is an integral part of my story. So I warned you. Ok, so I was sick as a dog. I was sick a lot. Fevers all the time, weak, could barely walk, I didn’t cook (gasp!) and just ate whatever I could get my hands on. Poor Nate had to take care of Sawyer and the house and work, and stay up and all that. Anyway, I developed Mastitis over and over and over and over again. It was horrific. Basically it’s an infection of the plugged up ducts in your breasts when you breastfeed. I was making too much milk and bam, plugged ducts. They hurt a lot. Your breast gets so tender and it hurts to move. You shiver and you are in pain, you feel nauseous and it is constant. Constant. I was on a pain reliever and antibiotic cocktail for what seemed like forever and finally my infection became an abscess. I was in misery. I was depressed, not myself and felt guilty for being so so sick. The day after Christmas, the golf ball size abscess on my breast was too much to take so we went in and got it drained. WORST DAY EVER!!! It was the most horrific experience of my life. I wouldn’t wish it on Saddam Hussein. And that guy’s a bad guy, but I seriously don’t wish it on him. Even on his dead body. It was horrible. I will spare you the grosser details of that day but what I will say is that after that was the s – l – o –w road to recovery. I started with being able to walk around the block with Sawyer and accomplishing showers almost daily, and being able to cook some simple meals for my family. I remember the first time I went to the grocery store with Sawyer, I was scared but so happy to be doing something productive. During that time, I never really shed the 25+ lbs I put on being pregnant and it was depressing to go into my closet. I wore size 7 jeans. Size 7! I know many of you would be rolling your eyes at this but for the girl who has worn 0’s all her life, 0 to 7 is a huge shift. I was stuck there and I didn’t like it. I felt sluggish and tired. I knew what I needed to do but I had to convince myself first.

Late one night, I got one of those mass email things from Jill about the lab and if I would like to try it. I had signed up a year ago to get updates and I would frequently get them in my inbox and not really pay attention to it. Yet something pulled me that night and I decided to go for it. I signed up for it. It was the first step.

My first class was breakthrough. I LOVED IT! Sure I was horrible. Sure, I only held my plank for 5 seconds. Record that, 5 seconds. Could I get up on my bike? Nope. 10mph? Struggled to do it, but I did. Sure I was surrounded by athletes and fitter people than me (Suzanne, Rich, Christy, Roberto, Laura, Susann and Natalie) but I didn’t care. I was there. I tried and I sucked, but I kept going. It was a LONG road for me. It was a very humbling experience. From being an athletic teen who could do pretty much anything, to this flabby, tired mommy, it was pretty ridiculous. I started going in April, going into their 2nd year and only would go a few times a week. The cost was a lot for us because I took an entire year off of work because of my health and we’re not independently wealthy. But Nate was so incredibly supportive. I lost some weight slowly but still hung on to about 20 lbs. Argh!! I started buying the 10 class packs, then eventually the 20 class packs. Woohoo! For Christmas that year, Nate gifted me the unlimited monthly membership, and honestly, that was the best present anyone has ever given me. He knew that I was struggling, that I was lonely being at home with just the babe, that I had no friends, that I wasn’t inspired and that I needed to find myself again, to be who I was meant to be. He knew I just needed a little nudge. It really was the best thing.

January started with a bang with the January 21 day challenge Jill issued on us. I was eager and did it and lost 7 lbs! I had lost about 4 lbs on my own before but I was stoked that it took meal planning, clean eating and consistent working out to get it all off. February came, another challenge, lost more weight then and then March and April, and then came the RESET! Aaaahhh! RESET! I was pretty happy with all the weight loss I had and felt stronger that I had in years, so I was wondering why I even had to do that darn RESET. Why was it compelling me so? I did write in as my BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) that I was going to do it, so I guess here I was going to do it. At first, I was very skeptical of and wondered what else it was going to do for me. I already work out all the time and I already lost a bunch of weight. What more is there? What the RESET did for me was more than weight loss and inches – it helped me go back to that old Monica from before - The real food eating, cooking and active, happy person that I was. And it solidified all those small choices and changes I had been making since January and really made it a part of my lifestyle. After RESET, I felt amazing! Now, I have a lot of energy, I eat really well and sleep wonderfully. Also, I met AMAZING people through this journey. I met everyday people that are just like me, just trying to be the best versions of themselves. It has been such a treat getting to know and spending time with these people. I am so happy to call them all my friends J It gave me back a sense of community and purpose that I was longing for and didn’t have. It was amazing.

It’s funny how life goes around and brings you back things you thought you’ve lost. Or maybe shows you that path that you need to take but haven’t had the guts to do. You can keep trying to escape it but at the end of the day, its still there, and its still you looking in that mirror, unhappy or happy. It’s just up to you how you want that person to look, feel and be. I didn’t like what I saw a few years ago. So I made that choice. I chose happiness. And I’m so glad I did.

Sometimes, I miss being that 5 year old grubbing on some lychees in the Market with my grandma, or helping my grandpa pass out goodies to people on the street, I miss that simple life. But what I have now, I will never regret. Now, I see my Grandma, while I watch Sawyer devour fresh blueberries picked from the Soffel’s farm. I get to make meals for my loved ones, just as my grandma so lovingly did. Like my mom taught me, I get to go to Farmer’s Market and show Sawyer what food is and tell her about the hands that helped it grow. I tell her about food and how it is love and life, and I teach her to make better choices as she grows by modeling this myself. I see my grandpa in Nate as I see him leading our family, volunteering his time to many, many family and friends asking nothing for return. And even better, I get to see hope, inspiration in goodness in all of you, my energy lab family. I am so lucky. I get to interact with wonderfully positive and loving people who make me smile, inspire me to do better, keep me humble and keep me going back for more.

My story isn’t over yet for sure. There are many more challenges ahead, but I’m loving where it’s led me so far. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me..