We haven’t left Africa yet.
The trees are swaying in the wind outside as I look out of the window, and the fan blows warm air on me as I lay in the twin size bed with the yellow mosquito net hanging above my head. I hear the chatter of the other girls as they finish packing up their belongings, and the delicious smell of homemade lunch lingers in the house. I wonder what we are having.
It’s hot here. Like the sweltering kind of hot that sits on you and stays with you. The showers are mostly cold, which you don’t end up minding later, and you can’t use the faucet water to brush your teeth with. My feet have never been so dirty, caked with red clay dirt. The strength of the bug spray I brought took off every bit of toenail polish, leaving my toes naked and brown. No matter if you wash or scrub your shoes – they are still brown. I really don’t mind.
I lay in the little bed. Mind drifting to what has already become memories tattooed in my mind.
In the old land cruisers – it’s almost as if you can feel every rock you plow over. Every nook and cranny of the red gravel road bounces you around as you make your way to the main road from where we are. Once you get to the 2 lane paved “highway”, your eyes sprint from image to image.
There are people dressed in dusty clothes walking for miles. Some of the ladies are in clean, bright colored, patterned and tailored dresses also walking for miles un-phased. People ride on bicycles on the shoulders as the buses and vans swerve around them and honk. There are motorcyclists with usually 2 people on the saddle who rarely wear helmets buzzing past. There are Messai – Tanzania’s local tribe – cloaked in plaid blankets with shoes made of tires – standing or herding animals. Cows graze in the median tied to a stake, and there are children walking goats on leashes. There are some women with a child on one hand a baby in a papoose and some carrying woven baskets of bananas or personal belongings. Some children run free as my mind runs wandering where their parents are and if the kids are safe… they are. The buildings are mostly small and sometimes pushed together like a strip mall, and sometimes spread apart for what seems like miles. They are made of concrete or plaster painted in bright yellows, reds and blues. You pass fruit stands and art markets where people barter for every shilling, and a lot of people wave at our bus as we pass by. There are villages with hay roofs in the distance. On Sundays they wear their Sunday best – suits and dresses – as they walk to church. Some of the trees are crooked and beautiful, some of the colors are vivid, and there are bunches of aloe plants begging for you to cut them open if your skin has gotten pink from the African sun.
These images I will never forget.
We are finally packed up. So full. In so many ways.
After eating a feast for lunch with chicken, pork, rice, spinach, sautéed veggies, potatoes, okra, green beans, pineapple and watermelon, we all sit out in the front room as the ceiling fan buzzes and rotates side to side. Every meal is a feast here. They treat us like royalty and people willingly give you more than ever expected and more than they have. They are the literal meaning of “I will give you the shirt off of my back.”
We take one last drive to the airport.
I was tired, but I didn’t want to shut my eyes even for a minute so that I could soak up every last bit of this magnificent place.. I reflected as we drove very slowly for about an hour and a half. We had already driven 4 hours that morning from the safari back to Mama Lucy’s house.
Mama Lucy. She is the founder of First Chance Education Centre and oh so much more… Mama Lucy is a large, beautiful African woman with eyes that smile. She is probably late 50s or early 60s. She lives beside the school in a lovely house with an extra house in the back where we stayed. No AC, no TVs, not much hot water. Mama Lucy is always dressed in a patterned dress or a couple of different patterns that are loud with different colors. I can’t help but grin when I think of her and her husband holding hands. She always says “caribou” as we walk by, which means welcome. We felt very, very welcome.
(Photo below by Anna Molenti)
Our drive to the airport seems like forever. I let my mind keep going…
Only yesterday we were breathing dirt, getting thrown around in a safari land cruiser, hanging out of the roof and the sides with wild eyes searching for animals begging to get a glimpse of a lion or cheetah. We rushed to get a look at a rhino resting – only a 2% chance that you’ll see a rhino on this safari, and we did. Our driver Toni had old country playing on repeat…Dolly, Kenny Rogers and a strange mix of a few other very random songs. The whole day was perfect. Seeing the animals in their natural habitat was breath-taking. It was a bucket-list day that will never be forgotten.
On the way to the animals, we stopped at a Messai village to witness a jumping ceremony and take a look at their houses. We passed a boy begging for food, we passed giraffes and adolescents chanting with white face paint. We sang songs, watched the sunset, used up our camera batteries and marveled at the grace of the people and creatures that we got to see and experience.
At the Kili airport. Hot. Have to pee. Everyone’s nerves are running thin. We are tired and have a lot of travel ahead.
As “Islands in the Stream” re-plays back in my mind, I sit with the girls at the terminal and use a little bit of very hard to find wifi before we board to post a picture of us from yesterday.
We board a bus that takes us to the plane – about 100 feet away. Everyone chuckles at how we probably could have walked faster. We board the plane.
I sit next to a lovely couple from the States and we start chatting as we take off. We exchange Africa stories and I tell her the main reason we came to Africa, and Tanzania specifically. The kids.
As we taxied, I showed her pictures of the kids and of Kilimanjaro. She ooooed and ahhhs at the picture of the mountain peaking out from behind the clouds, snow sitting at the very top as if it were just dropped on just for this picture op. I explain how we only did a day hike and show her a few more of the lush pictures of our 13 mile trek up and down the base of the magnificent mountain. Our guides – Paul, Eric and “Usher” truly made the day one to remember cracking jokes and feeding us information and Swahili words along the way. We were tired, dirty, and some of us already had the desire to come back to hike the whole thing. What a beautiful way to start the trip!
On the plane. 20,000 feet. Mind racing and ready to write some more.
The kids. How can your heart break and be full of so much joy at the same time? I think we know now. You don’t have to speak the same language to communicate clearly. Laughing, singing, and love come through loud and clear no matter the language barrier.
I don’t think one of us can put into words what we learned about human connection last week. Their eyes and their smiles spoke a million words. Some of the kids… you could see right into their souls. They wear uniforms – probably washed once a week at best, but they don’t mind. Their classrooms don’t have overhead lights, and their playground consists of 2 swings and a barely functional see-saw, but they don’t mind.
One boy in my class was having a hard time getting the heel of his shoe right, so I bent down to help. I pulled it off to fix his shoe and the entire heel of his sock was a hole. I choked back tears. He didn’t mind. (Photo below by Elise Zimmerman)
They just turned the lights out. My light goes on. Get it all out while you can still remember it, Megan.
Back to the kids. Every morning – breakfast at 7am, class starts at 8am and we meet in the playground to do yoga and wake up as a big group. “1-2 make a circle, 3-4, a biiiiig circle” they would scream with an accent as we tried to wrangle them into a large circle. They would run up to you and cling on to your leg fighting to hold one of your hands if it was free – or fighting with another kid if it wasn’t free. They would look up with their big, wide, brown eyes full of hope and excitement for the day. We would say “shine, shine, shine” to each other and feather our fingers around the circle when they were being good. Shine. Shine. Shine.
That they did.
8:45-10am we had time in the classroom working with them on a specific lesson that day with flash cards, songs and games. Some days they paid attention, and some days they didn’t. You could always expect one of the troublemakers to do something bad – eat a crayon, steal another kid’s chair, or just be loud. 10am they went to porridge and we had a tea break. Amos – our amazing cook for the week – would bring over hot water, African tea and a snack – sometimes homemade chipati or fried bread balls, fruit and toasted peanuts. 11-11:45am we had arts and crafts where we face painted, colored, cut and glued until we ran out of supplies. They would run up to us and yell “teachaaaa teachaaaa look!!!” We would gaze back with pride and awe at their creation. 11:45-12:30/1pm – they had outside time on the playground. We brought blow-up beach balls, jump ropes and bubbles, and it seemed like they could have played out there until the wee hours of the morning. We would say goodbye and head to lunch around 1pm where we would sit around the table laughing and telling our stories about our favorite kids. Something about them…
So much happiness and so little worldly belongings. We have a lot to learn from their culture. You can’t miss what you never had. Some of the kids had never had a nice notebook or played with a beach ball. Some had never seen fingernail polish and they would rub our fingers and stare at them with amazement. Some would braid your hair or just rub your hair because their heads are shaved. They were so appreciative of what we brought. They were appreciative of our time and love. Maybe they didn’t fully understand – hell, we didn’t even know why we were going (we knew our purpose, but didn’t have an agenda and set schedule until we arrived). We didn’t know what our days would look like, but in the end, I hope we spread some joy. Sometimes you have hopes of going to do some good, maybe change some lives, but really you are the one that is changed.
(BW photo above by Elise Zimmerman)
A fourth of a glass of white wine and my mind is still replaying all of memories of the week. I keep rewinding them like an old tape player.
On our first night after working with the kids, we had a parents night. The parents of some of the children gathered in white fold out chairs on the school grounds. Brittany – our fearless leader – explained why we were there and announced that we had fundraised to provide the teacher’s salaries for a year as well as a new van for the school. They clapped. A few stood up one by one and voiced their thanks to us as well as discussed school matters in Swahili. Then came the eating – always the eating with the East Africans. We insisted the parents, teachers and heads of the school go through the line first. At the beginning of the food line, there was a yellow water cooler filled with tap water where each person rinsed their hands before the meal. They took a paper plate and piled their plates high with rice and meat (probably goat) and everything else that was offered. After all of the teachers and parents had been served, we – the marengos (white people) – formed a line, washed our hands and tried as best as we could to fill our plates too. Much to our surprise, they had no silverware so we used our hands. We lined one of the stoops of the school directly in front of the parents and ate while they finished their plates. We felt strange. They served us on glassware and Amos – the humble and amazing cook – brought out napkins for “his guests.” Afterwards we laid out the kid’s artwork as the parents proudly came to find their child’s work. We tried to mingle with some of them, take pictures and talk in broken English. We waved goodbye as many of them left and we headed back to the house for yet another meal.
This snapshot has real significance. As we sat in front of the parents – we felt awkward and on display… But today as we pulled our luggage into the front room with sweat dripping down our backs – Mama Lucy came out to say goodbye. She cried. We cried. She had to step out she got so emotional. There were a lot of thank you’s and please come backs and we wills. She told us that never before had white people served and cleaned up after them. Never. There were more tears and some of us tried hard to choke back the emotions we had knowing that once we started crying – we probably wouldn’t stop.
Mama Lucy then explained to us that she had a gift for us – that it wasn’t much, but to an African – it was everything. It was a kanga. A kanga is used to wrap a newborn baby in… a man presents his fiancé a kanga when he asks for her hand and presents one to the mother as well. They are used to shroud a bride on her wedding day and many people bring kanga to the mother of the bride. They are also used to celebrate a funeral and death. It stands for a celebration of life and love. Each African came over to one of us and wrapped us in kanga. The significance of these beautiful cloths is that you are always wrapped in love even if you are apart from those you love.
Only 2 hours in to the first flight. A long way to go. Down to half a glass of wine. Still a long way to go.
The secondary school. This was day 2, and probably the hardest. We arrived and the headmaster showed us around the school and specifically wanted us to tour the dormitory that burned down earlier this year. I could almost hear the hearts break as we walked through the room of soot and belongings that had been destroyed. The headmaster explained how 50 of them live in one room and some are sleeping in a classroom now because of the fire. These children are boarded here because they have to travel too far. Africa is a very, very big continent.
We came back to where they had chairs set up for us. They had a fine-tuned schedule that quickly went out the window. African time is very loose to say the least. 10 minutes could mean 45. 3pm sometimes means 5pm.
They performed a song, dance and play for us, but by the end we felt like privileged white people being solicited for money. It was a rough day.
We didn’t know this would happen – no one did. We wanted to come, share food and community. They do need money, but this wasn’t our specific purpose. We did get to feed the boarders a meal with meat – something they usually only get once a year… They usually eat a diet of maize, stiff porridge, rice and the occasional vegetables. In the end – the takeaway was more positive than negative because of human connection. They freaked out over mechanical pencils, and we ended up laughing, dancing, sweating and working out together.
There’s a movie playing on the airplane. It’s old and there are subtitles. I can’t see it at all. I make a note to go to the eye doctor when I’m back. I pull out my phone to look at some pictures.
I have so many moments burned into my mind of this last week both in my mind and on film, but being able to communicate the human connection – both with the kids and people here and the people I’ve traveled with – is next to impossible. Hopefully some of these images will help…
I got caught up in editing photos. Inching closer to 4 hours on this flight. 2 more to go.
I almost forgot about the market. We went to the market on Sunday to check out the local produce, and I was seriously impressed with the array of fresh picks. It wasn’t as busy as I had imagined, but bursting with colors. There were fruits, vegetables and pastas in rainbows shaped like X’s and O’s and the alphabet. There were beautiful people with wide smiles trying to sell you whatever they had at their particular stand. There was everything from dried fish and knick knacks to cleaning supplies and every fruit imaginable. It was lovely.
It’s been a whirlwind. I had to leave writing for awhile. We’ve been traveling for over 30 hours and still aren’t home yet. Perspective. Little problem compared to some.
Does this culture think they have problems? They seem pretty happy to me. These people don’t have much when it comes to material possessions, and they are some of the happiest people alive. Some can only afford to buy 1 avocado a week at the market if that, and foods like meat and peanut butter are expensive treats. The kids beg to have their pictures taken because they don’t have smart phones and cameras readily available. There aren’t washers and dryers – you wash your clothes by hand and hang them to dry. A family rarely has a refrigerator so any kind of dairy or keeping fruits and veggies fresh is out of the question.
On the other side of this – their clothes smell like the sun, their food is always homemade and fresh from the market the day of. They don’t get caught up in social media, politics or anything of that nature. Maybe they have it figured out.
Flight canceled to Nashville. Nightmare. Re-routed through Miami and finally get back home around midnight. Exhausted beyond belief. Again, perspective.
I couldn’t have taken this trip without the support of so many. If you’re reading this right now – THANK YOU. This trip forever changed me. You have helped provide a new van for the kids to get to school, and now the ones that live too far away to walk will have a way to commute. You also have helped provide the teacher’s salaries for the next year so that these sweet ones can continue to have an education.
12 strangers forever stitched together by a couple of common threads – 1. Our friend Brittany and 2. The want to make a difference. Now we are rafiki – friends – who share an unbelievable and indescribable week of connection, love, heartache, belly laughs, chewed up crayons, ruined shoes, long skirts, braided hair, new words, too many carbs, lots of sweat and even more tears. Together we CAN.
Shine, shine, shine, my friends. Shine on.
I’ve known Whitney for years, since I was an instructor at Barry’s and she used to take classes there. She has always been an impressive athlete and runner, but that is nothing compared to what she has accomplished recently! Whitney started one-on-one training with me about eight weeks after having given birth to her beautiful baby girl – Emery – and, in about six months, she lost all of her baby weight – 43lbs!! With sit-ups – she started over from pretty much from scratch (she couldn’t even do one sit-up when we started), but she has made truly astounding strides. She has run two half-marathons since giving birth and has gotten back to being in incredible shape!! Stay tuned – she’s headed for a half marathon PR in October! Annnnd she JUST PR’d a 5k and took first in her age group!!!! GO GIRL.
Whitney, it has been a true privilege to help you do all the amazing things you’ve done. Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey! I’ve asked Whitney a series of questions, and I’ve included her answers below. You can’t help but be inspired by this incredible woman!
Tell me about you, what you do, who you are, and what you’re passionate about?
I am 34 years old, and my husband and I just became parents to a sweet little girl last fall. I was born and raised in Knoxville, I attended the University of Georgia for my undergraduate degree, I returned to Knoxville for law school, and then I moved to Nashville in 2008. I am currently in-house counsel for a healthcare supply chain and total cost management solutions company.
What were your goals after the baby and what are your goals going forward?
I was lucky enough to be able to work out pretty frequently while I was pregnant, up until around 32 weeks, but exercise definitely took a backseat those last 4-5 weeks– I was so tired, hot, and swollen! My main goal was to lose the weight in as much time as it took me to gain it… I think new moms put too much pressure on themselves to lose the baby weight really fast, but you have to remember that it took 9 months to gain it. So my aim was to get it off in 9 months as well. I worked hard and lost the 43 lbs I gained (yes, that’s a lot) in about 6 months. My goals going forward are to get my running paces back up to pre-baby…and then some. I want to train smart, listen to my body, and slow down when I need to.
What did you do to focus in and lose the baby weight?
I started doing intervals of run/walk around 8 weeks postpartum, and I also ordered a fit splint band for extra support when I began running again. I added in spin classes for lower impact cardio. 1:1 weight training sessions helped build back lost muscle, too. The last 10 lbs were definitely the hardest to lose. I also cut dairy due to a potential milk protein allergy, and that honestly helped me lose a lot of weight pretty quickly. You have to eat pretty healthy when you can’t have cream, cheese, or butter 😦
Tell me about your first half marathon after baby!
I ran the Tom King half marathon about 5 and a half months postpartum without too many expectations. I started out slow the first half and then, tried picking it up a bit to see how I felt. My only goal was to beat my finish time at the 2016 Country Music half marathon when I was 17 weeks pregnant, and I did!
How has personal training helped you?
Having mild ab separation, I couldn’t do a lot of core exercises up until very recently. And even though I was very active for almost all of my pregnancy, it was really hard to get back to any kind of fitness level I was used to. I knew it would be too frustrating and intimidating to try group classes and have to ask for modifications over and over. Luckily, Megan was offering a really great special right when I was cleared to work out again, so I jumped on it 🙂 I think it’s also so incredibly beneficial that Megan is also a runner, so all of our workouts compliment my mileage and make me stronger. I know she’s never going to give me a workout that will negatively impact the quality of a run the following day, or spend an entire session overtraining my legs.
What advice would you give new mommies on getting back to it?
Give yourself some slack! You just carried a baby for 9 months and gave birth. You’re basically a superhero, so who cares if it takes some time to lose the baby weight.
If nothing else, becoming a mother has made me very efficient. I am waking up at times that I never thought I would voluntarily set an alarm for, in order to get my runs completed and still spend time with my family before I have to go to work. It makes for very long days, but you gotta make it work however you can if you want it bad enough!
First things first – CONGRATULATIONS to all of the participants of the New Year’s Revolution Challenge! You all blew me away with how hard you worked out and how committed you were to eating a Whole30 or Paleo-compliant diet. For those of you who have read my blog before, you know that I have done Whole30 several times and I know firsthand the difficulties this kind of lifestyle change (it isn’t a diet!) can bring. Asking me to give up chocolate is a big deal! But I also know firsthand how incredibly rewarding it is to truly care for your body by nourishing it with whole, natural foods. I know how much better my body feels on Whole30 – during the day when I’m active but also at night when I sleep…so it was very exciting for me to see so many of my clients experience this change for themselves. In total, participants lost a combined 54.3 lbs and 27.9% body fat. Holy crap!!! That’s so awesome! Here are the final results… special congrats to Emily for being the overall winner, and to Derek for hitting his goal of going from 12% body fat to 8%!!!
Body Fat % lost
People – I don’t sell a bikini body, I promote a HEALTHY LIFESTYLE…and that’s exactly what these incredible people did in just 6 weeks. THEY CHANGED THEIR LIVES.
“I realized how much my diet affects every single aspect of my life.”
One of the most common statements in their responses after this challenge was the realization that what you eat makes such a significant difference. Most people have heard that getting and maintaining a healthy body is 20% exercise and 80% nutrition, but it is a hard claim to believe that until you live through that change yourself. And it isn’t just about losing weight. We TRULY are what we eat, and I think Whole30 makes you really realize what you’re putting in your body MATTERS. The food we consume is what gives us energy to go about our lives, so the better food we eat, the better lives we are going to have.
To read the full responses of some of the participants, just keep scrolling!
1. What did you learn/experience from this 6 week challenge?
Allison: In the six weeks, which included Whole 30, I realized how much my diet affects every single aspect of my life – from my sleep to my moods to my mental sharpness and my energy for workouts. Changing my diet made every part of my life better and gave me the energy I needed to work out harder and more often.
Emily: I learned that it really IS all about what you eat. I had always been able to exercise my way around all the baked goods I wanted to eat, but after getting older and having a baby, that just didn’t work anymore.
I also learned that you can do anything for 30 days/6 weeks. I really DON’T need a glass of wine (or 3) after a long day. I really DON’T need a snack every time I walk through the kitchen. I really DON’T need to bake (and eat) brownies to make myself feel better or to show others I care about them.
I have also given up my guilt about food, for the most part. I used to feel so bad about myself and bad in general when I would over indulge. Now, I have a few chips or a glass of wine and don’t beat myself up afterwards. I also don’t punish myself for a “bad food choice” by saying I have to run X number of miles the next day because I ate something.
I also don’t reward myself with food or alcohol. Instead of saying “Megan really killed me today in our training session, so I can eat whatever I want tonight”, I enjoy the way that I feel and don’t want to mess it up. So I’ll try to go get a pedicure or go shopping (which is fun again!) or go to bed early knowing I’ll sleep like a baby until the baby wakes up.
I am also so much more aware of what I’m eating. I’m obsessive about reading labels and now know that just because something is organic or purchased from Whole Foods doesn’t mean there’s not added sugar. I also don’t unconsciously finish off my 1 year old daughters Mac and Cheese or muffin, etc. All the little things really do add up.
I’ve learned that how I feel now is the best reward that I could ask for.
Brian: I became more aware of what I ate and how my body responded to it. I felt like I had good results and became more disciplined on every aspect of my life because I wanted to see and more importantly feel the change.
Derek: Meaningful changes can occur in a short period of time
Katie: I learned how my body feels running on different types of food. The whole 30 process was really eye opening.
2. What was the hardest part of the challenge?
Allison: The hardest part was losing convenience. I did not have cravings for non-compliant food, but I craved the convenience of takeout or a sandwich instead of planning ahead to make sure I was eating clean foods.
Emily: The biggest challenge was the pressure of social situations. It’s really no fun to meet girlfriends for happy hour if you’re not drinking or eating chips and dips! I told lots of folks that I’d need to take a raincheck on their invites until mid-February! I really became a bit of a hermit for the first part of the challenge because I didn’t trust my willpower and didn’t want to be seen as “not fun”. But by the end, I would go out and just drink water and eat before I went so I wasn’t tempted.
It was also a challenge when I would go home to visit my family and have to turn down my Nana’s sweet tea, my mom’s delicious cooking and my dad’s stellar wine cellar. All of which are things that I associate with being at home.
Brian: Learning to relearn the power of food and not just looking at the big picture but just one day at a time. Small victories lead to major wins!
Derek: The diet; It was the hardest but most important part.
Katie: Finding time in my day to workout and then having the motivation after a long day of work!
3. What would you say to/advise someone wanting to make changes?
Allison: My advice for anyone challenging themselves with a certain goal “deadline” like a six week kickstart program is to have a game plan for after your goal period is over. I had such success in my six weeks but I have struggled to stay committed in the weeks after because I realize now I had no goals or plan for my life after the revolution period.
Emily: [M]y advice for others embarking on this journey: you need a village. I would not have been successful if my partner wasn’t committed to this as well and was eating, and for the most part, preparing our healthy dishes. The encouragement from the FB group made a huge difference as well – knowing there were others who were doing this as well or had done it before. When I did go visit my family, my mom made sure she stocked up on things I could eat and no one ever pressured me to “just have X”. My friends all told me how proud they were of me when I would meet them out and drink water.
Brian: Get your mind right first. You need to want it in order to make it really happen. Baby steps and have realistic goals. We all want instant results, it’s more of a lifestyle change which long term will provide a heathy, happy life. Having a support system/ coach def helps! It’s a team effort.
Derek: Make small, attainable goals so you don’t get discouraged.
Katie: Try the whole 30. If you are focused on being healthier it is the way to go. You have nothing to lose!
4. What will you continue to do from here on out?
Allison: I am continuing to make better choices in my diet and working out more often. I have mixed in Orange Theory and Bar Method along with my Megan workouts and trying to be more active. I plan to do Whole 30 again soon!
Emily: My plan going forward is to stay Whole 30 compliant 80% of the time but not sweat it when I go off plan. But I’m also not going to go all out and “eat all the things”. I’ve added back in some sprinkles of cheese on salads, a few glasses of wine here and there and, ok, a few margaritas, but only one at a time! I’m still trying to avoid gluten and sweets/baked goods. But when you feel this good, it’s really not worth it! I’ve heard that for years, but now I really believe it. This momma needs a good night of sleep every night!
Brian: I want it more. This process has opened my eyes more than you will ever know. You only get one body/ one life, why not maximize it? The past 6 weeks has improved my life on every level and allowed me to achieve more. It’s been unbelievable and like I mentioned before eye opening. It’s not easy but it’s about the commitment.
Katie: I have transitioned a little to Paleo. I have also kept up with weight training three days a week.
Can you believe these amazing people?! It makes my heart beyond happy to share what these people did in just 6 short weeks. Most of them have set goals from PRing a half marathon to losing a few more to building some serious muscle… THIS is what makes me grateful every day to do what I do. THESE PEOPLE continue to inspire me and hopefully you as well. Stay tuned – I will be doing another 6 week challenge soon! Congrats again to everyone who participated and changed their life – I am SO proud of you, and so grateful to be a part of your journey.
For her 30th birthday Brittany Dobbs decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro – the highest peak in Africa. NBD…
I’m not going to say much because every word of this spotlight is intriguing and amazing, and you need to take the time to read it all and hear her story. I just have to say – Brittany – you are my hero…in so many ways. Your heart for serving and your will when you set your mind to whatever it is – is truly unbelievable. Thank you for chasing this dream down, doing it, and letting me be a part of your incredibly inspiring climb to the top.
Now here is the rest in Brittany’s words…
At 7am on Saturday, July 16th, as the sun was rising over the highest mountain in Africa, I reached Uhuru Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro, which stands at 19,341 ft. (13.3 Empire State Buildings high). It is almost impossible to try to explain the elation, exhaustion, and sense of accomplishment I felt after spending the last year planning and training for that exact moment.
Give me some background on your love of Africa.
If you’ve ever met me, you know that I’m not the most outdoorsy person. I hate being hot, and I love air conditioning. Based on those facts alone, my deep affection for Africa may seem surprising. It certainly was for me.
I first traveled to Africa to volunteer in October 2014. I was in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, where the temperature was at least 100 degrees EVERY day and night. At the time, I was living the dream in New York City; I loved my life, my friends, and my job. I had always wanted to work with children in Africa, so I decided it was time to gain some perspective and see what life was like on the other side of the world. I started my research, like most of us do, on Google.
Exactly one month later, I had received all my shots and planned my itinerary, and I was headed to the unknown in Zimbabwe to work with African Impact. I met the most amazing people from all over the world while working in The Rose of Charity Orphanage and Monde Primary School. As volunteers, we would split our time between the orphanage, the school, and a few other projects, but my favorites by far were teaching and playing with the children. It was such an eye opening experience. These kids had nothing, but they were still full of joy and life. They didn’t wear any shoes, and most of them were dressed in the same ripped and dirty outfits everyday. On the days we went to the orphanage, the kids would scurry down the street as we pulled up in the van. When we arrived, we would have a child grabbing each hand and others wanting to carry all the bags that contained the toys, crafts, and coloring books. At the school, we would have to bring all the paper, books, pencils, and anything we wanted to use for the lessons because they didn’t have any resources. We would bring candy or treats and would be swarmed when handing them out from excitement.
This experience rocked something deep in my soul. I fell in love with Africa and returned to the states with a completely different perspective on the world. When I landed in NYC, the first thing I witnessed was two women fighting over a taxi cab. I thought, “How insignificant.” I felt so moved to do something bigger, but what could I do?
I couldn’t get Africa and the children I worked with out of my mind. Months passed, and I moved back home to Nashville. With Africa still on my mind and heart, I returned the following summer – this time to Msaranga village right outside of Moshi, Tanzania (at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro). I spent my days with the most amazing 2-5 year olds at the First Chance Education Centre – singing, playing games and teaching English. Their eagerness and excitement inspired me, especially given their limited resources. These children had no toys to play with and only a concrete floor to nap on and yet, they were so happy and content. My heart and soul reached out to these kids from the moment I arrived, specifically a little girl named Amilen. She was 3 years old and had a magnetic personality. Even though we couldn’t communicate well because of the language barrier, we became the best of friends.
One of my favorite memories is from my last day at the school: I was holding Amilen, while the other kids were running around, sliding down the slide, and circling the see saw. She turned to me and started counting in Swahili…Moja, Mbili, Tatu…like she was trying to show me what she was learning at school. It brought tears to my eyes. From that moment, I knew I had to go back to Tanzania to see her again.
The people I’ve met from Africa and around the world along with the beauty of the countries I have visited are a few of the many reasons I have fallen in love with Africa.
How did you decide to climb Kili? Why did you choose this particular mountain?
On my first trip to Tanzania in the summer of 2015, I arrived at the Kilimanjaro airport in the middle of the night. I had no idea the magnitude of this mountain. I saw the mountain for the first time the next day from the volunteer house. It was so beautiful! Many of the other volunteers were going to climb Kilimanjaro on their trip, which I hadn’t considered on this trip. At that point, I was extremely out of shape and wouldn’t have been able to complete the climb, but I had a plan.
Summer 2016 would mark my 30th birthday, and I set a goal to climb Kilimanjaro to kick off the new decade. I decided I wanted to return to Tanzania, see the kids I had fallen in love with, and conquer this seemingly impossible physical and mental task. On July 25th, 2015, I texted my friends, Natalia and Ingeborg (whom I had met in Zimbabwe two years before) and I asked them if they would be interested in joining me on this crazy journey. To my surprise, they both said yes! Thankfully, I had started training with Megan a month or so before I went to Tanzania in 2015. When I returned, I let her know that I wanted to climb the tallest mountain in Africa the next summer – dream big, right? And with her help and a rigorous training program, I began my training to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro.
It was more than just a physical goal, or even a bucket list item to check off. I did it for the children – for Amilen and the rest of the kids at the school. I used the climb as an opportunity to raise money to support First Chance Education Centre. Through my “Climbing for the Kids” campaign, I raised $4,080 from 70 donors. This money provided a safety wall around the school, sent 5 new students to school for the next year, and repaired the children’s toilets.
How did you prep and train?
Determination. Dedication. Motivation. Megan. All were necessary for this training. Also, #allthepeople. I had so much support from family, friends, co-workers, and people I met along the way. The main thing was that I held myself accountable. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from getting to the top of that mountain, not even the emergency stomach surgery I had to have in March 2016.
My training program was built from a few 12-week online training programs. But basically I did anything and everything I had time to do. Megan was a huge support and motivated me through all the training. We did strength training for 45 minutes, 2-3 times a week, which consisted largely of step ups. I cursed through most of the hundreds of step ups she made me do, but I did text her from the mountain to thank her. I used the training as an opportunity to try a bunch of different studios in Nashville and New York. My favorites are SoulCycle, GetFit615, Title Boxing, Body By Simone, Barry’s Bootcamp, and 305 Fitness. Do yourself a favor and try them all. Once a week, I climbed stairs in an eleven-story building for 2-3 hours usually joined by my sister, Hayley. #bestsisterever! Friends would hike with me for hours on the weekends at Percy Warner and Radnor Lake, while I wore a weighted vest and a full backpack (around 40 pounds total). A few weeks before the climb, I hiked Gray’s Peak (14,270 ft.) in Colorado for elevation training with Melissa, one of my co-workers. Also, I started Weight Watchers for the nutritional aspect. This was a key part of my training because the better the food I put in my body, the stronger my motivation to do my workouts each day.
Tell me about the climb itself – how many days, who was with you, your guide – give me as much as you want here!
As I sit here and try to write about what the climb was like, words won’t do it justice. But just know, this is a mere dent in how it felt to climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro.
When I landed in Tanzania, Mount Kilimanjaro was completely visible, and all of a sudden it became very real. I was terrified. There was this incredibly beautiful but massive mountain in front of me, which I was going to climb to the very top.
Natalia, Ingeborg, Heather, and I met our two guides, Jackson and Kevin, the day before we began. They came to brief us on the next seven days that we would all spend together trekking the Machame Route. And, they needed to check all of our gear to make sure we were prepared. Approved. Ready to climb. Ready to climb? Ah, this was actually happening.
We drove an hour the next morning to get to the Machame Gate (5,905 ft.), where we would begin the route. Our 12 porters were waiting for us at the gate, where they would pick up our large bags, food, water, cooking supplies – everything we would need for the next week on the mountain. There were 12 porters on our team plus our 2 guides. It took 14 people to get the 4 of us up the mountain! Too bad they couldn’t carry me.
The first four days were exciting, exhausting, but totally manageable. We would wake up early, have our breakfast of porridge, eggs, sausage (hot dogs), and toast, and then hike for the next 6-8 hours per day. Each day was spent trekking through a different climate zone: rainforest, heath, moorland, alpine desert, and arctic. The porters would run(!) past us with their 50lb sacks on their heads as we slowly headed to the next camp. When we arrived at the camp in the evening, the porters would have our tents set up, have warm “water for washing,” and a snack of popcorn, ginger cookies, and hot chocolate ready for us. We were so tired that we would wait for dinner, eat, and go straight to bed, hoping we didn’t have to wake up and make the trek to the “toilets” in the middle of the night. Well, there actually weren’t any toilets, but there were buildings or shacks with a hole in the ground. I’ve never appreciated a toilet as much as I did after this experience.
Summit night deserves its own paragraph, maybe its own spotlight. We started the ascent to the summit at midnight on the 16th from Barafu Camp, which is at 15,092 feet. Only 4,249 feet more to the top, the most elevation gained in one day. We were equipped with our water bladders and water bottles (for when the bladders froze), and wearing every piece of clothing we had in our bags, plus our backpacks, snacks, and last but not least, our headlamps. It was so incredibly cold that I couldn’t imagine how it would get colder as we slowly climbed up the last bit of the mountain. But it did. We were walking over rocks, and it was so steep that sometimes I thought I was going to fall right off the mountain. But I didn’t. Slow and steady wins the race. It was hard to breathe and only going to get harder. It was so cold I wanted to cover my nose and mouth, but then I had an even harder time breathing. Not to mention, all of our noses were running incessantly the whole way to the summit. However, the night was so beautiful. It was almost a full moon, and we were literally at the height of it. I looked to my left and was taken aback at how close we were to the moon. And the stars! We were under a blanket of stars. I’ve always loved the African sky at night.
After the first couple of hours, Ingeborg and I had to break off from Natalia and Heather so that we could walk at a slightly faster pace up the mountain. Then, it was me, Ingeborg, and Jackson, our guide. He would let us stop about once an hour for a short break, a snack, and a long drink of water, but if we stopped for too long, our bodies would get too cold and our chance of making it to the top would diminish. There was one point, 18,045 ft., that Jackson said he would let us know when we got there, and this was the point where our bodies would really start to be tested. Well we got to that point, and I was like- WHAT? WE ARE JUST NOW AT 18,045FT?! My body had already been dying for the last hour. Jackson wouldn’t ever tell us the time or how long we had been walking, but I think we had been walking for about 5 hours. Only 1,296 feet more to go. This is when shit got real.
I had made it this far, and I didn’t have any of the major signs of altitude sickness (diarrhea, uncontrollable vomiting) that would make me turn around for good. If I didn’t make it, it would be on me and me alone. I was thinking of anything and everything under the sun to motivate me to get to the top of the mountain. All the people that trained with me, all the people I told I was summiting Kili, the remarkable little kids I raised money for, my dad and how he used to cheer me on at my sports games, and I even pictured my guardian angel, Stan (hello altitude, meet hallucination). I cried like 5 times. I could barely move my legs. I was using my walking poles to literally push my legs forward. It was the most bizarre, out of body experience that was mentally, physically, and emotionally draining. We stopped to rest, and Jackson told us we had less than 10 minutes before we reached Stella Point, the point of no return, at 18,652 ft. He said if we could get there, then we were guaranteed to make it to the summit.
So we did. The three of us reached Stella Point around 6am as the sun was beginning to rise. OMG! The sight of the sun breaking the horizon and making its way above the sheet of clouds. How was this real life?!
Ingeborg and I took a bathroom break at Stella Point, took a couple pictures with the sign, and then, as we were about to start the hour long walk to Uhuru Peak, we heard Gerald, our summit porter, call out to Jackson. Natalia, accompanied by Gerald, had made it to Stella Point. I’m pretty sure we all cried at that point. Heather had gotten too sick to carry on, but Natalia was determined to make it to the top with us. The five of us – me, Ingeborg, Natalia, Jackson, and Gerald – reached Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa, at 7am on July 16th.
After all that build up, I had completely forgotten that we had to get down. We were at the summit for no more than 15 minutes. Then, we began our descent. We took a different route down because people were still coming up the summit. The path was so steep and made of volcanic dust, and I basically fell down the mountain for those 3.5 hours on no sleep and legs like jello. When we got back to Barafu camp, we were able to rest for about an hour and eat lunch. Then, we had to walk another 4.5 hours to our final camp on the mountain. It’s never felt so good to sleep!
On day 7, our final day on the mountain, we had about a 3 hour walk out in the rainforest. It was so muddy and slippery, and I started out walking pretty slowly. My legs were so sore, and it felt like we were walking forever. I asked Jackson if we had made it halfway, and he said we had about another 30 mins before we were halfway. That means we had only been walking for an hour. I saw all the porters with the 50lb sacks on their heads running past us, and I don’t know what came over me. It could have been all the extra oxygen, the adrenaline from the day before, or pure excitement to have a shower. But, I started running after the porters, right in line with them, until I caught up with Kevin, Ingeborg, and Natalia. I had planned on joining them for the rest of the way. Instead, I kept running, and I ran straight off that mountain!
When you got to the summit how did you feel?
Can you imagine being on top of the world? That is how I felt as I reached the summit of Kilimanjaro. Every time I look up now, I can’t believe I climbed so high that we were above the clouds and what felt like being aligned with the moon. I was completely exhausted and my body was barely moving. But the last hour from Stella Point to the summit, I had a renewed energy as the sun had risen and I was SO close. People that were coming down from the top were congratulating us as we passed them, which made me even more excited to get to the summit.
What did you learn from the climb?
When I got back from climbing Kilimanjaro, one of the main questions people would ask me was, “Did you have fun?” Fun? No, “fun” is not the word I would use to describe the climb. However, it was beautiful, unbelievable, and rewarding. This experience made me realize that I can do anything I put my mind to. After being so emotionally, physically, and mentally stretched beyond what I thought my limits were, I got comfortable with the uncomfortable. I had never hiked any mountains before I started my training, and I may or may not hike any after Kili. But whatever I do next, I will do it at 200%.
What is your next goal?
I have so many things I want to do! First, I am creating a 501c3 nonprofit organization to help fund First Chance Education Centre in Tanzania (more info to come!). As far as travelling, I want to see the northern lights in Norway and the pyramids in Egypt. My next big fitness goal is the Tour de Tuli, a four-day bike ride through the wilderness in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. #hurryupandlive!
What advice would you give to anyone looking to accomplish hiking Kili or something similar?
Just do it! But don’t half ass it. You have to want it. If you fully commit to your goal, you will achieve it. I feel so empowered after this experience, like I could do anything in the world.
Well, it’s finished, it’s done. 30 days of only whole foods…no alcohol, no dairy, no sugar, no beans, no grains… It’s done. It’s day 31, and I’m still Whole30 complaint. I’m not sure what to do with myself. Do I eat paleo? Am I ready? Am I still going to have great energy and be able to sleep through the night? Am I going to feel like crap or poop myself if I eat sugar or grains or ice cream? So. Many. Questions!!
This is embarrassing for me to post… because trainers are supposed to have perfect bodies. Trainers are supposed to have 6-pack abs, and run really fast and lift really heavy, and post half naked pictures of themselves. Trainers are supposed to wear bikinis and show off how hard they workout in classes… Well, none of these things are me. (I can run decently fast every now and then, but that’s about it.) I’m a normal human being who likes to eat cake, who likes to travel and seek balance, enjoy life, and BE HAPPY. I am a human being who loves inspiring other people to be their best, and striving to be better myself every day knowing that I’ll probably never have the body I want or enough money, but in the end – none of that matters. I preach this to my clients ALL OF THE TIME… That fitness is about a REALISTIC, ATTAINABLE LIFESTYLE, and something that can be maintained. Fitness isn’t a bikini body that you have to starve yourself for. Fitness isn’t Fitness is HEALTH. Fitness is happiness, and being the best version of you. THAT is much more than 6-pack abs. So, I’m putting it out there…I’m far from perfect, and I wanted to share with you my “I just got back from a week in Florida and California and maybe I ate an entire bag of peanut butter cups before doing Whole30” picture…
The second picture was about 20 days in when I was really on it. I’ve since had the special time of the month and have maybe fallen off a little… oops. 🙂
As I’ve gotten older, things have gotten a little harder to keep in place. I ventured on this Whole30 journey for more than the physical changes, though. I still weigh the same, but there’s a little difference here… To me, the changes inside outweigh any physical changes I experienced.
I’ll be honest – I didn’t do a good job of reading the book or really reading much about re-introducing foods back in, but this way of eating wasn’t too far off from how I was eating before. I’ve totally rid myself of processed stuff though! Literally nothing processed has been in my body for over 30 days. Kind of cool. So, on that note, I’m just going to jump right in and share a few of the things I learned along the way that may help you decide whether this is something you’d want to try.
- Sugar is in EVERYTHING!! I had NO idea just how prevalent this little drug is in our society and, well, it’s in everything… from milk to almond butter to the obvious chocolate to bars to well, I could keep going, but you get the picture. It is everywhere, and it’s a total drug. Whol30 opened my eyes to this more than ever.
- Whole30 teaches you how to read labels – REALLY read them. If you decide to do Whole30 – read the book! They will show you what to look for on labels and how to decipher if it’s compliant or not or even what is good for you going forward.
- When you’re putting good stuff in – you’re going to get something GOOD in return. (And I don’t mean a good poo!) To me – THE GOOD STUFF – is probably the main benefit that I’ve experienced from this program. The CLARITY – emotionally, mentally and even spiritually – that I’ve had over the last 30 days has been second to none. I’m going to explain more on this below, but wow. Just WOW.
- Sleep is a beautiful thing. I haven’t been able to sleep for more than a year without taking something – not melatonin – no, the hard stuff – ambien, actually! I can’t take a whole one, but I can sure take a little piece! However – since about halfway through this program – I HAVEN’T HAD TO TAKE ONE AT ALL!!! I never dreamed this would have happened, and I’m so thankful.
- Waking up is NOT hard to do. Since on Whole30 – I’m up at 6:30am every morning (or before) ready to rock the world!!! Might I add – WITH NO ALARM. Those of you who know me – know that this is a very, very unheard of thing. Well, life has changed!
- Give yourself grace. I didn’t follow the plan exactly like I should have. I run a lot more than the average Jane, so I ate when I was hungry. I didn’t feel as bad about shoving a bowl of fruit in my face face as I have before after a Sprinkles cupcake, but I probably did overdo the fruits and overeat a bit. I just kept telling myself that “at least it’s not a cupcake!”
- No, REALLY give yourself grace. Using fruit for sugar is looked down upon as well on this program, but again – read the book. I didn’t read it, and grilled bison burgers and fresh corn one night for a friend… oops… I figured corn would be considered a starchy vegetable like a sweet potato or even a banana (which is a starchy fruit), but nope. Not on the plan. When my friend told me – I started sweating. I had just failed Whole30, and it was completely by accident! Some strict Whole30ers will say START OVER, but I really believe that’s a personal choice. It’s not like I binged on a bag of chips or made out with a chocolate cake. No. I had fresh, grilled corn with ghee. Still – it was a mistake, and you have to decide if/when you make an ACCIDENTAL boo-boo if you want to start over the next day.
- READ THE BOOK. Have I mentioned read the book? After I finished my 30 days – I realized a couple of the nut butters I used weren’t complaint… Again, did I fail miserably at Whole30? Not in my eyes. Will I do it again and be more aware next time? Hell yeah.
- Farmer’s markets are the bomb.com. When you can only eat certain things, you really appreciate those things, and the freshness becomes important. I take off Tuesday afternoons so that I can go over to the farmer’s market and get my fruits and veggies. The taste of these fruits and veggies are insane. There’s just nothing like locally grown, fresh-farmed food. And on top of it all – you’re supporting the local economy and farmers! It’s a win-win.
Here’s one meal totally from my farmer’s market finds…
10. Finding new ways of making food is cool. I’ve discovered some awesome new recipes that will now be staples in my weekly eating itinerary. Knowing what goes in your food and how it’s prepared is SO important. Every single little decision you make COUNTS, so finding new ways of approaching recipes is a great thing, and can be super fun too. I’m still not done adding the recipes up – so keep checking back. Here are a few more beauties I made that I will be posting soon…
Those are just a few things that I personally realized over the last 30 days. To me, the biggest, most amazing changes have been in my heart and mind. I believe that this program kind of strips you down to just what you need. There is no fake shit, no processed, additive-filled food that you’re putting in your body, and THAT translated directly to my life. It made me take a real look at the “processed, additve-filled” stuff in my life. It made me take a real look at my relationships, my heart, my faith, my job and my future. I had mental clarity like I’ve never had before. I had the strength to let go of some things that I needed to let go of. I reconnected with God and centered Him in my life again. I came up with a business idea that I’m now moving forward on. I wrote one of the best songs that I’ve ever written… yes, the phrase “you are what you eat” has never been more true to me.
So, there you have it folks. 30 days of super clean eating. The queen of baking, the champion of non-restrictive eating gave up sugar and all of that other stuff for 30 days, and I didn’t miss a thing. Trust me, if I can give up sugar for 30 days – YOU can do ANYTHING. I would definitely tell anyone who is thinking of trying Whole30 – DO IT. It changed my life. It could do the same for you. I sure hope it does.
If you only read one of my posts all year…let it be this one. I hope it will speak to you. And, it just so happens that it falls on #globalrunningday
Flashback to yesterday when it was just me and the track at 7:45am. Pros of not going at 5:30am – more sleep, track to yourself. Cons – you’ve got the track to yourself. At that point you have no one there cheering you on, you have no one’s energy to feed off of, you have no one to be accountable to – it’s just you, the sound of your shoes, your breath and those white lines.
You could easily give up, walk away, cut corners and be done with it. No one would know. But you would.
I had to envision myself crossing the finish line on September 10th in a few months – knowing that I had qualified for Boston…knowing that the training paid off…no regrets, no corners cut.
Sometimes all you need is a goal. You need something bigger than yourself – more than what you think you can do. Something that you have to work for. Something that won’t be easy. Something that may seem impossible right now. You need to envision the end goal, and keep it close to your heart. I’m learning more and more that this is what life is about. Celebrating your life, achieving goals, believing in something, believing in yourself, inspiring others, saying “I did it.”
I encourage you to find something bigger than yourself, something you think seems unattainable. It’s not… I promise. Keep it at the center of your focus, you’ll get there. Even on the days you think you won’t – you’ll get there, and you’ll be thankful you didn’t give up. It will be worth it. #inspiration #track #bostontraining #marathontraining #run #running #runner #believeinyourself #sweat #fitness #training #trainer #personaltrainer #runnergirl #girlswhorun #inspireatrun #goals #worthit #believeyoucan