The Chris Hamann Story
204 to 144 or My Journey Out of Defeat.
March 2, 2019: Sporting my new Transform307 t-shirt and my new Fancy Pants race tights, standing on my new skis, I was freezing my nose and ears on the starting line of the West Yellowstone Rendezvous Nordic Marathon. I was going to race the 25KM Classic event. That is 15.5 miles to us Americans. A long way. I had skied and survived this race the past 3 years, but this year, I was going to race it! I did! It turned out to be my day. Up hills were skied, downs were glided, I was strong and powerful. It shows in the photos. Weight transfer, arms and abs working together, skis gliding. I was a skier today! A contender! I crushed my personal best time by 50 minutes. Skiing fast was fun! 2hrs 2min 51sec.
March 16, 2019: Only 2 weeks after the ski race, I found myself at the start of the Moab Canyonlands Half Marathon. Again, wearing my now lucky Transform307 t-shirt. This time 13 miles. A long way. I had never run a half marathon before. It had never even been on my radar. Never having run a half marathon, I didn’t know what to expect. But I now have a personal record to chase. 2hrs 27min 57sec.
Never, in my fifty -five years of life on this earth, did I think I would be running a half marathon. Never did I think I could pull off a doubleheader of sorts. Two big events in two weeks! Skiing is my life. It is easy for me. Running has always hurt. It has never been fun. What was different about this year? Where was this adventurous person coming from? Why now?
In June of 2018, I found Transform307, now known as Transforming Strength. OK, it found me on Facebook. I replied to a post I saw. I submitted my application for a personal training scholarship. I never really thought something would come of it. I was awarded half price for a month! I did not even know what full price was, but now it was half of that. This was inviting to me. I was intrigued.
I soon had an appointment to meet Coach Matt Hartsky, Personal Trainer and owner of Transforming Strength. I was REALLY nervous. My summer had not gone the way I had expected. I was emotionally beaten up by events I could not control. I was letting life run me. I was coping by eating. I was 204 pounds and gaining. I was surviving in defeat. Finding joy or the will to get through one day was hard. Looking back at photos of that time, I see that defeat in my body, in my face, and in my eyes. I was a train wreck.
I don’t know what Matt thought when I walked thru the door. He showed me his gym. We talked a bunch. I gave him a bunch of reasons for my weight and dismal fitness level. I have a daughter with a disability who I must take care of, my husband is gone for the summer, I am 54 years old, the list went on. He listened or pretended to. Basically, he let me try to talk myself out of signing up. He saw something in me that day, something I could not find in myself. Somehow, I left that day with a date and time to start my half price month.
As I filled out the paper work he had sent home with me, something clicked. There were places to fill in goals. Why did I need this service? What did I want? Be specific the directions said. I wrote down the West Yellowstone Rendezvous. I wanted to be proud of my race effort.
At our first meeting I told Matt I was not afraid of hard work. I took my words to heart and decided not only to try this Personal Training thing for the month but to give every session my full attention, 100% effort. What could it hurt? I had written the check, money was already spent. Maybe this is truly what I needed. One month was not that long. I had no idea what I was in for.
Those first weeks were tough. For Matt and me both. He had to be creative in finding things I could do. He was. I was sore in muscles I did not know I had. I was introduced to tortures like squats, lunges, walking lunges, granny ball pushes, pushing a sled, pulling tractor tires and ball slams. The step-up box almost killed me. I prayed before workouts for strength to get through. I gave all to every session. I vowed to not let Matt see me cry. I cried in my car in the parking lot. Laughing or sneezing made my abs hurt. I celebrated when muscles quit hurting so I could walk normal.
For some reason, I kept going back for more. One month, two times a week, eight workouts, I had survived. A routine was beginning to emerge. My goal was to survive the hour in session. I found this was something I was feeling successful at. Those mornings in the gym were hard, ugly and weirdly fun.
Matt had me start a food journal. (I still do this every day.) One that kept track of everything I ate through the day. Ouch.. He also talked about the importance of intentional workouts seven days a week. What was I doing on the off days when I was not working out with him? What? He expected more from me than gym time? I started listening. I started understanding that he knew his stuff. I started adding swimming, jogging, cardio machines and as seasons changed, Nordic Skiing. Started adding the “necessary evil” of extra intentional movement, to my life. Keeping track of everything in my journal: weight, meals, workouts, even how I feel about life. My journal is affectionally known as my Transformer’s Bible.
I was the one to ask Matt about nutrition coaching. He had waited for this step until I was ready. I was tired of the spare tires in all the photos of me. Tired of being tired all the time. Embarrassed that I was a coach of a demanding sport, and not a good role model for my young skiers. Not a good role model for my sport. Not a good role model for my daughter. Not a good role model for myself.
That first email describing my Eat On Purpose Plan was hard to read, and even harder to digest. I don’t know what I was hoping for, but it was not to give up all foods near and dear to me… bread, pasta, sweets, fruit. To this day I have a hard time eating sweet potatoes, but I am getting used to them. This plan looked hard to do. Hard to incorporate into family meals. Hard to live by. Six meals a day, spaced by hours, no snacks. Asparagus really??? Nothing on the list was what I considered family friendly. I did not know what “clean” food was. I had to ask Matt. (Note here: It does take work but with organization it is not so hard. My family now eats what I cook, and they do not miss the old ways!)
I had promised myself 100% focus for workouts, now to promise 100% (for one week) on the new nutrition plan. (Calling it a diet makes it so much harder in my mind.) And I did just that, jumped in with 100% effort and lost nine pounds in one week. This scared me. Could it be this easy? Was it as simple as changing up my diet? I was eating 6 times a day. I never felt hungry. Weird. Did Matt really have the answer? Maybe I could do another week. And more weight came off! OK. I will stay on track for two more weeks making it a solid month on the Eat On Purpose wagon and two months total working with Matt in the gym. By the end of the two months I was down fifteen pounds. Surprised and excited about my success and ready for more.
It was during this initial time of first successes that I realized life was falling into place for me. There is something to be said about routines. Routine of Tuesday/Thursday morning workouts in the gym. Routine of meals prepped the night before. Routine of afternoon swims or runs or ski. I was in control of these routines. For the first time in a long time, I was making good choices. I recorded everything in my “Transformer’s Bible.” I still do.
Matt and I had talked about performance goals, like get in shape for ski season, ski faster, live healthier but never a weight goal. I figured I would settle out or quit dropping weight sometime. I was thinking a logical goal would be 160 pounds. 160 pounds sounded far away to me, but reachable. Without hesitation on his part, Matt said I should be looking at, for my age and height, 140 pounds or 23% body fat. I thought he was beyond crazy. He was not living in my body, not doing the work or struggling like I was. Did he know how hard this was? I had never been 140 pounds. Even in high school and as a collegiate athlete I was closer to 180. This was mind blowing to me. He wanted me to get that low. That was skinny. I will say it again, I thought he was crazy.
So, what did I do? I went home and wrote in permanent marker on my bathroom mirror, where I would see it every day, 140 or 23%. (It is still there!) I had a goal. I remember thinking I was just as crazy as him.
Fall turned into Winter and ski season. I am the head coach of the Laramie Middle School Nordic Team. This means Nordic Skiing five afternoons a week and traveling to meets on Saturdays. Adding this to my already busy life meant shifting all my workouts to the mornings, working my normal job during the day, then afternoon practices. That is a bunch. Early morning runs, Sunday afternoon skis, and continued training sessions at Transforming Strength became my selfish sanity time. Time for me to be me, time to quiet my mind, time to get strong. Time to take care of myself. Afternoons after leg days at the gym were always a laugh as I had problems climbing into the school bus for ski practice. Matt would tell me that ski practices were going to be hard after my time with him in the morning. I think he needs to work on his wording a bit. The normal person might be scared. I usually was. Still am.
I committed to keeping to the Eat on Purpose Nutrition Plan. I was continuing to drop weight. It was working. This was my hardest struggle. Finding time to get dinner prepped and cooking was hard. Crock pots and the magic timer on my oven became my friends. If I did not have a hot dinner ready at 6:30PM when I walked in the door from ski practice, I would be a mess. I found myself reaching for those old comfort foods, like that piece of bread to hold off the hunger pains. I bought little food thermoses to carry my meals with me on the bus, I filled my pockets with Rx Bars. Forcing myself to eat at 3:00PM right before practice was hard. My brain would be full of team issues. Middle School age kids need a lot of parenting even before practice starts! My coaching staff teased and tempted me every day to break and fall off the wagon. By the end of the season they were asking me for nutrition guidance!
Being prepared, meal prepping and finding the rhythm in routines kept me sane. Nightly meal preps, packing ski clothes in bags, getting meat out to thaw for tomorrow, keeping my skis maintained, petting my dogs and maybe making sure my daughter got a bath occasionally was my life. Whining to Matt about how hard things were was my outlet. He would respond with more ball slams.
I started ski season 25 pounds down weighing in at 179 pounds. Clothes were starting to get baggy, people were noticing I was changing. 25 pounds, 30 then 40. I had earned my t-shirt Matt had bribed me with. It did not matter anymore. I was in control. Staying organized, staying focused. That 140 on my bathroom mirror was becoming reachable. I was skiing longer, fiercer and faster than I had in a very long time. I loved the weekly weigh ins. They were my success story.
I was finding that movement made me feel good. Not that it felt good to move (I was and am usually always sore from a training session) but that accomplishing things I had never thought I could, like skiing 15Ks or running 3 miles without walking, made my heart sing. My work was easier. Just the act of living was easier. I found myself smiling more. I was finding pure joy in just about everything.
After a Transforming Strength workout one morning in mid-February, another Transformer, as Matt calls us, asked how much weight I had lost. She thought I looked amazing. I was thinking I was sweaty and tired. My journal entry that morning was 55 pounds lost. Saying it to her out loud, I began to understand what I had done. What work had gone into this new me. 55 pounds is a large bag of dog food or a heavy backpack or a first-grade student at the school I work at. I was only 9 pounds away from that unreachable goal of 140lbs. WOW! I had to buy new skis to fit my new weight. Fast Skis!
My family spends Spring Break on the San Juan River in Utah. While planning this trip I noticed the Moab Canyonlands ½ marathon would be on the same day as we would be driving through Moab. Hey, why not do something I had never done before! Run a ½ marathon. This would really close to the 25km Ski race in West Yellowstone only two weeks before. Technically I should be in pretty good shape to run. Could I stay focused for both? How would I train for both? My husband thought I was a little crazy. I was scared. Matt said I would be fine. I wanted the ski race to be my focus. I decided I wanted to run the ½ marathon to survive. But I had to survive 13 miles.
March 2, 2019 weighing in at 144 pounds and 60 pounds down (Yep, I missed the 140 mark,) and feeling strong. Not tired from skiing all winter. I raced! I remember telling the person who finished right in front of me how much fun I had had. I still get giddy thinking about how much joy there was on those tracks. I smiled even on the up hills. I skied fast! I want that feeling always!
March 16, 2019 still weighing in at 144 pounds, I ran. I finished. I conquered.
This new me feels like the colorful butterfly who came from a very large sluggish caterpillar. A butterfly ready to fly to her next adventure wearing crazy running tights and tie dye shoes. Look at me world, I am out to take you on! I am fierce. I am confident. I have a lucky t-shirt.
Though I have lost 60 pounds, I have yet to reach my goal of 140 pounds. I think Matt has plans to help me get there. I am sure it involves more very sore muscles. I am willing to push this body to get there. And then to hold it there. He and I have talked. He knows I want more. He told me if I was running a Transforming Strength marathon, I would be rounding the corner into mile 4. I think there are sucky up hills in mile 4.
Do I see a full marathon in my future? NO. But that might change. I do see more half marathons, backpack trips, river adventures that don’t beat me up physically and more ski races to have fun at. Bring it on. I am ready to live fierce!