Activities: US Kettle Bell Competitor, Member of The Orion Strength Guild, Runner, Scuba Diver
Q: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in South Wales (UK). In a small rural area outside of a town called Swansea.
Q: What did you enjoy doing to pass time as a kid?
Reading books! The area I grew up didn’t exactly offer many choices in terms of activities! We did get a local swimming pool when I was about 8 or 9. It was cheap enough to get into but my parents could not afford lessons so I taught myself to swim by holding my breath and swimming underwater! No wonder I took up scuba diving as an adult!
Q: Were you an athlete or scholar growing up?
Oh, I was definitely a scholar. Actually, lets call a spade a spade, I was a full on nerd! I studied math and the sciences, and took one of the earliest computer classes offered to high school students. Our class was so small it was held in a closet. We used to load the computers from cassette tape, I am not sure kids today even know what a cassette tape is! It`s a little mind blowing to think you could actually boot a computer from a tape though, yes I am still a geek. The area where I grew up, was pretty poor and the schools were over crowded with limited facilities. The gym classes consisted of typical team sports, netball or hockey, which were really just popularity contests. You got the shame of being the last person picked, and then more or less ignored. I was the overweight kid with the hand me down clothes. Gym classes were just pure torture for me. By 14, I figured out if you didn’t show up to the first gym class of the year, the teachers never caught on that you were supposed to be in the class so you were never missed. I more or less avoided having to take a gym class for the rest of my school career.
Q: When did you move to the states and why?
I moved 18 years ago. There were a couple of factors behind my decision. My company had recently merged with a bigger bank, and I wanted more experience with the new technology. This was going to be easier in the US, as they were moving offices from New York to Stamford, so they needed extra people to build out the new computer rooms. I was also escaping a relationship that was getting abusive. I was only supposed to be out here for 18 months, but we merged with another company. Then Y2k came, which was a big deal for the computer industry and by that time, I had lost all will to move again, so I localized and became a full time US employee.
Q: Tell me about your fitness journey, when did you start working out and why?
I think I was more active as a kid then I realized, it was more by necessity than anything else. My parents had no car and we had little money, so I spent a lot of time walking all over the place. Wales is VERY mountainous, so if I want to see friends, I walked. We walked all over the mountains picking blackberries, collecting fallen branches for the fire that kind of thing.
When I moved to London to start my career, I was a typical desk jockey. I was living in a big city where everything was a block or 2 away. Having never had a structured work out regiment, I really had no idea how to fit being active into my life as a pastime. I am not even sure I realized it was missing I gained weight, and kept gaining.
After moving to the US, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. My dad also fell ill to heart disease, which is prevalent among his side of the family. I had my own mini scare during my first mammogram, and while I was sitting in the doctors office reading about all the things that increased the risks, I realized while I could not do anything about my genetics, I could do something about my weight. Around the same time I caught a reflection of myself walking and I was waddling. My weight had actually started to interfere with my ability to move. I was horrified, ashamed, miserable, but I knew I had to do something before I reached the point of no return. So, I braced myself and joined the gym that my company had a corporate rate with. I lucked out by getting a great trainer to help me get started. She set me up lifting from the start and advised me on what I should be doing from a cardio stand point. She helped me set short and long term goals and made it all seem SO much more doable than I imagined. I used to go the gym in the afternoons when it was quiet. I would use the treadmill that was behind a pillar where no one could see me. I really didn’t want to care what anyone else thought, but I was more comfortable in the corner! I knew in the back of mind I would need to find my “thing” but I really had no idea what that would be. I thought I would end up cycling because I had been riding a little in central park. The LAST thing I expected was that I would become a runner, but walking on the treadmill led to faster walking, which led to a slow jog, and eventually one day I actually ran around the reservoir, a whole 1.5 miles! I felt like I had won the London marathon! That led to some 4 mile races in the park, and then to training for a half marathon. My first half was so slow but I did it, and I crossed the line knowing I wanted to run a marathon.
By this time, I had a new trainer, and I laid out a plan with him to prepare for the NYC marathon and in 2009, I crossed the finish in 4 hours and 3 mins. The experience of training and being part of such a big event taught me a lot about myself. I realized I loved training for something, not just working out. I realized I was good at sticking to my plan and during workouts I was able to push myself to keep on pace. I realized I had the mind set of an athlete.
After the marathon my personal life took a bit of a nose dive. I lost both my parents within 12 weeks of each other and I was struggling with grief and depression. I continued lifting but running was emotionally difficult. Looking back, it was a tough time. Not only had I lost my parents, losing the joy of running took a toll on me as well. I now realize that I am an athlete at heart, it is my natural state and not being active was pulling me down even more. A friend encouraged me to do a couple of sprint triathlons, which I did enjoy, but something was still missing. I had lost my “thing.”
My trainer actually helped me through this period. Having known me for so long I think he knew I needed to “train” not just work out. He took me back to some basic lifts: dead lifts, squats, and my favorite, kettle bell snatches, and we started to push the numbers. Having something to work toward started to pull me out of my funk, and helped me start to reconnect with my inner athlete. I was getting pretty confident snatching the 50lb kettle bell when Juan Pellot walked into my world and introduced me to the sport of competitive kettelbell lifting!
Q: What goals did you set for yourself?
Initially, my goal was to loose some weight so I didn’t look completely awful at my best friends wedding! I really just wanted to feel healthy. I never actually had a goal weight or dress size in mind. I just wanted to stop feeling miserable. However, over time, I have had a lot of goals. Some were small and specific, like being able to do a turkish get up with a 50lb bell. Others were more long term, like my marathon training. Getting back to basics in the last year or 2, my goals have been about the numbers I can lift. I still don`t care what I weight! Now my goals are split between my basics lifts, getting my squat to over 200 lbs, and my goals for competition.
Q: How were you able to stick with it?
I started out making a deal with myself, before I did any other leisure activity, I had to go to the gym. This was actually easy. I enjoyed my work outs, but making that pact with myself really established my commitment to changing in my head. Once I started, many things kept me going. I could see progress, and that came from having a trainer who helped me set the right short term goals. I didn’t care what I weighed, but my plank going from 15 seconds to 60 seconds was HUGE! Gaining a new circle of friends also helped. As much as I tried hiding in the gym, the trainers got to know me and eventually many became good friends. Another gym regular who is an elite triathlete, became my best friend. But I mainly stuck with it because I enjoy what I was doing. When I was training for the marathon, getting up on a Sunday and running for 4 hours on my own was bliss, REALLY! I know it`s a living hell for many people, but you have to find what you love, what you have a passion for, what makes you happy even when it hurts. Now I`m doing kettle bell competitions my hands are regularly torn up from the friction of the bells, but I LOVE it!
Q: Have your fitness goals changed from when you began?
Oh yes, I started off just wanting to feel better. Now, I am seriously training for competitions. If someone had said back when I started that my goal was to do over 200 snatches with a 16KB kettle bell, it would have been too much to even comprehend. Maybe someone with a solid athletic past doesn’t need to have evolving goals, but I think for me it is essential.
Q: Tell me about getting involved with kettle bells. How did you get started and what your accomplishments have been?
I started hard style training with kettle bells when I first started working out. It is the type of training you see people doing for general fitness and strength training. I just really liked working with them, to me they were fun and versatile. I have worked with 3 trainers on a regular basis in the last 8 years and they were all good kettle bell instructors.
I was working with my current trainer back in Feb this year, when Juan Pellot saw me snatching a 50lb bell hard style. He coaches competition style kettle bell lifting and was starting a team, he wanted to recruit me. The whole experience was surreal. I was just clawing my way out of the grief from losing my parents, and still trying to reconnect with my inner athlete, when I heard I was getting asked to join a team by someone I had never spoken to before, someone who was on the US Team. Someone who saw me as an athlete.
A combination of Juan’s incredible coaching and my bullheadedness, and 3.5 weeks later, I was on the platform at my first competition! I made 136 lifts that day with a 16KG bell. I won my division and a level 1 ranking.
Suddenly I found myself preparing to compete in the US nationals under Juan’s guidance, and helping him officially establish our team, The Orion Strength Guild. We competed at the US nationals in August, this time I was competing with a 20KG weight. Again, I won my division and that secured a place for me on Team USA. In November, I`ll be heading to the World Championships in Germany along with Juan and another of the Orion lifters.
I got a text yesterday from Juan as we were finalizing our travel arrangements to go to Germany. It said, ” You are an athlete Claire. A world *!#$% class athlete!” I sat there for a moment and though, “Wow, yeah, I really am.” It doesn`t get much better than that !
Q: What do you love about kettle bells?
I like the old school feel. I like that they look bad ass, and once I learned to snatch I just loved that lift so much. When done right, it is the most elegant show of raw power. Now I have gotten involved in competing, and I enjoy the community of lifers. It is still a young sport in the US and I find myself with my circle of friends expanding again.
Working with Juan to really establish our team, The Orion Strength Guild, has been really incredible. I have so much respect for his knowledge and passion and I am so proud of what he is creating. I love the team and I am excited about the plans we have to grow and bring more people into the sport.
Q: What changes have you noticed mentally and physically?
Mentally, mainly, that i am an athlete. It probably sounds strange to someone who has been athletic all their lives, but I never knew that about myself. I really am at my happiest when I`m training.
I`m not uncomfortable in the gym any more! It’s quite the opposite now, that’s MY house !
Physically, oh, the muscles, the power, the smaller jeans! I think I carry myself differently now even though my weight fluctuates.
Q: What would you tell anyone who believes it’s too late to start exercising and making healthy changes in their lives?
If you are not dead it`s NEVER too late! Don`t think of having to exercise, find something that appeals to you. A Lot of people tell me they hate lifting kettle bells or they hate running, so don`t, dance or box or ride a bike. My friend calls this late onset fitness syndrome, people in their 40’s suddenly becoming athletic! I prefer to think of it as letting my inner athlete out. I think I always had this ability I just never knew it. No one ever tapped into it and being put down and bullied by the “jocks” as a teenager, gives you a mindset that is hard to shake off. It’s not just hard to see your potential if you have never tried something, you really have no idea what you might achieve. Had someone told me when I first joined a gym that one day I would be selected to be part of a US team competing in a World Championships, I would have had them committed! If I had made a list of, in the order of likely occurrences, landing on the moon would have been before that. The reality is, it does not matter if your accomplishment is being healthier or getting to the World Championships, the important thing is to get out of your own way and find out what you can do.
The one thing the worried me the most was that I would be laughed at for being the fat person at the gym. My best hope was that I would be left alone. The amazing thing about that was that I wasn’t left alone, but I wasn’t laughed at either, I was embraced, I was welcomed into this world. People saw potential in me I didn’t see in myself.
Q: Why did you agree to be a part of the MCBI campaign?
I never imagined I could inspire anyone, but the more I think about it, the more I realize there are probably many people who can relate to being inactive and feeling discouraged and nervous about taking that step and joining a gym. If my story gives one person that extra push to take that first step, that is fantastic. So many people encourage and inspire me every day.
For more information on The Orion Strength Guild, check out their site at: