How An Injury Helped Me Get In The Best Shape Of My Life

"Jessi, how do you feel? Are you 100 percent now, are you cured, is your spine fixed? Does your hip hurt? Did the surgeries work?" I take a deep breath, remind myself the question comes from a place of love, and then I bravely answer. "I am recovering. It is a process. Thank you for asking, I have good days and miserable days."

The topic comes up every day, and why wouldn't it? People are curious by nature about my injury. Clients are wondering from a fitness aspect, but, more importantly, they truly care. I have cultivated this powerful connection to people, relationships with some who have been on this journey with me for decades. I am a teacher, I educate, and I believe in the message that knowledge is power. So I share. I write about my extraordinary experiences and every day I speak about how I am managing to persevere through my recovery so my students can relate to me on an even deeper level. In a way, it is flattering because most of the curiosity surrounds my appearance.

So the real quandary is, how does a healthy girl, coach, and health instructor stay in shape after three consecutive surgeries? Here's the truth. Challenges are part of life, and I am no stranger to adversity—I always come out of that dark tunnel brighter than when I went in.

And in the case of injury, I came back stronger. Here's how.

I cultivated a daily practice of gratitude.

I got into a habit of daily gratitude. One of my jobs is teaching group fitness classes. Part of my recovery consisted of conditioning my body to be comfortable just walking again, and I taught myself to be grateful for that.

To give you an idea, 10,000 steps is a goal for most folks. In just two hours I walk anywhere from 2,500 to 4,500. That is not including the "teaching" aspect of my job—I am not just calling out moves. I get down and personal with students, correcting form, demonstrating exercises. Emotionally, it is an energetic job mentally and physically. If I could do it in pain before surgery, I was determined to do it again after, minus the pain—well, that was the idea.

This was when my creative juices needed not just to flow, but flood. And I was thankful for that.

I worked on strengthening my upper body.

My goal became living my life with less pain than when I went into the hospital. Physical therapy is not designed for normality—it's a tough process of getting back to functionality and retraining your mind to forget how we tolerated pain for so long. I lived in acceptance of my body's condition. My psyche became used to the discomfort, so it is a long road to the new reality, free from chaos.

I rejiggered my workout routine, training my upper body using anything I could find. Light dumbbells, bands, balls, water bottles, chairs, skateboard, and gravity. I tied resistance tubes to my bed frame and used them for shoulder, triceps, and biceps resistance exercises. Walking on crutches in itself is a workout for my arms and abs, but, even better, it forced me to maintain posture and build stamina.

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I became ultra aware of my alignment.

I rediscovered muscles that were neglected for years due to overcompensation and pain. Wall pushups and squats, Dyna-Bands tied at the door jam; my home became a gymnasium. I kept it moving, pushing myself yet listening to my body when I needed rest. I used a thoughtful balance of smart activity, meditation, and nourishment.

So, what about this 100 percent? It's just a number, right? It has implications, though, that the under 100 percent are somehow struggling. A perfect performance only exists on a scale by Olympian standards, but other than that I do not believe it exists. As a teacher, woman, and human, when I try, then I do—and there is no such thing as failing; there is success in the attempt alone.

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