By Jill Farr
Stephanie Dane is an Association Director of Marketing and Communications for a large non-profit, a wife, and mother to a five-year-old.
Who gets up at 5 a.m. every weekday to lift weights.
“It’s helped to ensure I get “Me” time without taking away from the other priorities in my life,” Stephanie says of the military-level devotion to working out that has led her into UFE PRO Fitness Model status.
“When I first became a mom, I struggled to find time to workout. I felt selfish giving any time to myself. After a few years, I discovered that early morning workouts were the best way to ensure I made time for myself without taking away from other responsibilities.”
While weightlifting is Stephanie’s primary pursuit now, that wasn’t always the case.
“I was a distance runner for years and loved it,” Stephanie explains. “But I had to accept it when my knees said, “You’re done.” Weight lifting has been a very intentional and daily ritual of my life for about 2 1/2 years. I began lifting for one reason; I continue for another. I enjoy the challenges that competition prep offers, but thoroughly enjoy having a long building season. My current focus is lifting five days/week, finding life balance, and enjoying the everyday fit lifestyle. That being said, I still have my focus on a long-term goal: making my PRO debut at the UFE World Championships in November 2019.”
Stephanie grew up playing sports, and always had workout videos on hand.
“I had Abs of Steel, Cindy Crawford, and TaeBo on VHS!” Stephanie says.
“I even bought my first gym membership with my 8th grade graduation money. I was always moving, but I struggled with my weight, even though I had subscriptions to fitness magazines, and enjoyed cardio and dabbled on the weight machines through my teens and early 20s.”
“But I truly didn’t focus on nutrition until 2014, and in 2016, I developed a curiosity about whether I had abs under my mushy mid-section. I began to wonder what I could TRULY look like if I were all in. I’d recently lost 35 lbs simply by changing up my nutrition which left me with a skinny, yet super soft look.”
Dumbbells and weight machines weren’t foreign to Stephanie, but her knowledge about growing specific muscles and developing her physique was sparse. She engaged online trainer Christie Nix and decided on a goal; stepping on stage as a Bikini competitor.
“I competed for the first time October 2016 in an all-natural federation in both the Bikini and Fitness Model divisions,” Stephanie relates.
That experience fueled the next few years, and gave Stephanie more than just physical gains.
“I've learned so much about myself,” Stephanie says. “Not just who I am as a competitor, but who I am as a person. I’ve gone through a lot of self-reflection to determine my “WHY” and more importantly, learn about self-love on a daily basis, not just when my body is at its peak, or at its leanest.”
The lessons of self-love, and appreciating her body at all times comes with other lessons as well, such as the importance of fuel for strength.
“I’m accepting that strength in the gym comes from fueling your body properly,” Stephanie says. “When I’m lean, I’m weak. When I’m fuller, I’m stronger.
I’ve realized that competition prep is short-lived, as are the results. What I do after the spray tan fades and stilettos come off are what’s most important for my physical and mental health.”
“Because THAT is everyday life. And THAT is where true growth happens.”
While Stephanie’s appreciation of the present is a means of enjoying life now, it was initially instigated by a tragic loss.
“In 2010, my only sibling died in a car accident,” Stephanie says.
“Steven was 19 years old. To say it shattered my world... is an understatement. I was 24, very newly married (married less than 5 months), and what I thought my problems or struggles were prior to May 19, 2010 seems straight up laughable today.”
“I hadn’t experienced much loss before that. Not enough to know the depth of pain that it causes; losing my young, healthy, full of life brother was hard to grasp and I didn’t know how to deal with it.”
Her method of dealing with it initially was to throw herself into the healthiest coping mechanism that she could; running.
“I was a distance runner at the time, running in a few half marathons each year, but when Steven died…. everything changed,” Stephanie says.
“I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it - I didn’t want to feel weaker than I already did. It was easier to be angry than it was to break down in tears every day.”
“I was angry all the time…and I ran all the time. I immersed myself in running, 6-10 miles every morning. I left all my emotions on the trail (or treadmill). The harder and longer I hit the pavement, the more exhausted I became, physically and emotionally. At the time, I felt like this was the best way to deal with my pain - the ‘healthy way’. I wasn’t drinking, doing drugs, or over-eating. I was running and being ‘healthy’!”
In 2013, Stephanie reluctantly gave up running due to pregnancy complications, leaving her with a lot of bottled up emotions and no outlet for releasing them.
“I felt lost and frustrated,” Stephanie says. “Which only exacerbated my anger.”
“After my son turned one, I knew something had to change--on SO many levels.
It started with the desire to get back into my pre-pregnancy clothes, but through the weight-loss process, I finally realized my emotions ran deeper than a few extra pounds on my frame. It’s like someone finally held up a mirror and showed me who I became and how I’d treated those around me.”
Stephanie’s mental transformation dovetailed with her physical one, and led into a freedom that fed a healthier mindset, not just about fitness and self-image, but the rest of her life as well.
“There was a lot of mind-shifting that had to happen,” Stephanie says, of that pivotal time.
“Self-love, realizing the world wasn’t just about me, and becoming a positive role model became important. I wanted my son to see a HAPPY mom, in addition to a HEALTHY mom. I wanted him to grow up being PROUD of his mom.”
Stephanie also realized that her example could serve a grander purpose, as well, not just for new moms but for those who have suffered loss and might have some survivor’s guilt.
“My desire to live a fulfilling, positive life stretched beyond even myself and my family. I wanted to be more for those who needed it. I wanted those who have experienced loss to realize that the pain will always be there, but it doesn’t have to define every moment for the rest of their life.”
“Feeling happiness doesn’t mean you're over the loss or that you’re betraying the person who died. Your desire to find happiness in life is actually HONORING them.
I wanted other moms to realize that having a baby doesn’t mean you have to give up your body and/or your identity. You CAN have the best of both worlds. You can be a great mom AND a woman with personal goals. I wanted other women to give themselves permission to love themselves and realize they matter, too.”
“And I wanted to do it for my brother. I wanted to live the life he was cheated of having. I want to love extra hard, work extra hard, laugh more, and even play more. I wanted to live life to the fullest--with more moments of ‘I can’t believe I did that’--and fewer of ‘I wish I would have done that’.”
“Life is filled with peaks and valleys. Sometimes you feel on top of the world, while other times you feel like you’re in a black hole with no way out.”
When asked how she would encourage other women pursuing a fit life--and possibly even struggling with postpartum body image issues, or devastating loss--Stephanie offers this advice:
“Everyone has a story. Everyone has experienced pain or struggles that challenge them to their core. So while we can’t always reverse the pain in our life, we can wake up every day and say ‘Today will be a good day. Because I will make it a good day with whatever variables I CAN control.’”
“It’s not about saying those moments of pain don’t matter. No, they will always be there with us, weighing on our hearts and minds. Yet, by CHOOSING to focus on the positive, the good, the joy…we become stronger, and more able to carry our pain.”
“Loss changes us, there’s no denying that.”
“But if there’s one thing that loss teaches you, it’s that there is no promise for tomorrow. We are gifted the here and now, and how we choose to use this time is entirely up to us.”
Lessons from Stephanie:
Love Yourself As Is.
“While I respect every part of this journey, I’m learning (haven’t yet mastered) to love myself through it all, at every stage. I am getting better!”
When Life Throws Curveballs, Swerve.
“2015 and 2016 were pivotal years in my life; I began to redefine who I was, rebuild relationships that I severed, find new passions and interests (remember that whole 6-10 miles a day? Yeah, that caught up with my knees)… and find a way to cope with the loss of my brother, rather than burying it.”
Live for Today, Have a Plan for Tomorrow.
“Live for today. I’m not saying don’t think about your future or fly by the seat of your pants for everything…. but stop wishing today away. We are so accustomed to wishing time forward: “Is it Friday yet?” “I can’t wait for spring.” “Only 3 months til Christmas!” I’m such a planner, but I try my hardest to live in the present. Thinking about tomorrow, but savoring today and truly taking in what the moment has to offer.”