Jenn Wilson

Working in the history field means that I love markers of time and seeing how things evolve from one point to another. When Kerry emailed me regarding being the spotlighted member of the month, it was right on my two year anniversary at 212. It was a totally unexpected and very much appreciated surprise, one that made me naturally reflect on my time at the gym.

Through my college years and into my mid-20s, I had been a regular, casual runner; lots of jaunts around Lincoln Woods, several 5Ks. It was a nice way to balance out sedentary desk jobs. When I transitioned to working in the museum field, my running habit fell to the wayside. Working 60+ hour weeks between my full-time job and a part-time theatre gig, my personal health and well-being were the first things cut when I didn't have time or energy. Despite some attempts to get back to healthier habits, I tended to what was convenient: fast and easy food, late night drinks after work with friends, sleeping in absurdly late on weekends. Naturally, I put on weight and started to feel "creaky" -- prone to backaches and stiffness, especially during long, hard work stretches. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. This lifestyle was unsustainable, which I knew, but it was an ingrained pattern from which it was hard to break free.

In June 2017, my grandfather passed away. He had suffered Alzheimer's in his last few years. During the last couple of weeks of his life, we discovered that, in addition to the dementia, he was riddled with cancer and had an enormous aortic aneurysm. He was probably in immense pain, but was unable to express anything to us. When he passed away (thankfully in his sleep, surrounded by family), it was a weird wake-up call for me. While there's no way to avoid death, there are definitely ways to keep it at bay -- like being healthy and fit -- and developing those habits sooner rather than later.

After his death, I googled local, independently-owned gyms. I had belonged to big box gyms in the past, where it’s easy to just not go. I knew I needed an environment, trainers, and a community to hold me accountable. 212 popped up in a few different searches. Intrigued, I scoured the website, reading spotlights and watching videos. I grew both excited and nervous about the prospect of change. This gym seemed different; everyone said they felt cared about, with their needs heard and met. I sent an email asking about a consultation. Within a day, Heather emailed me back to book my first appointment.

I remember distinctly sitting in my car in the parking lot right before my consultation, feeling absolutely terrified and overwhelmed with the idea of pushing myself so outside my comfort zone. I kept thinking, "I'm a quiet introvert -- this isn't going to be a place where I belong." I almost left, actually. But I didn't. I spent an hour with Colin as he gauged my fitness level. I could barely do an incline push-up, swing a kettlebell, or lift weight above my head. I felt so awkward, but also, when leaving, filled with a strange mix of anxiety and exhilaration. I knew I wasn't in great shape -- but I was presented with the option of getting there if I put in steady work. Within a week, I signed up for the five week introductory period, then a one year membership, and another, where I'm at today.

I look back at where I was two, three, four years ago, compared to today, and I feel like a different person. I've grown in so many ways, a lot of which was inspired by 212. As someone whose career has been spent entirely in the non-profit field, I would, like so many, think of my job as my identity. Now, I have a better sense of boundaries, knowing how to put myself first and separate "who I am" versus "what I do" (I know, not an entirely new concept, but one that's revolutionary for me!). I take care of myself regularly, not just when it fits in my schedule and not just in indulgent ways to make myself "happy" or "feel better". (Like eating ice cream for dinner at 10pm because I've worked 12 hours straight -- which I totally would have done a few years ago!) Overall, I'm physically stronger than I've ever been before, which is so cool to me. It's fun and surprising to now do with ease what once was very hard. I am so very appreciative of this strength and stamina every single day. With this sense of awareness and growth comes a new a level of self-confidence that I've never had before. Simply put: joining 212 has been, by far, the best investment I've ever made.

Huge thanks are due to the staff at 212! I so entirely appreciate the community and culture they've cultivated. In equal measures, all of the trainers know how to challenge, encourage, and assist in every setting and situation. And this is always done with great insight and levity. I've never, ever been made to feel silly or incompetent in any way here, which I would fear at so many other gyms. I want to especially call out Alicia for being an awesome trainer; she's led me through three rewarding Jeans Challenges, guided me through an injury last year, and, since day one, given me extra pushes outside my comfort zone -- and all with understanding, humor, and a lot of dancing! Also, I want to thank my partner Brendon, who's been an integral part of my journey, encourages me every single day, and is so very selfless and loving. (Plus, he does most of the cooking in our household and deals with me if I get hangry!) Without these people rooting for me, I definitely wouldn't be at this incredible place in my life!