Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Memoir of my Baltimore Experience

To all my readers, friends, and colleagues:

I have been so humbled by the overwhelming support I've received throughout the process of getting this interview together.  Unfortunately, the interview itself will not be published for several months.  This is mostly because the entire reason behind the interview is to celebrate BODYATTACK 80 and the 20th anniversary of the program, and therefore it needs to wait until closer to the release date.  I am currently working with folks at LMI to determine the most appropriate time.

In the meantime, however, I have written a personal memoir of my experience in Baltimore, which includes some details on my time spent with Lisa.  Think of it as the liner notes of an album or book.  It thanks those who need thanking, and provides just enough information to hopefully inspire you to keep being patient for the final product.  :)  I hope you enjoy it!

With thanks,

It is currently 9:38PM on Monday night, and I’ve felt compelled to sit down and write ever since this past Friday, when I had one of the most fun experiences of my life.  Due to an overwhelming response of support from my LM family, coupled with interest to read my experience (and by this, I am incredibly humbled), I have decided to offer a prequel entry of sorts.  The interview article will not be published for another 2-3 months (it is, after all, to celebrate BODYATTACK 80, which is 6 months away from release).  This entry will serve as a companion to the interview, focusing on my personal experience, and also telling the story of how this came to be, while offering my sincerest thanks to everyone who was instrumental in making this happen.

Many of you may not know this, but I am in a bit of a professional drought, and it’s been an incredibly rocky journey for me, full of thorns and high mountains to climb.  Make no mistake… I am very grateful to have a job in an economy that has been so unfriendly to so many everywhere.  And there are many things to be grateful for… my job is secure, it pays well, I can trust most of my co-workers with my life, I have benefits such as insurance and paid time off, and it is somewhat flexible in allowing me to pursue my true passion, which is the help of others through the Les Mills group exercise experience.  Still, I would like to take my career in a new direction.  My point in saying this is simply to highlight the serendipitous impact this experience has had on my life.  It came at a time when I’ve been incredibly frustrated and felt both direction and progression-less.  And sometimes all it takes is a brief moment, a small interaction, or even just a smile, love and passion from someone who inspires you in order to turn your world around and re-ignite success.

So where do I begin?  Very quickly, for those of you who don’t know my story, in June 2007 I weighed over 400 pounds.  I lost 160 on my own without surgery or any gimmicks in a 2-year period.  I then lost the last 40 and have maintained my healthy weight of 225 for over 3 years because of Les Mills programs, and specifically because of BODYATTACK.  I slowly took the path from scared back row participant, to front row diehard, to passionate diehard instructor and blogger.  The program has had a profound and irrevocable change on my life, and I will be forever grateful to EVERYONE involved in its creation and distribution for bringing it to me.  It is a large part of what keeps me going every day, gives me something to strive for, and inspires me to help others.  There are many people to thank, but at the top of that list is Lisa Osborne.  She is the driving force behind the program, and, as program director, she is also the face in front of the program.  But most importantly, as Maureen Baker put it, she is “one hell of a woman”.

With that said, how did I become lucky enough to get to sit down with this amazing lady?  It starts with Glen Stollery.  Almost all of you who are reading this should know who Glen is, since he has what is most likely the largest LM fan blog in the world (http://nzglen.wordpress.com).  When BODYPUMP celebrated its 80th release, they asked Glen to interview Glen Ostergaard (BP and RPM Program Director) to help celebrate the milestone.  The interview was so well done and Glen is such a fantastic writer and an inspiration in his own right.  As soon as it was announced that he was able to do this, I began furiously emailing people to find out how it had happened and how I could make it happen for Attack.  Glen put me in touch with a lovely woman at LMI named Sarah who was prompt and friendly, who welcomed me whole-heartedly, and who supported my begging and pleading.  Now, bare in mind that I began communicating with Sarah back at BP80, which was the same quarter as BA75.  Therefore, this interview has been in the works for over a year, and I cannot begin to express my appreciation for the many emails and efforts that Glen, Sarah, and all those who followed spent on my behalf.  I’m about to skip ahead in this story, but just know that there were MANY people involved, both domestic and international, and almost all of it was conducted via email.  This is a huge tribute to the level of service that LMI provides.

Fast forward to this past weekend.  This piece of the interview was conducted in Baltimore, Maryland, at the end of the North American trainer summit and right before the largest US quarterly workshop in 2012.  I had no idea how many people would be there, including Lisa, Susan Renata, Rachael Newsham and Sarah Robinson from New Zealand, along with MANY of the top business people from the USA and New Zealand, and all of the North American training team.  I saw almost every trainer I’ve ever met in a 2-hour period, running into countless individuals in the hallway who’ve at some point impacted my journey.  With all these festivities, I had been (understandably) told that Lisa’s trip, from dawn until dusk every day, was booked solid, and there was basically one available time slot for me.  My flight landed an hour and a half before that time (earliest flight available), which meant if ANYTHING went wrong, I was basically out of luck.  As you can imagine, my stress levels were slightly high going into that flight, but fortunately, God smiled upon me and I made it to the hotel with half an hour to spare.

Now, my life is often a whirlwind, which serves me well in many ways because it means that I don’t have time to freak out going into things such as an interview with arguably one of the most influential people in my life.  I really only start to get nervous about 10 minutes before these things happen.  My biggest fear was literally that it wouldn’t happen.  Anyone who’s worked behind the scenes at an event like a quarterly or summit will know that you often fly by the seat of your pants, things change at the last minute, including schedules, and there’s often nothing to be done about it.  So even in going down to meet Lisa, I knew that until I physically saw her, there were no guarantees.

I reported to the assigned meeting area 15 minutes early, and about 10 minutes into (what was supposed to be) my 45-minute window, I went to find one of the trainers and ask if they knew where she was.  As it turns out, this afternoon was basically Lisa’s only free time and she had decided to go out for a run in the streets of Baltimore (can you imagine driving down the street and seeing one of the program directors running on the sidewalk?) which had gone longer than expected.  By the time all was said and done, I had Susan Renata and most of the Les Mills East Coast staff trying to reach her.  I was sitting in a conference room waiting to hear from someone while taking my first look at BODYATTACK 78.  Honestly, I half expected it to get re-scheduled, and was preparing for another meeting I had when the text message came in:  “Come to the main promenade.  I have Lisa here!!”  The nerves started about now J.

There was a rather long hallway between the room I was in and the area they were in, with many of the trainers gathered in between.  However, I could see that unmistakable head of blonde hair in the distance, and knew right away it was her.  Lisa has this incredible energy about her that she shares wherever she goes.  Whenever you’re in her space, you feel and share her positive vibes.  She exudes passion and joy.  She was speaking with one of the trainers I’d met at AIM2, and since I knew both of them, it was easy to go up, exchange hugs and hellos, and sort of break in.  I apologized for pulling her off her run, and asked if there was a better time, praying as if someone was about to die that she’d be available during a time before I had to leave the next evening.  She very graciously told me that she was free now, and we set off to find a quiet place to sit down and chat.  After she grabbed a cup of coffee, we began.

Of course, you’re going to get the content of that discussion at a later date, but basically we discussed her life, the journey of her career in fitness, including her beginnings, her competition days, and her road to program director.  We also talked about fun stuff, such as some of her favorite things (drinks, foods, cars, etc.) her children, and BODYATTACK 80.  She spoke with me for a little over an hour, very graciously answering all of my questions and interjecting fun stories along the way.

Many people know that this isn’t the first time I’ve met Lisa, and I’m often asked what she’s like.  How I always describe her (and what I want everyone to know about her) is this:  She is exactly how she appears on the DVDs.  She is one of the sweetest, most genuine people you will ever meet, and truly just loves to share her passion and excitement for happiness and health through group exercise (and all exercise, really).  There is no fa├žade, no acting for the camera.  She just wants all of the people she influences to be better for the experience, and works hard to deliver a program to that end.  She is infectious, and I came away from our conversation feeling humbled and grateful for a program director who cares so much about everyone.

When we were finished, she very graciously invited me to sit in on a presentation she was giving the next day, and we parted company.  I was pretty exhausted from my long day of traveling, and proceeded to sleep the next 11 hours after organizing some of my thoughts.  In fact, I woke up in a panic, thinking I had missed the meeting.  I was relieved to discover through a very kind note from her that I hadn’t, but I had less than an hour to get myself together.  After checking out at lightning speed, I headed off to find where I was supposed to be.

Within the day’s events, I was able to observe the BODYSTEP team (Lisa, Susan, Sarah, and Amanda) create their game plan for the quarterly masterclass.  I saw them interact and decide things such as track assignments, who would stand where for what tracks, what the finishing move for each track would be, who would show what options, and etc.  One thing I heard involved concern over being fatigued from prior classes.  It was really refreshing to me to discover that these are real people who get tired and worry about the same things we do.  Yes, they have incredible talent, nearly perfect technique, and they have mastered coaching, but they have the same concerns and stresses as all of us.  For me, it brought a new dynamic of realism to the table that makes the experience a little bit sweeter for me.  I don’t necessarily need to feel guilty about being worried about teaching 2 classes back to back alone, since they understand those feelings and even share them!

Fast forward a bit more.  It had come to my attention throughout the day that Lisa had been itching to go shopping at an outlet mall in Baltimore.  In talking with several of the Kiwis, I learned that items in New Zealand are infinitely more expensive due to import fees.  Therefore, anytime she comes to the states, Lisa likes to shop for her family.  I had not gotten a rental car for this trip, so I didn’t think a thing of it when I first heard, except feeling incredibly jealous of whoever ended up getting to take her.  Well, as fate would have it, that someone turned out to be ME!  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I was privileged to take Lisa Osborne shopping at a good old-fashioned American mall, due to the generosity of one of the LMEC staff letting me use her car.  It was a highlight of 2012 for me.  And let me tell you, she has good taste AND shops, as she put it, “Attack style” which basically means we power walked gazelled through the entire mall.  Next time I’ll wear my Attack shoes, as flip-flops aren’t the most conducive for this. J  Afterwards, I was off to the airport.  As I waved goodbye to one of my favorite people in the whole world, I could not help but feel so sad that my time was over.  Lisa Osborne isn’t just the caretaker of Attack, she is a true kindred spirit and, once again, “one hell of a woman”.

I know to some, it seems like just a weekend, or just a brief conversation and a trip to a mall. But for me, this experience symbolized so many things… a reappearance of hope, a validation of over a year of hard work and determination, and the realization that these programs are the result of the efforts of REAL people who love what they do and just want to improve the world around them.  I even, dare I say it, found a new friend in a person I’ve ALWAYS wanted to be friends with.  If I can spend time in the company of someone I admire so much, who inspires me in so many ways, where else would I rather be?  I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, and I am so grateful to all of you who have been kind, supportive, and encouraging.  I cannot wait to share it with you!

With thanks,

P.S.  I would be remiss if I did not publicly thank the following individuals for their efforts on my behalf.  Without every single one of them, this experience would not have been possible:

Glen Stollery
Sarah Eades-Johnston
Fritha Hookway
David Jack Olivier
Anne Bonney
Josh Keenum
Liz DiTomasso
Lisa Osborne

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Just so I remember this day...

Look who popped by for a little visit today :)

Thank you to everyone for submitting your questions.  Now I'll get to work on this interview article so we can get it published!