Probably the most amazing thing about fitness is the people who are involved. It’s easy to get caught up in the visual, but what’s behind the scenes and out of view is often more accurate. We “like” or “follow” someone often based on how they look or what they have accomplished. Many a celebrated person (in and out of fitness) would falter if put under closer inspection. The spotlight that illuminates from a distance can burn from up close. It should never be forgotten that what’s inside and who someone really is determines their true value. It is very special when we encounter a situation where what we see is great, but what we don’t see is even greater. That’s what we get with Mary Lawrence.
Recently, Mary did her first physique competition, competing in the bikini and fitness division at the WBFF Los Angeles Championships. She placed an impressive 3rd against a strong and experienced field. But Mary’s fitness journey obviously didn’t begin with the glitz and glamour of the stage.
“My dad had me in sports at a very young age,” say Mary. “I think I played soccer when I was 4, and after that came softball, track, volleyball and basketball. I’ve always been an athlete but got a bit “distracted” in college and began partying/drinking too much. When I graduated, I got a job working at a gym in Silicon Valley and it reignited my passion for fitness. I worked closely alongside amazing trainers and nutritionists, and really got back into the swing of things. That was when I was 22, so fast forward a decade (and two pregnancies) and I’ve been hooked this entire time.”
Mary’s believe in health and fitness as a lifestyle carried over into her education career choices. “I decided to become a nurse for a few reasons- the most notable being that I inherently wanted to help people. I needed to feel that I was making a profound difference in people’s lives every day that I went to work. Additionally, I’m fascinated with the human body and all of its processes. When I pursued my Masters in Nursing to become a Nurse Practitioner, I learned so much about disease processes and the physiology of the body, that I swore at that time I would not take this temple (my body) for granted any longer.”
As accomplished as Mary is her biggest accomplishment is being a mother of two. Of course that comes with many challenges, especially when you have fitness goals. Her biggest challenge? “TIME!” says Mary. “Thankfully I have access to a gym at work, and I get a long enough lunch break to where I can work out three days per week there. But the other four days of the week, I struggle with taking the time for myself and not feeling incredibly guilty for doing so. It’s taken awhile, but now that the kids love going to the gym day care, it is so much easier. I’ve also mastered the art of efficiency and time management.”
“The other challenge is the diet,” says Mary. “During peak week for example, I would be cooking the kids grilled cheese sandwiches or brownies, and I’d not be able to touch it. Or taking the kids on a family trip to Happy Hollow Zoo and bringing my containers of tilapia and chicken while they enjoyed pizza and French fries. But, I eventually got used to it and started thriving on the challenge to stick with it even with massive amounts of temptation around me every day!”
With so much on her plate and so many great things happening in her life. Taking the extra time and effort to prepare for a competition might not seem to many to be a big priority. But for Mary, and many others, the reasons that create the actions are often outside the normal scope of view.
“After having my second child, I dealt with some pretty bad postpartum depression. There was a period of time when I would cry multiple times every single day and have to tell my older son that “mommy just doesn’t feel good” or “mommy is having a hard day.” It took about 6 months before I finally was able to admit I needed help and started antidepressants. Fast forward a few months and the medication had started to work well, but I still felt empty. I felt like all I was was a wife and mom. I had lost ‘Mary’ and wasn’t sure where she had gone. I decided that I would either find something for myself – of my own – that made me happy and gave me purpose and motivation – or I’d be heading toward a massive midlife crisis that would probably not end well. So, I threw around the idea of training for a marathon – except that I hate running now. And triathlons were definitely out because I also hate swimming laps. That’s when I remembered my friend Sharon who competed at age 40 in fitness shows and had an amazing coach, named Kevin 😀. I decided then that since I already love going to the gym and eating healthy, a fitness/bikini competition would be perfect.”
During the process of preparing to compete Mary got back in touch with the lost parts of herself. She used to positive aspects of her fitness journey to discover and learn more about Mary.
“Oh my goodness. I don’t even really know where to begin! First and foremost, I learned that I am worth it. I am worth the hour a day spent bettering myself. I deserve to have a hobby, and to be able to focus a little bit of energy on my own health, when 98% of the rest is dedicated towards taking care of my family. I also learned that I have the ability to do whatever I darn well want. As long as I make the decision to press forward, I can, and will. I’ve also learned what it means to have a very healthy relationship with food. I now understand what it means to fuel the body and eat with a purpose. I am no longer scared of certain nutrients (i.e. carbs) and I do not beat myself up if I cheat or mess up here and there. Lastly, I’ve learned that the picture of beauty that I once thought I had has entirely changed. I now find my curves beautiful, whereas before I aimed for straight lines. I see my strong shoulders and think they’re a beautiful part of my body, whereas before I would have thought I looked too ‘thick’. That in itself has been very liberating and freeing.”
Mary see’s the parallel of competing onstage to the activities of her day-to-day life.
“When I got on stage, it was a time to show what I was made of, to be able to say – hey, this is what I’ve been working on. I called upon my own inner strength, confidence, and self love so as to be able to influence others. Every day, I go to work and “show off” what I’ve learned and studied so hard for. At home, I am confident and strong as a mother so as to positively influence my children and teach them how to be good human beings. Perhaps the biggest difference between the stage and being a working mom is that on stage, I had an entire evening to focus only on myself. This is something that never really happens in my daily life anymore!”
Although it takes a lot of individual time and work, Mary knows she is not on her journey alone. Her accomplishments would mean little if they couldn’t be shared with her family.
“My husband Jeff has been my biggest cheerleader throughout this process – and I say that with 100% honesty. He has told me from day one how proud he is of me, and this journey has actually gotten him back into the gym as well. Having him by my side has been so important – especially since my workouts often meant he had to be a single dad for a few hours while I was at the gym. Never once did he make me feel guilty or as though I shouldn’t be doing this for myself. I don’t think I would have been able to stick with it had he not been so supportive.”
“My daughter is 22 months old and she randomly screams out “exercise!!” and begins hanging from the kitchen table as if it is a pull up bar. My son loves doing squats and push ups. I think the influence of watching mommy exercise has already rubbed off on them in some capacity and for that I am so grateful. I want them to see that exercise and being active in general is fun and fulfilling. I also want them to gain a sense of self confidence that can come with succeeding in fitness, no matter what type of athletics you’re involved in. There is a sense of accomplishment that is so unique to being physically, emotionally, and mentally fit that I really want them to feel one day.”
Mary’s fitness journey has come with a lot of insights. “What I have learned about myself is that I am addicted to challenges. I get bored when I’m not working towards something. (Hence the two bachelors degrees, masters degree, and now this.) If I don’t have something to work towards, I start to feel stagnant and that is a feeling that leads towards those depressing feelings. So, I have decided to compete again in the next year, and most likely continue after that. I also hope to be able to use what I learn through this to influence other moms. I have had so many mothers contact me recently asking me for advice and help, and it made me realize that I really do have something to offer. I love my job as a Nurse Practitioner and will never let that go. But since I work part time, I am hoping to be able to work on some other ventures during the other few days of the week when I’m being a stay-at-home mommy.”
To other mothers, Mary would like to offer this great advice. “Just because you are a mom, does not mean you have to give up on you. Hidden inside that mom shell is YOU – the person you were before having children. You had dreams, goals, hobbies, and passions that do not have to disappear just because you became a mom. Take care of those kiddos and your significant other, and love them with all your heart – but remember to love yourself too.”
Thank you Mary, we will be following your journey!
Photo’s courtesy of Mary Lawrence: (click to enlarge)