There have, sadly, been instances in the past when I turned down social invitations because I felt lousy about myself. I would always laugh it off and crack a joke about feeling like a “monster,” but frankly, I felt like an actual monster. My husband has long tried to tough-love me out of what he sees as an ugly duckling complex, but I languished in self-hatred for a number of years, vacillating from feeling like a sad, ugly duckling to a horrible monster. Those are extreme feelings, but they are the feelings that kept me inside my house, too worried about how I was perceived by others to wear shorts and tank tops in the summer and even reluctant to wear much else besides my trusty oversized sweatshirt and baggy jeans, a sartorial reflection of my lusterless internal landscape. It never occurred to me to consider that the perception problem was my own.

I cannot say what motivated me to complete the application to become a part of Horner Elite. Looking back, I think I clung to a defeatist attitude that I probably wouldn’t get in and felt some strange comfort in that attitude that allowed me to bare my soul completely on the application questionnaire. But I made it, much to my shock and amazement. I got the email congratulating me–I was scared and excited and felt the gravity of knowing I had to live up to the commitment of every #ashlete: to find beauty in my strength.

Let me correct that: I don’t have to live up to the #ashlete credo. I get to. It is an honor.

I call Ashley “Coach,” and that is absolutely what she has become to me. Her positive image, her real talk, the permission to fail—fail, that is, as long as failure is not a stopping point but instead a place to create a new goal to dust off your fanny and keep on trucking along—have motivated me to wipe the slate clean and to start the process of rebuilding myself inside and out. I finished my first month and saw some subtle changes in my body. I’m at the end of my second month now and can see the subtle changes continuing. I have admittedly still dealt with some defeatist thoughts, wishing I was progressing much more quickly in how I look, but let me tell you something about being an #ashlete: IT’S ABOUT THE MENTAL GAME. My mental game is straight on fleek, as the kids say these days (somewhere a teenager is grimacing in pain that I used that term).

Did I mention I’m about to finish my second month? I started something, and I didn’t talk myself out of it. I haven’t quit. When I got my second month of training and looked over it, I saw a workout that literally scared me. I dreaded it. Reading it made me tired. Thinking about the day I would do it made me tired. And yet I showed up to the gym and I did it. I didn’t die. It was a little gruesome, I’m sure, to watch me do all the burpees and running, drooling and sweating and cussing under my breath, completely drenching my allegedly “moisture-wicking” garments so that they chafed. But I did it. I didn’t care what I looked like. I finished. And I was back the next day and have gone back every day to prove to myself that I am a strong woman who is no longer defeated by lousy self-image, self-hatred or an overall poor mental attitude.

My husband, a.k.a. my biggest fan and supporter, shared something revealing about my transformation thus far with Horner Elite. He said that I’m calmer and in more control of myself these days. He says he can see the confidence emanating from me. It’s 100% true, too. My body is getting stronger: my waist is steadily becoming more defined, my muscles are beginning to show beneath my skin, I can lift so much more weight, I can run a mile without stopping, I signed up for my first 5K, my timed workouts improve, my benchmarks are surpassed upon retesting.
Oh, and I also destroyed my scale. I broke it into a million pieces on my back patio. My husband supplied the hammer; I supplied the muscle and the middle finger. I’m stronger and better than my scale, which often still had the uncanny ability to make me feel like a monster despite only being a battery-operated device showing me a useless number that had very little to do with me or my journey.

The point of breaking my scale and the point of embracing Horner Elite is that I have unearthed beauty in my strength, and it honestly has little to do with the physical transformation, no matter how quick or slow it is or what the scale ever said. Digging in to mentally prepare and sustain myself during a physically grueling workout is beauty in strength. Looking in the mirror and accepting myself as I am at this point in my journey is beauty in strength. Being prouder of how strong my body is than how my body looks is beauty in strength. Being calm and in control of my emotions is beauty in strength. Telling myself that I am enough but feeling a true passion for challenging myself to improve and perform better is beauty in strength.

They say you can’t love others until you love yourself. And you can’t manifest beauty until you have created inner beauty. Becoming an #ashlete has helped me achieve both, and it is my privilege to participate in Horner Elite to continue to dig deeper, to be stronger, to create and manifest strength and beauty.

Kristy Gardner