Aspire to Inspire – Emma, Fitness Mama

*Photo credit; Daniel Giffen (Husband to Emma and way more geographically convenient, as he lives with her in Arizona)

She’s not here to offer you “the opportunity of a lifetime”, sell you shakes or supplements, or tell you, “I have three kids and run, so you can too!” Emma will, however inspire you to get off your butt and be the very best you.

Emma and I met when we both lived in NYC and I immediately wanted to be friends. She’s a woman you can’t help but hit it off with. She’s relatable – because she goes out of her way to relate to you (read, “anti Goop”). She is self aware, knows who she is, is the genuine article, tells it like it is, is charmingly self deprecating and has unmatched wit. She also slays marathons, mothering and is a St. Jude fitness ambassador. (Take a seat lady, we feel lazy just reading about you.)

Emma acknowledges the mom guilt that occurs when we take time to take care of ourselves. She also acknowledges and illustrates through example how being the best her is best for everyone. And what a strong example she’s creating for her kids to look up to. I also love how she mentions that fitness is more about health and longevity of life over physical details we women tend to scrutinize ourselves about. ALL the yes to that. To top it off, she taps into her strength to benefit kids at St. Jude’s.

Since Emma lives in Mesa, AZ with her adorable kids and cool husband with unparalleled musical taste (yes, even better than mine), I did not have the honor of photographing her. It’s not my favorite MO, at the same time I feel she’s so important to feature in Aspire to Inspire for so many reasons, all of which, she she wrote about to inspire you. She inspired me and reignited my own fitness journey. Thank you, thank you Emma.


From Emma:

The air was cool with a slight chill, and small, satisfactory beads of sweat were forming around my brow.  My pace was steady, pounding on the pavement to the rhythm of my even breathing.  Music blared in my ears from my iPod shuffle as I rounded the corner, dodging wrong-way cyclists like a ninja, nodding slightly to fellow runners as they passed by.  I pushed into my very core as I scaled the steep Cat Hill, attacking it as our running coach had directed us in group sessions, slowing only as I came over the top, winding into the rest of the lush greenery and seemingly secret pathways of Central Park.  I made it to the magnificent staircase across the main fountain and did drills, running up and down over and over, skipping steps and adding pushups and tricep dips every time I got back to the bottom.  I moved on from the stairs after I couldn’t take anymore and slowed to a more leisurely pace as I went through one of the stone tunnels, beginning my cool-down jog along the water as I exited across a wood bridge.  I felt invigorated as I took in the street musicians and tourists, keeping an eye out in case I could make any celebrity sightings.  The fog was low on the horizon, allowing only a shimmering peek at the majestic NYC skyline as the sun rose, the whole day ahead of me after this victorious workout…until things started to get hazy, and my killer playlist abruptly stopped, giving way to the piercing scream of…


Well crap.  I wasn’t in NYC.  I wasn’t on a run in Central Park.  It wasn’t quiet and dark, boasting an excellent start to the day.  No, this was all a distant memory; it was certainly early, but a late start to getting out of bed before my 4- and 2-year old girls, who now were pounding the carpet on their own sprint to our bedroom to burst through the door, attack me physically before I could lift my head off the pillow, and then pillage my nightstand until they found the iPad to watch loud, grating YouTube Kids videos about complete nonsense.  Along the way they had emptied plenty of nicely folded clothes from my dresser, strewn now on the floor, some pieces being worn on my second daughter’s head (who doesn’t love a nice grandma panties hat?).  Of course, this entertaining scene is immediately followed by a wail from baby boy (a poop triathlete in his own right) three rooms down, as there is no distance that can truly block the energetic squeals and shrieks of his older sisters.  Le sigh.

Let’s take a few steps back.  I’m a mom of three kids under 5 years old.  But, in a past life not that long ago, I was a human being who was a workout fanatic, specifically focused on long-distance running (during that time, I also consistently brushed my teeth and hair, showered on a daily basis, ate food in a civilized manner, didn’t know what the hell Wonder Pets was, and even went to the bathroom without tiny humans on my lap or at my feet…crazy, right?).  I had an office job.  I lived in NYC with my husband.  I was part of a fancy gym, had a training group, and ran marathons.  Fast marathons.  I swear, it’s true!  But all of that changed after the birth of my daughter in 2012; literally every aspect of life became different.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child in 2011 (a perfectly beautiful little girl), I had just qualified to run Boston, the king of all marathons.  Apparently, running a full marathon is looked down upon when you’re at that stage of procreation, so I had to skip it, and though I told myself I’d be back up to speed to qualify again in the future, that has yet to happen (I giggle as I even think about it now).

As one does with a first pregnancy, I was able to take excellent care of myself, and because I was lucky enough to have a healthy pregnancy, I ran until the day she was born, even throwing in a few smaller races (5 and 10Ks) along the way in those lovely nine months.  As we got into the “new normal” after her arrival, I found I couldn’t really train the way I wanted to for another marathon, let alone at the pace I was used to…so I kept up by doing shorter distances and smaller races.

Fast forward to today and it’s a whole other picture:  THREE babies, that perfectly beautiful little girl followed by one more perfectly beautiful little girl, then a perfectly beautiful little boy (see what too much wine can do to a life?).  I now stay at home (word of advice, it doesn’t feel even a little bit like “Mary Poppins”), and to top it all off, we moved across the country to true Suburbia.  As one does, naturally.

Within five years, life became a hot mess, and I’m a whole other person, almost unrecognizable to even myself.  I was blessed enough to have two more healthy pregnancies and stayed active throughout both of them as well, but have had to really come to terms with what fitness is to me at this place in my life.  Once I finally accepted that, I came to these conclusions, and wanted to share them with all my fellow mamas out there:

1 – Know WHY.  Make your purpose about having that extra burst of energy to keep up with your wild child at the end of a long day, not to have a six pack in a bikini.  Make your purpose being strong enough to carry that one extra precious piece of cargo when you need to, not having ripped arms like Kelly Ripa.  Of COURSE we worry about what we look like…that goes way back before the kids!  We’re women after all, and society places a large burden on us for our physical appearance, especially in the age of postpartum celebrity scrutiny.  But fitness needs to come from a healthy desire to be stronger and live longer, a goal which goes far beyond a killer picture that garners a lot of likes on your Facebook page.  It’s a perk to look great and fit into a certain size, shed the baby weight, or reach a certain number on the scale; but if this is your only motivation, it won’t be a positive activity for anyone involved, and can quickly become obsessive.  No bueno.

2 – You feel and look different after carrying/growing babies, whether you have one or ten.  But you know what?  You CARRIED LIFE – so, there’s that.  Accept it and move on from wherever you’re left after the trauma/miracle of pregnancy/birth.  I mean, if you’ve had a peri bottle jammed into your lady business without getting dinner afterwards, or worn maxi pads the size of your newborn infant, rest assured, the control has taken a space rocket to Jupiter.

3 – Let go of control.  You have to, to an extent – this was/is VERY hard for me as a super type-A personality, and I struggle on a daily basis.  It all started the day my oldest was born:  I had run that morning, went into labor, and assumed I’d have a drug-free, natural birth within a couple of hours…how glamorous and easy it would be!  Why even bother going to the hospital??  But alas, after 18 hours of labor, I ended up having a cesarean (followed by two others), because these kiddos don’t care what we want, in or out of the womb.

4 – Kids aren’t an excuse not to work out, they’re an excuse TO work out.  This motherhood job is as physical as a marathon itself!  All the holding, picking up, putting down, playing, household chores (for real – how much laundry can there actually be??).  And have you ever tried to pick up an angry 2-year-old who has locked her body on the floor of your friendly local Target, screaming like she’s getting boiled alive?  Well I have, and I’ll tell you what, I don’t care WHAT shape you’re in, you will be sweating as profusely as a damn pig, and there is only a minimal chance you’ll be successful and make it out alive, wearing the hat of shame of being “that mom” in a public setting.  And that brings me to….

5 – Make it work.  Make it work!!  I miss my fancy gym.  I miss my workout group.  But you know what?  I don’t have the time or the money to do that right now, so instead of dwelling over it like I did for a while and getting into a major rut, I make it work any way I can.  I refuse to feel guilty about taking a few minutes out of the day to let the kids fend for themselves while I do something for ME.  I do DVD workouts in the kids’ playroom during nap time, bribing the non-sleeping kids with food and/or my iphone, or letting them join in if they really want to (#comedyoferrors).  I run on a treadmill, something I NEVER did before (only scenic outdoor running for this spoiled gal back in the day!), and sometimes after the kids go to sleep since I’m exhausted and just can’t seem to get up at the ass-crack of dawn to get it in before the whole brood is awake.  I even use the godforsaken jogging stroller, putting all my running instincts aside to run with a rowdy group of kids, no use of my arms, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse music blaring (bye bye explicit version playlists of the past), stopping along the way to hurl snacks at the little tyrants.  As painful as these options may be, all of them are doable and possible, and will MAKE YOUR LIFE BETTER.  I promise.  I’m also easier on myself overall…if I miss a day, I don’t panic or worry about what that means for my “routine.”  I’m done beating myself up.  Like I said, I worked out through all three pregnancies, even when I was tired, and fully believe in the Serena Williams or Kara Goucher mode of being active while pregnant, if your health allows.  I recovered quickly from all three births and felt stronger going into the train wreck/Groundhog Days of motherhood.  I take pride in continuing that time for myself now, with no parameters…only 20 minutes today?  Only two miles instead of the five I used to be able to fit in?  FINE!  It’s something, right?  It’s good for me, body and soul, and is a good example to the kids, who know that Mom NEEDS this time to be physically active.  My oldest is not even five yet and already knows to vocalize “Mommy, I think you need your workout now” when I begin to fully morph into Mommy Monster.

6 – Finally, mixing motherhood and fitness has taught me to run (or do whatever it is you do!) for a reason. For me, that was finding St. Jude and becoming a volunteer fitness ambassador.  It’s conducive to an erratic schedule, and I learned how to raise money and teach others how to do the same for their fitness events, whether they are sponsored by St. Jude or not.  It has lit a fire in me to hug my healthy kids and be grateful by trying to do something for kids who aren’t.  It all came about by chance, and I couldn’t be more thankful to the universe.  Now I’m truly at a point where I don’t care about beating my PR, getting in a certain amount of miles, or making sure to do a precise amount of weekly cross-training.  I do what I can, and I’m proud of it.

Fitness really can be life-changing.  We as women wear many hats, and sometimes forget that WE ARE WORTH THE EFFORT.  We give to everyone else on a constant, daily basis…we need to remember ourselves sometimes too, even for those precious 20 minutes a day.  It doesn’t matter what your activity is – mine happens to be running, but whatever it is you love, you can make it happen!  As G.K. Chesterson once said:  “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

Though it’s taken me a while to get to this place, I continue on this great race of being a mom.  They won’t be this little forever…this too shall pass.  But for now, I have to run.  Literally.  The toddler is halfway up the stairs, the baby is crying (potentially being attacked by the toddler who might be a little more than halfway up the stairs), and the almost-kindergartner wants yet another applesauce packet and some M&Ms, all before 9am.  See you at the finish line.


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