From cheerleading to bodybuilding to jiu-jitsu training, Nichole's fitness journey has taken many twists and turns to lead her where she is today. This artist by day and bartender by night stays hungry for adventure. When she's not squeezing in a lift at O2 Fitness Seaboard Station, you can find Nichole walking her dogs, hanging out with her fellow female athletes, and planning her next adventure.
When did you start your fitness journey? Why did you start?
I started out as a dancer when I was three years old in New York. When my family moved my sister and I down here from New York, we didn’t have the money to keep up with dance. In 7th grade I tried out for the school cheerleading team since it was the closest I could get to dance without it costing as much, but I didn't make the team.
I got into an alternative league that year and spent every lunch break practicing how to do back handsprings on the playground. I fell on my head every time. If you got a back handspring you would pretty much make it. So the next year I made it in 8th grade.
With cheerleading, the coach we had in middle school impacted a lot of girls with body image issues. That spawned some issues for me and about 75% of the team. When you have someone you’re looking up to at this young age that’s pushing you to be the best but saying you need to lose weight and you need to be skinny, that sparked issues.
Like every other teenage girl I developed relationship issues between me, food, my body, and weight loss. I remember taking diet pulls in middle or high school. I definitely had an eating disorder at one point. As I did cheer and gymnastics through high school, I went through good times and bad times with my body like everyone else does. It’s sad that it is a big part of our culture. We were taught that lifting would make you big and bulky. Lifting weights was not something that was advocated for women to do. We were told to do light weights and tons of reps which does nothing for your muscle mass.
After high school, how did your fitness routine change?
I got accepted to art school at 19 and moved to Manhattan. I remember my dad being terrified of my eating disorder getting triggered again when I moved. There were no sports to be involved in at FIT because it was an art school. I gained some weight, you know the freshman 15.
I wound up getting into the club scene. I was exposed to nightclub life, music, DJs, and I was completely infatuated with all of it. I got lost in that whole world. I dropped out of school and got a job at a record label. I don’t regret it, but it was a very unhealthy lifestyle.
I was living my “best life” but wreaking havoc on my body. If anything I lost weight, but I had a terrible sleep schedule, my diet was poor, and most of the time I didn’t eat much. Popcorn, noodles, eggs, alcohol. Wasn’t drinking enough water. And I felt really awful. For a 20-year-old kid I felt really bad.
What wound up happening was an interesting turn of events. I used to walk to work everyday. One day two planes flew into the World Trade Center. I was 21, living this wild, carefree lifestyle, and after that I dove deeper into escapism and this little subculture that I was a part of. That happened to a lot of people in my age group. What we were literally standing in the middle of was too much to deal with. Post-9/11, the partying was way worse, the drinking was worse, and it was to escape this war zone we were near. Things just got darker.
I remember looking at myself and saying, "You look like crap and you feel like crap." I was living on this hamster wheel of going out and partying, my organs were hating me, I was getting zero sleep, and I felt terrible for someone that was so young. I eventually decided I needed to change my lifestyle. I didn’t want to struggle through this cycle and feel sick and tired. I felt old at 21.
How did you start to break the cycle?
I started running a lot more, but I was so tired all the time so I relied on Hydroxycut to energize me through my runs. I read bodybuilding magazines and I'd go to Whole Foods instead of going out like I used to. I'd go out sober. I'd dance and use that for cardio. I'd read labels and read about nutrition. Eventually I got a job at a gym part-time so I could work out there.
I was so tiny from terrible living that I started to see rapid muscle growth. It was really rewarding. I was eating better, focusing on protein and real foods again, and I started seeing changes. I felt so happy. People were starting to comment asking what I was doing.
I started dating a personal trainer and basically studied all of his training materials. I got my certification and built up clients really fast. I started making real money and eventually abandoned the pursuit of the music scene. I did that for a good 10 years and had a decent career in personal training. It was the first time in my life I felt like I had a career.
That’s when I started going into competition. I did figure first and then fitness. It's very stringent. It's unhealthy. I will say now I'm not an advocate for this. I lived that way for a long time and that was the ultimate peak of fitness. I competed in NPC Fitness, I was in Flex Magazine, I was in videos for Muscle & Fitness, I did modeling for Go Girl Energy, and all this was the dream I had always had. It was all coming true. But I felt awful again. I was so constricted and there was such a lack of freedom in my life. But the pictures looked great, I was getting all this attention and accolades so I was doing something right, I thought. But I still felt like this can't be it. I can't maintain this. It wasn’t sustainable long term.
I was so tiny and so lean because I was so hellbent on being my best and excelling on that stage that I pushed myself to ridiculous heights. I was under 7% body fat, 95 lbs, and I was shredded. I placed first in the physique round and earned a place at Nationals but my body was wrecked. My hair started to fall out, my skin was changing, but in my mind I succeeded.
When did you stop competing?
It was this long journey of figuring out my balance. You go through this weight loss this extreme way, you see these amazing results, then you try to be a normal person and eat normally, and it takes a lot to get back to normal. I gained weight and got soft. It was probably in my head. And then you try to jump back on that train. You can really trap yourself back into that extreme dieting. It’s the definition of insanity.
I did a lot of reading, research, trial and error, falling off the wagon, and relapsing. It wasn’t until recently that I found real sports. Jiu jitsu and heavier lifting, which I was afraid of. I wanted to get stronger. I rebuilt my circle to really positive group of people, particularly women who were athletes. The people you associate yourself with has a very big impact on who you wind up becoming. Choose your circle wisely. I started rebuilding myself.
What does your fitness routine look like now?
It’s a big priority for me, but I’m very careful to not let it rule my life. Even a good thing out of balance becomes a bad thing. I have a training schedule. On Mondays I run, Tuesdays I do upper body, Wednesdays I go for a run or take the dogs for a long walk, Thursdays I do legs, and Fridays I do a recovery run. Saturdays and Sundays I allow myself to be free. I let myself recover and take a mental break. I like that I get my work done during my week and I leave the weekend for myself to just live. Sometimes I’ll go for a hike, but it’s not for the purpose of needing to do it to burn calories or log miles.
Why do you continue to prioritize fitness in your life?
I enjoy having that discipline in my life. Having that schedule in place helps me to structure the rest of my life and my week. It’s important to remain consistent to any goal. I firmly believe that being an athlete and adhering to that helps me in every other part of my life. It helps my mental focus and my mental health. My perspective on problems is so different because of my focus as an athlete. When you have a hurdle in mind of lifting a certain amount of weight or a challenging squat or a distance to run, the only way to achieve it is to set the goal and back plan. Come up with a strategy of how you’ll reach that goal. You have to have discipline and that goes for anything and everything. That’s important to me.
What motivates you to get out of bed and head to the gym?
I love adventure. I surf, I skate, I snowboard, I've gone on these amazing backpacking trips. You cannot do any of those things if you're out of shape. So it's about remaining ready. Remaining physically and mentally ready for those adventures. Even if I don’t have a goal in mind, it's to remain ready so that when opportunity knocks, I’m good to go. If you stay ready and you get an opportunity then it’s a "hell yes." Because you know you're prepared. Physical and mental preparedness go hand and hand. I want to be strong in my own body, mentally strong and capable, and I want to have skills that are transferrable that allow me to take care of myself. I want to be the best version of myself that I can be. That doesn’t happen by sitting on the couch and allowing myself to “get soft.”
I love the concept of GPP, general physical preparedness. It's not just disaster-related. If a good thing is offered to you, you're ready. It's just being generally physically prepared for what life throws at you. Bad or good. If someone asks me, "Do you want to go do this 9-day stay in the desert?" I'd say hell yeah. I've done the work. I'm confident. I feel ready for anything. And I will continue to be so whatever you got, let's go.
What would you say to someone who wants to start their own fitness journey?
Start where you are with what you have. Start right now. Be gentle with yourself. Celebrate small victories. Be consistent. Being physically fit is not as hard as you think it is. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. If all you can work into your day is 10 minutes, do those 10 minutes. Sometimes it's not even physical. Sometimes its laying down and resting and closing your eyes to give your body and mind a break from stress. Sometimes you just need to give yourself a break.
If you're scheduled for a workout but you're sore, tight, or not hydrated, it's okay to miss that workout. Just do something positive for yourself in active recovery. Go for a walk to loosen up. Take an Epsom salt bath. Getting fit should not be an act of self-punishment. Being active should be a celebration of what you can do. Our bodies are a gift. You only have one so we have to take care of them.
If you don’t take time for your health today, you'll have to take time for sickness tomorrow. I don’t spend 2 hours in the gym. A lot of the time, my workouts are 20 minutes. Maybe that day that’s all I have time for. Some people say, “I didn’t go to the gym this week so I ate like crap.” Why is it one of two extremes? I think 80% of your health is what you do outside of the gym. Are you sleeping? Are you drinking water? Are you going to send yourself into a tailspin if you have pizza and beer with friends on a Sunday?
Practice balance and moderation. Eat your pizza and go to the gym and get a great workout. Just remain consistent.
What inspires you?
I want to continue to grow and continue to reach heights that shock myself. I want to never stop pushing and never stop growing. I want to continually surprise myself with what I'm capable of. I'm very lucky that I have some amazing people in my life. I look at some of my best friends and the women I have in my life and what they accomplish physically and mentally. I'm so inspired by these women. I'm inspired by athletes in general but I really am truly inspired by women in my age group and a little older that are just killing it. It's about continuing to shock myself. There's something to be said about people who are like you. You tribe helps to reinforce that and helps to strengthen you.
What advice would you give to someone who hits a plateau or who needs fresh motivation?
Switch it up. If you really have that much aversion to going to the gym, find something else to do. If you hate going to the gym, don't go to the gym. Find an activity that you do enjoy doing. Use that as motivation to cross train. Find something you enjoy. Or take a break, but don’t stop being active. Go to a trampoline park, go roller skating, get outside, or switch it up. Take a new class or get a certification that will serve you.
When you're doing something really tough, what do you tell yourself to get through it?
The discomfort you feel in a workout is temporary. It's not that bad. It ties into doing difficult tasks in life or things that are uncomfortable. Suck it up. You're sweating, you're hearts beating, it burns, boohoo. There are much worse things. Suck it up, get it done, and the sooner you suck it up, you'll be finished. Now you have just gained from your ability to suck it up. If you can't learn to suck it up and keep going you're not going to get very far.
What does Look Forward mean to you?
Because my personal training career ended and because I was no longer pursuing competition, for years I thought I was “over” and washed up as an athlete and done being desired as part of this industry.
But "Look Forward" means that the best is not behind me. I've already proven myself that though that was awesome, it was a small snippet in time and now I’ve accomplished so much more. And I'm so excited about what I'm going to accomplish in the future.
What are you looking forward to accomplishing in 2019?
Taking myself completely out of my comfort zone. I’m planning a big move across the country. I'm signed up for an Ultra in May. Just achieving things that I didn’t believe before were possible for myself. Shocking myself some more.
The most important thing I want people to take away from my story is that whereas I made a lot of mistakes in the past, had a lot of missteps, and at times allowed myself to be a victim of my own poor choices, thoughts, or circumstances, I am no victim. At any point we have the power to rise above and live victoriously.