in it for the t-shirts

Perspective can be a powerful tool, because it allows you to recognize where you have been and what motivates you in life. As a coach, my work is centered around forward action- helping my clients move ahead in life to achieve their goals. However, context is important- what story have you written, who influenced you, what motivates you?

For me, apparently my motivation was t-shirts.

My background in health and wellness began well before I could even recognize it beginning. Growing up, my family wasn’t necessarily active, in the traditional sense. Camping, ski trips or family hikes weren’t really something that we did. Health and wellness presented itself in different ways- my dad’s history as a semi-pro soccer player, my mom’s passion for horseback riding, balanced and sensible habits around the dinner table. There were always green vegetables, a push for the outdoors and opportunities to be active.

I made some of my first “real” paychecks coaching youth both on snow and water, becoming certified as an instructor for both snowboarding and sailing. Like any teenager, I became ensconced by popular media and magazines, resulting in running bouts around the block. However, I wouldn’t say I had yet embraced the healthy nor active lifestyle as an identity… It was more of an attention to what everyone else was doing, and subsequently trying to fit in. And make a paycheck.

In university, after a rather discombobulated first year that saw me failing chemistry, limping through biology and not really making much headway in English, history or psychology, I had to piece together a new plan to graduate. I chose health because the course material actually seemed interesting. And I had assembled enough credits to actually change course and graduate on time.

It was around this time that my identity shift started as well- one of my housemates joined the gym, and I did too! This decision was aided by the fact that she had a car and could drive me to the gym, a key contributing factor. Additionally, you received a free gym bag and t-shirt for signing up- I was in.

That year at the gym is hazy- there was some ellipticalling, there was a lot of cable tv and a few rounds of weight lifting. Like I said- my commitment was largely dependent on my ride. In retrospect, not the best success strategy.

So there I was, heading into my third year of school enrolled in a health degree, with a dufflebag from the gym and a keen understanding of the legal system from watching Judge Judy while on an elliptical. I was a lot of things- student, friend, employee, dancing-at-the-bar-er… but I wasn’t “health and wellness.”

September 2006- let’s try this health thing again! Third year started with one of my other housemates trotting all over our university town, “building” her “mileage” for a “half marathon.” All very foreign concepts to me! She had been training for the entire summer and had tallied up an inconceivable number of kilometers. The more I heard about her running group, the half marathon clinic she had joined and how it truly wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, I became increasingly interested.

And let’s be honest- you received a free t-shirt for signing up. I was all over that.

So I joined a running clinic- perhaps it was one with the goal of running a 5k race? Or perhaps 10k? The early days were, once again, hazy. This time because I was huffing and puffing up hills in the winter, crying over the distances and being a bit of a baby. But this is when I started to get the point, the point that this may actually be good for me? I could feel my little heart, pattering in my chest, thumping out an obnoxious tattoo, as I hauled ass up the hills.

That little heart of mine had been broken before- it broke when my dad died. He died of a heart attack when I was 15. An awkward 15 in a shitty time in the midst of a big loop-de-loop on the rollercoaster of life. Despite being that semi-pro athlete, habits later in my dad’s life built up to a point that his body couldn’t sustain him.

So here I was, trying to create a habit as I also tried to fend off frostbite while running. I believe I take after my dad in a lot of ways, including stature- this was the motivation I needed to create healthy, positive change right then and there. I wanted some control over my destiny. Over the course of this running clinic, a position at my local running shop opened up. Free product and healthy discounts? A staff shirt? Count me in!

I quickly realized that once I was surrounded by runners, it was hard not to be influenced by them- that first running clinic turned into ten half marathons, three 30-k races and the crowning achievement of running the New York City Marathon. Do you know how many free t-shirts they give out at these races? Sign me up, take my money, let me pay to run!

Along the way, I finished that health degree and quickly found a job working for a public health non-profit, designing programs to keep other people healthy. This was my niche! So I kept running, program designing, trying new things. I started a blog- a health and wellness blog. I tried a vegan diet, a gluten free diet, a raw diet, bouts of no drinking, eating only cooked foods, all peanut butter all the time. I did yoga challenges and swam laps at the pool and joined random fitness groups all by myself. People actually asked me to review their products, and join their bootcamp classes for free! I WAS HEALTH AND WELLNESS!

Surprisingly though, no free t-shirts.

I wanted more. I craved more. More certifications, more education, more of a place in this world. So I got my Masters of Science in Public Health and Health Systems Management. I can manage your health and wellness. MASTERFULLY. It was a distance learning program through the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as well as the University of London. I had never been to England, but now my Masters was delivered through the Internet, by way of London. However, when it came time to graduate (three painstaking years later), I packed up a little carry on and jumped on a plane to London. Staying with another one of those housemates from university, I attended two graduations, explored the city and fell in love with London.

And got a t-shirt AND A SWEATER from the schools to commemorate it all.

Since then, despite whatever life throws at me, I embrace health and wellness. Crazy workouts had to take a back seat when life threw some additional loops in my rollercoaster, but I invested that time in personal development, self care and eliminating toxins from the products in my house. I cheer on others in health and wellness (including my fourth housemate who is becoming a NATUROPATHIC DOCTOR). I have shifted my focus from cutting things out to adding in things that help. This includes an all star health team, dabbling in alternative modalities and seeing health and wellness as a way of life, not in addition to it. Health and wellness is a keystone of who I am, and continually contributes to every choice I make, every single day.

The next part of my journey? I’m a coach- I focus on life design, integrating health and wellness, and just helping people be happy with where they are in life. This is the best choice for me, as it lets me do what I love and focus on individuals. I researched certification programs and found one that was a perfect fit for me. And you know what sealed the deal?

At my first coach training weekend, I WON A FREE T-SHIRT.

alex kelly

public health + personal wellness