Friday, November 20, 2009

Guest Blog--To Be a Champion by Wendy Fortino-She Makes Dust!

It has taken me a while to sit down and write this all out. I am hoping that it can provide some motivation or inspiration for other people. Getting ahead in the world, being successful – these are things that require discipline, dedication, and hard work. Ironically, to truly help people, you need to be completely put together yourself and have your act together. I have personally spent a lot of time trying to get things in order so that I can present myself in a way that will cause people to want to follow my lead.

This does not come without a lot of failure of course. People often assume that things have always come easy for me and that I have never had challenges. This is simply not true at all. Even though I’ve never lost a limb nor had a tragic accident, my challenges have mainly come from within. I have struggled with confidence issues, and until recently, had never truly discovered how to tap into my true potential.

So, here is my story…

When I was a little girl, I was a total space cadet. I didn’t pay attention in class, I failed tests and my parents almost had to hold me back a grade a couple of times. However, I also had a twin sister who excelled in just about everything academically. For fear of creating problems in the future, my parents fought to keep me in the same grade as my sister. My parent’s put me into gymnastics when I was young, and this was a good outlet for me because it was something that I actually cared about at the time.

I seemed to scoot along elementary school decently with a “C” average, and a lot of love from my parents. It was never easy being the “stupid” twin though. And I eventually just accepted that was how it was going to be.

I can still remember my first day of Junior High like it was yesterday. My last period was Physical Education class. My P.E. teacher issued me a pair of white shorts and a white t-shirt. She explained to everyone that we would be fitness testing throughout the year, and as we earned points from push-ups, sit-ups, running, and other activities, we would have the opportunity to move up to “red” shorts. After that, “blue”, and finally “gold”; which was rarely done. Earning your “gold” trunks, she explained, would put you into the “Hall of Fame”.
When we got into the swing of things, I started to really excel in P.E. class. For some reason, the P.E. teachers dubbed me as one of the top students in school and associated my discipline and hard work with intelligence. This motivated me to try harder in school because I didn’t want to let them down. All of a sudden, I began acing my tests, and while I had to work much harder than my twin sister, I was doing it! I was getting “A’s” just like her!

By the 8th grade, I broke the record for entering the “Hall of Fame” the earliest, I broke the sit-up record (performing 3,150 non-stop sit-ups), and captured a couple of other records for the school. I felt so accomplished and had finally found my forte. I can still remember my first experience with feeling a bit like a celebrity. The day after I spent three and a half hours doing non-stop sit-ups, I was welcomed to school with a huge banner that read, “Congratulations, Wendy! 3,150 Non-Stop Sit-Ups! Way to go!” And I immediately went from a “nobody” to being pretty popular for a little while. Students would ask me to write “Wendy Power” on their hands. I just thought that maybe I was the only person crazy enough to do sit-ups that long.

At this point, I was getting ready to enter high school and decided to keep doing gymnastics on the side for fun, but wanted to take up cross country. It looked like a fun sport and I was beating a lot of boys around the track in Junior High so thought it might be fun to see if I could do it. My first race was not that great. I actually got lost when I was walking the course, so I had to run to the start line and got there just in time to take off with everyone and get my butt kicked. But I knew that I was stronger secretly, and figured I had everyone just where I wanted them. So, just one week later, I won a race with an impressive time, and the coach was so impressed that he started talking to me about colleges and I was only 13 years old! I couldn’t believe it.

I think that I put too much pressure on myself which led to a lot of self-destruction because I felt like I was always “pretending” to be smart, and “pretending” to be good at what I was doing. I never really accepted that I was actually smart and talented. I must have put on a good show, because my school nominated me for “Most Athletic” at the end of my senior year of High School.

So, I made it through high school cross country and track with enough talent and racing abilities to win lower level races, but never with anything impressive enough at large races to be memorable to coaches at big colleges. I just never felt like I was good enough. Kim Duyst, however, at Cal State Stanislaus, felt that I had what it took to compete at the national-level in college and recruited me to run for her team. In only my first 800-meter college race at age 17, I improved my time by five seconds to run a 2:14! This would have been impressive in high school, and made me kick myself since I was such a young college freshman. Throughout my college career, I was nominated for Most Valuable Player several seasons in a row. In addition to my running, I stayed active with dance and did a few musical performances because I always loved to perform.

With my running, I guess that I got to a point in which I knew that I was good enough to compete with the best and started working on the rest: the mental stuff. I got a lot of attention from the local newspaper and people were recognizing me. This made me feel like a winner. However, I was always reaching for something that seemed out of reach. I would set goals that I tried to convince others I could do, but secretly didn’t really think were possible.

After college, I began to run for a club called “Asics Aggies” and the coach, Joe Rubio, was stationed out of San Luis Obispo. This made it easy to decide where I wanted to go to graduate school to get my Master’s Degree in Exercise Science of course – Cal Poly! After I got accepted, I moved and started training harder and studying harder.

My running was okay. I had a lot of setbacks. I was often getting injured, but I became pretty tough. Mentally, I was stronger and started matching my racing with my talents, but my body would not cooperate. After I graduated from my Master’s program and moved to the bay area for my career, I decided that my heart was set on toeing the line at the 2008 Olympic Trials. This was going to be a lot of work, but I knew that if I could get my body strong enough, I could do it and then move on.

While I was training for the Trials in 2008, I decided to ask my college coach, Coach Duyst, if she could help me train. She sat down with me and helped me form a game plan. I started to train harder than ever, including harder long runs and intense interval training. I had never been so focused before. I surprised myself with the level of commitment I maintained with no training partners and without a coach who could lead me through each workout. It was totally up to me to do this.

In January 2008, I met an amazing man, Matt Allen, who was a bodybuilder and treated me better than anyone I had ever met. He seemed to be such a master in the art of body sculpting, and this was very intriguing to me. He was supportive of my quest, and I was supportive of his sport. He came to my first race of the track season, and loved to watch me run. Shortly after, by April 2008, I had an intense pain in my foot and it kept me from being able to run properly. It came through the x-ray as a stress fracture, and like “that” I was out of the Trials for sure.

The day after this discovery, I was so down and depressed that I called Matt up to console me and he told me to come to his gym and he would put me through a strength workout to get my mind off of things. At the time, I had no idea what a “figure” competition was, but people at the gym were telling me that I should try it. I didn’t want to become a bodybuilder because I have always respected the sport, but never wanted to look too muscular. “Figure is different than that” Matt told me. “Figure is like a fitness beauty pageant where you get judged on the symmetry and conditioning of your physique.” I thought it sounded like something that could take my mind off of things, because it meant that I could just train hard and not worry about the mental strain that racing had on me for so many years.

So, I trained and dieted for my first figure competition, but I must admit that only half of my heart was in it, since all I could think about was the next track season. Once my foot began to heal, I started dabbling into my gymnastics again to see if I could try my hand at fitness competitions too.

On the day of my first figure show, the San Francisco Championships, I looked at myself in the mirror. I had a deep, orange tan, my hair looked like a blonde snowball (next to my tan), and my makeup was all done. I thought, “What am I doing here? I am an athlete.” Well, then I looked past all of that stuff and realized that I had never looked that way before. I almost didn’t look like a real person. I had practically no body fat, and after being an athlete with a sort of “up and down” kind of petite frame, I suddenly noticed that my added muscle had created a more womanly, beautiful frame. “Wow,” I thought. I had put so much work into this and it was really hard! I felt that the competition had already happened for me. It was such a concept for me to have all of the stress of competing behind me when I hadn’t even competed yet. Especially considering that I had always been known by my coaches and peers as someone who’s training abilities far exceeded my competition abilities. Not this time! I used my strength of mental toughness in training to my advantage.

After winning the overall title at the San Francisco Figure Championships, I went on to win the Fitness title and Figure class title at the Sacramento Championships, the overall title at the Contra Costa Figure Championships, my class title at the California State Figure Championships, and took 6th place at the USA Figure Championships.

What a year it has been for me! I feel like I am really able to take advantage of my strengths with this sport, and plan to continue with it. Since I began, I have inspired many people to get into great shape and have learned so much more about the human body than what I had learned in both undergraduate and graduate school. This is my true calling and I feel completely blessed.

I am currently the Assistant Coordinator for Physical Education, Recreation and Wellness at Stanford University, and recently discovered that I am pictured next to a few Stanford cross country runners in a large photo taken at the Stanford Invitational during my college career. That is irony at its finest…

I think that I will make my next challenge to compete in Fitness at the National level. Fitness is a little different than Figure in that there is a physique round, but there is also a 2-minute routine round that includes a combination of dance, gymnastics and fitness elements. Now that my foot is definitely better and I have a fitness victory under my belt (in addition to several figure victories), I want to see how far I can go in fitness. With my new found confidence, I believe that the sky is the limit!

Oh, and by the way, my twin sister is a successful lawyer with a wonderful husband and a beautiful baby girl! In college, she competed in diving at the University of Nebraska. We are best friends! I also have an older sister who competed gymnastics at UC Davis, and she is a huge inspiration for me as I continue my fitness journey.

In the end, I would like to say good luck to anyone who finds a passion in his/her life. One of the biggest challenges that people face, and often times the reason why not everyone on this planet can be successful, is because discovering one’s potential can be a scary thing. Self-destruction and self-defeat have been my biggest lifetime obstacles, and I have learned to overcome them with time.

Thanks Wendy for sharing such a motivating story with us! All the best in your upcoming challenges!!


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