Starting with the “Why” by Kerrie Montgomery

kerrie M

Kerrie Montgomery is the Associate Director of Student Activities and Involvement at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL. She received a BA in Classical Studies, a MA in Art History, and an MEd in Student Personnel in Higher Education from the University of Florida, and is completing her PhD in Higher Education (Organization and Governance track) at the University of Denver, where she served as the Assistant Director of Campus Activities for five years prior to her current position. She spends her free time running, spending time with family and friends, watching movies, listening to music, playing with her dissertation, and cooking/eating good (healthy) food.


A while back, a friend and colleague pointed me in the direction of author Simon Sinek’s TED Talk about what he calls “the Golden Circle,” a concept presented in his book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. In a nutshell, the idea is that in order to get people to connect with you and your message/product/actions, you have to lead with “why” you say what you say/make what you make/do what you do. I highly recommend taking the time to watch his TED Talk to get a full appreciation of his message. (No, I am not a paid endorser, but it is really powerful and definitely worth 20 minutes of your time –

So, what does this have to do with fitness? Well, it has everything to do with MY fitness journey.

Several years ago, while my dad was fighting cancer, I was gifted with my first LIVESTRONG bracelet. I wore that bracelet every day to show my support for a cause that was important to me, in part because my father was a cyclist and Lance Armstrong fan (I’m glad he didn’t have to see the outcome of that story, but that’s a different blog…). One day, I looked at that bracelet, and I thought about the message it sent, and I had to acknowledge that I was not “living strong” in any sense, but least of all with regard to my fitness. My significant other at the time was a very active and athletic guy, but I was a self-proclaimed couch potato, and I was actually quite proud of it for some reason. The convergence of these factors (a fiancé my friends and I had nicknamed “Mr. SuperFit,” and a desire to embody the idea of “living strong” in the face of my father’s inability to continue his active lifestyle) prompted me to get off the couch and sign up for a half-marathon. Yes, you read that correctly. Some people go “couch to 5K,” but not me, I had to go straight to half-marathon (13.1 miles, just to clarify), and I decided to fundraise for the LIVESTRONG Foundation along the way. In September, I found a training group in my area and I started running. I wasn’t very fast, but I was committed. I did my short runs during the week and joined my group at 6am every Saturday morning to log the long runs on my journey to the Walt Disney World Half-Marathon coming up that January. As luck would have it, the group I joined was actually training for the ING Miami Half-Marathon taking place two weeks after the run I had registered for, so I ended up running BOTH events, two weeks apart. Talk about starting out my career as a runner with a bang!

I did these two runs in pretty respectable times given that I used the run/walk method championed by Jeff Galloway, and when they were over, you’ll never guess what I did. Well, I’ll tell you – I sat right back down on that couch. My dad lost his fight shortly before my events, so he didn’t get to see me fulfill my promise to him that I was going to do more, move more, be healthier. I know he was proud of me, and I know he was with me every step of those runs, but once they were over, I needed a break – physically and emotionally. That break lasted for a few years. Then, while I was living in Denver, at the urging of my then husband (who always wanted me to be more active), I finally gave in and signed up for the Denver Half-Marathon. Once again, I trained dutifully (this time on my own using a plan he developed for me), I ran the event (in a better time!), and I sat back down. I did start going to the gym after that, but it was always because of a desire to satisfy my partner, not because of a desire within me to be more fit.

When my husband and I divorced two years ago, I felt adrift and disconnected from my own life. Who was I? What did I enjoy doing? What was I doing for myself? Those questions led me to the decision to register for my fourth half-marathon. I signed up for the ING Miami Half-Marathon again – a familiar course, in a familiar city, where some of my closest friends would be alongside me in the run – and I began training through late-fall and winter in Denver (meaning I trained 100% on a treadmill!). I committed in a way that I didn’t even know I had in me; it was different than the previous times I had trained. It took me a little time to figure out why, but when I crossed the finish line in my best time ever (I exceeded my goal by 15 minutes!), it hit me like a bolt of lightning – it was different because I did it for ME! I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone; I wasn’t trying to be what someone else wanted me to be; I wasn’t fulfilling a promise to anyone else. I ran those 13.1 miles (and all the training miles leading up to the event) because I wanted to do it. I wanted to challenge myself, feel better about myself, and exceed my own expectations for myself. I did all of those things and more. And do you know what I did when that half-marathon was over? I kept on running! I went to the gym here and there, but I kept right on running. Not as far, not as fast, but I kept it up.

I moved back to Florida last June, and I decided to tackle the ING Miami Half-Marathon again in 2013. I started training in October, and my best friend joined me (she had never run before, but saw how good it had been for me – physically and mentally – so she asked if she could tag along). Unfortunately, I sustained an injury that took me out for the entire season – no 5Ks, no 10Ks, no training runs, and no half-marathons. My friend kept at it, though, and did her first half-marathon in February. I worked hard at physical therapy for 4 months, and I rode a bike alongside my friend while she ran, because my life now is not complete without a certain level of fitness.

Along this journey, what I like to call “the new normal” that has become my lifestyle, a friend introduced me to the Whole 30 Food Program ( – again, I’m not a paid endorser, but this will change your life). This friend, a fellow runner who understood how hard it was for me to not be able to run for so many months, knew I was in a place in my life where I was always looking for ways to challenge myself. I took his challenge, and I have never looked back. I was warned that it would be tough, but I felt like I was at a place in my life where I was ready for this kind of challenge – eliminating alcohol, sugar, grains, legumes, dairy, and a few more things from my diet for 30 days to completely reboot my system, kick the cravings for unhealthy foods devoid of nutrition, and get me on the path to making much healthier choices about what I put into my body. So, now that I’ve completed the 30 day challenge, here is a summary:

What I’ve learned:
– I don’t miss any of the things I cut out! Not sure how that’s possible, but it’s true. For example, substituting healthier options (like coconut milk instead of cream and sugar in my coffee) is just as satisfying and tasty, and much better for me! The same is true of eating good carbs (like a sweet potato or butternut squash) instead of rice, pasta or quinoa.
– If there’s a commercial for it, it’s probably not good for you! I can’t remember the last thing I ate out of a box, and apart from saving a little bit of time, I can’t think why I’d start again now.
– If you eat the right foods, in the right quantities, at meal time, there is no reason to snack. I have never been hungry one time in these 30 days, and THAT is amazing to me!

How I’ve changed:
– My mood is much better and much more even on a daily basis.
– My energy level is up and stays consistent throughout the day.
– I sleep more soundly and with fewer interruptions, and I don’t need my alarm to wake me up. Because I’m resting better, I get enough sleep to wake up naturally and not feel groggy. AWESOME!

What I’ve gained:
– A lot of knowledge.
– A lot of self-confidence.
– A greater appreciation for how small changes can make a huge difference.The premise of Whole 30 is that in the 30 days of the program you will reboot your system by eliminating sugars, grains, legumes, dairy, alcohol, preservatives, etc., and kick the cravings for unhealthy foods in order to make the best choices for your body. I was amazed by how I felt at the end of it, and I have maintained it (about 90% of the time) since finishing it in mid-February. When I felt myself slipping too much and getting a little too friendly with ice cream again over the past couple of months, I started another 30 days to get back on track. And now, with my healthier eating under control, I have started training again for a very active running season (a ten mile event in October, that ever-present ING Miami Half-Marathon in January, and my first full-marathon in February 2014!).

I do these things, all of these things, for me. That is the only reason I continue to do them, and I continue to seek out similar challenges. My “why” may not be the same every day – some days it’s because I want to feel better, some days it’s because I want to look better, some days it’s because I want to BE better – but it is MY WHY that makes me stay fit and healthy these days. I finally understand that this lifestyle is not about what anyone else wants from me or for me. It’s the only life I’ve got, and I want to feel as good tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day…. as I do right this minute! I’m just happy to have found the “why.”

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