July 2, 2018
Six years ago I created a Facebook page dedicated to fitness.
Since then, most of the people I used to follow have withered away. A lot of models and athletes who I admired on covers of fitness magazines have faded into obscurity. Many well-known brands and catchy workouts are no longer popular. This isn’t shocking as I’ve seen many changes in my 22 years in the fitness industry. I know one thing for certain, if you get that one opportunity to have eyes on you, run with it, because there is nothing constant but change.
I officially entered the fitness industry in 1996 when I volunteered as an aerobics instructor in high school. I later became a personal trainer in college and began competing in fitness/bikini competitions when my body started to develop a more lean and muscular shape. In 2004 I worked as a fitness manager and group exercise coordinator in San Francisco and was a freelance writer and podcaster with Bodybuilding.com and Max Sports and Fitness magazine. In 2005 I became a project coordinator with 24Hour Fitness before moving back to Sacramento to care for my mother who was undergoing kidney failure. It was during that time period I began blogging on MariaKang.com and venturing into my philanthropic work when I founded Fitness without Borders (FWB) in 2007, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to fostering healthier children by building community leaders.
When I experienced a passionate courtship and unexpected pregnancy with my then-boyfriend in 2008, I was sent through a negative mental whirlwind. Not only was I overweight, having just overcome an eating disorder, but I took a life gamble and quit my corporate job, started a nonprofit and was living with my parents. I didn’t have health insurance and my chosen boyfriend was a divorced father with a brain injury.
I was depressed.
I thought my years dreaming of changing the world via fitness were no longer viable. I believed that I had failed the ideal sequence of dating, getting engaged, having a bachelorette party, celebrating a big wedding, buying our first house and planning our pregnancy would never happen to me. I gave birth in 2009, then again in 2010 – the same year I opened my first care home, had a fun Bachelorette party and a beautiful yet emotional wedding. In 2011 I gave birth to our last son while working towards a second care home facility and running before-school fitness programs.
Despite the busy-ness, I consistently wrote on my blog, trained 3-4 times a week, freelanced for fitness magazines, volunteered with FWB and started a new social media platform: my Facebook page in 2012. Like many, I didn’t know what to post, after all, this was brand new territory for the fitness pioneers of the social media world.
I loved it back then.
I loved reading funny and motivational fitness quotes. I loved seeing new recipes, home workouts and realistic transformations. I remember one day deciding to get on the fitspo bandwagon and creating an image with the popular tagline, “What’s Your Excuse” alongside an image of me and my three young sons.
In 2013, 17 years after I taught my first aerobics class and 4 years after I thought my fitness ambitions were over, I was reborn by an unwavering belief set that there were no excuses why you couldn’t live your best life physically, personally or professionally. I was blessed a large platform when my controversial image was taken out of my intentional context and instead of financial capital, I focused on human capital.
I asked women to join our No Excuse Mom community.
I told them when I became a mother in 2009, I felt isolated, lonely, tired and overweight. In an effort to connect, I began asking moms to start working out in the park with me and my infant son. I was certain other moms wanted to get healthy, make friends, be in nature and thrive in a community environment.
Some of my best friends developed from that group. Together, we went through pregnancies, preschools, potty training, graduations, anniversaries and divorces. We lost weight, gained weight, ran marathons, completed mud races, overcome injuries and endured personal health issues. We’ve seen mothers come one time, a few times or many times. We’ve ran into each other at Target, schools and our local gyms.
When my No Excuse platform exploded, these moms were championing my efforts and cheering me on. Thousands joined our growing Facebook group and hundreds asked to lead their local communities as a NEM leader.
I quickly had to create operations that replicated my local community efforts. I had to write handbooks, provide tools and create structure. My years as a trainer, writer, manager and project coordinator all prepared me to take on this large endeavor. Since then, somewhere in-between monthly conference calls, leading my local group and planning our 2nd NEM Leader Retreat, I realized one thing…
I was becoming the woman I’ve always wanted to become.
I was leading and therefore empowered others to become leaders, whether they led their NEM communities, homes or themselves…the very first step in changing is leading.
Six years ago there were many fitness stars – and there still are. But, the ones who stay or the ones who lead. Leaders aren’t born from sexy snaps, controversial captions or provocative posts. They are playing the long game and doing the hard work by creating, acting, listening, adjusting and moving.
Surround yourself with the thinkers, the doers, the dreamers…the Changers. These are the people living offline, operating in the real world, with real parks and physical communities. They are offering actual smiles, lending a visible hand and making meaningful moments.
Don’t talk, walk. If we want change, we need to BE the change, we need to BRING the change.
It all begins at Home.
Posing with my perennial 12-week calendar at 23 years old. I’ve encouraged other people to do the same for years. You can download yours here.
Do you see me in blue at the center with my baby? I taught fitness to these middle school kids for years in the early A.M. I worked until I was 9 months pregnant and came with my newborn almost immediately after. I don’t know how I did it!
This is a rare image of my fitness group back in 2010. We didn’t take many pictures then! I can tell that’s my baby Nicholas (who is now 8!)
With some of our NEM European Leaders in Paris! Find your community here.
Some of our U.S. and Canada leaders in Chicago for our 2nd NEM retreat!