Inspirational women are all around us, teaching, motivating and leading others by example through the way they live their lives and inspire others. The Spark Your Life Series connects you to thought-provoking female leaders whose stories can help you achieve life balance, a health and fitness goal or a better state of mind.
This month, we talked to Juliet Kaska, one of the country's leading fitness experts, celebrity trainers and fitness entrepreneurs on how she gives and receives inspiration.
How did you get your start in the fitness industry?
When I was younger I was a very serious classical ballet dancer. I loved dance, and everything about it: the hard work and discipline, the moment the curtain rose and how the music would lift me. As much as I loved it, I chose to stop dancing and pursue being a "normal" high school student. I retained my love for ballet, and a bit of grace, but I also retained the unhealthy image I had of my young, healthy body.
As a young dancer you spend hours in front of mirrors analyzing every nuance of how your body moves. Simultaneously, you are comparing yourself to the girls on either side of you, they are one of your points of reference to how and where you are moving. Many dancers develop warped ideas of their bodies as a consequence of this process. Because my figure was more of an athletic and curvy nature, I was constantly trying to force myself to become the shape of the "ideal" dancer. I turned to extreme dieting, starvation and hours of dance classes. Even after I stopped dancing and became a normal body weight, I still carried around the feeling of not having the right body.
When I completed college, my poor body image and I moved to Los Angeles. Right before I left, one of my male friends said to me, "You realize here (in Washington, D.C.) you are like a '10,' but in LA you won't even place." With his really kind words still echoing in my head, I joined a gym in West Hollywood as soon as I could.
At this gym I was given two complimentary [training] sessions with purchase of a membership. I was assigned to a young woman named Trish. After the two sessions, I went on to work with her for six months. I only saw Trish twice a week for 30 minutes each time, but I took group classes three days a week, and another two times a week I would repeat the most recent workout I had done with Trish.
It was through this routine and endless encouragement under Trish's dutiful eye that for the first time in my life I actually felt able-bodied and strong. That isn't to say that I didn't still grapple with my past body image demons, but when they reared their ugly heads I was in a much better frame of mind to handle them with strength and self-love.
After about six months of working with Trish, she said, "You know, you would be really good at this." I had never thought about being a trainer before, but Trish mentored me through the whole process and helped me get hired at the gym where we met. Within six months of becoming certified I was fully booked—she was right, I was really good at it.
Who inspired you?
I have a lot of people that have inspired me. Trish, of course, but there have been so many people since then, and even before.
My maternal grandmother is one person whose work ethic continues to inspire me, 20 years after her passing. She started working at the age of six (it was legal back then) and she worked up to two weeks before she died, not because she had to but because she loved it. She started our family business with my grandfather before my mom was born and ran it on her own for decades after my grandfather died. I never heard her complain and I never saw her lose her calm. When I am having fears or thoughts about what I am capable of, I do think of my grandma and it [gives me] a little more strength.
I also find a great deal of inspiration from my clients. I have been blessed to work with really extraordinary people: people that have lived their dreams, achieved great feats and have overcome life's obstacles. One in particular, Sandy [name changed for privacy], has been a continued source of inspiration for me. Sandy sustained severe brain damage after being in a car crash in her youth. Consequently, she lost most of the use of her left side of her body, as well as sustaining severe eye damage. More than 20 years after the accident, Sandy continues to defy all of this. She walks with very little assistance, graduated from high school, held a part-time job and has a steady boyfriend. Whenever she comes to her lessons with me, despite the progress being slow, she always comes with a positive attitude and does not give up. When I hit lulls in my own workouts, I think of her, and it makes me dig a little deeper to go the extra inch, step or mile.
I also draw inspiration from mentors and teachers. I look for people to take on in these roles that inspire me to not only be a great trainer, coach and entrepreneur, but to be a person of integrity and compassion. Outside of my immediate sphere, I look to people that live their lives in a way that I admire, [even for] one specific quality. For example, when I don't feel like getting up early and meditating I think about the Dalai Lama. He is reported to wake every day at 3 a.m. to meditate for four hours. I may not do four hours, but I do have the inspiration to do at least 20 minutes.
Where should women seek inspiration?
The choice of who should inspire us is personal—what speaks to me may not be what speaks to you. Although, I would caution to look for people that are living healthy lives and doing positive things.
As it pertains to fitness and body types, I recommend choosing people that are realistic. If you are 40 years old, don't chose the 22-year-old-contortionist on Instagram to be your body inspiration. Age and genetics are against you with this choice.
I have recently been collecting visuals of older women, much older than myself. I started with asking myself, "Who do you want to be?" I want to be the grandma that still plays with her grandbabies. I want to dance. I want to be able to do king pigeon on my 80th birthday. I want to be an inspiration to younger women. I want to feel joy and excitement in my heart. I want my eyes to dance with interest and mischief.
I have been choosing women that represent who and how I want to be for my future. Specifically, there is a woman in one of my yoga classes. She in her early 90's hanging with the rest of us, handstands and all. I am nowhere close to 90, but the choices I make today will have me be more or less like her when I am.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
The advice I think that was the most influential to me was something my dad repeated to me many times: "Juliet there are eyes in the back of your head, use them." He did mean this in part, the way most people do, to stay alert to what's coming up behind you. But he also meant it to inspire me to look from more perspectives than to what I am accustomed. This notion gave me the insight throughout life to think myself out of negative situations, and to create new opportunities. It also taught me empathy, as I began to understand that he also meant I should look at life through other people's eyes. If I can look at life through your eyes I can consider your circumstances and that your point of view does not seem foreign. Dad's simple words repeated and discussed throughout my life have made a huge impact in how I live, and how I treat others.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be an inspiration to others?
You already are!
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