Posted on January 12, 2015 by Society Nine
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This is the fourth profile in our Society Nine Storytellers series where badass women in our community share their definitions of femininity, strength and empowerment and discuss what they fight for. Have a story to tell? Email us at email@example.com – tell us who you are, a little bit about your journey and what you fight for – in life and sport.
Society Nine is a brand for badass women, but what is a badass woman? I feel that I am one now, after years of struggling, on a good day. On bad days, I still struggle with finding balance. At first I was excited to write this blog; however, as I was thinking about how to tell my story, I found I felt inadequate to write this only because how can a badass woman tell you about her battle with shame and fear and still be badass? Being badass doesn’t mean you DON’T have fear or shame. Being badass is different for everyone. For me, being badass meant stopping myself from seeing fear and shame as inherently bad. And sometimes, this is a daily battle.
My battle towards becoming a badass woman, one who lives life on her terms, with the ability to continue on towards her dreams even when it became (or becomes) tough, came to be when “if only” met “what if.”
“If only.” These are two small, tiny words with such amazing powers to shape a life. These two words did shape mine, sadly; that shape was in the form of fear and shame and I became imprisoned and bitter by those two small words. The road to badass was long and winding and my constant companions were fear and shame cloaked in “if only.”
“If only,” spoken to me, about me and by me are my earliest memories. Some children have memories of a soft favorite blanket that brought them comfort. Oddly for me, the shame of not feeling that who I was, as I was, was worthy of a lot of things and the fear to try is the underlining memory of all my childhood and early teen years. It became my safety blanket. The odd comfort of this fear and shame followed me on for my 20’s and 30’s.
“If only” is debilitating; it prevented me from loving, having fun, believing in myself, and most importantly, going after what I wanted. I filled my head with thoughts such as like, “If only I was taller, if only I was smarter, if only I was thin and blond, if only I was funnier or stronger, or faster.”
Sadly, as I mentioned earlier, I wish I could say that “if only” were words spoken in my internal dialogue. It was not. For 38 years, “if only” was applied to me both externally and internally. Teacher to my parents: “Kori would be the smartest girl in the class, if only she applied herself. My parents to me: “You would be successful if only you just applied yourself. You would be pretty if only you lost 20 pounds. You would be married by now if only you weren’t so opinionated, outspoken, strong willed”.
“If only you were…” became my mantra for 38 years. I believed it, internalized it and became it.
Until June 13th, 2012. That’s when “if only” became “what if.”
I woke up on the morning of 6/13/12 from one of my many reconstructive surgeries from my double mastectomy. I will never forget the drug induced haze that had enveloped me when I turned to look around the room and was surprised to see my brother sitting there. I knew he was picking me up but I didn’t think they would bring him to the recovery room. They hadn’t brought anyone in before and I was getting used to my silly anesthesia ramblings. I always said, “The rain falls mainly in the plains of Spain” because it was a memory of my mom. I couldn’t bust out my traditional joke because as I looked at him, I realized that something was terribly wrong.
“It’s mom, she’s bad,” I said and I remember watching his eyes well up. My brother’s not a crier. He slowly nodded his head, his hands in the pockets of his oversized hoodie, his big green eyes looking at me with resentment that he was at my bedside instead of mom’s. I turned to the nurse and explained my mom was dying from breast cancer and that we had to leave.
That nurse deserved humanitarian of the year award. I was discharged faster than anyone should have ever been. My brother drove us to mom’s house faster than anyone should be allowed to drive.
I remember like it was yesterday, walking into my mother’s guest room turned hospice room and saying, “Mom, I’m here, we can recoup together,” and at that moment, she breathed her last breath.
I walked like a zombie. Grateful the pain meds from the surgery hadn’t passed yet but then hours turned to days. I delivered a eulogy without shedding a tear. I’ve been strong my whole life but never really knew it. But then, sadly, the days turned into weeks and I ended up on a long drive. My family thinks I haven’t been to mom’s grave. But I have.
I lay next to her grave a few weeks later. Me in my white dress lying on the mud asking her what I was supposed to do next.
That’s what I heard. What if. What if I started living life without fear and shame? What if I started going after what would make me happy? What if I just believed in trying my hardest? What if I walked away from things that didn’t make me happy and what if I started going after the things that did?
What if I believed that who I am was enough? What if there was no conditional statement? What if I simply tried?
Two months later, I did my first 5k obstacle race in honor of my mom. It about killed me. I distinctly remember that the physical pain was nothing compared to the pain of losing my mom.
So I ran. And I ran. And I continued to run. Like Forest Gump, I would get up early and go run. I would run 5k’s with my best friend. But it wasn’t giving me what I wanted.
What I wanted was the body that came from lifting weights. I’ve always wanted to have the muscle definition that came from bodybuilding.
The Iron Maiden.My mom, dad and I would joke about this title in high school. I took an elective gym class on body building and I wanted to be the strongest girl, thus The Iron Maiden title. But “if only” reared its ugly head and I stopped. I was a bigger girl and IF I did body building, I wouldn’t be feminine; I wouldn’t be happy because it wasn’t what girls did or how they should look. I could be a bodybuilder, if only I was naturally long and lean so as not to appear too manly. Who wants to date a short girl who is naturally thick, who is built more like a work-horse than a stallion?
During one of my runs on the treadmill, I stopped and picked up some dumbbells and used them. The small gym only had 5, 10 and 15 lb. weights and when I got strong enough to use the 15 pounds, I upgraded my gym. I was still hearing “if only” while I was at the new gym, until one day I said enough and got a trainer, Beth. When I approached Beth about being my trainer she asked what my goal was and she said, “Are you wanting to do a competition?” I laughed and said… IF ONLY. I told her that I just wanted to get in shape for my 40th birthday in Mexico.
While in Mexico, “what if” hit me hard. What if I did this, it’s what I always wanted. What if I believed in myself and tried? What if I just simply tried. What if I got a coach and a team? What if I gave it my all… So I did it. I started working with Danny from Beck Infinity Fitness and Derek from Team DreamQuest and 16 weeks later, I won two first place trophies in women’s physique. “What if” will stay with me forever. I qualified with the masters win to go for the IFBB pro card this summer. What if I try, what if I give it my all? What if I win? What if I don’t try? I’d rather live with failure of living my dream of being an Iron Maiden than live with the shame of “if only.” The part of being a badass that appeals to me is the fact that fear and shame are not permanently gone, but my desire to see myself to the end of my dreams is bigger than that shame and fear. I’m no longer afraid of falling or failing, only of not trying. And I’m no longer shameful of my thunder thighs. Kori DiStefano is a Medical Practice Administrator, mother of a rambunctious 3 year old, and a Team DreamQuest NPC Women’s Physique Competitor who will be competing in July for pro status in the International Federation of Body Building. She is passionate about acceptance in oneself and others. Embracing that life is too short to worry about the small things, she strives daily to find the balance of mind, body and spirit. After years of struggling with her own issues of self-acceptance, she hopes to help at least one person realize that who they are, exactly as they are, is more than enough. She hopes to inspire people to realize that it’s never too late to go after what they want in life, that stereotypes are meant to be broken and that the only thing you have control over is the amount of effort you put into any activity. Photos by Kori DiStefano