Jody Calitz has done it all, from teaching aerobics classes, running marathons and cycling the Trans-Baviaans, to dancing professionally and becoming an international professional bikini athlete. Jody was on top of the world – physically and mentally, until she came face to face with a mental illness. Here is her #StrongWomen story…
Tell us more about your fitness journey
I don’t think there is enough space to type out my whole story, but my fitness journey actually started when I was 14, had just moved to Sedgefield, and started doing “aerobic” classes on a squash court with a group of women who some were more that 4x my age, but it was awesome; they were there to get/stay fit, they had energy, they were friendly and they were accepting of everyone, no matter size and shape.
Over the 18 years that has followed those humble beginnings, I can say with confidence that I have pretty much seen and tried it all when it comes to diet and fitness. I studied hard to get all my qualifications to become a Nutrition and Fitness Specialist but in all honesty, what life has taught me in experience can never be learned or bought – you just got to get out there, dive (fall) into the deep end and teach yourself how to swim.
I got into Bikini Fitness Competing in 2010 and did my first show in 2011. Wow, what a wake up call. I knew no-one and I had no idea how any of it worked or what I was doing. Over the 5 years that followed, I taught myself everything I needed to know about competing, from how to apply my own tan (yes, including my back) to how to make my own bikinis and gowns (because I couldn’t afford to have them made). My dream was to step on stage as a pro-athlete, compete at a world event and place in the top 10 and in 2015, I realised that dream. If was confirmation that with hard work, dedication and faith in myself, it can happen.
I have been known as someone who gets out there and gets things done, but in 2016, I experienced a different kind of physical and mental challenge. It was an acute anxiety disorder. Many times with such an illness comes CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). It is a frightening experience that I find hard to describe. For someone who could push out 90 minutes of HIIT training 6 days a week to walking up one flight of stairs and feeling absolutely exhausted, it was huge wake-up call. I used to sleep 5 hours a night and jump out of bed at 4am to get to my clients, but now there are days where my body requires 10 hours of sleep and 8am is considered early. This forced me to reevaluate my life, not just physically but mentally as well. Since I physically couldn’t exercise at the level I used to, I turned to one of my passions that I have been practicing on and off since 2004 – yoga.
I started off doing 10min a day of what I could manage. I also brought in the spiritual and emotional side of yoga through meditation, because I knew it was there that I needed the most strength. I have never been this dedicated to my yoga than in these last 5 months. Physical strength is one thing, but mental strength is a completely different ball-game, especially when there is no “end goal” or final race to complete to let you know that you have achieved it! In all honesty I never really understood anxiety until I went through it myself. This has forced to define the word “strong” on a completely different level.
Nothing happens over night. Well for some, there is that blessing, but for most, there is an incredible journey that got them there. Consistency, dedication and putting yourself out there, regardless of whether you will fail or succeed. This will give you the experience, strength and courage you need to take the next step.
I have gone from obsessing over every little thing I use to eat to embracing food as my best friend and enjoying each moment I have with it. I have changed from someone who drilled out insane training sessions religiously everyday (and loved it) to a women who will just lay on her yoga mat and breathe and know it’s enough if that is all her body is asking for.
There was no “right or wrong” but rather a journey I had to go through in order to get where I am today.
What were your challenges and triumphs during your journey?
I went through two eating disorders during my teens / early 20’s which was one of the most challenging times of my life. I got through it and it has given me the tools and experience I need to help other young women.
Another big challenge for me was breaking the social stigma around being vegan and competing on an international level. The whole “where do you get your protein from” and “how do you build muscle” is probably the two questions on repeat every time I have spoken to anyone about veganism in a health & fitness context. For me, it’s not trying to convince someone how, but rather to live my truth and show them how. Inspire them how they can go about a goal in many different ways. My biggest motivation to overcome this challenge was to rather encourage women who wanted to compete, that there is a healthy way to do it, that they don’t have to hurt or damage their bodies in the process and that they can step away from the experiences strong and empowered instead of broken and powerless.
What does being strong mean to you?
Being strong is about achieving your dreams without compromising your own values and morals. That is one of the hardest things nowadays for women, regardless of what industry you are in. There is just so much pressure to change who we are instead of embracing all we are and becoming the best versions of ourselves. The physical strength needed to overcome huge obstacles is hard but the biggest strength that is needed is the emotional and mental strength. Never forget who you are or why you started your journey in the first place, but most importantly, never change who you are. You are brilliant, beautiful and powerful as you are now, in this moment.
Who inspires you to be strong?
Hands down, my sister Diane Calitz. Not only does she kick ass at some crazy strong yoga poses, but she is an incredible mother, wife, business woman, step mom and sister. She has lived the equivalent of a 100 lives compared to the average person and has overcome many challenges that has required an immense amount of strength and courage. She has been there for me when I have needed strength and courage, and to give that to someone when you are struggling yourself – that is what I consider true strength!
What is your favourite #StrongWomen quote?
“A women who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet” – Mohadesa Najumi
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face” – Eleanor Roosevelt
“Strength lies in your heart, it’s a feeling that goes byond physical form” – Jody C