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My Transformation During a Global Pandemic

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My Transformation During a Global Pandemic

My Transformation During a Global Pandemic

A Year I Will Never Forget

By Maria Valley

 “You will never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”

– Cayla Mills


From a young age, my weight was constantly fluctuating up and down. I’d find a diet/fitness program, follow it to the tee, and lose some weight, but every time without fail, I would gain the weight back again because I didn’t commit to a lifestyle change. I didn’t have a plan or the proper support, guidance, and accountability to lose the weight and keep it off. I would let whatever was going on in my life at the time affect what I would eat.

As a single mother at a young age, much of my life has been focused on being a mom, working hard to provide for my daughter’s needs, and less about caring for myself. I had effectively put my own well-being on the back burner for years and developed an unhealthy relationship with food in the process. 

In the year leading up to joining Farrell’s, I found myself wrestling with growing emotional and physical pain. At that point, I had lived in Minnesota for four years, but I didn’t feel like I belonged here, and making friends was difficult. I had truly hit an all-time low, so I turned to food. I would eat until I felt sick. A normal dinner involved sitting on the couch, polishing off entire pizzas and pints of ice cream. I started packing on weight until it had crept up to the heaviest I’d ever been, 287 pounds! I began noticing my overall health decline. My mental health was suffering, and I started having issues with acid reflux and difficulty sleeping. Simple activities like walking became increasingly tough for me to do without pain.

It wasn’t until a friend shared a picture of me at the hair salon that realized I desperately needed to change. I saw myself and couldn’t recognize the person I’d become in that picture. I could barely fit in the salon chair, and it was clear that I wasn’t happy. 


Enough was enough. That photo sparked a fire within me, and I was done putting myself last. With my daughter becoming a senior in high school and approaching adult life, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to start focusing on myself and what I wanted to achieve in my life. I wanted to do activities I had been unable to do since I was young, like riding a horse and kayaking. I wanted to try new activities I would have never tried because I was too heavy. I wanted to have a body I could be proud of, and that I felt comfortable in. 

Two weeks later, in June of 2019, I joined Farrell’s before the summer 10-Week Challenge. My first workout was at a 9 AM class on a Friday, and upon arrival, I instantly felt welcomed and accepted by everyone there. Everyone was so friendly! Just getting to the studio for my first kickboxing workout was half the battle for me. I was so embarrassed by how out of shape I had become. When I got there, my unease was settled, because the manager worked with me every step of the way - how to put wraps on, how to kick/punch (and actually hit the bag). Everyone was cheering me on, which made me feel welcomed and empowered to believe that I could actually do this. 


On July 11, 2019, I stepped on the InBody scale for the first time. I was already seven pounds down from when I started in June. I went to orientation and did my first testing – measurements, sit-ups/push-ups, sit and reach, mile run, our F.I.T. Community Leader at Farrell’s, Cindi Nikituk, spoke to us about nutrition. This whole experience really kicked it off for me. I was excited about the program, and what was possible over the next 10 weeks. 

Being supplied weekly meal plans and grocery lists gave me the tools that I needed for success so I could focus on actually sticking to the plan. I made this Challenge my top priority. I followed the meal plan weekly, had perfect attendance, even doubling on some days, and went on lots of walks throughout the 10 weeks. At the end of the 10-Week Challenge, I had increased my sit-ups and push-ups, shaved off time on my mile run, lost over 30 pounds of body fat and 26 inches, and won the $1,000 prize!  

The program at Farrell’s works. You just have to follow it. 


When the 10-Week Challenge finished I knew I wasn’t done; I was just getting started on my weight loss journey. I decided that joining Farrell’s $10,000 National Challenge would give me the right motivation to keep moving forward with my progress. I had nothing to lose after all (but the fat!).  


On January 2, 2020, one of Farrell’s instructors asked us to reflect during a plank by picking ONE WORD to set our intentions for 2020, as an anchor to remind us of WHO WE want to become. I chose the word, perseverance. Little did I know what 2020 would bring and how important that word would be for me. 


“Patience child, patience. Remember, life is a journey. If you got everything you wanted all at once there’d be no point to living. Enjoy the ride, and in the end, you’ll see these “setbacks” as giant leaps forward, only you couldn’t see the bigger picture in the moment. Remain calm, all is within reach; all you have to do is show up every day, stay true to your path and you will surely find the treasure you seek.”

-Jackson Kiddard 

On March 5, 2020, I returned to my desk after a meeting around lunchtime when it was suddenly announced we had to pack up our computers and go home, that we’d be working remotely indefinitely. The news had been stirring about COVID-19, but it was at that very moment in time when it became real for me. It wasn’t much longer, and we’d find ourselves under a stay-at-home order issued by our state governor, and several businesses had to close, including the Farrell’s studios. It felt like a huge setback, and I worried that my dedication to my weight loss journey would suffer. So, instead of allowing that to happen, I adapted and set up my own mini home gym and incorporated running into my workout routine. A couple of months later I would find myself furloughed from my job with an unknown return date. While this was devastating to me at the time, I took it as an opportunity to use that time to focus on my transformation.  

Even the strongest people, with the most determined and competitive mindsets, need accountability. Accountability comes in many forms, but when you’re working towards such a big goal, having accountability keeps you honest and moving forward. During the pandemic, I needed accountability more than ever. 

With the closure of the studios, I knew that I needed accountability more than ever before. What this meant for me was having weekly check-ins with the owner, Cindi Nikituk, and a plan. To keep me accountable and working towards my goal, I had weekly weigh-ins and 1:1s with her. We put a plan together which included meal planning, meal prepping, weekly weigh-ins, and discussions about nutrition and workouts – what was and wasn’t working and set goals for each week.  


My sister and my daughter have been there since the beginning, always supporting me on my journey. Instead of making plans around food, we focused on outdoor activities like hiking, swimming, and kayaking. They were both very supportive of my new food choices, with my sister often stealing my recipes! 


Over the course of this year, I have developed many friendships with members of the Farrell’s studio. I am so grateful for these friendships, and for all the support and love they’ve brought into my life. My Farrell’s friends have given me something I was missing in my life and brought a lot of joy and happiness back into it. 


I didn’t realize how bad I felt before Farrell’s until I started feeling better. I sleep soundly now, the acid reflux has gone away, and I can walk for hours without pain. I have so much more energy, and activities that were previously difficult have become a lot easier. I went from finding it tough to go on walks, to being able to hold full conversations while running for miles. I noticed a shift in my mindset too as I shed the weight. I began to focus more on taking care of myself. I found beauty within and realized that I was worthy of being pampered. I actually like trying on clothes now. My confidence level has skyrocketed, and I love the person I’ve become. 


September 19, 2020, 6 AM - Final Testing Mile-Run for the National Challenge

Finished with my fastest mile ever, 7:12

In just a year, I lost over 120 pounds and 32.3% body fat. I am now at 17.3% body fat! My visceral fat is down to a level 5 from a level above 20. Before joining Farrell’s, I weighed 287 pounds, wore a plus size 22/24 pants, and 3X tops. I now weigh 160 pounds and shop for size 4 pants and XS/S tops!

This year I met these personal goals:

  • Ran a 5k/10k/10-miler
  • Ran a 7-minute mile
  • Lifted my body weight for squats/deadlifts (that’s two 80-lb dumbbells!)
  • Kicked a bag over
  • Wore a crop top for the first time
  • Wore a bikini to the beach
  • Went kayaking and could pull myself out of the boat
  • Met weight loss milestones of 50 lb., 75 lb., 100 lb., 125 lb. 


Can’t Stop. Won’t Stop.  

Being capable of achieving what I set my mind to is empowering. In the past, I had a lot of self-doubt about achieving goals, but with the unconditional support and guidance of the Farrell’s community, friends, family, coaches, instructors, and the owner, Cindi, I achieved my goal. Farrell’s is more than a gym to me, it’s my Farrell’s family. I’ve found a place where I fit in, a place where there’s no judgment, and I’m surrounded by strong and powerful people with unique stories of their own. You look around and you see the hard work everyone puts in and it’s hard not to feel inspired. 

I am now a kickboxer, weightlifter, and runner. 

I’ve grown a new passion and love for fitness and living Life at Level 10. I came into Farrell’s not knowing a thing about kickboxing or strength training and now I’m challenging myself to push harder, to lift more, because I can! There is a certain energy and comradery you experience during a Farrell’s group fitness class that I have never experienced elsewhere.

This is just the beginning of living a new healthy lifestyle. I now have more tools in my belt to keep the weight off. I actually believe I can achieve my goals now, and nothing is stopping me. I am saying yes to the things I would have never said yes to in the past, and I am no longer putting myself last. I believe I’ve been given a second chance to live my life to its fullest, and I’m excited to tackle new challenges and experiences that never would have been possible if I hadn’t joined Farrell’s.

 I am FXB strong. 🏆

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