For Allison Dombroski of Philadelphia, it was recovery that first led her through the doors of Flywheel Bryn Mawr. And the results she’s seen have been nothing short of life changing… and life-saving. Read on for her inspiring story.
I’ve always been an athlete, playing tons of sports and viewing any sort of physical activity as my mental and emotional escape. But I constantly compared myself to my teammates and classmates. I always wanted to be the best and please everyone around me – which isn’t a bad thing, unless it gets extreme. And for me, it did. As an athlete, it was easy to use the excuse to over-exercise and “monitor” my caloric intake to perform better. Well, my mindset took me on a downhill spiral and, eventually, I developed anorexia.
For me, and so many others, the illness was an externalization of an internal feeling. I felt that I was never good enough. You can have the greatest family, friends and supporters (and I did), but it’s a constant battle with your own mind.
Finally, I sought help. After two years of ups and downs, hospitalizations and treatment programs, I finally physically recovered. One of my goals? Get back to playing field hockey. But it wasn’t easy. My treatment team realized that this was my biggest trigger, and set off feelings similar to the ones I had before treatment. I expected to be able to pick back up where I stopped, but after torturing my body for so long, I couldn’t. I was also convinced that I would never be able to find an exercise that didn’t reinforce what I spent so much time learning in recovery: that exercise is not punishment.
I went a full year without working out and, as a result, I was uncomfortable with my body and had zero confidence – in school, work, friendships, and relationships. At the time, one of my best friends worked at Flywheel in Bryn Mawr, and had been asking me to try it out for a while. She said that Flywheel was different and she knew I would like it. She also knew how unhappy I was feeling so unhealthy.
In January 2015, I joined my friend for not one, but two rides with Jordana and Yael. (Tip: First-timers should always give it two chances! My friend said that I had to get over the “first ride hump” before I could say whether or not I liked it.) I started with no muscle, low cardio ability, no strength, no energy and no confidence. I expected to walk out mad at myself and disappointed. Boy, was I wrong.
In class, I never felt discouraged or weak. Jordana and Yael have the best philosophy – one that I searched for an entire year. They say that working out shouldn’t just be about losing weight, but about feeling good. (As Yael said in my very first class: “We exercise not because we hate our bodies, but because we love them!”) Sure, I had heard this from eating disorder specialists, but most of the time I just rolled my eyes. It was so refreshing to hear it from a fit, healthy instructor.
Jordana builds up every climb with motivating words, and Yael always says “find a way in, not a way out”, which pushes me harder. I eventually felt secure with my journey, so I broke out of my instructor “comfort zone” and started taking classes with all of the instructors. And guess what? They all view exercise the same healthy way Yael and Jordana do.
After going to classes for six months, Flywheel has showed me that exercise isn’t just about looking good or beating the person next to you. Flywheel – and exercise in general – is about feeling good about yourself exactly as you are. It has shown me to appreciate my body as a vessel that allows me to move. I’ve never felt more confident in my life. And after a class, even though I’m physically exhausted, I feel as if I could take on any mental challenge. And most importantly, I’ve finally burst out of my recovery bubble, made friends at my new university, and I’m now strong enough to coach field hockey at The Shipley School in Pennsylvania.
I am so thankful for the entire team at Flywheel Bryn Mawr for helping me embrace my new life, new body and new mind.
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