“You can’t have a testimony without first having a test.”
*Produced by Leapworks Production.
When Nia Kelley, a successful software developer and systems analyst from Texas was only 36-years-old, she faced the biggest test of her life, a stroke. The former fitness instructor and one time bodybuilder woke up in a hospital bed to learn that she could no longer produce sounds or words, could not see out of her right eye and could not feel anything on the right side of her body. Yet she decided to remain positive and concentrate on her recovery. After several weeks in rehabilitation focusing on speech and physical therapy, she signed up for The Flywheel Challenge. Since then, she hasn’t looked back. Nia recently celebrated her 100th ride at Flywheel and she is living proof that you can overcome any obstacle as long as you don’t give up. She is an integral member of the Flywheel community in Plano and was recently the first rider inducted into the FLY Hall of Change. Watch Nia’s video above and read her full story here:
I have been heavily involved in the fitness industry ever since 1998. I began teaching step, hi-lo, circuit training and kickboxing when I was in college at the University of Maryland, and continued on beyond graduation. Post-college, I moved to Texas, started my IT career at IBM in Austin, and was a part-time fitness instructor at a local gym. In the following years, I integrated kettle bells and metabolic conditioning to my training routine – I even participated in figure and bodybuilding competitions along the way. In 2003, I found my true fitness passion when I started teaching indoor cycling at Gold’s Gym. That’s when I felt alive! I dubbed the cycling studio the “magic room” because I witnessed “magical moments” while teaching there. It was also in this room that I started having dreams of opening an indoor cycling studio, much like Flywheel.
In 2007, I experienced a major physical setback. I had gained a tremendous amount weight – 40 pounds in just three months – mostly attributed to stress. Two years later, I was later diagnosed with pre-diabetes, which accelerated my downward spiral towards anxiety, depression, hormonal imbalances, adrenal exhaustion, and chronic stress.
In 2012, I suffered another stress-induced adrenal crash, a dip into the true blood sugar range of diabetes, and another 40 pounds of unexplained, rapid weight gain. There were days when I would look into the mirror and simply did not recognize the person staring back at me. I lost my smile, my joy, and my spark. I felt completely hopeless and helpless. There were times when I gave up, when I felt like I was never going to regain my energy, strength, or athleticism. I felt defeated. I lost my self-confidence, my self-esteem, and I stopped believing in myself. Needless to say, many, many tears have been shed throughout this journey.
Despite these setbacks, I refused to quit completely. I began working towards improving my physical and mental state. In 2014, through hard work and dieting, I lost 50 pounds and was taken off my pre-diabetes medication. I even had dreams of competing again on the bodybuilding stage! I was well on my way to recovery, so I thought.
On Tuesday, July 22, 2014, (coincidentally my mother’s birthday), I went to bed as usual. I woke up a day and a half later in the emergency room and found out from my boyfriend Jay (a.k.a. my soulmate) that I had suffered a stroke in my sleep. I was 36-years-old. I didn’t even know what a stroke was! My first thought was “Will I be able to work out again?!” I spent the following four days in the hospital and in that time, the doctors explained exactly what had happened to me as a result of my stroke:
- I had aphasia and apraxia, which means I could not talk or produce sounds or words
- I lost sight in my right eye
- I couldn’t feel on the right side of my body; My right arm and leg were completely numb
- I could not type or hold a pen to write
- The right side of my mouth had a visible droop
- I have scar tissue on 1/3 of my brain
Since I didn’t know when I would be back at work, I made the decision to only focus on my recovery and put the rest in God’s hands. I vowed not to get depressed. I entered a rehabilitation program the week after my stroke; focusing on speech, physical, and occupational therapy. I attend the program five days a week for eight hours a day.
Between my hospital stay and all of the medication, I found myself at an uncomfortable weight, but still, I was so grateful to be alive! I realized that despite everything that had happened, I was incredibly lucky. I couldn’t talk, but I could work out, walk without assistance, and had even regained my eyesight. I was making sounds and was working hard in therapy every day.
Flywheel Plano felt like fate. I was discouraged about my weight after the stroke, but lucky for me, I received an email for the first Flywheel Challenge, from Oct 27 – Nov 22, 2014. I had only been to the Plano studio once, back when it first opened. I loved the studio, but I was traveling so much for work that I couldn’t attend classes regularly. Now I had no excuses – I was determined to take on the Challenge! Once I received clearance from my doctor to participate, I signed up. I would take four Flywheel classes a week for four weeks. My boyfriend was is in full support; after all, he needed to drive me to class!
I was nervous at first, but I realized that we all have to start from somewhere. I was incredibly anxious about my speech. I had butterflies in my stomach because I was afraid that someone would talk to me. Then, I met my Flywheel Challenge coach, Thomas Renner, and the Flywheel Club Manager, Jess Christensen. I managed to let them know what happened to me (even after 10 minutes of telling my story), and they were so hospitable and gracious. I even told Thomas that I used to teach Spinning®, and I wanted to compete in a bodybuilding competition again. Thomas told me that I could do it, and he said, “We will get you where you want to be.” To this day, those words resonate inside of me.
After completing the Flywheel Challenge, I am still going to Flywheel four to five times a week. I even wrote a letter to Thomas, thanking him for his inspiration throughout the challenge. It took me three weeks to write by hand, but I wanted to share my feelings with him. In the letter, I shared that for the first time during my recovery, I felt normal! Despite the numbness in my right arm and foot, when I am on the bike, I am able to set it all aside, and unleash my passion for a physical challenge.
The past several months have really been truly transformational. I have not only lost weight and inches, but I was recently cleared to lift weights, drive, and fly. I still have a ways to go, but it is consistent progress and I refuse to stop here!
I have to take a moment to thank the Flywheel Plano staff for all of their prayers, words of encouragement, and support. I am so blessed to have so many wonderful friends who helped me through these difficult times, and many hearts that simply loved.
My boyfriend once told me that “you cannot have a testimony without first having a test.” Well, over the past few years, my faith and emotional strength have been tested more than once. My testimony is that you can overcome ANY obstacle as long as you don’t give up and you keep pressing forward. My heart and outlook are once again positive, and I feel like I am finally myself again. I feel strong – mentally, physically, and emotionally.
In conclusion, I want to share that my name, “Nia” means “purpose.” I now realize that my purpose for going through all of this was to emerge stronger and to share my story and experience with others. I realize now that I needed to go through these experiences. This is my destiny.
*Produced by Leapworks Production
Click here to learn more about the FLY Hall of Change program.
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