Denise Gee didn’t have a gym membership until a year and a half ago, when she left her job as a full-time in-house graphic designer to start her own business working freelance from home.
“I remember feeling so tired all the time, and I just didn’t understand why,” Gee recalls. “I couldn’t even think about going to the gym. I was just so tired and not in shape at all.”
Gee went to the doctor, who did some bloodwork and told her she was pre-diabetic. That, she says, was her wake-up call. Gee, who has a few diabetic family members, knew she didn’t want to take insulin three times a day and knew she had to start making fitness part of her lifestyle.
Gee’s sister brought her to 24 Hour Fitness for a free training day event on a Saturday. Twenty minutes into the 30-minute session, Gee had to quit. But she came back the following Monday because of her trainer.
“My trainer, Cody Jensen, was the one who brought me back the next day. He asked, ‘What are your goals?’ and I said, ‘I don’t really know. I don’t have goals. I just know that I’m not feeling well,’” Gee recalls.
Gee decided to commit to personal training for a month. “I think that having someone be at the gym waiting for you to show up is really important. It’s accountability,” she says.
Building a habit, instituting a lifestyle
Gee says her primary goal was to create a fitness habit that would continue even after her training sessions were over.
“There was the weight-loss goal and the body-fat-loss goal, so that was something to work toward. But I knew I wanted to enjoy everything I did. This is something I need to do for life,” she says.
The main priorities from a training perspective, Jensen says, were getting her blood sugar levels down and getting her comfortable in the gym. “It was getting her to come into the gym saying, ‘I belong here as much as anybody else,’” he says.
Gee wasn’t familiar with many of the gym’s machines and equipment. “But then I learned different workouts and I realized I love weights, and that’s something that I had never experienced,” she says.
The hardest part of her new routine, Gee admits, was getting to the gym. “The physical activity of getting dressed was the hardest,” she says. “I think I owned two pair of shorts. I didn’t own very many workout clothes.”
Today, Gee trains with Jensen twice a week. She also plans her own weightlifting workouts for another two days a week and fills in the rest with GX classes like BODYPUMP and cardio or outdoor activities.
Gee doesn’t see her story as inspirational, though many have told her so. “I don’t see myself that way, but I’m really flattered,” she admits. “The other day, I met a girl in BODYPUMP class, and she literally said to me, ‘You’re hashtag fit goals.’ And I was like, ‘What, me?’”
But she has definitely seen the changes taking place over the last two years. “I feel so energized,” she says. “I don’t even take naps anymore. And I’m eating healthy consistently.”
No longer pre-diabetic and 40 pounds down, Gee has found even her mindset has shifted in unexpected ways. “Sometimes I feel like, ‘Push me so it’s a hard workout,’ but sometimes in my head I’ll think, ‘I wish I added a push-up to that,’ and then I’m like I can’t believe that ran through my head,” Gee says, laughing.
And while the weight loss is a definite plus, Gee is most thankful for the opportunity to sweat, to have muscles, to grow muscles and to be in shape. “I’m just so thankful to my body for allowing me the opportunity to do these types of things,” she says.
Gee has seen fitness affect every aspect of her life, from her relationship with her boyfriend to her business. “I feel so confident and powerful.”
Jensen echoes this transformational shift: “Physically, she’s completely transformed herself, but in terms of her personality, her confidence, her love for fitness—she’s going above and beyond any homework I give her to explore her own fitness.”
Even Gee’s outlook on the future has shifted—she recognizes that her business and future depend on her keeping her health a priority.
“I thought about it: If I have to take insulin, that’s money, too. That’s health-care cost in the long term, so why not put that money to something where I can develop skills and nip it in the bud right now?” she says.
Next for Gee is a Spartan Race with the team at 24 Hour Fitness Mission Valley, including her trainer.
“If I were invited to a race a year ago, I would have said no way, and now I’m actually looking forward to it,” she says. “I feel so welcomed when I go to the gym because I’ve made friends with all the other trainers and the managers, and it’s just become a happy place for me. Before I felt like the gym was a place that I was scared to go to and I felt really intimidated, but they’re there to support you, and there’s nothing to be shy about. Wanting to work on your health and fitness—everyone is there to support you.”
So how does Gee find motivation to train when she’s just not feeling it?
“That’s where the discipline comes in,” she explains. “Sometimes in my head, I tell myself, ‘I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go.’ But I say that while I’m getting dressed and I laugh at myself because I’m like, ‘OK, well you can tell yourself that all you want, but just get dressed and go and it will be fine,’ and it usually is.”
She also has developed relationships with other gym-goers, who depend on her to show up for workouts and Group X classes.
“Other than that, I feel like it really is a promise you make to yourself. Just remind yourself that you’re lucky to give your body this opportunity for change. Be thankful,” Gee says.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Denise Gee