PUTTING MIND over matter
This is the moving story of 21-year-old VALEN VAN ZYL and how she turned her life around, from upside down and back, with fitness setting her off on the right track.
Igrew up in a small town called Putaruru, where I was brought up solely by my mother for most of my years. She wasn’t well-off, but she did as much as she could to make sure I was educated, fed, happy, and as successful as I could be. I was always a bit of a “goody-good” at school. I loved the books and did whatever I could to achieve high grades. In my last year of school, I was nominated a prefect and Lasallian Captain. Fitness and sport was never something I involved myself in. I had no interest in it and took no attention to the food I put in my body or how I treated it.
In my second to last year of high school, my life took quite a large turn in the wrong direction. I was the victim of rape as an aftermath of a bad party. My life was turned upside down, along with the life of my family and friends. I turned into a completely different person – almost as if someone had taken over my personality.
I lost myself and lived in a bit of a dark place. I became diagnosed with depression and anxiety and treated it by abusing alcohol, disrespecting myself (along with anyone else close to me), and letting it affect my once-successful studies in school. My life began to revolve around sleepless nights, putting myself down mentally and finding the “quick fixes” to make myself feel better. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house.
My mum did everything humanly possible to ensure that this event would never reoccur. I would have to lie, or make an excuse to spend the weekend partying and overdosing myself on considerable amounts of alcohol. This was the only way I could make myself feel better and rid myself of the feeling of worthlessness that began to overcome my life; even if just for a short while.
I slept in my mum’s bed for months on end. This was the only way I felt “safe” or secure when I woke up with the nightmares and flashbacks of “that night”. When I eventually moved back to my own bedroom, I’d go as far as keeping alcohol underneath my bed some nights, as it was my only means of relaxation and getting a decent sleep. I was in the worst mental state I could possibly be in. I felt ugly, I had no real reason of “being” as such.
I woke up, went to school, came home, slept. I felt like I had no real purpose. I wasn’t “living”. My spare time was spent with detectives, analysing my case and preparing to stand up in front of a court room full of people, where I spent two days reliving the nightmare in hope that a jury of people would believe my story.
A year later, the offender was prosecuted and things started to look up a little from there.
In my last years of school, I still managed to achieve NCEA Level Three with two certificates in Merit, and one in Excellence, helping me to gain a scholarship to two universities.
From there, I chose to study at the University of Waikato, pursuing my original passion of English and Writing. Not long into this new adventure, I met Shaun Steiner, who is my partner nearly two and a half years later. His life was (and still is) sport and gym, to which he introduced me. I originally used this as a way of trying to lose the weight gain that my alcohol abuse gave me, along with the automatic university weight that everyone somehow manages to put on! The more involved I became with this lifestyle, the happier I became.
My feelings of anxiety and depression started to decrease, along with my life of partying and alcohol abuse. For me, the gym became a place where no one really knew who I was, let alone what I’d been through.
Metaphorically, the weights became things that I was superior to, a feeling which I had never experienced, but it was an amazing feeling. I began to get some self-worth back and I had a distraction and means of therapy, along with a way of spending time with the person who shed no judgment on the life which I believed to be embarrassing. I felt like I was on the road to recovery.
At the end of 2013, I received a phone call, which turned my life upside down once again. My older half-brother rung to tell me that my father’s prostate cancer had become terminal and the time I got to spend with him was becoming limited. From this point in time, spending time with my father had to become a priority between my training, work and study. I slowly watched him lose movement, lose memory and the amount of quality time that I got to spend with him became limited.
In February 2014, I said goodbye to my dad on his hospital bed and my life became a bit of a slump again, as I had to accept the fact that he would no longer be around to celebrate my successes, my 21st, or to walk me down the aisle.
Following these events, my partner
decided to compete in his first bodybuilding show. It didn’t take me long to follow in his footsteps. My dad’s passing didn’t decrease my motivation at all for the gym or exercise. If anything, it enhanced it; as watching him lose his sense of mobility really made me realise how lucky I was to have that ability to exercise. People complain how training is hard work, but my dad helped me to see movement in a completely different perspective. I’m grateful that I can exercise and push my body to its limits.
I began to become hooked on training and bettering myself each day. I enjoyed getting stronger and the feeling of superiority became even more addictive than those unhealthy addictions used to be. I felt a feeling of importance, a reason of “being” again as such. I tracked all of my weight loss / muscle gain progress on social media (Facebook and Instagram). My story slowly came out along the way through various interviews and meeting different people. I claimed a second placing in my second bodybuilding show as a bikini competitor. My following and popularity began to grow and followers would turn to me for motivation, inspiration, or to ask questions about my journey. I realised I was becoming some sort of influence to people. People started looking to me thinking: “Wow, if she can do it, then so can I!” “If she can get through that, then surely I can better my life and become someone I thought I couldn’t.”
I have recently been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. With it being quite severe, my chances of having children and building a family are very very limited. Again, another negative dose of bad luck that I will have to overcome with my partner; but it will happen.
I am now a sponsored athlete (with the help of SportsFuel Hamilton, Nutrition Systems New Zealand, ProSupps United States and Social Envy) and in preparation for NZIFBB Nationals where I aim to better my previous package.
Now I take advantage of my following on social media, or through any way that people want to contact me (whether it be through social media or on the gym floor). I want to prove that no matter how hard the struggle, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can literally have a dream as crazy as mine (I’ve always hated any type of physical exercise and healthy food). It can be achieved. It really is mind over matter.
I still have my bad days, no doubt about it! But my mind is so well trained in overcoming the worst that life can possibly throw at you. Now, when a bad day approaches me, I may sit and mope about it for a small while, but really, haven’t I been through worse?
I’m not only healthier physically, but mentally, I now have a mindset where I know that I CAN get through anything.
Along with my goals of eventually becoming an NZIFBB Bikini Pro and some sort of noticeable figure in the health and fitness industry, my ultimate goal which will never ever change, is to be someone others can look to and say: “Because of you I didn’t give up.”
As the saying goes: “Fall down seven times; stand up eight.”
“I’m grateful that I can exercise and push my body to its limits.”
Valen Van Zyl . . . “I am now hooked on training.”
Second place at the ProAm 2015, NZIFBB bodybuilding competition. P H O T O : Ir o n P h o t g r a p h y