PUTTING MIND over mat­ter

New Zealand Fitness - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Valen Van Zyl

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

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