By Gail Robinson
You know the old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Well, Sara and Chris Ray have lived the truth of those words. They are low-key, unassuming, completely humble about their experiences and achievements…and they’re both totally badass. Talking to them revealed in an entirely new light that the work we do at Sweet Momentum only begins with the body. The much larger and more beautiful gift is how our hard, sweaty work with the body transforms our minds and spirits.
Sara and Chris have been together for seventeen years and married for fourteen. I wish I could capture in words the tone of voice and the subtle smiles they give each other when they talk about how long they’ve been married. Sara says, “For-EV-er.” Chris says, “Fourteen loooong years.”
This kind of humor infuses how they interact and how they shared their experiences with me. They don’t take themselves—or each other—too seriously. And yet, the series of events that ultimately brought them to Sweet Momentum were Serious with a capital “S.”
Sara said she was having a rough summer back in 2015, struggling with depression. She also explained, “I had reached a point where I didn’t remember what it was like to feel healthy. I had been inactive for so long that my body didn’t feel like mine anymore. I was disassociated from my own physical self. I also was not living in a body that reflected my inner self. Not in terms of appearance, but in terms of ability. I think of myself as a strong woman, but my body was not living up to that.”
And then, at the end of that summer, over Labor Day weekend, Chris went hiking and camping alone in the Three Sisters Wilderness. Being alone in the woods is a way for Chris to decompress; it’s his way to stay in touch with himself and stay balanced. But that weekend, Chris didn’t come home when he was supposed to and Sara called Search and Rescue. A couple out hiking found Chris out on the trail, severely dehydrated and not able to walk. Chris thinks it might have been a water-borne illness that made him so sick, but he doesn’t know for sure. What he does know is that one of the people who found him was a nurse and helped keep him alive until Search and Rescue was able to send a helicopter to airlift him out. Chris spent a week in the hospital and could barely walk for a month. He lost thirty pounds in two weeks, fighting the illness that wanted to take his life.
It wasn’t long after this traumatic event that their good friend Alisa Drumright won the 21-day challenge at Sweet Mo. Sara was inspired and decided to give it a try. She said, “I saw how much she loved it. After the challenge was over I knew that Sweet Mo was the only place I wanted to work out. It’s the only gym I’ve ever felt truly comfortable in. I attribute that to the awesome trainers and the diversity in the clients. I never feel like the weakest or most out of shape person in the room.”
Sara lost six inches during her 21-Day Challenge. But, she’s quick to say, “The change in how I feel mentally and emotionally is so much bigger than how I look.” Working out at Sweet Momentum lifted her depression, which has stayed at bay for nearly a year now. She says, “Maintaining a fitness routine not only helps me get back in touch with who I think I am, but it pushes me to be even stronger than I think I am. The positive effect on my mood is so important.”
While Chris recuperated from his near-death experience, he watched Sara get into shape. He says, “I was proud of Sara for getting into Sweet Momentum. There was an entire change in her demeanor and attitude and I was impressed she stuck with it. I was amazed at the progress she made not only physically, but in her mood and energy level.” Chris was inspired to give it a try and in February, he stepped up for the 21-Day Challenge.
“I will be honest,” Chris says of doing the Challenge. “It was very difficult for me physically. It was also difficult to admit to myself that it was hard because I had allowed myself to get into such bad shape. But the inclusive nature of Sweet Momentum helped me to overcome the challenges. I am on a journey to get into the best shape I can and this is my gym.”
Chris came within just tenths of a pound of winning his Challenge, but Omar Ramos managed to squeak out the victory. Chris groans and then smiles about Omar getting the win. But the big picture for Chris is that he’s won everything that matters. He’s dropped weight, gained back muscle and feels better than he did in his twenties. And then there was the moment when Luke complimented Chris on having muscular calves. That was a highlight, too!
Both Chris and Sara say that box planks have been a milestone exercise in their fitness journeys. Sara said, “My first real breakthrough came when I realized I could hold a box plank (my most dreaded of all planks) for the entire set. That was such a powerful motivator and concrete proof that my body was really changing.” And Chris said, “Box planks – At first, I couldn’t get my knees off the mat, but now I can hold them for the duration…mostly.”
Part of what I love about Sara and Chris is how they own their inclination toward a couch-loving lifestyle. As Sara says, “I’m the type of person who, if left to my own devices, will meander along on a treadmill for thirty minutes and feel like I worked out enough to go for beers and a cheeseburger! I’m always saying that I need constant supervision. To know that someone else is invested in my success, sometimes more than I am in the moment, is an amazing gift.”
I’m grateful to Sara and Chris for showing me so vividly that when life is tough and you’re not sure how to keep going, maybe you just have to step right into the middle of what is hardest and sweat through the tough stuff in the gym. And if you’re in the right gym—one that is inclusive, fun, hard, challenging, rewarding—transformation of all kinds are possible.