Chelsea Aguiar is the founder of Athaya Fitness Sports Performance in New York City. Her love for physicality and athleticism began at the National Dance Institute of New Mexico where she studied Ballet, Jazz, Tap, and Modern dance for 13 years. Before graduating high school, she performed on stages around the country including City Center in New York and the White House.
In 2009 Chelsea had to have reconstructive hip surgery and was told her life as a dancer was over. In our interview, Chelsea tells us how what started off as one of the most devastating experiences of her life turned out to be the most transformative. Now she's using her past experiences to live her best life and help others do the same.
Fashletics: What were some of the physical and mental struggles that you dealt with after your hip surgery, and how did you overcome them?
Chelsea: Recovery from surgery or any serious injury can be incredibly emotionally taxing. I was 19 when my hips started to hurt so severely that I could barely walk up stairs, and had difficulty sitting and standing. I finally made an appointment to meet with an orthopedist and in our first meeting he told me, “If you continue to dance after this surgery, you will most likely need a hip replacement in your 30s.” In May of 2009, I had a complete hip reconstruction on my left hip, and my life changed forever.
After my surgery, I spent 5 weeks in a brace that wrapped around my ribs and came down to my knee. I walked with forearm crutches (think “Tiny Tim”) and had to spend 8 hours a day with my leg in a CPM machine that would slowly bend and straighten it. One day while at home alone I fell trying to get off the couch and spent the next hour crying on my living room floor. If it sounds pathetic, it was.
I had never felt so defeated and let down by my own body. I went on a funk food bender, gained 30lbs, and felt like my world was ending.
Movement was (and continues to be) my meditation and prayer, while the dance studio was my church. It was where I went to process life, to find comfort, to grow, to express myself without filters, and learn about who I was. I no longer had that physical and emotional outlet that had become such a vital part of my life. It wasn’t until my aunt and mother dragged me to a Kettlebell class that I found something new and equally as powerful. It was then that I was introduced to strength training. I started taking class 3 days a week, made healthy adjustments to my diet, and watched as my body and outlook began to change drastically.
In 3 months, I lost 25lbs and progressed from swinging an 8 kilo (17lbs) Kettlebell to a 24 kilo (53lb) with ease. I witnessed my body grow stronger every week and watched others within the community completely change their lives. Strength training gave me power!
I knew that if I showed up and gave 100% effort – whatever that may be in the moment - I would be able to accomplish any goal I set for myself.
I am forever thankful for that period of my life. It not only helped me physically recover, but led me to my current career which I am happy to say, I love.
F: Why do you think strength training is so important for women?
C: Strength training and regular exercise are essential to improving and maintaining physical health, especially for women. Here are a few key reasons why.
- It is estimated that 200 million women a year worldwide suffer from osteoporosis – 1 in 3 women over 50 will experience an osteoporotic fracture. Moderate to high-intensity strength training can improve bone density by 3-6% in 6 months! The most highly prescribed osteoporosis medications can only boast a 4-8% increase in 3 years.
- Another 200 million women worldwide suffer from diabetes – Women with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease, blindness, and depression. Strength training improves how the body uses blood sugar and reacts to insulin. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with Type 2 Diabetes adopt a strength training routine to manage blood sugar.
- About 1 in every 8 women will develop clinical depression in their lifetime – women experience depression at twice the rate of men. Regular exercise has been proven to improve self-esteem and overall happiness levels in individuals with clinical depression at a greater rate than medication or therapy alone.
F: Do you find that women resist strength training because they are afraid of “bulking up”?
C: Unfortunately yes, this ridiculous stigma is alive and well. For centuries women have been discouraged from being physically strong. Men, and eventually media have convinced us that physical strength and muscles are unattractive and not feminine. Celebrity trainers and fitness “gurus” make millions of dollars a year off of this fear, and preach that the key to a long lean physique is a set 3lb dumbbells, some glute bridges, and detox tea. From a practical and scientific standpoint, this makes absolutely no sense.
F: How do you help women get past the false stigma associated with strength training?
C: The truth is there is not one single style of strength training that will suit everyone’s personality and lifestyle. We are individuals with unique bodies and preferences. I believe for any exercise program to be effective there has to be some element of fun or enjoyment. That being said, I believe it is important that we encourage women to explore and find a fitness modality what works best for them. We provide them with factual information about fat loss, and muscle development, and above all, we must preach to our young girls the importance of self-love, self-respect, and being unapologetically who we are.
F: What sets the Athaya fitness method apart from other training programs?
C: The Athaya Fitness method is dedicated to helping clients improve their health, confidence, and overall wellbeing in a sustainable fashion. It is our belief that physical strength is key in maintaining a healthy, injury free level of fitness, and should be the foundation of any weight loss or training program. We incorporate a combination of modern mobilization techniques, innovative strength and conditioning, and holistic wellness coaching into every personalized program.
F: Looking ahead to your Strive for Strength retreat – what can a participant expect to get from this experience?
C: You can expect a fitness vacation you’ll never forget! We’ll push ourselves outside our comfort zones through strength, and HIIT-inspired circuit training, a morning surf lesson, and zip-lining through the jungle. Our evenings will be dedicated to mobility and trigger point workshops, stability training, stretching, and core work. Together we’ll challenge the body, quiet the mind, and feed our adventurous spirits!
F: What are your current personal health and fitness goals?
C: This year I am gearing up to begin training for my first sprint triathlon (.5 mile swim, 12.5 mile bike, 3 mile run). I hope to be ready for the Chicago Tri at the end of September, 2017. I have spent the last 3 years training in Olympic Weightlifting and am eager to try something outside my comfort zone.
F: What are some tactics that you use to keep yourself on track with your goals?
C: I do my best to set goals that are vitally important to me, I work at them a little every day and I do my best to stay inspired. Reading an inspirational book, or listening to a podcast can provide daily reminders of why. If your why is strong enough, the how won’t feel so difficult.
F: Lastly, as our Fashlete of the Month, you will receive a customized charm with the words of your choice. What would you like your charm to say and why?
C: Strong is beautiful…. What more do I say? ;-)
Interested in taking the fitness vacation of a lifetime with Chelsea as your trainer? Check out the Strive for Strength Fitness Retreat in Costa Rica!