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Carmen Rasmusen Herbert
Darlene Rainey, Carmen Herbert's grandmother, is shown getting her head shaved as she undergoes chemotherapy for cancer.

Working out makes me cry.

I wish I were kidding, because it can be kind of embarrassing when it’s not in a class where it’s “acceptable” (e.g., yoga) but I can’t help it. I don't know exactly what happens with my hormones — I’m sure someone smarter than me could explain the science behind it — but during the first few minutes I usually get angry, then sad, then hopeless, and THEN after about a half hour I start to feel OK, and by the end of an hourlong workout I feel great. Exhausted, but great. Because of this emotional roller coaster, working out at home by myself usually doesn’t happen. I have a hard time pushing myself when I’m alone. I like having other people with me when I’m facing hard things.

A small gym recently opened a mile from where I live. There was a “first time free” trial class offered, and I decided to go with some friends, just to see how it was.

It’s been four months and I’m hooked.

Tanya Rasmussen (no relation, although I wish I could claim her!) started Evolve Fitness, an all-women workout facility because she wanted to create a safe place where women of all walks and stages of life could come to sweat, laugh (and in my case, sometimes cry) without feeling a sense of competition or judgment. There is a class for everyone including high fitness, yoga, high intensity interval training or HIIT, PiYo (a combination of pilates and yoga), body sculpt, hip-hop, ballet influenced barre, boot camp and circuit. What you won't get is a feeling of being out of place or not good enough, no matter what your current level of physical activity is.

“I’ve been to several large gyms in the area and even though I enjoy exercise and do it often, I would sometimes show up and think, ‘do I really belong here?’ or feel like I was being judged,” she said.

Rasmussen wanted to create an environment where girls could rely on each other and become friends, a place where we could encourage each other and cheer each other on.

“In a big gym where there’s thousands of men and women members, you don’t always see the same people. It’s hard to feel a sense of community,” she said.

The little community Rasmussen has created has helped me immensely. I feel both supported and challenged by the incredible instructors and other women there who are fighting for it, just like me. During that one hour of the day when I’m being yelled at to smile, or to try a little harder, to believe I’m stronger than I think I am, I feel like I’m fueling my body and soul for whatever else the day throws at me. Leaving there each morning, I feel like I can do hard things.

My beautiful Grandma Darlene was recently diagnosed with cancer. Of course, we all broke down once we heard the news. I have had dear friends and family members battle this beast, and it’s not something I wanted to watch my grandma — my mother’s mother and one of my best friends and biggest supporters — go through.

But through it all, she has been so calm. From getting the diagnosis to starting chemo, she just keeps saying, “I can do it.”

A few days ago, she went in to a hairdresser to have her head shaved as she continues with chemotherapy. My mom sent me a picture of her sitting in the chair with pink lipstick on, smiling. I can’t quite describe the look on her face but it was something like a warrior spirit with a completely trusting heart. I have never seen her look so strong.

“It didn’t change me, having my head shaved,” my grandma said. “I am still me. The thought came to my mind, ‘Let go. Let God.’ That’s what I’ve tried to do. It is not in my hands. And I’m OK with it. I’m grateful for each day. I’m OK with however this goes. I’ve felt a peace of mind, handing this over to God, and that’s the most important thing in the world.”

I can't make sense of a lot of things in life. One day it's a brilliant sunrise warming my heart, and the next I'm staring into a dreary grey sky with cold seeping into every bone in my body. What keeps me going, is the going itself. Going out. Going strong. Going to God. I truly feel I strengthen my spirit when I strengthen my body. They are connected. They work together. If one can do it, the other can, too.

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I wore my “5 for the Fight” cancer shirt in honor of my grandma at a fitness class recently, and felt her fighting spirit with me the whole time. She is my example, someone I look to when I think whatever physical or mental demons I’m facing are too much. Because if she can do it, so can I.

“I think women are so strong,” Tanya Rasmussen said. “And when we are all together and we all feel comfortable to really be who we are and not be afraid of judgment, then we push ourselves harder, we work harder, we support each other, and we do amazing things.”