Nikki Hehn’s story has it all: Hard-fought weight loss. Beating an eating disorder. And most importantly: Forging a new relationship with herself.
Meet her on a typical evening at CrossFit9, and Nikki’s quick smile and happy demeanor would have you guessing she’s always felt at home in a gym. But this 26-year-old St. Petersburg native says she desperately stumbled in and out of a fitness routine for a few years before finding CrossFit9.
“I stepped into a gym for the first time six years ago with the goal of losing weight after gaining about 75 lbs in two years.”
Like most people starting out, Nikki set out with the goal of morphing her body. But the focus on looks was simply not motivating enough to lead to long-term results.
“I stopped consistently going to a gym for a couple of years because I had fallen out of love with working out and knew that I was stepping into a gym as punishment.”
Nikki lived abroad for a stint, and when she came home from “drinking and eating” across Europe, she knew it was time for a major lifestyle change.
“I was in the middle of battling eating disorders and dealing with almost daily episodes of depression or anxiety. I was stuck in a toxic relationship, job, and habits that were completely draining me. I have struggled for years with not feeling good enough or living up to expectations, which was at the core of my eating disorders. I went to bed and woke up feeling like I wasn’t “enough,” or wasn’t accepted and appreciated for who I was.”
“Luckily, I found my home at CrossFit9 where there aren’t mirrors, workouts aren’t focused on burning calories to literally burn your lunch away, or lift weights to make your muscles bigger for aesthetic reasons.”
That’s not to say the shift was easy. Nikki says the first few months at CrossFit9 were difficult as she came out of her shell and let her old definitions of “fitness” fall away.
“I felt incredibly uncomfortable. I would look at the workout and google movements. I didn’t know how to utilize open gym, how to spend my free time working on movements, how to small talk with people, etc.
“Most people don’t know that I’m incredibly introverted. CrossFit9 was incredibly intimidating at first because I had to say ‘hi’ to all of these strangers, I was afraid to do open gym next to guys with 8 pack abs, and often had to pair up with other people to share a barbell during classes.”
Nikki says it took time, but she has begun to meet new people and extend herself socially, in the box and beyond!
“CrossFit9 truly pushed and allowed me –in my own time– to grow into myself by getting out of my comfort zone. I notice myself putting myself out there more in my workplace and personal relationships because I am more confident in myself.”
These days Nikki is a social butterfly, breezing through the gym saying hello to her classmates, encouraging other athletes, and easily chatting throughout the evening at social events.
That confidence isn’t limited to social situations, either. Nikki is busting down her self-imposed barriers mentally, too.
“CrossFit9 completely shifted the way I face my fears. When I first started CrossFit, I used to avoid workouts that I didn’t want to do. Lifting a heavy barbell above my head or trying to stand on my hands didn’t sound fun, and attempting a pull-up felt embarrassing.
“When I decided to face certain fears at CF9, I literally practiced ‘failing’. I would purposely drop barbells, practice kipping and pulling without getting a pull-up, whip my legs with a jump rope, etc. Through this practice of simply working through my fears instead of hiding from them, I gained so much confidence in myself and realized that I was actually putting in the work to accomplish my goals.”
A New Body Image
With every rep, Nikki learned to focus on what her body can do, rather than what it looks like. Perhaps ironically, when she let go of obsessing about the mirror, she began to like and appreciate what she sees.
“I love how my relationship with my body has changed, I no longer look at my ‘physical flaws’ and base my workout around what I want my body to look like. My body has changed because I now come from a place of loving what my body is capable of instead of feeling like I never look the way I want to. I can see clear differences in my body from a year ago to today, even when I probably weigh the same– or maybe even more.”
For the record: Nikki reports that she weighs seven pounds more than she did this time last year. She’s carrying less body fat and more lean muscle, and feeling great. She credits her progress to letting go of caring what the scale says.
“When I compare pictures of myself working out from a year ago to today, the biggest difference I see is the comfort and confidence I have within my body and taking up space in the gym.
“The more I showed up and consciously worked through that self-talk, the more I learned how to love myself for who I am. CF9 gave me the space and the tools to explore what I am capable of, mentally and physically. I have never felt stronger and empowered in my life than I do today because of the love and energy I have put in myself since joining CF9.
“Overall, I love myself more. A big shift happened in my mindset last year to simply do more of what I love, let in what fills me up, and let go of what drains me and doesn’t add value to my life.”
Nikki’s mother, DonnaMarie Hehn, is her biggest cheerleader. Nikki and DonnaMarie have long shared a love for running races together. But once Nikki found CrossFit9, she knew she wanted to convince her mom to mix in functional fitness with her running mileage.
Now DonnaMarie is a dedicated evening 9’er, crushing her own WODs and sharing hugs and high-fives with her daughter when they bump into each other around classes.
Race PRs, Less Mileage
Many runners fear they’re going to get slower as they integrate CrossFit, but Nikki says she found the opposite to be true.
“Last year, I ran one race every month, between a 5K-15K, and had a personal record for almost all of my races, placed in the top 5 in my age group in the majority of the races, and recovered faster than ever. I was running less when I started CrossFit, so it was amazing to see that I actually was becoming a better runner by running less and CrossFitting more.
The goals don’t stop with race PRs. Nikki has her sights set on advancing her skillset along with her mindset, starting with the foundational movements.
“My current goal is to feel better in the basic movements. If I don’t feel good about my form performing certain skills, I won’t advance appropriately. So right now, I’m really focused on my form for pull-ups, double unders, snatches, and handstand push-ups. A year ago I couldn’t do any of these movements except for a snatch (and barely).
The Ripple Effect
Nikki says the healthy changes she’s made at CrossFit9 organically spilled over into her everyday life.
“I’ve paid more attention to how I’m fueling my workouts and recovering with food. I have been vegan for over 4 years and eat well, but since joining CF9, I’ve played around with what food gives me enough energy to fuel my workouts and recover efficiently. I’ve noticed an all-around better approach to how I take care of my mind and body.”
Nikki found a holistic approach to health that has helped her create more freedom, instead of restriction.
“I don’t spend much of my free time looking at screens…. I don’t even have a TV! I’m constantly reading books to expand my mind and for entertainment. I crawl into bed around 9:00 PM on weekdays and am awake by 6:00 AM. I rarely drink alcohol or stay out late at night. I eat less processed food than I ever have. I never planned on my lifestyle changing so drastically, but it happened pretty naturally when I wanted to get the most out of my time at CrossFit9 and life in general.
It’s Your Turn
If you’re a new or prospective athlete reading Nikki’s story, she wants you to know your mindset is all that matters.
“There’s a quote by Henry Ford, ‘Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.’ I try to live by that at CrossFit9 and would encourage anyone new to simply try it out and always have a positive mindset.”
Her advice for new athletes:
“It easy to become frustrated when you first start but we are all always learning and if you can walk into the gym with an open, focused, and positive mind, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish when you focus on what you can do versus what you can’t. Show up and give whatever you can because giving 100% will look different every single day.”
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Love Nikki’s story? She’s not the only one whose life has been changed by CrossFit9! Check out these awesome 9’er stories:
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