Jill Smith signed up for a coached 12-week fitness challenge in 2022 after years of inactivity.

Saskatoon reporter finds self-love through fitness challenge

For much of her life, Saskatoon journalist Jill Smith loved moving. At various times she danced, played soccer and lifted weights. But then she struggled with injuries, her career took off and she had three kids. Physical activity took a backseat.

At the beginning of the year Smith, now 41, decided it was time to get moving again and signed up for a coached 12-week fitness challenge with the goal of losing weight. It had been nearly three years since she’d had a gym membership and it didn’t take long for her to fall back in love with physical activity and start focussing on “non-scale victories” like feeling better in her own body.

Smith documented her journey through columns in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and today speaks with the Brainsport Times about re-discovering exercise in her 40s and what goals she’s chasing next.

What was it like picking up physical activity again after such a long break?

Oh my gosh, sitting down hurt so bad. It was unreal. I just would fall into chairs and stuff instead of actually actively sitting down. It was unreal how sore I was — just every muscle hurt. But isn’t it a different kind of hurt? It’s a different kind of hurt than when I had aches and pains when I was out of shape. It’s a productive hurt almost and it sort of feels good. After a while you start craving that feeling. But boy, the first couple of weeks it was something else.

What activities did you get back to?

I started with weightlifting again and running on the treadmill — but I actually was so out of shape I couldn’t run on the treadmill to begin with. I started on the elliptical for some cardio just to get moving. And I worked my way up to 20 minutes on the elliptical and then after a couple of weeks I started on the treadmill. I just started doing one minute running, one minute walking and ended up working my way up so that I could run for 10 minutes straight without walking and then slowly getting up to 15 minutes and then 20 minutes running, which felt like such a triumph because I used to go on 10k runs and run for long periods of time at soccer. So it felt really good to be able to do that again.

And the weights were good. It started out slow — so much slower than where I’d been before. And it was discouraging at first because in your head you remember the certain things you could do, that you could benchpress a certain amount or you could deadlift a certain amount, and all of a sudden you can’t do that anymore. And it’s a little discouraging, but it’s funny how quickly some of this comes back.

Jill Smith signed up for a coached 12-week fitness challenge in 2022 after years of inactivity.
Jill Smith signed up for a coached 12-week fitness challenge in 2022 after years of inactivity.

What were some of the “non-scale victories” you noticed?

My moods were better, my energy levels were better. And when you start focusing on things like that, that’s when you don’t worry about what’s going on with the scale as much. My weight plateaued and that was fine … I was looking at all these other things that were coming together that felt really good and I was gaining muscle, but I also was noticing just all the other benefits to being physically active again. The aches and pains were gone. The pressure on my knees wasn’t as much because I was just able to hold myself better.

You write in the StarPhoenix about not being a morning person and having to change that in order to fit physical activity into your schedule. How was that transition?

It’s easier now. It was not easy in the beginning, especially when it was January and we were in this awful cold snap. It was minus 38 with the windchill and sometimes even without the windchill. The first couple of days in January I was getting up at 6:30 in the morning and gosh, I hadn’t been getting up at 6:30 in the morning for years. It was hard getting to the gym. You’re tired and you’re sore and you just don’t want to do it, but I sat there and I was like “Man, if I make myself go to the gym under these circumstances, I should be able to go to the gym at any point.”

Willpower and excitement got me out to begin with and then, over time, it just becomes a routine where, if I don’t get that workout in the morning, I just crave it and it actually throws me off for the day.

The evenings are for my family so morning was really the only time that I could squeeze it in and I’m so glad I did

What advice do you have for others who want to take up physical activity after a long hiatus?

Do something that you like, don’t just start going to crossfit because you think it’s going to get you really buff and you’re hating every second out. Pick an activity you like and then see if you can join a group because that camaraderie and the community that you end up creating around it really helps to, number one, stay in it, but number two, it just makes your time there that much more enjoyable and it enriches your life.

What’s next for you?

I have a dream now and it might have seemed like I was joking about it but I do have a bit of a dream of competing in a bikini competition. And part of it is I’ve never worn a bikini in public in my entire life. And I feel like it would be such a triumph to be able to go out and do that.

I also want to run a 10k. I want to get back up to that — and I think I can. I’ve had to start over again. After my dad died (in March) I fell off the rails for a couple of weeks and then I started a new job and then I got COVID and a cold. So I’ve had to really pick up the running again. It has been not quite starting over, but it’s close.

What else do you want people to know about your experience?

I got to know myself a lot better and started talking to myself a lot kinder through doing this and I hadn’t expected that. The amount of time I spent trash talking myself or negative self talk over the years, when I think about how much time has been spent thinking that way about myself, it’s so sad when you think about it. Being more in my body and involved with my body and accepting of my body has been a real gift I wasn’t expecting.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Read Smith’s first column in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.