Fit to Tell My Story:
How I Developed a Passion for Fitness
By Helena Nikitopoulos
Helena Nikitopoulos is a Third year English and Film Student at Western University. When she is not at school, she resides in Oakville, Ontario with her parents, two younger sisters, and 2-year old cockapoo, Luna. Follow her fitness account on Instagram: @fittforthefuture.
T here is something surreal about the complete relaxation and utter satisfaction that enters both my body and state of mind after a workout. Sweat dripping down my forehead, my heart beating rapidly in my chest, and the urgent need for water are all the ways I would use to describe the post-workout feeling. As weird as it may sound, the feeling of being covered in sweat after an intense workout is one of the reasons why working out is one of my favourite things.
Before I found my passion for fitness and working out, I was both a competitive dancer and a track and field runner. A few years into each sport, I grew to discover my dislike for competitions, as the idea of being compared to another person’s skills, strength, and ability prevented me from enjoying the sport itself. I became anxious and stressed, discouraging myself from training for an upcoming run or practicing a difficult dance routine as I constantly worried that I was not good enough to win. This led me to ‘fall out of love’ with both competitive dance and track and field and consequently, I decided to seek my happiness elsewhere. Months after quitting both sports, I started going to a gym in my neighbourhood where I was - for the first time - able to find the happiness I longed for. It was then that I realized that it was neither my school track nor my dance studio that made me feel most at ease – but the zestful atmosphere of my local gym.
When I was four years old, my mom signed me up for dance lessons. I seemed to enjoy it because at the age of ten, I began competing in competitions located across Ontario, such as Blue Mountain, St. Catherines, and Guelph. I had always been a dancer at heart as I enjoyed the creativity of the routines and the ability to pour all my heart and soul into the dance. However, while I loved being on stage to connect with the audience through my dances, I strongly disliked the ‘competition’ aspect of dancing. During every competition, I constantly worried about my placement overall and what my ranking was compared to the other dancers. It wasn’t always this way but the older I got, the harder the competitions became, and the more inevitable it became for me to think this way. Thus, despite the many elements I admired in dance,I realized that perhaps dancing competitively wasn’t the best thing for me. As a result, I quit my dance team at the end of grade 10. However, although I quit dancing in public, I can’t quite rid myself of the joy I get dancing in my room when no one is watching.
"I am a student, and the majority of my stress comes from school. However, the countless worries pertaining to assignments, tests, and projects all evaporate as soon as my running shoes touch the treadmill."
Before I quit my competitive dance team, I was not only a dancer but a track and field short distance runner from grades 5 to 10. I never would have grown such a passion for running had it not been for my grade 5 teacher who recommended that I try out for the track and field team at our school. After trying out for the team, I ended up placing first against all the other girls in my grade and received the position of anchor on a relay-team with three other girls. The position of anchor was said to be given to the fastest runner so that they can finish the race with a good time score. 12-year-old Helena couldn’t quite believe that she had what it took to make the track and field team, let alone be given the fastest running position.
In grade 9, track and field started to get more advanced and difficult for me as the reality of it all began to set in: elementary school track was no match for high school track. As everyone that competed at the high school track meets also competed in track meets outside of school, I felt like I was lacking the ability to win. In addition, although I placed first in many of the races during high school, my time wasn’t good enough to get me to the finals. I started to doubt myself and my running abilities, questioning why I had even signed up in the first place. I started making up excuses not to run as I no longer ran for the sole purpose of enjoying myself but merely for the purpose of winning and proving myself worthy. However, this only discouraged me further as my fear of failure prevented me from attending practices and committing to the sport all-year round.
By the middle of the season, the competition aspect of it all began to stress me out. I started to get anxious whenever the gun that began every race shot through the air, at the sight of the multiple runners warming up on the track, and the pressure my fellow teammates put on me to come to every practice. I soon stopped coming to practices after school, then to important track meets, and eventually, I quit the track team altogether. The pressure everyone put on me in high school track (as well as the pressure I put on myself) made me extremely anxious so that when I finally quit track, I managed to let out a sigh of relief I didn’t realize I had been holding in.
Around the same time that I quit both competitive dance and track and field, I was simultaneously dealing with friendship conflicts. I spent the majority of my lunch breaks alone where the only social interaction I had, besides with my family, was with the Starbucks barista when I told them my order (grandee white hot chocolate with extra whipped cream, hold the drizzle). As a result, I started to see a therapist who later diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder. I had never felt so alone and unhappy as I did during my grade 10 school year. That was, until I found my passion for fitness. About a month after I was diagnosed with anxiety, my mom encouraged me to go to my local gym to “let off some steam”. I was surprised to find myself doing just that. I felt at peace doing my own workouts and being able to listen to music that motivated me and brought me back to the happy moments in my life. In every one of my workouts, I used (and continue to use) both the creative skills I learned in dance and my talent and passion for running. I no longer felt the need to compare myself to others but instead, focused on being my most positive self.
From 2015 until now, I’ve continued attending my local gym in Oakville as well as the gym at Western University when I am in London studying for my English and Film degree. Moreover, I managed to stick to a sturdy workout schedule even during my study crunch times and during the entirety of COVID-19. On the weekends when I went back home to visit my family and friends during my first year of university, I would meet up with a trainer at the YMCA of Oakville. My trainer not only taught me many essential workouts but also pushed me to work hard and never give up on my goals. Motivated by both my trainer (who slowly became my mentor) as well as my dedication to fitness, I decided that the following year, I would aim to get my fitness certification in the hopes that I can work as a personal trainer at a fitness studio.
I am a student, and the majority of my stress comes from school. However, the countless worries pertaining to the assignments, tests, and projects assigned all evaporate as soon as my running shoes touch the treadmill. I can’t help but feel my lips curl into a smile as “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira blasts through my headphones and my feet begin to move one in front of the other - a perfect escape from all the stress in my life.
In hopes of helping others stay active and find a sense of happiness in working out, I started a fitness page on Instagram this summer: @fittforthefuture, which quickly reached 190 followers in less than a month. I plan to post more healthy meal ideas, tips for working out during the school year, as well as workout circuits targeting the core, upper body, and lower body for students such as myself. Many of my followers have already expressed their gratitude for my page, and I hope that I can continue to inspire others to work out by providing some insight into my own fitness journey.