THIS IS GINA. I met Gina yearrrs ago through a mutual friend who had us both writing on her blog. Since then, I’ve been following Gina’s journey (on the ‘gram, obviously) and I knew I needed her on board for this project. Since we met, she’s given birth to two baby boys and is currently expecting. Gina is completely relentless in her journey to stay healthy and fit—with no excuses—kids running around knocking her tea down while she’s doing yoga, all the ups and downs of pregnancy plus the hustle growing her business. Nothing can stop this girl! Her positive attitude and passion are contagious… check her out!
Gina looking strong in our A-LIST Tank
I have always been an athlete. I grew up playing sports from the very young age of 5. I played soccer, basketball, softball, took swim lessons, you name it. I was always one of the first girls picked to play at gym class or at recess, even though I was also the smallest. There were many times throughout my sports career that my size was an issue for other people but there were also those coaches who believed in me, and I also believed in myself. I always knew that if I just worked hard enough, my height could never be a disadvantage. The struggle to constantly "prove myself" instilled a great work ethic in me.
As I grew, I started to play more competitively with both soccer and basketball. I traveled all over the country competing in regional and national tournaments with my teams. I made the varsity soccer team in high school as a freshman, and I played two years of JV basketball before moving up to varsity and was a part of a championship team my senior year—one of the most amazing experiences and teams I have ever been a part of. In college, at the University of Maryland, I played on the club soccer team where we also competed regionally and nationally, but it also allowed me the opportunity to have a social life and join a sorority (shout out to Alpha Phi!) where I also held the position of Athletic Director.
Post-college, it was more difficult to stay in shape without playing sports every day like my past, but I kept myself motivated by training for races...triathlon, half marathon, Tough Mudder, Ragnar Relay. I also continued to play in adult co-ed soccer leagues. I always needed to have some sort of end goal in mind to keep me going and it helped to have others signed up with me to keep me accountable. But as I got older, I started working out less, started going out and partying and eating and drinking with friends more, it became apparent that things needed to change.
It was probably around the time of my engagement when I realized I wanted to make some changes. We were living in New York City and at the time I played soccer about once or twice a week, and I tried to run at least 3-4 days a week. When I was training for a race, I was consistent, but if I had nothing to train for then I was definitely not consistent and going out with friends after work took priority. Before my wedding, I decided I wanted to feel and look amazing and lose 5-10 pounds before my wedding day. So I did some Jillian Michaels on demand at home and started eating at home and cooking more rather than going out. It was also a good way to save money for the wedding, so my fiancé (now husband) was totally on board and supportive. I felt great at my wedding and honeymoon, but still not in amazing shape or completely satisfied with how I looked.
Fast forward to my 1st pregnancy. I actually miscarried at about 7.5 weeks and was absolutely heartbroken and crushed. It absolutely changed things for me mentally. I didn't feel that my body necessarily let me down by any means but this being my first experience with pregnancy; I honestly just didn't know if it was possible for me to have a baby or have a healthy pregnancy. When we first tried to get pregnant, it was more of an exciting adventure. It was a more "let's see what happens!" exciting event. Whereas, after I lost the baby, I felt like there was a complete hole in my heart. I felt completely empty. Like I was a mom, and then it was ripped away from me and I was supposed to pretend that I wasn't a mom anymore, like it was all a lie. And I really wanted to fill that void again with another baby. Not that the new baby would take the place of the first one. Our Peanut (what we call our first baby) will always be our Peanut in Heaven and will never be replaced. However, I just really wanted and NEEDED that feeling of being a mom again but it was scary. As many times as they tell you these things just happen and there is nothing you can do, you always wonder if there is something you could have done differently. I was extremely cautious. It wasn't as exciting to tell the news to family and friends again, because rather than telling the news with elation, it was sharing the news with a sense of fear that we might lose this baby, too. So I didn't really exercise that much aside from walking, I stayed away from coffee, and while it did get easier as the pregnancy moved along, there was always that little bit of fear.
Luckily, we were able to get pregnant again a couple months later with my first son, Nico, our little rainbow baby. I was a nervous wreck during my pregnancy with him. I did start eating healthier (thanks to my hubby who was really adamant on making sure our baby got that healthy food!). We stopped buying a ton of junk food, give or take a few favorites like ice cream, haha, but I was pretty scared to exercise. I was terrified that something would go wrong again, and so I just wanted to be as careful as possible, even though I know that nothing would have changed. So I did a lot of walking (being a New Yorker and all), but that was pretty much it for the exercise.
After my son was born is when I really started to fall off with exercise. I did still continue to walk (a TON actually), which was great, but it wasn't the same athletic exercise that I was used to. I lost the baby weight just by walking and I would also say by breastfeeding but I still didn't feel like myself. I honestly can't remember how long it took to get rid of it all or whether or not it was easy/difficult because I just wasn't focused on it or concerned with it. I was just too preoccupied with motherhood to really give myself too much thought in that department.
I couldn't find time to really play soccer anymore. Running with a stroller on the streets of Brooklyn was kind of a pain. My gym didn't have a convenient daycare. I went back to work and didn't get home until 7 every night. After putting the baby to bed (for sometimes multiple hours), eating dinner, etc… I just couldn't find it in me to do a workout at that point. And waking up earlier wasn't happening either with our sleep schedule. It just kinda seemed impossible and I found myself about 18 months later and barely doing any exercise other than walking. It just didn't feel good.
I felt like motherhood had consumed me and I was really struggling to find myself through all the craziness. I had found an okay balance between work and motherhood but I hadn't found time for ME, the person. Mentally, I kept wanting to find the time to be active or even just find some alone time for myself and physically, I just felt like it was impossible. So it was really frustrating to say the least.
Around that same time, the company I had worked for, for 7 years, in the advertising industry had closed down. It was a small company and my boss decided to retire and the company just folded. I found myself at home with my son, looking for jobs, feeling a little aimless, collecting unemployment, soul searching and trying to figure out what the heck I wanted to do. I enjoyed working and creating things and contributing to my family financially but I also had different priorities after becoming a mom. I didn't want to work late hours in the advertising industry. I wanted to come home and put my son to bed at night. My situation at my previous job had allowed so much flexibility for which I was truly grateful and a new job would not offer the same. I was running my own blog, but it was more or less for fun since it wasn't super lucrative.
The original blog was actually a bucket list blog inspired from an Aussie friend of a friend who had created a blog and now a non-profit organization called 100 Things, where he set off on a journey to complete 100 bucket list items. I thought this idea was brilliant and created my own bucket list and blog called The Great Freakin' Adventures of Gina and I would blog every time I checked an item off. I quickly realized that I was not able to check off items as fast as I wanted to write, and I decided that I wanted the blog to be a more creative outlet for me and the things that I enjoyed. I have always been into fashion and I started researching other fashion blogs as inspiration to see where I wanted to take it creatively. At the same time, I didn't want to pigeonhole myself into a specific category, and I wanted to be able to write about anything that was inspiring me at the time. So, I officially changed the blog over to Popcorn and Pandas in September 2012 and it just became a creative outlet for me to share my love of fashion, share stories of my life, I could still share my bucket list items, stories of our travels and photography, and as time went on, I started sharing motherhood, food, and other things of interest in my life. It now is more of a lifestyle blog but I write and share everything from fashion, food, travel, photography, motherhood, fitness, coaching, health/wellness, and more.
I was also guest blogging for different websites, I started my own soccer class, was selling clothes on Poshmark...basically doing anything I could to bring in some extra money while job searching. I realized that I really enjoyed working for myself and working from home on my own schedule. The problem was the need for more income for our family. NYC is an expensive place to live and our family relied on both me and my husband to work.
One night, I was scrolling Facebook and came across a post from a fellow blogger that I followed. I had never met her in person, but I could relate to her in a lot of ways. She was a former athlete, had a fashion blog, and was also a mom. Her post was about her new journey as an online health + fitness coach… how she had gotten amazing results from her at-home workout program and that she was looking for coaches to join her team. I had no idea what this was all about but I felt that tug to reach out to her. I had P90X sitting on my shelf untouched. I was desperate to get back into shape AND I was looking for a job. Why not get healthy and help others at the same time? What did I have to lose?
So I reached out to her and signed up to be a coach about a week later. I was nervous and had no idea what I was doing, but I really felt like I had nothing to lose and so why not just throw everything I had into it. I really just tried to soak in all the knowledge I could. I went through all the old team trainings, the new trainings, looked up videos on YouTube from other successful coaches, showed up for every team call, checked in with my own coach and mentor often, started running my own free challenge groups with fellow coaches. I had fear and self-doubt, especially worrying about whether or not I was annoying people or when people don't understand what you're doing and say nasty things about it. Most often times it comes from a place of just pure ignorance, but it was still hard at times. As coaches, we are supposed to read personal development daily and focus on our WHY or reason we started coaching, so I just tried to put that in the forefront of my mind always and continued to build confidence. The more practice and the more I dove in, the easier it became. And the more I started to believe in myself, the more I just WANTED this to work for my family. So I kept pushing through.
I started P90X and two days in started to feel super sick, lightheaded and vomited during my workout. I thought WOW, I must be really out of shape!!! (flashing back to high school basketball tryouts where our coach had trash cans set up around the gym for those "out of shape" kids.) But later that night I still felt queasy...and it hit me...I was pregnant with Baby #2!!
It was a bit of a surprise, and I wasn't sure how to go forward as a coach. How would I inspire people? I would be getting bigger instead of smaller. I can't do P90X now...what could I do instead? I wasn't ready to share my pregnancy yet with the world. However, I didn't want them to think I had "quit." Who wants a coach that's a quitter?! I could have used every excuse in the book to self-sabotage my business...but I REALLY wanted this to work for myself and my family. So I chose a new program, PiYo, that was yoga and pilates based, I talked a lot about healthy nutrition in my social media, and shared that I was working out without all the details until I was ready to share my pregnancy.
Because I really wanted to truly be there for my new challengers that were signing up, it also made ME accountable for being healthy and fit. I worked out at least 5 days per week for my entire pregnancy and ate healthy. I was able to inspire women I never thought possible and even had a whole group of fellow pregnant mamas who ended up joining my group! People were looking at me and saying, "Wow, if the pregnant lady can do it, then I should be able to do it." It wasn't how I planned to start my coaching journey, but I went with the flow and surprised myself at what I could achieve.
The first trimester was definitely tough. There were days when I had migraines or was vomiting or just felt so exhausted and lacked energy and just could not bring myself to press play. There were definitely days that I skipped workouts. I think the program was 6 days a week, but I usually got 4-5 days in per week and just gave myself some grace that I didn't have to be perfect or finish "on time" but I just had to listen to my body and do what I needed to do. Those days I just poured more energy into the business side of coaching. Luckily, as a coach I could get work done from my bed or a laptop on the couch! The 2nd trimester, it was pretty easy to keep up. It felt great to move each day and I had SO much more energy!!! I was no longer nauseous and sick, so this was by far the best trimester!!! The 3rd trimester, I started to get bored with my program and decided to switch things up with some dance workouts and kickboxing which made it more fun for me as I was getting bigger and bigger and there were definitely days where I felt heavy and tired again. Towards my due date, I'm sure the workouts were fading a bit, but I did my best all the way through!
After Baby #2 arrived, I was more excited than ever to jump back into my workouts after my 6 week post-partum hiatus. Who was I? Haha. I was eager to finally get that "transformation" that I craved in the beginning, and this time I had all the tools. 6 weeks is the time you need to recover so I knew I would have to wait at least that long before getting approval from my doctor and luckily the doctor gave me the green light.
I knew how to make time for myself. I knew that I could do it since it's only 30 minutes per day with the short commute to my living room even if I had to press pause to change a dirty diaper or grab a snack for my toddler or to take a break because I was tired and needed water. I knew that I just had to keep showing up in for my challengers each day in our challenge group and that would be the key to my own success as well. I was able to lose all of my baby weight and then some using the 21 Day Fix program in less than 3 rounds. I gained a ton of confidence, not only in how I looked physically, but what I was able to accomplish mentally. It made me feel powerful to know that I was running a business, achieving amazing physical results for myself, AND raising two kiddos at the same time.
It was HARD. There were days where I barely slept and didn't want to press play or days where I craved unhealthy foods. As a mom with two kids ages 2 and under, you are constantly needed...again for diaper changes, or snacks, for breastfeeding, to put down for a nap, to take to school, to pick up from school, to play with and snuggle and give attention. The balance of everything was tough. I had to make sure that I was getting enough calories and water to keep my milk supply up for nursing—luckily, I was like a cow haha. There were days when I felt like I was failing at everything. When I was having a good day with my business, I would feel like I was sucking at motherhood. And when I felt like super mom, I felt like my business was totally suffering. And OH, the poor husband! As much as I needed to be there for the kids, my husband also needed time and I needed time with him to keep OUR relationship strong. Not to mention friends, other extended family, social obligations, etc.
I felt so much better about who I was and what I was achieving. To see fellow challengers in my groups and coaches getting results, and feeling amazing and confident is just the best high. Supporting other women had become a true passion of mine and surrounding myself with a positive community that lifted me up was now a non-negotiable. I have met SO many amazing people through this journey and that has been the most unexpected part.
3 years later, my business has grown a lot, but I still have places I want to go. My husband and I are actually expecting our 3rd little baby to join our family this August and we are so excited for this journey! It's more important than ever for my babies that I continue to follow my passion, I lead by example and show them that they too can do anything they put their mind to. They are also a huge driver for me to be successful as I want to be able to support them, travel the world with them, give them incredible experiences and opportunities, etc. I want to work with strong women who aren't afraid to try new things, who aren't afraid to be vulnerable and share their story, who aren't afraid to challenge themselves, and who aren't afraid of hard work.
I believe in self-improvement and that you can always be a little bit happier...a little bit healthier. Why not be the VERY BEST you can absolutely be and live to your true potential? To me, being your ULTIMATE SELF means living your life to your full potential. It's knowing who you are deep down to your core and not being afraid to shout it from the rooftops. It's knowing that you can always grow and change and always seeking and being willing to improve upon yourself in different ways. It's never being satisfied with "average." It's constantly challenging yourself. It's standing strong in your beliefs. And it's looking beyond just yourself... its inspiring OTHERS that they too can grow and change and live to THEIR full potential as well.