PHOTOS BY MARISA NICODEMUS
My Journey…Boy has it been a hell of a ride.
I am completely humbled and honored to have been asked to share my story in this powerful woman’s magazine. I’ve struggled with writing this article, because while I have been through some very difficult times in life, I never have viewed my struggles as something that would be article worthy.
There are so many women facing much harder circumstances and challenges. Incredible women. I’ve come to realize in the last few years is that we can all inspire one another. By being vulnerable enough to expose the realness about ourselves, that’s where we find the most strength. It’s also where we can remind others, everything’s going to be ok, and see, I’m not alone! Statements we all need to hear and have felt, often! So many people, most often without even knowing, have pulled me from very dark places simply by sharing their story and being vulnerable.
Thank you for that. Thank you so very much! I honor you. I respect you. I encourage everyone to share. And most of all, I hope by sharing my story I will inspire someone in the same way I have been inspired by others.
My journey! Man, it’s been a hell of a ride!!!
I want to preface my story with my biggest and most rewarding accomplishment, my sons! God knows without them my journey would have been much different. These young men have been my very reason for keeping my eyes forward! I knew they needed a strong woman that could lead and teach. I had no choice. To my oldest son Anthony, age 27 & my youngest Joey, age 25 – Thank you. Thank you for giving me strength as a mom, friend and person. Thank you for loving me through it all. Thank you for becoming the amazing men you are today! You both make me so proud. You are what have kept me strong in every single challenge I’ve faced, and still do to this very day! I love you both to the moon and back a billion trillion times. You are the best parts of me. Through everything I did wrong in life, and believe me there’s been some hick ups, I take one look at you both, and realize I’ve done 2 things right. My kids! ~ Mom ~
My story starts with my very first love, music! I have done theatre and sang for most of my life, starting at age 5. I’ll never forget it. I was standing on a chair, in the middle of a busy restaurant singing at the top of my lungs. I kid you not. Talk about not having a care in the world. When I was done everyone started clapping and cheering and I started crying, it scared me! What in the heck are these people doing? I mean after all, I was just singing. (smile) Those tears soon turned into curtsies and gratitude in the years to follow and many, many proud moments. Thirty-five years singing professionally, seems like a blink of an eye really. I retired in 2014 at the age of 49. Music and being on stage was my “normal”. It was how I expressed myself. It was my outlet and my safe place. My place of peace and confidence. The bigger the audience, the better I liked it! It was a way of life for me that allowed me to experience so many different things, cities, states and people. It was also my livelihood later in life for many of those years! I sang through everything -love, hurt, happiness, death, pain, joys, pregnancies, divorce, falling, getting up and everything in between! The minute my foot hit the stage, it was like a light switch turned on into another place where I knew regardless of what was going on, I’d be ok. It was an escape. It made me happy! It was my passion and my very being. It still is. It doesn’t ever leave you. I just choose to use it differently now.
Fitness, in many ways, has become that very same thing. While I was always active as a kid and even a young mother, teaching step aerobics, lifting and whatever else I could get my hands on back then, I kicked it up a notch or 12 in 2009. I had been struggling with my weight and reached out for help to a trainer. I’ll never forget it, it was November. I started training, HARD, like never before! Completely changing my eating habits and following super strict meal plans. I remember I had offered to sing the national anthem for a body building show. They said “sure, but the only stipulation Karen is you need to compete!” Me; Um.. no.. Not happening,
I’m not getting up there. Have you seen me? I can’t do that!! Like what are you thinking?? HOLY DEER IN THE HEAD LIGHTS BAT MAN! Who me?? Like how?? Like what?? No way!!! Two months later, I’m going to do the Anthem – in a posting suit! Five months later, I stepped on stage in a bikini the size of a band aid next to girls half my age, shaking in fear, feeling like a million bucks, AND WON!!! Months of dieting to extremes, training twice a day, endless amounts of chicken and tons cardio and no cheat food! Talk about testing my will power. And this was all while singing, working 3 or 4 jobs and being a Mom! It was hard. Very, very hard. It was also one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. I went on to do 3 more shows. I did well, but most importantly it helped me to evolve as a woman and person. It tested my limits on every level. It showed me I am strong both mentally and physically. It put me in a better position to focus on me. It gave me a goal.
Something to work on just for me, that didn’t involve a job, friends, music, kids or my other life responsibilities. It helped me to get back to “Karen”. As so many can relate, we can sometimes get lost in the shuffle of life taking care of everything and everyone, but ourselves! What was my most memorable moment of my bodybuilding journey? It was when my son said “Mom, I am so proud of you and all you’ve done to make this happen!” I’ll never forget when they announced I won. I screamed, cried and looked out into the audience to see my kids screaming for me too! I could not believe I actually did it! Those are the photographic memories in my mind for which I will forever be most thankful! It was incredible!
In-between then and now, so much has changed. My love for fitness has always been there, it’s just changed over the years. I hopped on the weight gain and loss roller coaster over the last few years trying to figure it all out. That was fun – said nobody. Ever! I was either lean or I was fat. No in-between. Up and down I went. And I swear, once I did a bodybuilding show, and my body fat was so low anything above that never felt good enough. If I was thin, I wasn’t thin enough. If I gained weight I beat myself up horribly. I didn’t have enough muscle.
I had too much muscle. I was on. I was off. I was up. I was down. It was, and somedays still is a constant battle not to talk negatively about the way my body looks. There was no balance. I either lived out of plastic wear eating chicken and broccoli 6 times a day, so I could be “lean” or, I got fat. Sooooo frustrating!! The 122 pound me never had a problem looking in the mirror. I could fit into anything. I looked good in a bathing suit, skirt, jeans.. all of it. I was teeny tiny, my rib cage sticking out and I could walk in any store and buy a size zero and it would fit! That’s healthy right???? That’s how woman are supposed to look right??? That’s ok right???
WRONG!!!! Someone get me off the crazy train please!!!
Fast forward to 2015. I was invited to go to a boxing class. I was like BOXING??? WHAT?? I was willing to try, but I wasn’t happy about it. I walked into the Rochester Fight Factory and met Coach Bernie Barco. I reluctantly put on some gloves and started training with him and a friend. She was way better than me. Way better. Younger than me and way more fit than me. And yes, I noticed these things because I’m competitive by nature in all that I do. After all, just a few years prior I was a lean bean and now, I was overweight again and just miserable. I admired her strength, agility and ability to do what she was doing. I was embarrassed I got fat and felt like a slug! I wanted to be in shape and good at things and I wanted to be back to myself!! I was horrible, but I kept going. Even though I was tired and panting after just 5 minutes because my head wasn’t in it, neither was my heart. It left an impression on me, to say the least.
When I walked into the gym that day, I was dealing with a failed marriage, hypothyroidism, weight gain, a few scares from skin cancer and lots of testing, and retesting, and the sadness all of that brought. I was defeated many ways and afraid to reach out for help even though I knew I needed it! Here I was, not even a year prior feeling on top of the world and – BAM, life said, “oh don’t get to comfortable Karen, things are about to change!” I did not tell anyone what I was going through with my personal life. I was too afraid of letting everyone down. I still don’t share much of that story. Its personal, and quite frankly it still stings at times, but I’m evolving with that too.
A few months later in January of 2016 my marriage ended. I knew I had no choice but to come to terms with it. I knew I had to get my ass back up, no matter what! Here I was embarking on a new career and now, back to being single. Scared was an understatement. I was home on a Sunday and I was sitting on the couch thinking, “what the hell am I gonna do now?!!” I needed so badly to come up with a plan. I remembered that day I had a few months back at the Factory with Coach Barco. I remembered how I felt when I left there. How tired I was, and yet when it was over I actually felt good. So I reached out to Coach Barco again and we set up some training. Coach and I started working together. And time progressed, I started to feel better. Weight started coming off. My mind was becoming clearer. He was a huge part in that change for me. When Coach and I started working together it was just me and coach doing training sessions, then I asked if I could invite some friends. “Sure, let’s do it!!”, said Coach. Then I asked more friends, and even more!! Two years later Coach and I have a program that has 7 classes a week with anywhere from 8-15 people in each class comprised of women and men! I’m very proud to say I am officially on his spar team! It’s crazy right? What 50 year old female wakes up and says, I’m gonna become a boxer??!! While that was never my intention at first, it’s definitely the direction I’m heading! And.. I’m having so much fun!!!
So when people ask me “Why do you box? You’re too pretty to box! Woman are supposed to be soft, not muscular and getting punched in the face”….. I just smile. It’s not the first time I’ve had to break a stereotype!!
Why do I box? BECAUSE I CAN! BECAUSE I WANT TO! BECAUSE WHAT I DO ISN’T DETERMINED BY OTHERS!! Most importantly because it stopped me from giving up! On everything! Because it gave me a new direction! A purpose and a goal!! Because it pulled me out of a place pain. Because it shined light on what felt like a black hole in my world. Because it empowered me to believe in myself again. Because it feels damn good to punch things – especially when you’re pissed off at the world!!! And what I’ve discovered is… I’m one tough B*tch! Because in the midst of my own healing others were inspired to do it too!! Come to class and regain your own path of happiness. Because if I can do it, so can you!!”. The list of “why” I box goes on for days!!
Boxing for me is that place, that thing I do that nobody can take away from me. It’s my road to follow. How far I choose to take it is also my road. My roots with it all are deep for many reasons. We all have reasons as to why we do what we do, and why we feel what we feel, and that’s ok. We’ve all had things or people that have caused us pain or hurt. Retaliation, dwelling and grudges only consume you. Stopping you from moving on sincerely! I’ve done it. I’ve sat there trying to understand, make sense of it, figure out what I did wrong, and dissect it 100 different ways. The result…. NOTHING accept more frustration and pain!! The best decision I’ve EVER made and continue to mindfully make is to put those “hurts” in their place. Acknowledge them then LET THEM GO!! Focus on what DOES work. On what DOES make you happy on every level. What you put out, you get back. Love yourself and encourage others often!! By being REAL!! It’s empowering!! And it helps others to do the same. So please share your story. Let the world know what it is. It’s too powerful to NOT share!!!
These days along with my boxing, I strive for balance. Balance in everything. Family, work, training and nutrition. I’m 100% certain this has been the hardest of all my goals. It’s taken time for me to be ok with “rest nights” and going out to dinner without the guilt. Boxing has helped me to achieve this balance. It’s a different type of training.
What’s that saying, “You think you’re in shape until you box!”. That is SO true!! It’s what works for me, when I’m in the gym boxing I’m focused and I train like my life depends on it. Sometimes it feels like it does. When I’m with my family and friends I enjoy my time, food and wine! I’m present without the guilt or negative self- talk. I’m not missing out on any more moments because I have to go to the gym or because I can’t eat what everyone else is eating, I did that. It was part of the journey that brought me here, and “here” is the best place I’ve ever been! And if I can do it, so can you. Believe in yourself.
Trust your gut. You are the one that knows what is best for you. Love yourself. It’s not selfish. It’s completely necessary. Strong woman, empower other woman to be strong!
“I aspire to be an empowered woman with vision and grace. Soft hearted but strong. Self-aware and sure. Respected for my mind. Admired for my heart and above all, always honest, open and raw”
~ Karen “Powerhouse” Palotto ~