Sarah: Hello and welcome to the Tough Girl Podcast which is all about motivating and inspiring you.
I'm your host, Sarah Williams and today we are going to be speaking with Robyn Baldwin about being an alpha female, an MS warrior and an OCR specialist.
Hi Robyn. How are you?
Robyn: I'm good. How are you?
Sarah: I'm fabulous. Thank you.
Now Robyn, you would describe yourself as an alpha female.
Robyn: I do and it's a really hard concept to get across and I've been calling myself that since 2009. I had a coworker call me an alpha female because I was doing so many different things and since then I have actually defined it.
So an alpha female is powerful and assertive woman. Her confidence is due to being an intelligent and intellectual problem solver and being an alpha female is a state of mind based on choosing ambition and being proud of it.
Sarah: That's fantastic. I love that.
I am definitely an alpha female and I hope all the women out there listening are alpha females.
But Robyn, let's just tell, can you sort of tell our listeners a little more about you and your background?
Robyn: So, I, although calling myself an alpha female, what that actually encompasses is a career woman. So I have several different careers, as I like to call them.
So, first and foremost, my full-time job is as a Senior Marketing Manager at the eReading Company, Kobo and then I'm a fitness and lifestyle blogger over at robynbaldwin.com.
I've done so many different things but now I call myself an author. I'm a sponsored athlete. I'm a brand ambassador and then I do all of these different physical activities so I'm an OCR racer. I'm a former fitness competitor so I used to strut around on stage in a bikini. I was a former CFL cheerleader.
Now I love running, lifting weights and yoga. And now I'm also calling myself an MS warrior. So I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in December of 2014. So I am now a part of the MS warrior family.
Sarah: How do you first get into fitness? What started you on your fitness journey?
Robyn: In university I was doing a bit of fashion modeling and I remember one day a photographer told me I was getting chubby.
I fully looked at myself in the mirror. I was dating someone at the time and he was like, "yeah, you're getting a little chunky around the thigh area." Was like, "okay. What is happening?" Cuz I never really watched what I ate. I didn't really work out. I was dancing so that kept me fit.
But when I started working full time after university I was working in the advertising world so I was working at agencies and I was sitting at a desk for eight to nine hours. Sometimes ten, eleven hours a day. So I lost that physical just dance time and I became skinny fat.
So I wasn't really large but I was developing cellulite on my body because I wasn't actually working out. I wasn't toned. I had no muscle and I was just getting a little pudgy.
So when someone said you're getting a little chubby, was like, Woah! Woah! Woah! Woah!" I'm a very vain person so let's fix this.
So I really got into fitness for many reasons. I just wanted to look good naked!
And from there my journey just like blossomed. So, I started doing boot camps and learning how to workout type. I basically subscribed to every single magazine possible to teach myself how to lift weights and how to meal plan and eat properly.
So I've always been a fan of higher education so I started education myself. And that's how I started my journey into fitness. As I went it became a health journey and I realized that I was actually taking care of myself and getting healthy. I started getting into more nutrition, education, vitamin and supplemental information, hormonal balances and all that stuff. It sort of blossomed from there.
Sarah: You mentioned also about O-C-R. Now for those who are listening who are like, "what's O-C-R? I haven't heard of that before." Can you just try to describe that a bit more in detail?
Robyn: Oh yeah. No one knows what OCR is whenever I say it.
It's obstacle course racing. When I say that, again it doesn't always light bulb off for most people.
It's your tough mudders, your spartan races. Thoes are kind of the big two. I do that kind of racing now and I discovered it when I was still fitness competing.
My last year I did a competition in 2013 and the next day I ran a race. I think it was just warrior dash. It was one of those really simple ones. I call it the entry drug into OCR racing. It's about 5 kilometers; maybe ten to fifteen obstacles but that is what got me hooked. I realized I was starting to do things that I could get stronger at. To get faster at.
All of the work that I had been putting into the gym to develop really pretty looking muscles that look good on the stage were now actually really serving me well from a strength and endurance stand point.
My mother was actually very instrumental from my switch from fitness competitions over to OCRs. She said, "when are you going to stop prancing around onstage in a bikini and do something with all your new found strength?" I like to say that I hung up all of my sparkly bikinis and stripper heels for mud and monkey bars.
Sarah: Mud and monkey bars! I'll say in the UK at the moment there has been a huge growth of women going out and doing these obstacle courses such as tough mudder, tough guy and the spartan races. It's just been a phenomenal growth.
Why do you think it starting to appeal to more women? Which is, you know, obstacle racing and getting down in the mud and getting dirty can be seen as a very masculine thing to be doing. Why do you think more women are taking to it now?
Robyn: Well it's a great place to meet men!
Sarah: That's a really great point!
Robyn: I showed a picture..my grandmother is ninety-six and I showed her a picture of me at one of my races this year, just covered in mud and she looked at me and she goes, "you're not going to find a husband that way."
I said, "do you know the ratio of guys to girls at these races?
Like of course I am."
It's a great way for men and women to feel like kids. You're basically playing in the dirt again as a child so you're reconnecting with childlike habits. You're having an immense amount of fun if you choose if you choose to have fun. You're feeling stronger.
The first time I climbed a rope at a spartan race, I have never felt such accomplishment. It's definitely a kind of thing that gives you a high if you're an accomplished obsessed seeker.
Then whenever you conquer a new obstacle or actually get an obstacle a lot faster than you have before it's an addiction. It definitely gives you that high of endorphin's.
Sarah: Beyond this journey; this physical fitness that you've got; that you've maintained from obstacle races to working out in the gym and learning more about nutrition and supplements and everything else and then you've been faced an incredibly personal challenge with finding out that you've got MS.
Could you talk us through what happened there? How you first found out and what the story was?
Robyn: The beginning of December, I woke up one day and my fingers and my right hand felt like they had been asleep all night. I just thought, '"okay, I slept on my arm funny or I have a pinched nerve in my neck from my workout the day before." Didn't think much of it. I got dress. I wake up at five to get ready and go to the gym. Went to the gym; did a back workout.
The feeling had started to spread up my arm. It was basically like pins and needs and numbness. Still thinking I had a pinched nerve in my neck, I stretched.
I booked an RMT appointment for deep tissue massage with my massage therapist. I booked a chiro appointment to see if something was out of alignment.
Luckily I had booked an appointment with a chiropractor who was brand new to me so they had to do the like, full intake form. They ask you all of your family history and my father has MS.
When I said that...and at this point the numbness and tingling had spread all the way up my right arm, down my torso...to have a numb boob, I'm not gonna lie...was really weird.
Then it spread down my abdomen and down my legs.
The entire right side of my body, over the course of a week, went numb and tingling. The chiropractor said he wouldn't treat me until I had an x-ray, just to make sure there was no disc out of alignment. Then he also urged me to go see a family doctor because I was presenting symptoms that could be possibly MS.
When he said this, it didn't hit me. I didn't say, "oh, okay, this is an MS attack. " was just like, "nope, it is a pinched nerve; I do way too much exercise."
I was in a bit of denial but when my entire right leg and foot had gone numb over the weekend I just drove myself to the hospital and said, "okay, let's figure out what's wrong with me."
I had a CAT scan and they didn't find anything. They were actually going to send me home. Thankfully, I have a very strong personality and said, "no, you're gonna find out what's wrong with me.
What's our next test?"
Thankfully in Canada we have free healthcare so I am blessed. I am not going to lie.
There are actually MS warriors out there that took years and years to get diagnosed. I had access in the emergency room to an MRI immediately, not immediately, but five hours later, had an MRI.
Five hours later, saw a doctor who said there was demyelination, which means the myelin sheath around my nervous system was eaten away. On my spine in a certain area. They wanted to redo the MRI with a tracing agent the next day just to be sure.
I stayed overnight in the hospital which was horrible because at this point, I'm realizing that I have MS and I was by myself. That was a really long night.
In the morning, I second MRI with a tracing agent on both my brain and my spine. And from there they found lesions.
They found over twenty lesions on my brain which just means there is demyelination there and inflammation. Then the part on my spine really showed up when the tracing agent was in my blood.
To make a long story story, they were able to diagnose me right then and there because there was that number of lesions. If I didn't have twenty in my brain, they wouldn't have been able to make a definitive call and I probably would've gone months and months with more testing and everything.
I actually say I'm completely blessed when I found out within a week of having symptoms exactly what I had; could go through the four stages of grief as fast as possible because I don't like dwelling on anger or sadness and just went into acceptances right away.
Sarah: That sounds like, such a, like how you cope with that, how strong you are to deal with that.
Where do you think that inner strength came from?
Robyn: Well, in 2012, I was engaged to be married and called off my wedding a month before so I learned resiliency just a few years before. If I didn't have that storm in my life, then this would've been my first storm but I believe I went through that already so that I would know how to cope.
I just went right back to basics.
My mom drove in...she lives about five hours away...drove in to hug me and take care of me. My friends surrounded me and I knew that I had to rest and take care of myself and I started all of this research.
It's kind of the same thing that I did when I was calling off my wedding. I realized that I had been in a toxic relationship and that I didn't love myself so I started on a self love and happiness journey and taking care of myself, getting back to basics, eight hours of sleep, eating my five meals a day, getting my two liters of water.
I just did that again, so, although I take really good care of myself and am really healthy, I was definitely not always consistent with everything.
When I called off my wedding, I got back into everything that made me feel good which includes, fitness, health and nutrition.
I did that again when I was diagnosed with MS.
Sarah: There's no cure for MS is there?
Robyn: There's no cure and there's actually no cause so there is a lot of research being done where there are factors. Basically they say you are more prone to being diagnosed with MS if these are present in your life. Having it run in the family with the fact that my father has it.
When I was diagnosed, I was deficient in vitamin D. When that is present, you are more likely to be diagnosed.