Growing up on the East Coast with two brothers was never easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I didn’t know it then, and I wouldn’t realize it for a long time, but those were the moments that shaped me into the person I am today. They were the moments that made today possible; they were the moments that made Fitness Transform possible.
As children, the world was our playground. We grew up running around the neighborhood, playing on the streets, and swimming in neighbors’ pools – that’s just the way it was. From football, baseball, tetherball, to kickball, we played it all.
My brothers were rarely gentle with me. From the time I could walk, I had to learn to stand up for myself and be strong. As I was always on their teams when we played outside, it was up to me to make sure I didn’t fall behind. I had to prove – to them and myself – I was tough enough to hang.
We were never home before the sun set, or at the very least before our parents were calling us home.
Today, I have those sun soaked moments to thank for my independence, strength, and self-motivation. I haven’t slowed down since.
It was then in my young adult years that I became increasingly interested in another aspect of the healthy lifestyle: nutrition. I rebelled against my parents and the Standard American Diet.
Over the years, I’ve tried many different diets and exercise plans. From a macrobiotic diet, vegetarianism, the Zone diet, to the low-carb Atkins diet – I gave every new approach that was current and reputable a chance. I was looking for the right nutrients to go along with my fast-paced lifestyle that would give me the healthiest, most visible results – the nutrients that would make my body feel the best that it possibly could.
Of course, my journey to the discovery of the Paleo diet that I write about in my 2013 health and fitness book, Your Primal Body, is a long one, paralleling my own personal journey of self-discovery.
After deciding that college was not the right path for me at that moment, I proceeded to travel the world, exploring who I was and where I was going.
I eventually ended up in Colorado, where I hiked the Divide on more than a few occasions. At fourteen thousand feet, resting in a sulfur hot spring and looking out at an incredible view, I was thankful to my body for giving me the strength and endurance to see such incredible sights and experience such natural wonders.
Unfortunately, Colorado was too cold and the winters were too long for my personal taste. From the time I was 12 years old I had been saying I was going to live in California. So it seemed like the logical next place to go.
It was always my destiny to end up here.
I’d tried out a lot of places up and down the coast of California, but despite the beautiful views of Marin County, Big Sur, and Laguna Beach, it wasn’t until I stopped in Santa Barbara that I knew I had found my home. It was the perfect climate for the kind of lifestyle that I enjoyed living.
I quickly got involved in all kinds of sports, ranging from rollerblading, outrigger canoeing, hiking, to running 5-10k races. Simply put, I loved that my new home provided me with many new and challenging activities.
It wasn’t long after I’d moved to California that a friend of mine recommended that I try working out in a gym. I’d never really done it before and I was unsure, but she insisted, believing that it was something that I would really enjoy.
I decided to give it a shot – but unfortunately, I don’t believe I was quite ready. It didn’t feel right. And for a while, I continued on as before. Luckily for me, my friend continued to insist and so I decided to try it again.
This time it clicked.
Walking in and working out with such visibly strong and healthy individuals – it was inspiring. I wanted it for myself. I decided that I was going to stick with it, no matter what, motivated by my own desire to live the kind of healthy lifestyle they led.
I began to work with a nationally ranked bodybuilder, to learn the correct form and gain the strength that I needed to do so, and we quickly became friends.
That moment marked my journey to absolute fitness. And I never looked back.
We worked together, and I pushed myself to keep up with her. I was once again in a position to prove to myself – and to everyone else – that I was tough enough to hang. Set after set, sweating and exhausted, I kept going. We’d switch off on the equipment, and I’d always return to give it my best effort. I was going to do it; I was going to make it; I was going to keep up. Quitting was not an option I ever considered for one second.
After a little over a year of training, she suggested I try a bodybuilding competition.
At that moment, I decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. I began training harder than I had before, working to achieve the kind of strength I’d only ever imagined. And when the time came, I was ready.
Excalibur would be my warm up; Iron Maiden would be my moment.
That first morning walking into the auditorium was overwhelming. The amount of people, muscles, being weighed and photographed, and the waiting, I felt like I was in a completely different world. Knowing that I’d only been involved in the bodybuilding community for a little over a year, while everyone else had likely been around for years, I was nervous. They knew what they were doing and I was a novice, still learning the ropes. It was daunting.
Despite the competitive and haughty attitudes of the other women, I was unfazed. I wasn’t there to win the competition. Having always been self-motivated, I was there for the experience; I was there to challenge myself.
At bodybuilding competitions, all of the judging takes place in the mornings.
And it wasn’t until that morning that I’d realized what I’d gotten myself into.
Walking up on the stage, wearing nothing but a string bikini, knowing my body was under a microscope, I was sweating with nerves.
That morning, we had to perform our routines without music – much to my dismay – and complete the five compulsory poses. This is how they would determine who the top five would be in the evening show.
Much to my amazement, I made it. I placed 4th, and would perform in the evening show. I’d had no idea! Watching all of the other women compete, being so energized and charismatic on stage, I’d thought there was no way I had a chance.
Although I was personally prepared and confident in my routine as the Iron Maiden rolled around, I was not at all prepared for its turnout.
Anyone who was anyone was there.
ESPN was there.
I once again began to question what I’d gotten myself into. Competing that day was surreal. Between the crowds, cameras, lights, and other amazing competitors, I couldn’t believe I was once again going to be up on stage for all of the world to see.
That evening, after making it through the morning session and once again placing 4th, I stood backstage waiting to hear my name called. “Mikki Reilly from Santa Barbara, California!”
Everyone was cheering, but the noise was a dull roar in my ears. I was in a trance, focused. With my back to the audience, my routine began.
I had never done something so nerve wracking in my entire life, and I haven’t since.
After walking off that stage for the last time, I decided that the competition life wasn’t for me. I was self-motivated, driven by my own desire to be the best that I could, and didn’t need the larger crowds cheering me on. It was just something that came natural to me, something I’d always been interested in doing.
Returning home to Santa Barbara, I began to work as an independent contractor for local gyms like Santa Barbara Gym and Fitness. It had an insane, invigorating atmosphere, filled with many different characters. From bodybuilders to bouncers, the place was packed with incredibly muscular individuals.
Around this time, I decided that it was time for me to go back to school.
I applied to UCSB and got in, where I would later attain degrees in Fitness and Health Science and Communication. I wanted to know as much as I could about the lifestyle I loved, and I wanted to be able to share it, communicate it, with my clients and the public. My degrees would enable me to do so.
It was at UCSB that I became familiar with the research behind the Primal theory of fitness. It was a method closely related to what I was already doing to help myself and my current clients get healthy, visible results.
The theory is based on how our Paleolithic ancestors moved and ate. The Paleo diet is a low-carb approach with an emphasis on protein and healthy omega-3-rich fats, while the fitness was based off of what paleo-anthropologists were discovering about movement patterns of early humans from their appearance some 2.6 million years ago. Needless to say, I was intrigued.
After reading everything I could on the subject, and following the research of lead doctors like Dr. Loren Cordain, I began to reaffirm what I’d known all along, what I’d discovered for myself during my fitness journey. The low-carb, high-protein diet with healthy fats was the best way to eat for healthy and permanent weight loss. This new understanding gave me context and confirmation, as well as the knowledge to provide my clients with the best care and training possible.
I would later write about this theory in my health and fitness book, Your Primal Body, which would coincidentally be published at the same time I opened my own studio, Fitness Transform.
I began working with amazing clients, teaching them the Paleo lifestyle – my lifestyle – hoping to provide them with the best care and attention possible. I am so proud and impressed with their progress, and am continuously amazed by what the human body is capable of.
I now hope to spread the word on the Paleo lifestyle, and work towards building a supportive and dedicated fitness community in Santa Barbara – the place I call my home.