I wish no one bad times, but I do understand and see how one’s suffering can bloom into something wonderful and help change things for others. I also truly believe that one has to be exposed to the absolute downsides of any subject to truly learn and understand. “Greatness lives on the edge of destruction”.
Without further ado, I present to you this months Caveman Athlete of the Month…
“walking on eggshells around a father who was a ticking time bomb left us in constant fight or flight mode”
Weight: 150 lbs
- 2x16kg Jerks – 176 reps (WR)
- 2x16kg Biathlon – 270 points (WR)
- 2x16kg Long Cycle – 110 reps (WR)
- 2x12kg Jerks – 212 reps (WR)
- 2x12kg Biathlon – 344.5 points (WR)
- 2x12kg Long Cycle – 142 reps (WR)
- 24kg OALC – 119 reps (MSWC & WR))
- 20kg OALC – 143 reps (MSWC & WR)
- 20kg Jerks – 206 reps (MSWC)
- 20kg Snatch – 185 reps (MS)
- 16kg Snatch – 242 reps (NR)
- 30 min 20kg OALC – 413 reps (MSWC)
- 30 min 20kg Jerk – 623 reps (WR & MSWC)
- 60 min 16kg Jerk – 1306 reps (MSWC)
- 60 min 16kg Snatch – 1023 reps (WR & MSWC)
- 60 min 16kg Half Snatch – 1022 reps (WR & MSWC)
Favorite Quote: You don’t have to be great in order to start but you have to start in order to be great.
Hi everyone! My name is Jennifer Hintenberger and I am an elite level kettlebell sport athlete, online nutrition coach (28 Day Challenge, 7 Day Jump Start, 7 Day Raw Reboot), online kettlebell sport coach and the creator of KettleCamp Bootcamps. I opened up my own gym at 27 years old and built it successfully from March 2009 until October 2017 before turning my focus to online fitness, sport and nutrition coaching, as well as, teaching KettleCamp Certifications and Kettlebell Sport workshops.
I grew up in a small country town – Wainfleet, Ontario, Canada. I was one of 4 kids and we were all 2 years apart. I was the second oldest between my two brothers. My sister was the youngest. Our childhood wasn’t easy but we didn’t know any different until we were much older. My father was an alcoholic and an extremely violent one at that. We experienced the type of unthinkable physical abuse you would see on dateline tv shows or read about in horror stories based on real-life events, but the mental and emotional abuse was just as traumatic, likely much more. Nothing was ever good enough. If I came home with 99% on a test, the response was “why didn’t you get 100?”. If I came home with a silver medal, I would immediately be made to question myself about why I didn’t get gold. Messages of being unworthy, invaluable and falling short were drilled into my head on a daily basis.
Walking on eggshells around a father who was a ticking time bomb left us in constant fight or flight mode. Having constantly elevated levels of adrenaline, combined with the development of food addiction as an escape mechanism, led to hormone imbalance and weight gain early on in life. I was the only one of my siblings to abuse food to comfort myself from the fear we experienced daily. We all developed our own coping mechanisms in an attempt to survive each day.
Using food as my escape resulted in more mental and emotional trauma as a discussion around my body weight became a topic of conversation from well before I even hit puberty. I was always hearing my parents and their friends talking and saying “it’s just too bad… she has such a pretty face.. she’s just big-boned”. Not recognizing that I was eating as a coping mechanism, my family would call me “the human garbage can” and make jokes when others couldn’t finish their food “don’t worry just put what you can’t eat on Jen’s plate, she’ll eat it”. They were right. I did. My grandparents enjoyed teasing me about how much I ate. On one hand they smiled when I said yes after insisting that I have seconds and thirds while, at the same time, calling me their “little piggy”.
Despite the abuse and lack of love, affection, and support from my family, I have always been one to smile and believe that great things are coming my way. I don’t know where this came from but something inside of me always believed and continues to believe, that life is wonderful and everything is happening exactly as it is meant to be. I’ve learned lessons, developed coping skills that help me face life’s continued challenges and have been blessed with insight, compassion and the ability to relate to many because of several unusual circumstances I’ve experienced.
From a young age, I’ve had the ability to learn from the most brutal situations and see the potential for growth within them. One of the most empowering moments for me happened during yet another alcohol-induced evening full of rage and violence. This time wasn’t typical however. This time my mind accessed a new perspective that changed my mental blueprint forever.
In one moment of anticipation during childhood, I learned that pain is something we give more power to than it deserves. This epiphany happened during a typical drunken escapade where my dad was a loose cannon (punching holes in walls, throwing and smashing glass bottles, tearing the ceiling fan down, cornering my mom and using disgusting words towards her). I often stepped between him and my mom and took the brunt for trying to stop him. I would step in and scream at him to leave her alone. This may appear brave for a little kid to do but I was a terrified little girl choosing between the terror of watching and hearing what he would say and do to her versus the fear of what would happen to me if I tried to stop it. After being a part of hundreds of these episodes, for whatever reasons, on this day I learned the meaning behind the popular quote “the only thing to fear is fear itself”.
My dads raging towards my mom was peaking and I stepped in, looked him in his eyes and yelled my usual “leave her alone!!”. I was super tense and anxious. I didn’t even know that anxiety was a ‘thing’ at that time but I now understand all too well that the palpitations I felt in my heart, the twisting in my stomach, the closing of my throat and tension in my neck and shoulders that I felt for 19 years living at home was exactly this – anxiety. I felt my neck tense, shoulders slump forward, head drop towards the floor and my eyes close tight as he came towards me, putting his face right up in mine. I could feel his spit hitting against my face as he told me what he was going to do to me. I became tenser and my stomach moved upwards into my throat where my chest was tightening further. The physical tension I felt continued to escalate as I awaited the potential blows, hands around my throat strangling me as he lifted me into the air or the hostile genuine words reassuring me that his life would have been so much better if he hadn’t had us. He loved to yell up close into our faces where we were forced to smell stale beer and cigarettes through spattered saliva accompanying slurred words angrily accusing that we “made him this way”. He clung to the justification of his behavior by telling us that if we “weren’t so dumb” or if we “were better kids” that he “wouldn’t have to act this way”. “You guys had to push me to this point again, didn’t you?!”.
I felt the tension build and suddenly it hit me – I was in pain and HE HADN’T TOUCHED ME YET. I hated this feeling. I knew it well. At this moment, I finally recognized that the anticipation of the pain to come was worse than the pain itself. The tightly closed eyes, clenched jaw, gutted stomach, the unknowing, lack of control over what happens to my body and feelings of helplessness were what I finally came to realize hurt more than the physical abuse. Let me highlight this – the physical pain I felt in my body WITHOUT being touched was worse than the pain of being hit, strangled, made to kneel on popcorn kernels (in just my underwear after being forced into ice baths), being thrown up against walls or whatever else he was in the mood for that day.
I learned at least 3 things in that moment of anticipation:
1. Intense physical pain can be created without the addition of an outside force or choice (being hit, being in an accident, eating foods that don’t treat your insides well) and;
2. I couldn’t stop the physical abuse from coming but I could alter my experience of the pain associated with it, lessening its damage and taking back some of my own power and pride in a typically de-humanizing circumstance.
3. Physical pain/injury, from actual physical abuse/contact/injury, always heals. In fact, I’ve learned time and time again that physical pain is not only less painful than mental and emotional trauma but that we also recover much faster from it. Our bodies have a wildly impressive ability to repair themselves, however, the mind is not so easily assessed and treated.
In other words, I learned that our thoughts can create physical and emotional pain and, therefore, our thoughts can prevent, lessen or alter our physical and emotional responses to the situations we are in. I use this often now as an athlete in several ways. I don’t quit when I’m in pain because I understand just how much my body can handle and still remain relatively unphased by – other than requiring a couple of days of recovery if I really push the line. I have also become quite skilled at observing my thoughts and changing them to serve me effectively in pre, intra and post workout. I could write paragraphs to pages about these methods alone but, most importantly, I want to emphasize that we can often break the boundaries we set for ourselves by simply changing our minds.
That should be enough detail to give minimal but hopefully useful insight as to how I began to develop what people refer to as mental toughness. I don’t think it’s about being tough so much as it’s about being intuitive, reflective and taking action over our thoughts.
At 19, one of my good friends could no longer stand hearing about what I was going through at home so she insisted on having me rent from her at a low rate. She also convinced me it would be possible for me to survive on my own because she would get me a job – working at a strip club in Fort Erie, Ontario just across the border from Buffalo, NY. I spent 3 years working as a shooter girl at this club and then as a bartender at a strip club in Niagara Falls. I worked 5 nights per week while doing my Bachelors degree (Kinesiology), coaching high school rugby and playing University rugby. Embarrassingly, I was poisoning my body with a minimum of 20 shots per night – usually Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort or Black Sambuca. I almost never felt like I was drinking as my mind was on the money and not partying. The shots simply added up as they helped me with sales. “Hey guys, want a shot?” .. “Sure but only if you do one with us” .. “Ok, I’m in!”. We’d do a round or two or shots and then I’d take a couple of steps over to the next table and repeat all that same scenario for hours. The other 2 nights per week were spent binge drinking with my rugby buddies at a level that often should have killed us.
After 3 years working at “the rippers”, I started dating someone and he didn’t like that I worked in that scene so I quit. I started working 40-50+ hours as a security officer. During this time, I drank less but my health continued to suffer as my body was still enduring my food addiction/binge eating, as well as, sleep deprivation from working 12+ hour midnight shifts, being a full time student, coach and athlete and handling the stress of having my younger brother diagnosed with cancer (19 years old) and my older brother getting into an accident (23 years old) that landed him in a coma. I was 21 at the time. There was also additional family stress that I’ll leave out due to preferred privacy. Needless to say, these were some tough years and if my body had come to settle out of the “fight or flight” state it was in from birth – 19 years old, it was far from settled from the moment my younger brother, Jonathan, was diagnosed with cancer (2003) until about 10 years later.. and that calmness only lasted for about 2 years.
During my early 20s, I began my journey towards learning about another way that our minds can create physical pain/illness in the body. As discussed above, from physical abuse in childhood, I learned that we can create intense physical feelings of discomfort and pain through our thoughts before any physical contact has been made. In my 20s I learned how our thoughts/feelings, unaddressed, unmanaged and suppressed, can manifest into physical symptoms, sickness, and disease. This is honestly another incredibly long story so I’ll just sum it up as fast as possible.
I was known as being the rock in the family. I was working up to over 50 hours a week, doing my Kinesiology degree, coaching teaching and driving from one hospital (1.5 hours from me) to be with my younger brother during chemo/radiation and a further 2 hours to check on my older brother in his coma while trying to manage a 3 year relationship with my boyfriend at the time living 3 hours from me. I’m not going to discuss details on all of this but you can imagine the mental and emotional stress that would accompany years of this. Well, you can imagine it but you wouldn’t really have seen it on me unless you caught me in a weak moment. I was the go-to person to reassure everything and everyone that everything was going to be ok and, in order to do this, I was desperately trying to convince myself of the same. It didn’t matter what came up.. “Jen, Jon needs a ride to the hospital”, “Frank’s alone at the hospital”, “We’ve got a game this weekend”, “Can you take an extra shift?”, “They just said Jon’s blood is now 96% cancerous”.. “Yep, ok, cool, I’ll be there, I’ll take it, no problem, it’s all good, he’ll be fine”.
During this time I switched from security officer to personal trainer and, began following the typically prescribed PT diet of high protein, low fat and low carbs. I usually had some sort of egg white dish for breakfast (frittata oatmeal egg white pancakes). Lunches and dinners were salmon, white fish or chicken with green vegetables and sweet potato. Snacks were trail mix and cottage cheese, yogurt, protein bars, and protein shakes. I lost a lot of weight but my health was at its absolute worst.
The decline to rock bottom was about 2 years and then it took that much longer to heal from it. One condition was obvious sooner than those two years, however. I had only been having my period 1-2 times per year for 6 years. Symptoms in my early 20s included: extreme hair loss, stomach bloating/distention, acid reflux, blue nail beds, yellow eyes, itchy skin, excessive acne along my jawline and neck, insomnia, night terrors, extreme lethargy particularly after eating, falling asleep while driving, constipation and lack of bowel movements for days, black tar-like stool, mood swings, constant joint pain, inability to focus and more. As months passed, symptoms became worse. I would fall asleep driving and my reflux was so bad (despite taking high doses of nexium prescribed to me and constantly chugging Malox) that I had to sleep in my car because if I slept in bed I wouldn’t stay propped up by my pillows and I would wake up literally choking hard/feeling like I’m drowning because my stomach acid would come up into my mouth. I was taking prescribed Dulcolax suppositories, Metamucil and ex-lax to try and stimulate bowel movements but nothing would come out.
Once again, too long of a story and too many details to discuss. I ended up on 16 pills daily that I was told were for life as doctors considered my undiagnosed health issues to be chronic. I saw more doctors than I could count in Canada and they just kept saying things like “I don’t understand. You eat healthy. You look healthy. You must just need more fiber”. I took the 16 pills a day and followed the doctor’s orders with time of day, food combining and pill combining by having alarms set all day long to keep me on track. I was desperate to feel better.
I took a PT client and friend up on an offer to join her in the Philippines for a few months to continue training her. Taking my medications religiously, symptoms became worse. It got to the point that I couldn’t eat anything as eating made it impossible to breathe. I was starving and would cry out of frustration as I was unable to even eat stewed prunes that I would suck on. My client had enough and took me to emerge in Manilla. The doctor immediately called in a cardiologist, respirologist and gastroenterologist. They ran bloodwork, did x-rays and other scans and then carefully put me under for an endoscopy and colonoscopy. My heart rate was under 40 bpm when I arrived and my blood pressure was also super low so the anesthesiologist held my hand and watched me closely the entire time.
I woke up to 6 student doctors around my bed and was directed to get dressed and join the head doctor in her office. Dr. Flores took 2 hours explaining what she had found through all of the testing: blood work relating to poor kidney health (indicating Stage 3 Kidney disease), PCOS, 3 stomach ulcers, lesions throughout my intestinal tract, esophageal erosion, a hiatal hernia, extreme anemia as well as low ferritin and hemorrhoids She then went on to explain that “in your country you would likely undergo a number of surgeries, however, here we like to address the cause rather than just treating the symptoms”. She asked questions about my life to see if I had any potential stressors. You know the answer to that.
I’m going to end this part of the story here but want to highlight that this is another time in my life that led me to understand that bad things can happen with good reason. If I didn’t spend those years being incredibly sick and then spend several years following that to heal my body, I never would have developed my 28 Day Challenge (a combination of what I learned from diets that contributed to caused my illnesses, Naturopathic doctors recommendations and learning about the power of food to decrease or increase inflammation/disease in the body). Dr. Flores also opened my eyes to the importance of addressing mental/emotional health and implementing strategies such as meditation, yoga, self-care, and methods to improve sleep quality.
The years went on and the healing was a long, hard, and at times defeating process. My brother became sicker and eventually passed away (October 8, 2008). I could write a novel about what I witnessed and experienced during his 5-year battle and, especially, his last 8 months where I lived with him and was by his side until his very last moment where I wiped the blood from his mouth following his last breath.
I had stopped my Master’s degree in Australia (just short of a 2-month internship and writing my thesis) to come home and care for Jon in his last 8 months. I was also his bone marrow match so it was important to be home to donate stem cells and leukocytes. After Jon passed, I felt as if I had lost my purpose. I returned to binge eating and began eating gluten again (a bad trigger for women with PCOS) for the first time in years. I gained 36 pounds in 3 months. Jonathan passed on October 8, 2008, and on January 1st, 2009 I looked in the mirror and it hit me. I saw myself inside someone else’s body My weight gain was out of control. I didn’t see myself as fat though. I saw myself as bloated and swollen. I knew that I was lying to myself and others. I kept moving forward and pretending that I was fine but it was obvious, looking in the mirror, that I wasn’t fine. I was wearing my true emotions everywhere – like a big, squishy suit of armor over my entire body.
I looked into that mirror and went through a series of affirmations I learned over the years. “I deeply and completely love and approve of myself. I am deeply and completely open and receptive to all of the greatness and abundance in the universe. I am loving and I am loved”. I understood that those words would be empty and meaningless without action. I also couldn’t settle without believing that Jon’s life and death happened for a reason. I felt that I lost my purpose when I lost him and then decided I didn’t lose my purpose. I realized my purpose was strengthened and enlightened through his life and death. As humans, we tend to grow and learn most from the hardest circumstances. I never would have learned what I know about nutrition and health if both my brother and myself had never become so sick. I also wouldn’t have had the chance to comprehend the depth of value in taking care of ourselves to feel better (rather than to look better – which had previously been my obsessive focus).
Jon’s presence was gone forever but the knowledge and experience I gained from his life were present and alive within me. I was deeply inspired to pursue what I began to see as my true purpose – to help others learn how to truly take care of themselves. I knew that this encompassed many variables including nutrition, self-love, and activity. I was the head personal trainer working for a popular big box gym and the most sought out PT because of the fact my clients had great results and my workouts with them looked so different from what other PTs were doing with them. I was using kettlebells and combining them with other body weight and functional exercises. I recognized that I had the ability to help people but I wanted to do it in an atmosphere that was different from typical gyms who saw people as numbers. I wanted to help people without making them pay $60-100/hour when most truly couldn’t afford it. I knew I could deliver the same personal feeling while coaching several people at once – significantly reducing the fee for members and providing an opportunity for many more people to participate and receive what I had to offer. I took advantage of the draw people had to me as “the kettlebell girl” and made the decision to open a kettlebell bootcamp gym – Make It Happen Strength and Conditioning.
I’m going to skip details as this is becoming a legit novel. Sorry! It’s hard to write all of this in short.
I was asked to talk about my food addiction so I’ll briefly explain more of that here. Even though I set out to open a gym, help others with their health and take better care of my own, it didn’t go in that direction at first. The stress of opening a gym with zero business experience and no money, combined with the sadness of losing my brother and now living on my own where I didn’t have to hide my habits, my binge eating was at its worst. I was eating ice cream 4 liters at a time. I would buy a box of cookies telling myself that I would only eat a few and then I would throw them into the garbage, after eating two rows, in an attempt to avoid eating the box. This never worked. Whatever it was that I threw into the garbage in the middle of a binge would be pulled back out and eaten within the next hour. One of the first skills I ever developed in my ability to manage binge eating was flushing food down the toilet or taking it to a public garbage can and throwing it away so that I would only have ½ the binge I would have if I was able to get my hands on the remainder of that food. It sounds crazy but that first step was very empowering and gave me feelings of pride knowing that I was finally only eating half a box of cookies or half a large pizza instead of the whole. I even binged on healthy foods such as nuts. I would try and eat a handful of nuts and it would lead to eating cups and cups of cashews, almonds, and pecans. You can imagine how this contributed to my weight gain even though they were healthier than cookies. Calories add up and nuts are very calorie dense. This is a gross one to admit – I would also binge on soy free, dairy free (I’m vegan) butter. I would eat it by the spoonfuls until the entire container was gone. I was addicted to the creaminess and saltiness. To be continued…
Jennifer has invested a lot of time sharing her story with you. We’ve decided to split it up into three parts. This is part one, part two is published, and part three will be published the following week. Leave a comment on this Facebook post and you’ll receive a notification when the next part is released.
Part 2 released on the 7th.
Ok, so you now know about the child abuse, working in a strip club for years to escape home, my food addiction, the stressful lifestyle I had during my Undergrad and Masters degrees, the state of my health in my early 20s, my brother dying from cancer, the opening of my gym and the climax of my food addiction. I’m going to skip 5 years (Note: in these years I did most of my mental, emotional and physical healing while growing my gym from nothing to a profitable and reputable business… even though that meant living in my gym in a small room with a mattress on the floor and no kitchen or showers on site for 3 years)…
Part 3 released on the 14th
Heath and Claire were positive that they just watched me die. Claire hiked back 7 hours in tears about what she had just seen. Our cell phones couldn’t get service so she headed back to call for a helicopter and Heath worked his way down the mountain to “stay with the body”…
Check out some of the other nominated Caveman Athletes:
- March 2019: Brittany van Schravendijk
- February 2019: Leo Vassershteyn
- January 2019: Mike Millen
- December 2018: Louisa Leremie
- November 2018: David Keohan
- October 2018: Carter Berry and Olivier Vaudour
- September 2018: Per Olhans
- August 2018: Douglas Seamans
- July 2018: Ava Morris
- June 2018: Kimberly Fox
- May 2018: Michèle Wauquier
- April 2018: Kettlebell Kandy
- March 2018: Adam Tonkin
- February 2018: Sandy Doyle
- January 2018: Taco Fleur
- December 2017 Jerry Gray
- November 2017 Jeff Bott
- October 2017: Leo Urquides
- September 2017: Maurizio Tangari
- August 2017: Russel Godwin
- July 2017: Eric Leija
- June 2017: Shawn Powers
- May 2017: Jessica Huttig
- April 2017: Kirsten Tulloch
- March 2017: Henk Bakker
- February 2017: Rik Brown
- January 2017: Kelly Manzone
- View all