While our physical efforts make us stronger, it's vulnerability that strengthens our hearts. For this month’s blog, we interviewed Catherine Huoy Walsh, our personal trainer whose struggle was her path to strength. As most interviews start out, we talked about her fitness training techniques and healthy habits. All things we value but rarely reveal a person's heart. When she started to open up about her hopes, dreams, passions – and of course – the struggles that shaped her, she became more than a personal trainer.
I saw her as Catherine. A woman who grew up in a small, two-bedroom house in Malaysia fighting over the top bunk bed with her siblings. A woman who contained so much ambition and love for her family that she immigrated to the United States at 18-years-old in 1998. I met a woman whose marriage fell apart, and whose pain taught her how to become stronger than she was before. Our hope is that by sharing her journey, we will all feel more connected to the strength that she brings us at mActivity.
“The economy in Malaysia was bad. I was working 11 hours a day, seven days a week and it was hard to make ends meet as a tour guide. I had a dream that if I moved to America I would be able to save enough money to help my family send my sister to college in Singapore. When my friend told me she was moving to New York to help her brother open a Chinese Japanese fusion restaurant, I bought a two-way ticket.
I told my parents that if I couldn’t stand it or I was too homesick, I would come back home. I believed the risk would be rewarding, but the reality was harder than I imagined. Even though I speak three languages – Mandarin, Cantonese and English – I had a really hard time with American English. So, I started watching Friends. I would just read and listen, read and listen until I slowly started getting better. I cried for three months every night missing my family but told myself that I couldn’t go back until I made some money.
For 12 years, I worked in the New York restaurant. Including Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas. By that time I had a daughter and a husband. Things were OK for a while until my husband was unable to support us financially. I needed to raise my daughter and I couldn’t do that well if my life continued in the direction that it was. My mom told me, “Make your best decision and I’ll fly over, watch your daughter and help you get out of the house.”
I lost everything in our divorce. My house, my car, and I had to start again from zero. At that point, more than anything, I wanted to feel strong. Becoming a personal trainer turned everything around. Now, when I workout, it means something. I look in the mirror and tell myself, “you got this.” Because I know I do. I am from another country and my English is broken, but I decided to believe in myself. And now I help others believe in themselves, too.
My 15-year-old daughter and I live in the Bethany countryside. There’s a trail near my house where we take our dog for long walks, or we’ll go biking and running. I completed my first marathon this year. By mile 22, everything is just boiling in the whole body, but I have learned how to trust myself through the pain.
In the summertime I spend time at the beach or go kayaking with my daughter. Once in a while we will go out to eat at our favorite local restaurant, Kebab House. It’s a Turkish restaurant in West Haven with really good chicken salad and homemade hummus. Otherwise I try to cook at home once a week something simple and light like roasted sweet potatoes, beets, broccoli. Eating with my daughter makes me miss eating with my whole family. In those moments I remind myself that life will never be perfect. We just do our best to make the best things happen. And to take good care of ourselves.
The reward for my journey is that I am able to make my family’s life better, even though I can’t see them everyday. My parents are proud of all that I’ve been able to accomplish personally, as a personal trainer and for my daughter. I am motivated to keep going, to keep climbing higher and higher.
I want to help other people stick with their goals, too. Taking good care of yourself makes it easier to have the strength and power you need to fight through hard times. If you train your body to be strong, your mind will eventually believe it is strong too. It’s not easy, it’s bumpy, but we get through it with consistency. We cross our obstacles one-by-one.”
The #mActivityPeople interview series focuses on the mindful lives and health routines of mActivity’s inspiring community. Submit your own on Instagram—post your mindful mActivity (tag us @mactivitynh!) and include the hashtag #mActivityPeople for a chance to be featured on our blog.