Deer Camp 2019; photo credit: Lindsey Mulcare

Fitness Through Recovery, Self-Love: Hunt & Fish Editor Nicole Qualtieri

From climbing mountains to running marathons, a job at GearJunkie requires a solid level of fitness. Our ‘How I Stay Fit’ series profiles editors and contributors on our staff for a peek at their fitness habits and idiosyncrasies working out and adventuring in the outdoors.

I’ve always been a #thicc, strong, well-muscled athlete. I played competitive soccer and lacrosse from childhood through my late 20s. Once sports were no longer a part of daily life, I had to learn how to do fitness on my own with mandatory team practices fading into adulthood, work-life balance, and managing new hobbies.

Running and yoga led to hiking, a bit of trail running, and backpacking. From there, I fell in love with hunting and fishing.

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The author, #23, team captain, Wheat Ridge High School lacrosse, circa 2002

My hobbies have always been active. But it took a long time for me to get over sports- and gender-related body issues and find a rhythm that suited me and my athletic capabilities.

I’ve also had the unfortunate challenge of pushing myself through knee pain and injuries for as long as I’ve been an athlete. Over the past few years, these injuries and my active lifestyle resulted in a severe decline in mobility.

That decline led to bilateral total knee replacements at 35 years old. I’m in between two of them at the moment, with my right knee 16 days post-surgery and my left knee in waiting until my right knee is up to the job of primary body-holder.

This leaves me once again learning how to negotiate fitness in the present moment. Currently, “fitness” revolves around very specific and difficult physical rehabilitation. Still, my physical, mental, and emotional health come into play daily.

As some of my normal fitness goals meet a pause, much of my focus has been on my emotional relationship with my own body — broken as it may be — and loving it as is.

Here’s where I’m at in the journey.

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Hunt & Fish Editor Nicole Qualtieri: Recovery, Realistic Goals, and Body Love

Fitness motto: Meet yourself where you’re at.

Personal stats: 5’6″, 182 pounds, 35 years old.

Home state: Grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and Denver, Colorado — now in Butte, Montana.

Favorite sports: Hiking, backpacking, hunting all types of game, fly fishing, Bikram yoga, horseback riding.

Adventure highlights: Solo backpacked 150 miles of the northern Continental Divide Trail in 2014; spent late teens and 20s playing equestrian polo at Colorado State University and beyond; filled two mule deer buck tags alone on public land and in the backcountry in 2017 and 2018; spent 10 months and 30,000 miles living and playing on public land in the American West in a 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee, visiting 17 national parks; canoed 50 miles of flatwater through Utah’s Canyonlands National Park and Labyrinth Canyon; hosts annual women’s Deer Camp in Montana.

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The author (center) playing polo in Denver, circa 2011

Weekly routine: I’m currently a few weeks out of post-op, so I’m in recovery mode. I go to physical therapy 3 days a week, consistently. I have to stay off the knee to prevent swelling, so a combo of crutches, PT, and 6-8 hours a day on a continuous passive motion machine is my life.

When I’m not stuck in surgery mode, I tend to lean to mountain hiking as a baseline for fitness. I’m hoping to get back to hiking 3-5 days a week, doing at least 1,000 feet of incline and 3 miles each hike. (My border collie Butch might be even more stoked about it than I am.)

And to balance out cardio, I used to do Bikram yoga once or twice a week. As my rehab continues, I’d like to add modified CrossFit and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) back into my weekly workouts. But we shall see.

How I keep it fun: I’ve learned that I don’t do what I don’t like. Luckily, I like a lot of things. It took a while for me to find hiking, and I loved being able to crush a 4,000-foot incline day when I built up to it. Mentally, I love to suffer and I love a payoff.

Incline hiking gives me both the struggle and the view. Horseback riding is a different type of total body workout. And backpacking to high-alpine lakes in the summer with a fly rod is the peak of joy for me. The farther I can get back into the hills, the better.

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The author at Iceberg Lake, Glacier National Park, 2015; photo credit: Kym Smith

The fitness struggle: Having a thicker, more muscled build, I’ve felt the lifelong pressure of being thin. I always envied born runners and their birdlike abilities to crush quick miles.

Much of my life was really spent loathing or punishing my body for what it couldn’t be or do. Whether I was listening to coaches who were negative and abusive about my body or the voice inside my head, working out was intentionally punitive, and I hated it. I pushed through a lot of both inner and physical pain; I worked incredibly hard. But at the end of the day, not much changed. I was still me.

In my late 20s, I took a step back and re-evaluated my relationship to physical health. I decided that I would work out for me and no one else. Hiking and running just for enjoyment paved the way for me to find body acceptance.

And as I’ve had to adapt to a less active lifestyle through my knee issues, I’ve been able to do a lot of inner work to address these body anxieties and finally sit back and say “thank you” to a body that has done amazing, strong, brilliant things for me over 35 years.

This is why my fitness motto is to “meet yourself where you’re at.” Today, I can’t run. I can’t even walk without crutches. But I can focus on my PT goals, and I look forward to a healthier life with less pain.

Fitness goals for 2020: I can’t tell you how excited I am to break beyond these two major knee surgeries and find new fitness rhythms this year. But running is likely out of bounds for a long time — if ever.

Studies are showing that people who stay strong and fit on knee replacements do better and have success working out on the prostheses. Walking, hiking, biking, swimming, and riding my horse will all be inbounds as of this year.

lou
The author, her horse Lou, and her dog Butch Cassidy, 2019; photo credit: Lindsey Mulcare

I have gained about 10-15 pounds over the course of the past 2 years, and I’ve lost a ton of muscle mass. One of my main goals is to address these issues through both diet and exercise, get fit however my knees will allow, and strengthen my body holistically without putting a ton of pressure on my new knees.

Tips for a healthy relationship to body and fitness: I’m not the only person who faces these kinds of struggles with body and fitness. If you find yourself struggling in your fitness journey, be adventurous and find what you love to do.

Aim for a few days a week rather than every day in the beginning. Give your body time to rest and time to work. Focus on being consistent rather than perfect. Listen to Lizzo. And remember that more people are rooting for you than judging you. I’m one of them.

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Nicole Qualtieri
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Based in Montana, Nicole Qualtieri is GearJunkie's Hunt + Fish Editor. When she's not writing or editing, she's likely hunting, fishing, or on the back of her little brown horse with a border collie named Butch Cassidy on heel in the mountains. Find her on Instagram at @nkqualtieri.

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