Meet Monique Harris

How old are you?
42 years old

How old where you when you decided to start working out? What happened when you finally thought I need to make a change?
I started really working out and getting in shape at 36. Before then I tried to lose weight like so many others but I just had no idea what to do. When I reached 240 lbs and threw out my back stretching, of all things, I decided it was beyond time for me to figure it out.
 
Tell me about your very first workout?
I don’t remember my very first workout but I do remember the very first time I ran for 5 whole minutes straight. When I was younger I had asthma and build up an intense fear of running. As I grew up I ultimately grew out of my asthma but not out of my fear of failure.

When I finally decided to start working out I knew I needed something with a very low barrier of entry, hence I started running. I knew that all I had to do was exit the door and start moving.  At first I was embarrassed that I could only run for a few seconds at a time without being completely winded but I set a goal to run/walk 1 mile, 5 days a week and set small goals for each run.  I started in July 2014 and on September 24, 2014 I ran my first 5 minutes continuously.  It helped me learn that to get better at something you have to learn that discomfort is temporary and success is on the other side of that discomfort.

How did you get into Power Lifting?
While I was lifting with a bootcamp group, one of my friends who had lost weight and become a bodybuilder said "you're strong, you should compete" and I said "at what?" she said "powerlifting".  At the time I had no idea what powerlifting was.  Eventually I was starting to lift heavier and heavier with my bootcamp group and wanted to make sure my form was good.  I went to a powerlifting gym for a few sessions, then to my first powerlifting meet, and that's were I met my coach Susan Salazar.  After training with her I was hooked and have been a powerlifter ever since.

What are you current PRs?
Meet PR: Squat: 352, Bench: 209, Deadlift: 435
Gym PR: Squat: 375, Bench: 209, Deadlift: 457 

What do you say to yourself when you step up to the barbell when you’re going for a new record?
During my rests I tend to be pretty jovial and chatty, but when its go time I am focused and determined.  Stepping up to the bar I try to summon all the force of the universe into my core to generate the intensity needed to explode out of the hole.  While wedging myself into the bar I recount all my whys.  "This is what you are here for.  This is lightweight and in order to move more weight you have to lift this first.  Deep breath.  Go!"  After that the next thing I tend to remember is standing up at the top with a new PR.

Like anything, some days in the gym are better than others, what is your self-talk like when you have an “off” day?
I would like to say I handle these well, but I guess I would say that I am learning to handle them better.  The first thing I do is give myself permission to feel however I feel about it and acknowledge those feelings. I do try to talk it out with people so I can analyze my feelings and get an alternate perspective.  If I am disappointed I ask myself why.  Did I put in the work? Did I hydrate, eat, sleep? Were their outside factors that impacted the day?  Once I am able to nail down things I believe impacted the off day I ask myself if they were in my control.  Often times the answer is yes and then I try to fix the issue.  But the reality is we will all have off days and unless its the day of your competition they are most likely not going to make or break your PR possibilities.  I can be the hardest on myself so I try to remember to be kind and give myself the same pep talk I would give to a friend.

What is your most vivid memory during your fitness journey?
Deadlifting Wayne Brady on Christmas Eve episode of Let's Make a Deal!  

In 2019, I went on Let's Make a Deal with my family and told Wayne that I was a competitive powerlifter and my PR was 440 lbs.  He then asked if I could pick him up and I said "Well, you are less than 440 lbs". All the while I thought he was joking until he proceeds to lay down on the ground.  I couldn't back down now even though I have never picked up a person before, let alone on national television.  All I could think of was "I better not drop this expensive man" and "Susan is gonna kill me with training if I don't get this lift" .  So I reached down and picked him up on national TV! So powerlifting got me on a game show and helped me pick up a celebrity on TV.

Oh yeah, and I ended up winning a car!

How has your fitness journey affected your daily lifestyle?
Honestly, in every way.  I look back at my fitness journey and am proud of all the little changes that have become part of my daily routine.  Drinking water, being mindful of my food choices, making exercise a priority.  These are things that not long ago would have been a struggle and now I don't even think about them.  They are as ingrained into my daily life as brushing my teeth.  And just like brushing your teeth, when you don't do it you know!

It also reinforced my confidence in following my own path.  You have to be steadfast in your goals when so many ask you why.  Why are you measuring your food? Why do you spend so many hours in the gym? At first I tried to explain or defend my activities knowing they were not the norm, now I just move forward  not letting their question get to me because my why is strong enough. Now when I do something out of the norm or start something new I remember my fitness journey from discomfort to confidence and know that I can make it through.

Who has played the largest role in motivating you?
There have been many coaches, trainers, and workout groups that I trained with over the years and I am thankful that each of them has motivated me in so many ways. But honestly, if I had to say who has played the LARGEST role in motivating me. I would say ME.  I don't think we give ourselves enough love, appreciation, and credit for the things we do everyday. Each day we have to make a choice to eat well when we want to eat junk, to exercise even when we want to be lazy, and to shut down that negative voice in our head that shows up all too often.  These are things we have to do 24/7, everyday of our lives, when those external motivators are sleeping and living their lives.  External motivators definitely give me periodic boosts but it is my own why that keeps me motivated every moment of every day.

What has been your biggest struggle during journey these past few years?
NUTRITION!!!  It's been the bane of my fitness journey.  I am fairly well educated about macros, caloric deficits or surplus, and other nutritional areas but once you mix the scientific absolutes with the variables of your own particular body it becomes a bit more of a science experiment.  I grew up with people saying eat less and move more, which fundamentally is key, but when I found myself eating 1200 calories and exercising hours per day and still not looking like the super model in the magazine I knew something was wrong and needed to find an answer. With age I realized that it's my responsibility to learn what my individual body and body type needs.  I still struggle with nutrition but I now do it from a mindset of continuing education and trying to make a program that works with, not against, what my body needs.

What have you learned about yourself?
I hate open ended AMRAPs!  Give me a finite number or time limit and I  will pursue it with all the force in my being. Give me just an AMRAP and that becomes an AMRAWTD "as many reps as want to do".  Goals are king for me so I go into each powerlifting cycle with a set of goals to achieve.  Not just PR numbers but technique, training, recovery, etc. These help refocus my energy when you find yourself veering from the path.

Do you view yourself as a role model to other women your age?
ABSOLUTELY! I LOVED when I first got called a Masters Athlete.  MASTERS ATHLETE! It sounds so prestigious. It's also a title of strength.  The saying "Beware of an old man in a profession where men usually die young" is one that helps me love and respect what my body can do.  There are so many women that say "I could never do that" but I believe that I am a reflection of "yes, you can!".  The fact that I didn't start this fitness journey until 36 shows that you can start at any age doing anything.  Don't let your best years be behind you.

What would you change with how women approach exercise if you could?
I would give them an entitled intensity.  Often women shy away from unleashing their brute force when exercising. I see it every day when newer women enter strength sports. For so many years we are taught to be soft, unassuming, and apologetic.  We grow up being told to be nice.  When you are trying to lifts hundreds of pounds on your back you cannot afford to be nice.  You can't shyly ask the bar if you can inconvenience it and lift it safely to completion.  Instead you have to approach that bar with the knowledge that it WILL be lifted and the intensity to summon whatever force it takes to move it quickly. You are entitled to yell, scream, grunt, and do whatever it takes for you to grow and becomes stronger at whatever you do.  I believe when women harness that intensity it translates into everything they do.

In your own words, what’s an athlete?
An athlete is craftsman.  They are someone who has moved away from casual engagement to a serious pursuit of continuous improvement and excellence in their sport. They do not have to be THE best but they are striving to be THEIR best.  That is what I love about powerlifting.  At the end of the day, it is YOU against YOU.  Recently, I competed at the LA Fit Expo and missed my goal of 1000 lb total by 8 lbs.  I was deeply disappointed on the day but ultimately took a step back, dissected what went well and what went wrong and set new goals to improve my performance next time. Every person that participates in a sport in the pursuit of continuous improvement is an athlete.

What advice do you have for other females over 35 looking to get started?
First and foremost, TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY.  As you launch yourself head first into your new pursuit don't forget that your body is a performance vehicle and it needs love, care, and maintenance to keep performing.  Take rest days, get massages and body work, eat, sleep, and don't ignore your aches and pains.  This applies to athletes under 35 but is critical to longevity for a Masters Athlete.  Make recovery a priority.

Next, try new things until you find the thing you love. During my journey I was a runner, a bootcamp junkie, a Spartan racer, and now I am a powerlifter.  With each one of those adventures I was motivated because I loved what it gave me.  But when I found powerlifting I definitely feel I found the sport that fits me.  In retrospect, without the steps in my journey I would not be powerlifting today.
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