Throughout 2016, we will be sharing some of the amazing submissions we received from the Athlete of the Year campaign. We hope these stories inspire you to realize your potential within Iron Tribe as well as in your personal life as much as they have inspired us — and remember to keep submitting your stories here!

This week, we’re sharing a story from right here in Birmingham, Casey Blighton!

Overcoming self doubt

My whole life, I’ve been a physically active person. I played tons of sports growing up, such as soccer, basketball, swimming, gymnastics, and race running. I was in a competitive marching band in high school, and continued that passion for music into college at The University of Alabama. I participated in intramural flag football, soccer, and basketball

all, just to name a few. But for every step I took as an athlete, I had a body image and self-esteem problem one step behind me.

In high school, I was teased for being taller and larger than other girls. Let me stress that I was definitely not fat, but wearing large/extra-large clothes when it was popular to wear XS shirts and low-rise pants hit me right where it hurt.

This continued into college. I ended up changing my major twice, took 6.5 years to finish my Bachelor’s degree, and fought with severe bouts of depression and feelings of worthlessness. I would eat entire bags of Oreos in one sitting and could finish an entire large Little Caesar’s pizza by myself.

I graduated high school at 155 pounds. I graduated college (6 and a half years later) at 218. In 2012, I tried to prevent weight gain by working out without changing my diet. Some friends were trying “Insanity,” a workout video program that promised toned abs and extreme weight loss. These workouts were too advanced for the new heavy me, and I proceeded to inflict serious harm on my knees and ankles — one of which I already had issues with as I had broken playing soccer when I was 14.

“I was 21 but felt like I was 60.”

Discouraged and injured, I abandoned the workouts and the running I previously enjoyed and lost hope in exercise. I was 21 but felt like I was 60. I had terrible joints, arthritis, digestive issues, eczema, asthma, and terrible scarring acne — and I hated how I felt and what I saw in the mirror.

Fast forward to January 2015. My husband found Whole30, a program (not a diet) designed to reset the system and change relationships with food. 30 days to a better life? I’ll bite! Though I wondered what in the world I’d eat without grains or dairy, I decided it was worth a shot. We threw out opened bottles of non-compliant foods, donated anything unopened, and headed to the farmer’s market.

After plowing through 30 straight days of nothing but meats, fruits, veggies and healthy fats, I had lost 19 pounds and gained back something even better: confidence. After reintroduction, I had lost even more weight, and had a healthier relationship with the food I ate. I’ve maintained the weight I lost (something I had previously not been able to do) and no longer beat myself up for eating pizza. I scored a victory and felt better after those 30 days, but I still battled internally with my self-esteem.

Confidence inspired by Iron Tribe

I started Iron Tribe in October 2015, and have done a complete turnaround since. I started gaining even more confidence in myself after completing 101 class. The Paleo diet, as explained in the manual, came easily and almost naturally to me. I loved the competitiveness and encouragement I received in the gym. I’ve been Whole30-ing this Transformation Challenge and my bod pod is on Wednesday. I can’t wait to see how much my body composition has changed, and I can’t wait to push my fitness even farther.

“I looked in the mirror and saw someone that could accomplish goals.”

Pre-tribe, I’d never done a pull-up, never touched a kettlebell or barbell before, and could barely do singles with the jump rope. Last Monday (1/25/16), I clean and jerked 100 pounds! I left the gym absolutely elated, and the next morning, I realized that for the first time in more than 10 years, I didn’t hate myself. I looked in the mirror and saw someone that could accomplish goals.

I can say no to the cupcakes sitting on the table at work. I can manage my stress levels in a healthy way, and I can encourage and inspire my friends and family to eat and exercise as well. I can lift heavy things and it is exciting! So here’s to the future, Iron Tribe, and a healthier relationship with food and my body.