Kristi Winger Szudlo’s story left me in tears. When you read the power of prayer and determination this woman embodies, you will be blown away. During her first pregnancy she unexpectedly delivered her son 15 weeks early, he only weighed one pound and ten ounces. Can you imagine? Kristi, with the loving support of her husband and family, refused to accept that their precious boy would not be okay and 96 days later-he came home! After all they had gone through, the thought of having another child was frightening, but they trusted God and today they have two healthy children. With her second pregnancy, Kristi had to be on bed rest and gained 65 pounds. Within 13 weeks of delivering her daughter, and still nursing, Kristi competed in a beauty pageant and went on to become a WBFF Bikini Pro. Kristi is a living definition of success. She continually pushes herself to take on loftier goals, and she sees them through. Kristi is both a fitness model and a writer, but what impresses me most is heart to help others. Join me in celebrating this beautiful woman and read on for some powerful inspiration! Thank you, Kristi, for sharing your story.
Kim: Share a little about you.
Kristi: Hello friends, I am Kristi Winger Szudlo, WBFF Pro and I am blessed to be the wife of Brian for almost 9 years. Together we have 2 wonderful and beautiful children, and two amazing Australian Shepherd dogs. Our son is 5 ½, daughter is 2 ½, and our dogs are just slightly more than one year old each. Our family lives in great state of Ohio. OH-IO! GO BUCKEYES! :- )
Kim: Have you gone through a transformation?
Our two children are true miracles in the actual definition of the word, but my transformation really starts with our first-born son who was born unexpectedly 15 weeks prematurely for no known medical reason. I had a perfect pregnancy until the day he was born. There were no signs of problems at any of my check-ups, no pain, and no warnings. The doctors still cannot explain his premature birth, which is true in approximately 50% of premature births. At birth, he weighed just one pound and ten ounces and measured just a mere 13.5 inches in length. We were told he had a 5% chance of survival during the first 24-48 hours and those odds would only increase slightly in the first week, depending on the many complications that they were sure would occur over the coming weeks. We were shocked and numb. Prayer was all our family and friends knew we could rely on. We put the word out through a blog and friends and family from all over the USA and literally many parts of the world were deep in prayer everyday asking for protection over his small body. We needed a miracle. I don’t think we allowed ourselves to breathe for those first few days. He was so fragile that we could not even touch him or hold him for the first three days. It was agony. Our little guy fought in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit some tougher battles than most of us will battle over an entire lifetime, but over time he was slowly winning. We are so blessed to report that thanks to a wonderful NICU medical staff (the NICU nurses ROCKED), the power of prayer, and the medical research that had been previously done and funded by the March of Dimes on lung development in preemies; our son is today a thriving 5-year-old. However, it didn’t happen overnight or without many scares and difficulty, as I am sure you all can imagine.
We felt beyond blessed to bring him home 96 days later on just 24 hour oxygen support and an apnea monitor. My professional job and even my once daily fitness workouts I had maintained during my pregnancy would have to be missed a little bit longer. “A small sacrifice”, I told myself because my prayers had been answered and I was a mom first. MY needs are second. I felt as though I was given a true miracle that I would forever owe the repayment of though my deeds of thankfulness. I observed that not every family in the NICU was as blessed as we were, and it was heartbreaking. I resolved to not be unappreciative by spending wasteful time on me. So, I kept vigil over our son by providing an abundance of love, listening for his monitor to be ready when needed, and providing his medications right on time. I never napped. I allowed no visitors to our home so not to unmeaningly share their germs to his fragile immune system, except our ministers and the Grandma’s and Grandpa’s. We only went out to see his many doctors and when we did, I waited in the car until our appointment time and had them call me on my cell phone so I could avoid the germs in the waiting room. I would come directly in to the exam room with him. I was on guard- totally hypervigilant all of the time. I felt that we were not going to survive the NICU to lose him to RSV, pneumonia, the swine flu, or another illness.
When he was in the NICU I spent every day by his isolette incubator, and so I just followed that regiment of watching over him every minute for the next 12 weeks of my maternity leave when he came home. After 6 months of this intense vigilance, and as our son was doing better, getting stronger, gaining weight and starting to thrive…I slowly began to realize that maybe it was mommy that wasn’t doing so great. As I allowed myself to let my guard down just a bit, I realized that maybe I was suffering. This had been hard (on my husband) and me too, despite our stiff upper lips and “can do attitudes”. I knew I could not keep going at that level of intensity without an outlet for myself. BUT I still felt so guilty wanting time for myself or anything for myself! As “moms”, there are so many reasons and excuses we give for why we feel guilty to take time for ourselves.
Insert your reason here: ( )
From my story, I felt like I had the TRUMP CARD of all excuses that justified not taking time for me and going back to the gym, where I LOVED to go!!! But then a transformation occurred in my thinking when I read a little simple saying—“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain” (Author unknown)
So, with my husband 100% behind me, I gave myself, my family, and beautiful gift of a son the chance to “dance in the rain” and start to make myself mentally healthy again by heading back to the gym for some valuable me time. That time at the gym, started to help me begin to feel like me again. I didn’t even realize how much of me I had lost until I started spending more time there. It was freeing and empowering. Doing that made me better in every way. I felt stronger physically and had more energy to do what was needed by my son. I felt mentally clearer. I was more patience. I felt less fear and in better control when our son coughed or the monitor went off. I was at a deeper peace with my faith. I believed in myself again and I felt like a better and more capable mom. All of that was because I was gaining back my sense of self. And as a plus, I felt the weight of the world being lifted off my shoulders while at the same time; my shoulders started looking pretty fit! LOL!
This transformation taught me that caring for your self is never selfish. By giving myself “me time” at the gym in turn was truly caring for my son and my husband, as odd as that may sound to some it is none-the-less true. It was a long transformation to find my way back to me, but I was so glad I made it.
Friends, if you are in a difficult situation or are stuck at a crossroads and need someone who would understand, please reach out to me or some else who can help. Don’t stay stuck.
Krisiti: As I had stated in the first question, my real story and journey of fitness is inspired by BOTH of my children. My husband and I knew we wanted to expand our family, since our son was over 2 years old at this time and such an absolute joy! However, with our son’s birth being so premature and to no known medical reason, we were told we now had a 1 in 8 chance of another premature birth. We took considerable pause and consulted with medical specialists, genetic counselors, family members, and also did a great deal of leaning on our faith to decide if we ourselves should have a second child or consider other options. It was a desire of our hearts to have one of our own, since our son made us so happy and was so amazing! We never knew love like he brought into our lives. With our ObGyn encouraging us that he felt good about us moving forward ourselves, we finally decided after gathering all the other facts that if it was in our hearts to have another child, we would leave it to God and try. If we got pregnant in six months, then we felt that it was meant to be. If we did not get pregnant in six months, we were to consider adoption.
We were lucky enough to get pregnant right away, which for us confirmed we had made the right choice. I had weekly checkups with my ObGyn that started at week 12 and included ultrasounds. Everything looked amazing. At week 19 of the pregnancy we hit a bump in the road. I went in for my weekly appointment to discover that I was showing signs that I was threatening to deliver. Thankfully, due to my very smart ObGyn and the plans he had set into place for weekly ultrasounds, they caught the issue proactively. I underwent a medical procedure called a cerclage that same day. I then was put on restrictive bed rest and in addition to continuing my weekly physician appointments with ultrasounds; I received weekly progesterone shots for the remaining 21 weeks of the pregnancy. Well, so much for maintaining my workouts! Working out is hard to do while you lay completely flat on bed rest and are scared to move! Believe me; my son’s premature birth memory was on my mind constantly. I didn’t move unless I HAD to or was allowed to.
Just about a month or so before we knew we were pregnant with our daughter, I became the Beauties of America Ohio pageant representative. While on bed rest I was suffering from both boredom and a little bit of the blues, I decided to set two goals to get my mind onto something more positive 1) I vowed to get back to the gym and to my pre- pregnancy weight so I can compete at The Beauties of America Nationals pageant as the Ohio representative in August. I knew if I went to term that I would be just shy of 13 weeks after my (mandatory) C-section delivery and 2) I would try to win SOMETHING while there, with my heart set on the Fitness category. I felt like this stretch goal would force me to work my behind off (and all the other flabby parts—ha ha) so I would not embarrass myself on stage.
We were successful! In May, our daughter was born full term. Goal one met! Talk about polar opposites in weight for our children though! We were blessed to bring at 40 weeks via C-section the most beautiful, healthy, baby girl that weighed nearly 10 pounds! And speaking of weight, she was not the only one tipping the scales! Mom managed to gain 65+ pounds from inactivity on restrictive bed rest, progesterone shots, and yes, I admit—stuffing my face at whim with more Reese Cups and Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfaits than I had collectively eaten in a lifetime! :- ). LOL! Can you say “Surrender”!!?? I did submit to the world of “Are you seriously going to eat that?” and its close friend, “Yes I am–and I hope there are two or three more in that bag!” Ha! Ha! Trust me, it was NOT pretty. My poor hubby just learned to say “Anything you want babe” when I was on bed rest and smile. He is amazing.
So did I reach goal two and lose the 65+ pounds before nationals, and if so how did I do it? Yes, I did! Once our princess was born, I watched my diet closely and ate a lot of protein and green veggies or veggies that were less starchy that are good for a nursing mom who wants to be fit. I also ate whole grain fibers that help fill you up. I ate 6 healthy meals a day, with protein as more than half the source of each of the meal. I ate no desserts but used fruits for a sweet taste. I walked with the baby in a stroller right away or even just carried her at least 1 mile at first and up to 3 miles as my stamina increased. I increased this to twice a day. Once I was medically cleared to do more aggressive workouts, I did extensive interval cardio, weights (a must), and I used my sweet but heavy baby as one of the weights which she loved. I also used bands, the ball, and no doubt thanks also to nursing– I managed to lose those last couple of pounds that brought me to my pre-pregnancy weight (minus the gained 65+ pounds) the very day I had to hit the stage to compete in the pageant! BAM! Thank goodness too because my evening dress was threatening to not zip unless all the weight was off!
That national pageant weekend was amazing. I met some wonderful lifelong friends who are amazing ladies! My entire family went to cheer me on, including my parents and my beautiful little newborn daughter. Honestly, it was my little daughter who stole the show! She was the true beauty winner! I was blessed to take 1st runner up in my division and I won fitness and evening gown categories. I was thrilled and I also met my goals of losing the weight and winning something! I was also lucky enough to meet a woman who later would guide me into the start of my fitness career by suggesting I try fitness competitions. She was one of the judges of the pageant—Melissa Hall Little. She is now a wonderful mentor and a dear friend.
Remember: The power of setting a goal, no matter if everyone else thinks it is crazy, is amazing! Give yourself that gift. God works in amazing ways through so many people. Go after those dreams, embrace the desires of your heart, and set a daring goal. You never know who you will meet along the way, who is meant to mentor you, guide you, support you, or encourage you.
Kim: Anything you’ve accomplished you would like to share?
Kristi: After starting my Fitness career with the help of Melissa in June of 2010, I feel like I have come a long way, learned a lot, and I have had many successes I am proud of. The one I am most proud of and I am still floating on Cloud 9 from, is winning my Fitness Model Pro card at Kevin Topka’s Amazing New England WBFF show on November 5th 2011. I am so honored to be called a WBFF Pro. The WBFF brings the best and the brightest out to compete. Their shows are always so well put together and classy. It is very true when they say, “The Best of the Best Compete with the WBFF”!
My Fitness Career-2010
~6/2010 Fitness Universe (Nat’l) – Miami, FL (FIRST SHOW EVER!) Bikini-13th
~8/2010 Carolina Nationals- Charlotte, NC-Bikini Classic- WINNER
~10/2010- Midwest Classic- Chicago, IL- Bikini Classic- 3rd
~11/2010- Fitness America (Nat’l) – Las Vegas- Bikini Classic- 12th
~6/2011 Fitness Universe (Nat’l) – Miami, FL- Bikini- TOP 10, 6th Prelim
~6/2011 WBFF Boston Championship-Diva Bikini Model Tall-3rd Place, and Diva Fitness Model Tall-7th, Diva Fitness Model 35- 7th.
~10/2011 WBFF Edmonton Championship-Diva Bikini Model Tall-6th Place
~11/2011 WBFF NE Championship- Fitness Modell Tall- 4th Place
~11/2011 WBFF NE Championship- Fitness Model Masters- 1st Place- PRO CARD!!!!
“With God all things are Possible” Genesis 18:13
Kim: What is your favorite fit-mom, fit-family meal? Snack? Any go to items?
Kristi: As a family we love several on the go snacks. My favorite is a handful of raw unsalted whole almonds and my husband loves popcorn for a snack for something that he feels is more filling. You can use spray butter that is unsalted and lower in calorie to keep on your fit plan. (Limit popcorn portion to a 100 calorie bag) The kids like both of these both options and also like apple slices to snack on. When I am giving myself a reward, a tablespoon (no more) of a lower sugar/fat and low sodium peanut butter is to die for! We ALL love peanut butter! Reese Cups do not qualify in this category sadly! :- ( Ha, Ha!
Kim: Favorite Fit-Family activity?
Kristi: I am a silly spirited person, and the kids are like me in that way. My poor husband gets thrown in the middle of our antics! We turn up the music loud and we dance around the house for at least an hour almost every night. We have our own dance party. It is a riot.
Our son is a great dancer and my favorite move of his reminds me of a “break dancer spin”. Sooo funny! I have no idea where he saw it to imitate it! Our 2 ½ years old daughter is a “raise the roof” kind of girl…she keeps her knees bouncing with her arms high in the air and head popping. My husband’s has a contained smooth, groove. I can dance most any way, to most any music, and do most any kind of move—I just need to move! As a woman who started dance at age 3 (ballet, jazz, lyrical Jazz) and danced for 16+ years, as well as was a cheerleader from junior high throughout all my years in school, I feel dancing was my first love.
The kid’s favorite thing to do during our dance party lately is to have me pick a song and then dancing turns into a dance train through the house like you see at weddings. We do a lot of laughing.
Kim: How do you stay fit amidst a hectic schedule and manage to do it all?
Kristi: My husband and family really support me so I am very lucky, since I also work full-time. That is the only way it is possible. Training and competing does take a lot of time, money, discipline, drive, support, and understanding from family and friends. I am so blessed!
It also helps to have a great “in industry” support system, such as a coach, mentor, and competition friends who have sound guidance, advice, love, and friendship to offer you from the industry perspective and friend perspective that you can trust. Trust is KEY. I am blessed to call my Mentor the stunning Chady Dunmore, 2x World WBFF Bikini World Champion who I completely trust with my guidance. She is an amazing business woman, brilliant, and an even better loyal friend. I also have in my life the beautiful, talented, business savvy, Melissa Hall Little who first introduced me to the industry and is always mentoring me and being an amazing friend. Among many friends I have met competing in the industry that I love, one of the most beautiful people inside and out who is as sweet and giving as the day is long is Tammy Horton Streich. She is my rock. These ladies will be honest with me on everything, push me, stand by me, cheer me on, are loyal, provide great advice, pump me up, humble me, and would always give it to me straight. Everyone needs a set of these kinds of supporters!
Day to day, my self-support comes from my set routine. This is also critical to have. That routine for me begins as I set the alarm early so I can have some “me” time. This works most mornings but with kids you never know when they will wake up. I always get in some abdominals and weights. I try to get in at least a run on the treadmill or do some time on my elliptical to get cardio in before the family needs to get ready for the day. I then get breakfast going and the kids up, if they are not up already, and get them off to their destinations with the help of our childcare assistant. Finally, I get myself ready for work which includes packing my fit food for the day so I am eating right. At the end of each day, I will hit the gym or home gym for a full workout.
My husband and I feel the time is worth it as we see our son and daughter emulate my exercises and talk about getting “their protein” in their meals from my examples. We know it is also teaching them great lessons about setting a goal, working hard for it, and achieving it.
Kim: Words of motivation and inspiration for other moms?
Kristi: It is important to note the two themes I have covered.
The first theme was in the “transformations”, and the importance of self. If you are not your own best friend first and foremost, you then should question if you are being your own worst enemy in some subtle way? When I was not working out or having any “me” time because I felt too guilty to give myself the time to do anything away from my medically fragile son, I missed the whole point! Instead of staying home making me a person who was equipped with great stress strategies and who was empowered like I once was, I was simply was a tired, stressed out, too paralyzed with fear to leave mom that felt helpless, but didn’t realize it. My giving myself an hour to go to the gym for the gift of health, allowed me to accomplished finding myself again. By returning to the gym, I slowly returned to myself. This once thought of guilty pleasure of “me” time, faded as I realized it made me an even better mom, wife, and person through my transformation journey. Everyone received the benefits of my transformation.
The second theme I wrote about was getting my post-baby body back by simply starting with setting a goal. How setting that goal led me, and can lead you to your dreams. As the saying goes, “A goal is just a dream with a deadline”. Who would have thought that as I was forced to be on bed rest during my high risk pregnancy 2 ½ years ago that those 2 goals I set would grow into two pretty buds that later would blossom into my beautiful bouquet of dreams coming true! I delivered a healthy baby girl at full term and almost 10 pounds! I made it to the national pageant with the weight loss challenge I had set for myself met! I also achieved my goal of winning a category by winning the Fitness and Evening Gown categories at Nationals in my division at Beauties of America! Wow! The cherry on top of the sundae was meeting a judge who mentored me into the Fitness World and eventually led me all the way to a WBFF Fitness Model Pro Card! How did all that happen? It all happened by setting 2 simple goals.
Here is the thing about goals, they are yours. Maybe no one else thought it was possible for me lose the weight in 13 weeks and make it to the national pageant—or to lose the weight even at all. But what mattered was I believed I could do it. And did it!
I would love to connect. As I said earlier, if you are in a difficult situation or a simply stuck at a crossroads and need someone who would understand, need someone to cheer you on, or just want to say hello, please connect with me either on my brand new Facebook profile, my Athlete page or my new Website because I assure you, I will believe in your dreams with you!.
Click the following links to connect with Kristi: