As that ceremonial ball dropped and popping champagne corks declared the start of 2019, people across our country also started to consider what they could do better in the new year. Read more, stay organized, and of course the most popular New Year’s resolution- improve diet and exercise. Some of you might have already started piling the greens onto your plates and are adjusting to your new morning workout. We all want to be healthier – but for what reason? We want to look good- right?
Athlete, mom, and manicurist, Emily May knows how important diet and exercise really is. To her, that resolution is not just about looks; exercise isn’t just a tool to stay toned, it’s a necessity for her emotional health.
It’s hard not to like Emily. She’s strikingly pretty, calm, and incredibly kind. You can also tell by looking at her that she must be a great athlete (toned body was an understatement). Competition and fitness have been a constant in her life. As a girl growing up in Parkton, Maryland, the then Emily Gray loved playing sports. In high school, she competed on the field hockey and lacrosse teams. In between sports and school, she also fell in love with a boy. She went on to play lacrosse at Johns Hopkins University and in her junior year, she ran her first marathon in Baltimore. After college, Emily married that high school sweetheart. The two newlyweds moved to Boston and began their adult life together with the birth of their first son.
Emily adjusted to her new home and life as a mom and wife by continuing to foster her self-competition. She challenged herself with kettlebell workouts and interval training, even while pregnant.
The high school sweethearts eventually moved to a Boston suburb, and Emily gave birth to a second son. Viewed from a picture frame Emily seemed to be living the American dream. A stay at home mom, healthy boys, married to her best friend; things were going well.
Emily continued her workouts during both pregnancies, but after her second son was born, her gym closed. So, she explored other options and along the way discovered Crossfit. She started with just one day a week. Emily loved it! She felt satisfied. She would even tote her boys along with her to the gym fostering their interest in sports.
Emily At CrossFit
Unfortunately, as can often happen to athletes, an injury occurred. Emily had a hernia and required multiple vascular surgeries, which meant almost a year off from any major physical exercise. That constant that had kept Emily balanced was gone.
Coming back from her injuries, resistance training was no longer an option. On top of missing the consistency of heavy physical exercise and self-improvement, her nephew was diagnosed with a kidney tumor that spread to his lungs. That pretty perfect bubble that people saw was deflating.
Even though weights were not an option, Emily could still run. So, working with coaches, she ran the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, Pennsylvania to raise money for her nephew.
That helped her mood slightly, but something was still off. Both boys were now in school. Life was shifting. Emily tried to adjust to the changes by figuring out what to do with her now free time.
One might assume there’s a massive relief of freedom when children go to school. For many women, it’s the opposite. Being a mom and tending to someone constantly was their identity. It can really shake up one’s world when that daily responsibility diminishes.
In trying to figure out her path, Emily started to do nails and work as a make-up artist at local salons and threw herself into her gym routine.
Despite her nephew’s improvement and finding a use for her spare time, she still felt lost. The relationship with the person she loved the most was also changing. After spending 18 years together, she and her husband were growing apart. This isn’t uncommon for people who meet at a young age, and it isn’t anyone’s fault. What a person wants and who they are at 16 years of age can be much different at 30-years-old. Fault or no fault, it still felt like life was falling apart; Emily was dealing with serious emotional issues. Her body started to physically react and in the winter of 2017, Emily lost 20 pounds. She felt hollow. Being a self-aware woman, she sought help and was eventually diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
Emily at her thinnest and battling depression.
Now, when someone is diagnosed with pretty much anything, the usual answer is prescription medication. Being a competitive and strong person, Emily didn’t want to rely on any temporary crutch, she just wanted to get better. (Although, we should note, she understands anyone’s personal decision to use medication and how in some cases it is an absolute necessity. It just wasn’t the right answer for her.) Emily knew that she had a solution that always helped her through tough situations – diet and exercise were going to be her medication.
She continued with therapy and started clean eating. She also reached out to members of the community at her Crossfit gym, where she had established and nurtured many new relationships. A group asked if she had any interest in doing a Spartan Race. In the past, Emily thought Spartan Races posed an unnecessary risk for injury. But, at this point in her life, it seemed like a physical challenge was exactly what she needed. So, she said yes.
And guess what, Emily May ended up winning the open division! That win made her feel so good at a time when she felt weak. You can’t fake winning. That clean eating gave an upsurge in performance. Her body was strong and working even though it was stressed. That win was a good measure of her health and performance. Life was going to be okay.
Not only did the thrill of competing invigorate her, but it appeared she might be good at it. So, she focused on the next goal and signed up for The Beast (a longer distance competition). She also threw herself into her own business traveling to do make-up, nails, and throwing “manicure parties.”
At this same time of self-discovery and growth, she and her husband agreed to separate.
Emily stayed focused on her boys and her own emotional health, which centered on training and competing and her growing business. Just a few months later she won the competitive division of The Beast. After that? Her 3rd Spartan Race, where she came in 2nd place in the Elite division! That is all seriously impressive. Emily now had her eye on the World Championship.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Spartan Races, they are hard-core competitions that involve a series of obstacle courses from three miles to 26 miles long! They cover a variety of terrain in many different climates. One needs to be fast, strong, and unyielding to compete in one of these races.
Emily is all three of those things, but to improve her competitive edge, she changed her approach at the gym. She still did Crossfit but added in different workouts to keep it fun and enjoyable. She also competed in a series of races to qualify for the World Championship. After placing in the top 10 in April of 2018 in Seattle qualifier, she could focus on training for the Championship in Lake Tahoe.
Emily Competing in Utah
Throughout all of these races, her emotional health improved greatly because she felt strong inside and out. Emily had become a Spartan.
On a Saturday in September 2018, her family including her dad (who comes to all of her races) and impressively her soon-to-be ex-husband and two sons traveled to Nevada to give their support as Emily began the race in Tahoe.
But, at the summit, medics carried Emily off the course due to hyperthermia. Swimming in sub-par gear in frigid water with cold air and wind caused Emily’s body to shut down.
Disappointed beyond words, Emily’s heart sank. But, a friend encouraged her to race again the next day. It wouldn’t be the World Championship, but it would be an Elite Heat race, and the same course. Emily did NOT want to leave without crossing the finish line.
So, she got new gear and picked up the strategies of those around her to get through it. Things like packing gear in dry bags and then changing after the swim to avoid running in cold conditions in wet clothes. She wasn’t coming home without crossing that finish line! In the end, Emily didn’t have to swim the next day. The organization canceled the swim due to unsafe conditions. But, we’re still pretty sure she would have finished with the swim or not.
World Championships In Lake Tahoe
Emily came home stronger from that race. She and her now ex-husband are now friends and co-parents. Her world is still standing. She is also no longer clinically depressed. She’s healthy and continuing to discover who she is in this new phase of life.
Emily and Her Boys
Emily Focused at the Gym
Emily is still working as a make-up artist and manicurist and is focused on fitness and her boys. She volunteers running a before school exercise program at her boys’ school.
Over the past few years, Emily has learned so much about who she is. She’s also learned that she has to like what she’s doing to be happy- she loves creating beautiful nail art and chatting with women during the appointments. Having that love for her job makes her want to do it; it is never a chore. The same thing goes for working out and competing and the amazing community at her gym. Diet and exercise can’t just be about trying to look good; if that’s the case then it’s just a job.
If you really want to enjoy working out you have to love it; it has to be fun! That joy for fitness will help in so many more ways than you can imagine, both physically and emotionally. That joy also just might help you keep that New Year’s resolution.
In 2019, Emily is focusing once again on the Spartan World Championship. This time she hopes to find a sponsor. Her nephew has had clear scans.
Emily May is a licensed manicurist and makeup artist offering in-studio and mobile services in the Sudbury area. You can follow her Instagram @EEMay25.
You can find her at 339 Boston Post Rd, Sudbury, inside Laurel Grove Home Store. Request appointments online HERE.