Written by Robert Wong; photo by Jennifer Jones
My name is Robert Wong, I am a single, divorced, empty nester of 2 teenage girls. Back in 2018 I was suffering from depression, and this is my story of how group fitness, specifically High Fitness helped me overcome suicidal thoughts. It is my hope to create more of a dialogue about mental illness, to spark people to create or be a part of a fitness community that will support you through any process you may be going through in life.
I was born and raised in Calgary in September of 1965; I was brought up not to share my feelings like a good typical Asian male. All my life, I wore my heart on my sleeve and was perceived as a weak person. I was not allowed to speak up or have boundaries. My mom’s favorite sayings were, “What will the neighbors think and if you mess up, they always blame the mom!” Even during my divorce, it was always my fault, period. I am grateful that I was blessed with the ability to ask for help, however. During 2018, I started to feel like a victim about my life and began to repress myself and fell into a deep depression. When I look back, I could see that I stopped doing activities that made me happy, I no longer wanted to live.
I was lucky enough to be a member of a gym at the time and since I was paying monthly dues as I was locked into a contract, I kept going so that I could get my money’s worth. My routine was weightlifting, treadmill and Spin and although I did enjoy my Spin class, it was a solo work out for me as I would chat with some of the participants when I got on my bike before class, then leave.
At the end of March 2018, my Spin instructor shared with me that she was going to miss me in her class. I wondered what she meant; however, she informed me that there was a new program in our gym called High Fitness. She told me that this aerobic program suited my personality more and that I should try it. I figured what not? April 2nd was my first High Fitness class and the rest is history. What I love about High Fitness was how fun it was and how the instructors were taking interest in each participant. I felt like I was an individual and not lost in a group of people.
I was depressed and combating thoughts of suicide and the High Fitness community was what I needed to feel better as I felt like it was the family I always dream of having. It took me a year of doing classes and trying to figure out what was happening to me. I received counseling during my divorce, and I was an avid follower of motivational and self-help books, however I had to remember everything I learned from my past to keep myself from sinking into deeper depression.
After a year of doing High Fitness, I decided to become an instructor as I have always believed that it takes a village and if I can lead by example by becoming an instructor myself, then I could pay it forward. I felt like I finally had a voice and I wanted to break the stereotype of males not showing emotions, not asking for help and it is okay to cry.
To become a High Fitness instructor, you take the instructor training course, then you must submit videos of yourself teaching several songs, which are then critiqued, during this process I was finding it difficult to get low in a squat type of move.
I went to a body movement mobility specialist, and he determined that I had so much emotional negativity which prevented my body and legs from going lower, the last time he has seen this was with a close friend of his just before they committed suicide. I could not believe this; however, it was true with me, I was still lying to myself and he busted me. I then spent the next several weeks, confronting issues from my past, praying, and letting go of negative self-belief.
This mental exercise was quite different from anything I had ever done before, however my goal of gaining flexibility so that I could pass was my primary goal. It took me a total of 27 video submissions over a period of 7 months to finally meet all the criteria needed for me to become a High Fitness instructor. It was my higher purpose of becoming an instructor and wanting to help others that kept me going and wanting to live.
The day after I was informed that I had passed to become a High Fitness instructor, I was diagnosed with a hernia. I could not believe this new development, however I was not going to let this deter me from teaching a class.
It took several months before I could get my endurance and movement back, however I did it! I now wear a hernia belt to protect myself as my condition is too small to operate on. If I could share one underline message in my journey with everyone is that group fitness works!
When you join a group of positive empathetic people, it is very contagious; you want to make it to class, you become accountable for showing up. Even during the pandemic, through Zoom, you get to see everyone with the common goal of working out and having an enjoyable time with one another, this helped me through the isolation we all had to partake, and now that gyms are open and everyone wants to live life as it was before all the shutdowns, being a part of a fitness community will help you stay fit both mentally and physically.
I want everyone to know, especially men, that it is okay to share, it is okay to ask for help, it shows strength not weakness and coming from someone that was raised with guilt and not allowed to show any emotions, I now know better. It is my hope that by teaching and promoting group fitness, I can let everyone know that it is a safe place to be yourself, have fun and get the support you need in life.
If I could change one thing about my past, no matter what obstacle in life I had to face, I wished I was exercising. Although exercising may not have helped me deal with relationship issues, raising children, unemployment, or bankruptcy, it would have given my mind the clarity I needed to process those issues and get the help I needed sooner rather than later. Thanks for your time and for letting me share and if you ever need support, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert is 57 years old and was recently awarded the High Fitness Inspiration Award for 2022. He currently team teaches High Fitness at World Gym Southland, Calgary, AB with Kelsie on Wednesday evenings at 7:30 PM and works as a salesperson for an organic food distributor and is also a part-time professional magician.