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Q&A with Women's Health Fitness Director Jen Ator

“It can be all too easy to dwell on what's behind us, or get psyched out by all that's in front of us, but the only thing that matters – the only thing that's actually happening — is the mile that we're in right now. And when we keep our attention on the present, we have the ability to make it so much better. Take a deep breath. Smile. Find a reason to laugh and a reason to feel grateful. Do something for someone else.” 

This, from Jen Ator, Fitness Director at Women’s Health and all-around amazing person. We love being able to get to know women like Jen who run the mile they’re in with such grace, purpose, optimism and spirit. Read more from Jen and get ready to be inspired.
Q: We love how you, through encouragement and example, empower women to be strong, healthy, fit and active. You inspire others to be their best, to dream big and bold, to push hard, to go for it. Who in your life plays this role for you?
A: I appreciate that! I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my line of work to meet a lot of women who feel the same way I do—that we’re all so much greater than we give ourselves credit for, and if we continue to uplift and inspire each other, we can all achieve a happier, healthier life. There are so many who inspire me. Some have the power to inspire me indirectly through social media on a daily basis people like Jill Coleman, athletes like Kerri Walsh Jennings and Amy Purdy. And then, of course, there are my friends and family, the people I truly count on.

Q: We think of body, mind, spirit as the ultimate triumvirate. How do you keep these three in balance?
A: One of the biggest realizations I made over the last decade is that my body is at its best when I’m taking care of those other two pieces of the puzzle. I think so many women tend to obsess on the physical: what our bodies look like, what our workouts and diets look like. It adds a level of stress that is really counterproductive, not just mentally but physiologically. (Among other things, it spikes our cortisol levels, which actually makes it harder to lose weight!) Over the past few years, I’ve focused on putting the other two pieces first: What does my mind need today? What does my spirit need today? Sometimes that’s a long run on the treadmill after a stressful day at work. Other times it’s a glass of wine and an hour-long phone call with one of my best friends. For me personally, when I start there, I’ve found that I’m healthier, happier, and more motivated to do the other things that end up being good for my body, as well.  
Q: Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Is there one moment, one race, or one experience that best exemplifies this?
A: Signing on to train for the Ironman World Championships in 2014 with Chocolate Milk was by far the biggest “dare” I’ve ever taken in my life. I had never run a marathon. I was terrified of open water swimming. I had never clipped into a bike. I was 13 months post-op from knee surgery. And now, I was agreeing to attempt to train for a 140.6-mile race—in just six months. But I think the moment I actually realized that statement fully was at the finish of my first Half Ironman race. It was about halfway through my training, and I was still so full of doubt—I still thought there was no chance that I would finish the Ironman. But I did the half; I actually did it way better than I ever could have expected. In that moment, it hit me: Impossible is only a mindset, not a fact. And I felt more inspired than ever to dig down and challenge my thought and prove I could do it. 

Jen Ator Ironman Finisher

“When I crossed the finish line, I knew I would never again allow myself to think 'Oh, that’s not something I could do' or 'that’s not a life I could have' because I had just made the impossible possible.” – Jen Ator with Apolo Ohno at The Kona Ironman finish line

Q: Do you have any daily rituals or regimens that help keep you on-track?
A: Three come to mind: First, I’m a big list maker. I’m always juggling a ton of different demands, and I’ve found that when I write it all out I feel a lot calmer and more productive. Even if I don’t get done half the things on the list because other things pop up (which, happens more often than not), I still feel far more ready to attack the day when I have some kind of to-do list. So that’s what I do for my mind. For my spirit, I practice gratitude. Every morning, I take a minute to think about one to three things I’m grateful for that day; little practical things like being grateful for not having any big meetings or deadlines to more sentimental things like being grateful for my family. I do the same each night. And lastly, for my body, I walk everywhere. I think a lot of people underestimate how much our NEAT effort (aka our “Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis” or the energy we expend doing literally everything else but working out) can make an impact on our overall health. I don’t necessarily track my steps or have certain numbers or goals for it, but I just try to get out and moving as much as possible.
Q: One of the things we most admire about you is your outlook. What do you do when — or if — your outlook is challenged?
A: When I’m at a loss for how to find any silver lining, I just remind myself that all of my toughest, darkest moments in life have a) never lasted, and b) always led to something better. So even if I don’t have all the answers, I just try to continually remind myself that it will make sense one day—and, life’s too short not to have as many good days as you can, so while you wait for it to make sense it’s time to dig a little harder to find the good in every situation.

Q: You seem to be the kind of person who lives with a full heart, who puts her best foot forward — mindfully — every step of the way. And you also very much seem the kind of person who will right the course, try a different path if need be. What are your top 3 goals for yourself for 2017?
A: Thank you, that’s really such a kind compliment! In the next week or so, I will sit down and make a list of goals. I will break them into a few different categories—Health/Fitness, Relationships, Career, Finance, and Happiness—and in each, I'll have about two or three different items. I usually spend the last week or two of the year being pretty introspective; I like to look back at the goals I had from the year before and evaluate how they went, what still needs work, what isn’t as much of a priority anymore, and where I want to focus my energy over the next year.
From all of us to all of you, inspired by Jen’s amazing perspective…. Here’s to a happy, healthy 2017, filled with big, bold dreams and lots of life’s simple pleasures!!
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