Boot Camper Inspiration: Suzanne Dean

Hello Boot Campers!IMG_9875-2

This week we have a really exciting fitness story to share with you.
If you have been around Boot Camp for a while, you have probably seen Suzanne Dean, taking class and killing it.
A couple months ago I had the privilege of watching Sue complete Level 9 in the monthly levels challenge.
She was the first Boot Camper to try for Level 9, and even though she is in fantastic shape, that workout pushed her to the very edge.
She wasn’t even sure she could complete it, but she tried.
And she finished!
It was so inspiring to see her determination and strength, both inner and outer.
I knew right then that I wanted to interview Suzanne and hear her whole story.
Somehow I knew it would be truly inspiring.
It is!
Please read and be encouraged by Sue’s journey, her determination, and bravery.

LF:  You have experienced a great change in your fitness level, weight, and body composition.  What was it that pushed you to make such a great change in your life?

S: First, let me explain how I arrived at the point of needing such a change. I had several injuries and had to give up almost all of the activities I loved because I kept getting reinjured. The biggest loss for me was having to give up martial arts. It seemed that every new activity I tried, I would get injured.

Every time I had an injury, I would gain weight due to poor food choices.  This also lead me to experience great levels of anxiety and depression (which I have struggled with my whole life).

I finally reached my all time low after my mom passed away in December 2011. I was feeling quite depressed and hopeless and was also dealing with a shoulder injury from snowboarding. Once again, the weight set in.

I had shoulder surgery in November 2012 and knew that I no longer could continue this harmful cycle of inactivity, overeating, and depression.  In February 2013, I ended physical therapy and contacted Shannon Paul, owner of Long Beach Boot Camp, out of desperation. I had been a boot camper before, but had to stop due to a knee surgery and knew that I was too injured to start there. I asked her if she had any personal trainers she could recommend for someone with injuries and she put me in contact with Timmie Cordova. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the game changer that I so desperately needed.

When I first met Timmie, I felt completely defeated. I had tried so many different diets throughout my life that I was sure I was no longer even capable of losing weight. Timmie still reminds me of the day she first met me in my building. My head was hanging low, I had zero confidence, and I had pretty much given up. During my goal setting session, I told her that I just wanted to lose 15 pounds. She wrote down the number and we moved on. In the back of my mind I figured that I’d probably reach that goal and then just gain it back and try something new when it no longer worked.

The first week I started training, I received a text from Timmie (while I was at work) asking me when I was going to get on the elliptical for a half hour. I was so confused. I had never been held accountable like this before. I made up some excuse about being too tired from work, but somehow I ended up getting on that stupid elliptical. This was how it all started. Little changes building to bigger changes. Everything was slow and at a pace I could manage.

Within weeks, my attitude started to change. My body was changing and I was seeing results. Pretty soon I was hooked and started working out for myself, rather than just for the commitment I made to my trainer. I started logging my meals and improving my nutrition. This was the beginning of my new life.


LF: You are a really active person.  Have  you always involved in fitness or sports?

S: The idea of girls in sports and fitness was completely foreign to my family when I was young. My mom said that when she was growing up, it was not proper for women to sweat. In fact, they even replaced it with the word “glowing” to make it sound less unattractive. This is why it took her a while to realize that I might want to play sports instead of continuing with my sewing class!

After winning an award at school for being the best girl soccer player, my mom immediately put me in AYSO soccer.

By high school, I stopped playing sports and got really into cycling. My parents even took me to Mexico when I was 15 to do the 50 mile Rosarito/Ensenada bike ride.  In college, I ended up riding for the Cal State Fullerton Cycling Team on my road and mountain bike.

Near the end of college, a friend was into rock climbing and I devoted a few years to driving up to the mountains, camping with this outdoor guide, hiking, and climbing almost every weekend.

However, my true passion began when I started martial arts after college. My mom had written an article about a martial arts studio and she was sure that I would love it. Of course I did and ended up earning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I competed in fighting and forms and trained about every day. I later on went on to learn and test in an Israeli martial art, Krav Maga.

 LF: You work out with a lot of injuries.  Can you explain how you got those injuries, and describe what it has been like to workout with different injuries–was it scary at first, hard, discouraging?  How have you found success with working out with injuries?
I’ve had two knee surgeries and a shoulder surgery due to various tears (ACL, Meniscus, Rotator Cuff) from martial arts and snowboarding (not at the same time!).The major complication I had was after my first knee surgery when I somehow got that 1 in a million risk with lower limb surgery. I had a pulmonary embolism.  I honestly owe my life to my wife Sue who demanded that I go to ER. I have no idea how I survived, but I am incredibly thankful for my wife and that the doctors finally decided to do tests for blood clots. Being immobile for over a week, made healing difficult for my knee and I ended up needing another surgery a year later.All surgeries after that have been a little more complicated. I have to inject myself with Lovenox (a blood thinner) for 1 week up to a month (depending on the type of surgery). This slows my healing time, but it’s obviously worth it.

LF: Explain how achieving such a great change in your fitness level has changed your life.

S: I’m 44 years old and am in the best shape ever. My health and my wife’s health have improved tremendously. Sue has now joined me on what she calls my “Epic Fitness Quest.” My LDL dropped 45 points. My waist went from 38 inches to 28 inches, which indicates lower risk of heart disease. I’ve lost about 18% body fat. I went from being in the obese range to athlete. I’m also down about 50 pounds from my highest weight.I am confident. I feel good about my body. This is the first time I’ve ever been able to see my abs!I love pushing and challenging myself. My depression and anxiety have improved and I’m loving my new lifestyle.

LF: Do you have any advice for other boot campers who are facing things you have faced: weight to lose, chronic injuries, or just need some encouragement to keep going?

 S: I actually believe that my injuries forced me to get my nutrition solid. Had I been able to continue with all of my high impact activities, I would have continued to go up and down in weight, with the trend always slightly going up. For example, when I was into kickboxing, I pretty much ate what I wanted. I didn’t see any improvements in my body, but my weight relatively stayed the same. The difference was that when I stopped being able to do kickboxing because of an injury, illness, or life just got too busy, I would put on weight like crazy. Then I would go into a depression and the weight gain cycle would continue.

Now that doesn’t happen. The month before last, my knee flared up and I was off it for almost 2 weeks. I still had a 1.5% body fat loss that month because my nutrition didn’t waiver and I just worked upper body. I no longer “emotionally” eat after a setback or injury. The words that stick with me are, “You can’t out train a bad diet.” This may sound weird, but I’m actually thankful that I was forced to learn this lesson. This will last me my lifetime and I’m so much healthier than when I was able to run and jump and kick stuff! I will never go back to an unhealthy lifestyle.

Aside from nutrition, which is most of the battle, my advice is to be safe and listen to your body. I’ve finally learned that just because other boot campers may be running faster and/or getting through the workout faster, doesn’t mean that you should risk injury or form to compete.

Depending on the activity, I may always come in last or need a modification that involves a completely different exercise than the rest of the class. It doesn’t mean that I’m not as strong as everyone else. As soon as I let go of not trying to beat everyone, I become more successful.

Since I do have permanent injuries that forbid any high impact activities, I am fortunate enough to be able to complete the levels testing at boot camp with modifications. My running is through burpees. It doesn’t sound fun, but boy have I gotten fast at them.  Levels help me see my progress and be able to push myself to limits that just aren’t possible in regular workouts.

Although I’d rather not have any injuries and I’d love to be able to run and do bleachers with the rest of the group, I’m actually thankful for all that I have learned through my challenges and having to modify. I honestly believe that I am much stronger for it.


Thank you so much, Sue, for so bravely sharing your story.
You are truly an inspiration!
Keep on Living Fit!