GGS Spotlight: Cathy McDonald


CathyMcDonald-Autum-350x375Name:   Cathy MacDonald
Age: 35
Location: Living in Ithaca, New York. Originally from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

What does being a Girl Gone Strong mean to you?
Kicking butt! It means taking control, being strong mentally and physically and chasing your goals whether they are to lose weight, be more focused, get stronger or be healthier.

How did you get introduced to strength training, and how long have you been training?
I have cerebral palsy, a congenital disability that affects my balance and coordination. When I was a youngster, doctors recommended physical therapy and aquatics to improve and maintain my mobility. Long story short, I was never a fan of therapy that included boring and repetitive range of motion exercises.

As a teen, I went to the gym with friends who showed me how to do some basic strength training exercises. At the time, it was a good alternative to physical therapy. For many years after that, I dabbled in strength training but never really followed a regular routine and didn’t get the results I wanted.

CathyMcDonald-JustinKompf-350x375After completing graduate school, I was out of shape and found it difficult to get through the day. I was exhausted from my busy schedule and didn’t devote much time to taking care of myself. While I often went to gym to blow off some steam, I often spent my time on cardio machines or lifted weights without purpose. The workouts were simply not enough to keep me going. I was sitting at a desk for the majority of the day and eventually I had back pain.

Reluctantly, I decided to sign up to workout with a student trainer through a program offered at my job.  Through the program, I worked with several students who helped me work on my mental and physical game and achieve my goals. Now I lift weights four times per week…. I’m hooked!

What does a sample workout look like for you?
I have worked with a trainer extraordinaire Justin Kompf for about a year. He has taken me to the next level with his solid, consistent approach. I currently lift four days a week. Here is an example of one of my training days:


Favorite Lift:

Most memorable PR:
After working on it for four years, I was able to do my first pull-up a few weeks ago!

CathyMcDonald-SmithSquat-450x340Top 5 songs on your training playlist:

  1. Lift Me Up by Moby
  2. Song 2 by Blur
  3. ‘Till I Collapse by Eminem
  4. Can’t Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake
  5. Just Like Fire by Pink

Top 3 things you must have with you at the gym or in your gym bag:

  • Chalk
  • Hair tie
  • Creatine

Do you prefer to train alone or with others? Why?
Since I need help with managing my balance when lifting heavy weights, I prefer to work with a trainer or a friend.

For me, social support is really important. It’s easy to get to the gym when someone is waiting. It is also fun to discuss progress and goals with a trainer or friend who cares.

Best compliment you’ve received lately:
In the middle of a lecture, one my students said ‘your arms are huge!’

Most recent compliment you gave someone else:
I probably praised a student for his professional behavior.

Most embarrassing gym moment:
I fall over in the gym fairly often.

Favorite meal:
Fish tacos and gelato!

Favorite way to treat yourself:
Online shopping and good coffee.

Favorite quote:
Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Gandhi

CathyMcDonald-Friends1-450x340Favorite book:
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

What inspires and motivates you?
The people around me. I have two brothers who are successful in their personal and professional lives, as well as parents who have an amazing work ethic. I try to follow their lead.

I also have amazing friends including academics, doctors, firefighters, wonderful mothers, and dedicated teachers who motivate me to do my best. My students inspire also me to do better everyday.

Given that one of my responsibilities is to teach them that folks with a disability are fully capable of leading healthy and active lives, I feel compelled to lead by example.

What do you do?
I am an Associate Professor at SUNY Cortland. I specialize in adapted physical education, and train future physical educators who will teach youth with a disability.

What else do you do?
I’m guilty of not having many hobbies, but I do love to read, watch movies, and travel with friends.

What does a typical day look like for you, from waking up to bedtime?
A typical workday looks something like this:

Get up at 6am – shower, eat, drink coffee

Morning - Drink a second cup of coffee, teach classes, lift, meet with students, eat

Afternoon – Teach classes and labs, attend meetings, work on research projects, etc.

Evening - Eat, see friends, watch a favorite TV show, grade assignments

Bed by 10 p.m. to read and sleep!

CathyMcDonald-Deadlift-350x375Your next training goal:
I am always working on increasing my numbers, especially for deadllifts! I hope to hit 150 pounds by the end of the summer. I also plan to sign up for a bench press meet that will take place in March.

What are you most grateful for?
I am most grateful for the people around me. I have amazing support from my family, friends, and colleagues, near and far, who cheer me on everyday.

What life accomplishment are you most proud of?
There are several things that I’m proud of! Most recently, I became a tenured professor!

Three words that best describe you:
Impatient, perseverant, tough

Tell us about a time when you overcame fear or self-doubt:
To be honest, I struggle with self-doubt everyday. The feeling might be present when I am in the gym trying a new exercise or when I’m submitting a manuscript for review. When it is all said and done, I keep pushing myself to achieve my goals, and believe it is normal to have some self-doubt.

At times when I feel overwhelmed, I have learned to choose to do something—anything—rather than remain idle. It is amazing what putting one foot in front of the other can do.

CathyMcDonald-Climb-350x375What’s the coolest “side effect” you’ve noticed from strength training?
I used to get stressed out thinking about how I would be able to complete everyday tasks. I no longer have to worry about how I am going to take out the garbage or carry my groceries into the house, or pull my suitcase around the airport. I am strong enough to do these activities on my own, and it is a huge relief! I’ve also noticed that taking control of my health and fitness has allowed me to exercise more control in my personal and professional lives.

How has lifting weights changed your life?
I’m more optimistic. I walked with forearm crutches for 20 years and had a hip replacement when I was 25 years old. My hip simply wore out with my atypical gait. As a result, I held a grim picture in my head of how I would end up as I aged—arthritic and immobile, and in chronic pain. I struggled with depression and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. Since lifting regularly, I am pain-free and able to do things I never thought I’d be able to do. Plus, I am excited about my future!

What do you want to say to other women who might be nervous to start strength training?
Just do it. Inaction gets you nowhere. If you need help to get started, ask. Hire a trainer or talk to a friend who is already involved. You will be surprised at the results!

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