Name: Priscilla Thomas
Location: New York, NY
What does being a Girl Gone Strong mean to you?
One thing I love about this community is the phrasing of this name - the idea of “going” strong, rather than “being” strong or even “becoming” strong. As an English teacher and a writer, words mean a lot to me. “Girls GONE Strong” is a statement of action and discovery. It’s a reminder that strength doesn’t look one way or happen to certain people.
I think being a girl gone strong means choosing to embrace and cultivate your power, to grow and learn even when you’re pushed outside of your comfort zone (especially then!), and to stop apologizing for what you’ve earned.
How long have you been training?
About a year and a half with some consistency, though I’ve been on and off since my early 20s.
How did you get introduced to strength training?
Mostly through my boyfriend. I grew up with two brothers who lifted weights but they didn’t take kindly to my interest in it. I really enjoyed “playing” with weights in the basement when I was a teenager, but I did so in secret – the general attitude around me was that I needed to be skinny and I wasn’t, so lifting weights was not for me. My boyfriend of the past five years had found joy and peace through fitness and strength training, and he did not think it was silly that I would be interested in lifting. He has really helped me shift my self-perspective and start dismantling the storyline I’ve long adhered to, about who I am and what I can do.
What does a sample workout look like for you?
FUN. I’m pretty unstructured right now, which I’m happy with because I’m not training for an event or competition. I’m just training for me. So that means that some days I might follow a plan or routine from a trusted fitness pro, or I might put on an online yoga video. But I’m just as likely to put on music and play around with my kettlebells, freestyle my own yoga flow, climb a mountain, do a bunch of handstand work, or enjoy the hip hop dance class I just started taking.
I spent a lot of time trying to workout the way other people said I had to, and getting mad at myself when it didn’t work for me. I’m happy to be moving away from that.
I love deadlifts because I’m very confident in my lower body strength, but I’m really enjoying overhead presses and bench presses lately, because they’re areas of growth for me and progress within them is so exciting!
Most memorable PR:
Not sure that this is a true PR, but I did leg presses for the first time about a month ago – 643 lbs. It was a “let’s try a little more” situation; we just kept adding two plates at a time and I kept thinking, “Well, this is it, there’s no way I can – hmm, not so bad, I guess I’ll try a little more…”
Priscilla's Leg Press PR!
Top 5 songs on your training playlist:
I’m usually training with my boyfriend, but when I work out at home, I have some jams.
Top 3 things you must have with you at the gym/in your gym bag:
I’ve done most of my working out at home or at my boyfriend’s. I’ve recently left a gym I really didn’t like for a friendlier setting, so now you’ll find me carrying…
Do you prefer to train alone or with a training partner? Why?
For yoga, I want to be on my own. I haven’t enjoyed yoga classes in New York City, and I’m much more comfortable taking risks and falling down in my own space. I like bodyweight and calisthenics work, which again I mostly do at home, but I love bodyweight workouts with my boyfriend, too.
Training at a gym, I want a companion. Gyms can be intimidating; especially when you don’t look the way other people around you look. That’s something I’ve been struggling with for what feels like my whole life—looking different, not looking strong and capable even though I am. Whether or not I choose to allow myself to be bothered by this, many people look at me and don’t think that I belong at the gym, or as I was told once, that I should be on a cardio machine trying to burn fat. I endure a fair amount of judgmental and flat-out amused glances when I lift alone, so having a buddy can be really comforting.
At times, I wish I were tough enough not to need a buddy, but I don’t think you can overestimate the value of a friendly face. That “tough enough” thinking is something I want to put away, too. I only want to be tough enough to not be afraid of what I want and need. I’m lucky to be on summer break and able to work out with my boyfriend right now; he’s a great gym buddy.
Best compliment you’ve received lately:
A friend told me that I was really looking good, because I just seemed so “in my body.” That felt wonderful. Feeling comfortable in my skin is my oldest, longest running struggle, and progress toward that goal can feel unnoticeable. Having it pointed out to me just felt so good.
Most recent compliment you gave someone else:
“That is a seriously bold use of salmon.”
Most hilarious pick-up line you’ve heard at the gym:
The gym I just left had an exceptionally male-dominated weight floor, and among the many annoyances that come with that (like, can ya’ll ever put the dumbbells back when you are done?) was the “Let me help you with that,”wink, smile. No, thanks, mister! I came to the weight floor to pick up heavy things, and pick up heavy things I will.
Being strong has meant freedom to me.
I can climb mountains and do handstands. I can change the water cooler bottle and carry my own heavy sh*t. I just can."
Most embarrassing gym moment:
Anytime that I forget where I am and start dancing to my own music.
This is hard. Food is so good. I love salmon-avocado sushi rolls, mustard-y chicken with plantains, cheeseburger dip, egg bakes…seriously, this could take awhile.
Favorite way to treat yourself:
Cooking for myself is a big one. I often put work ahead of self-care and run myself ragged. I’m still learning that it’s ok to take time to give myself what I need. Second to this, a treat shared with me by my dear friend and teacher-bestie, is going to a bookstore at the end of a stressful, bleak day and reading stacks of picture books. Picture books are amazing.
What inspires and motivates you?
Stories. People sharing pieces of their journeys, their accomplishments, videos of them being badasses, their struggles. Seeing or reading real people sharing their stories always helps me check in with myself.
What do you do for work?
I’m a high school English teacher in the Bronx, at a school for students who have recently come to the US. I’m about to start my 10th year in this career! I also work with teachers, both as an adjunct college professor for future teachers and as a co-facilitator of the New York City Writing Project’s Summer Invitational.
What else do you do?
I’m a writer and a blogger, and my boyfriend and I love to travel and explore. I devour books, suck at the ukulele, and try out delicious-looking recipes.
What does a typical day look like for you from waking up to bedtime?
During the school year, I’m waking up around 5:30. I try to get 5 minutes of movement in once I’m on my feet (the success of that really depends on what point in the school year we’re at). I blend up the smoothie I’ve assembled the night before and head out to work at around 6:30. It’s about a 40-minute train ride to work.
Teaching, meetings, planning, grading, tutoring, etc. keeps me busy until around 5 pm. My evenings are generally for working out and cooking, but my social life nurtures me, so I don’t feel bad about going out on a few of those evenings. There are too many interesting events, museums, and happy hours in this city for me to pass them all up.
Summer lets me get a bit more flexible. I work with teachers in the NYC Writing Project during July, so I’m still pretty regimented, and I don’t get in a full morning workout, but I have enough time for 15-30 minutes of yoga or stretching. When August comes around, I just workout when I want to, and it’s pretty luxurious.
What’s the coolest “side effect” you’ve noticed from lifting heavy?
The way I feel about myself: the confidence and pride that come with breaking a PR on a lift, or the amazing feeling of finally kicking over into a handstand. It’s very easy for me to fall back into a pattern of picking apart my appearance and to dismiss positive things people say about me, but I can’t really argue with physical achievement.
Check out Priscilla performing modified pull-ups and getting stronger!
Next training goal:
I’m working on push-ups and flexibility right now. I’d love to be doing barbell cleans soon, and I’m working on being ok with where I am and building from there. I have a mile-long “Someday” list, and often I just want to jump right into the middle of it, but step by step serves me better.
What are you most grateful for in your life?
My freedom and independence. I grew up in a toxic and abusive home, and it wasn’t until my early 20s that I started dealing with my past in a way that would allow me to have a future. As a survivor of serious sexual abuse, I’ve had to learn how to take care of myself, and even that I deserve self-care.
Making the decision to prioritize myself and my future is the most important and strongest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m so happy I did it.
What life accomplishment are you most proud of thus far?
I can’t choose one!
How has lifting weights changed your life?
So many ways! It’s helped me to appreciate myself, my body, and my progress. I’ve had a long history of blaming and shaming my body, and thereby myself. Lifting has really helped me begin to be proud of my body and what it, and I, can do.
What do you want to say to other women who might be nervous to start lifting heavy?
Don’t be scared to look and feel like a badass!
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