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Iron Will Award Candidate:

Courtney Leiman

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Courtney Leiman's Submission:

Depression has plagued me what seemed to me to be my entire life, since I was about fourteen years old. I have been through psychotherapy many times throughout the years to try and get help. Like many women, I have dealt with horrible body image the majority of my life - through high school and into my working career - and it manifested itself in my self esteem. I have never felt I was good enough; I have never felt "worthy".

I have always known how important exercise and eating healthy was but was always so drained of all my energy that my depression took from me that I usually would give up before I even started - just another excuse - telling myself that I could not do it, that I would give up after one week, or that I could not handle the pressure and commitment it took to lead a healthy lifestyle.

In 2010, while living in Toronto, I appeared in the television show "How to Look Good Naked Canada" as a means to deal with my self confidence issues. During the show, I had to walk down a runway in my underwear and do a naked photo-shoot. The whole process was very intimidating as I was not at my ideal weight. After doing the show, I felt a boost in my confidence and the overall need to push myself. I figured since I was brave enough to brave to walk on a runway in my underwear, I would definitely be confident enough to go onto a stage in a bikini in a fitness show (something I had always admired and wished I would be able to do).

I began to pursue a healthier lifestyle immediately after the show - I joined a fitness boot camp and probably exercised 5-6 times a week. The knowledge I gained from the fitness instructors and models around me, who acted as role models to me, was invaluable. It quickly became evident that exercise could in fact really be a great catalyst to getting better and overcoming my depression.

This "casual exercising" I was doing was not enough. I wanted more. I needed a purpose. I began to focus- I created a purpose- I realized I NEEDED to take CHARGE of MY life. I was not willing to live my life the way I had in the past - crying and wondering "why me", "why is it so easy for everyone else"… I wanted to advocate for mental health and show everyone that exercise and healthy living is a means to assist people who suffer from mental illness in their journey to living a fuller, happier, and more enriched life.

This MABBA competition has given me a reason to fight for myself. If I can do this, if I can get up on stage in a little bikini, I can do anything. I have struggled with self-esteem and body image issues my entire life and prepping for the competition by exercising and eating healthy consistently has dramatically changed not only my body and my mental health, but also my outlook of life. I set out to adopt an attitude of constant never ending improvement… and to grow. This is just the beginning and it has been hard. I had to change my belief and value system. I was not reaching my goals because I thought I was not worth it, that I was not mentally strong enough to compete/train/diet/pose and ultimately create a desirable/healthy body… but I am worth it.

I know it is not easy for anyone; everyone has their own journey and I am deeply inspired my all the women and men who take charge of their destinies and make the required changes in their life to reach their dreams. After many years of struggling with depression and a lack of self-confidence, I am more certain than ever I will succeed. I BELIEVE so deeply in myself and I will not settle for anything less than my goals and dreams.

The best part of this entire journey is that I have come to realize I am competing for me, not just in any competition but in life. I no longer feel the need to compare myself to others or to impress anyone. I am my own motivation- I have persistence. I still have depression - I might always have it to some extent but I know now that my mind and I are the only things that are responsible for my own success or failure and depression cannot and will not define or control me anymore! Just because I have a mental illness does not mean I am not capable.

Training and exercising has been a way to re-claim my life. Just having the purpose to get up and know I have goals in the gym has given me the strength to keep pushing myself, to get up out of bed in the morning and to fight for myself. I need to fight to be positive every day. I am NOT my depression; and that I am an extraordinary person with a lot to contribute to this world.

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