lululemon Share Your Story

This week I was fortunate to be featured by lululemon’s #shareyourstory campaign. If you’ve met me, you know I live in lululemon. I’ll often start the day in the dance studio, go straight to class and work all morning and afternoon, spend a few hours at the gym, and then end my day back in the studio for rehearsals. lululemon’s clothing carries me seamlessly from ballet to biology to the barbell and back. I don’t have to worry about changing outfits, so I can use that energy creatively.

Here are some photos from the shoot, as well as a few interview questions!
Please tell us a little bit about what you do and how it brings you happiness?
I’m a dancer, nationally qualified weightlifter, and pageant girl. I love what I do because my passions are so diverse, and I never have to settle for one option. I get to seek the best of all worlds. Young women today are raised to believe they can be graceful, or strong, or smart, or beautiful, but never all four at once. Being able to pursue all of these things unapologetically, and defying odds along the way, brings me happiness.


I love shattering expectations. Barely two years ago I was a frail ballerina who had wandered into a CrossFit gym. Less than a year ago, I competed at my first weightlifting meet in pink shoes with a bow in my hair. Now, I’m qualified for my second trip to University Nationals. Nobody expected a ballerina and pageant girl to make it this far. I coined the phrase Barbell Beauty Queen (also my blog and hashtag #barbellbeautyqueen!) to poke fun at the process and remind myself how far I’ve come.
What are your big goals and what are you doing now to achieve them?
Pageant wise, I’m hoping to place in the top ten at Miss Michigan this summer. I’m taking a lot of dance classes, doing tons of solo exercises, and working with a great choreographer and costumer to have the strongest talent possible. For swimsuit, I’m unconventional since don’t train for aesthetics — I’m a weightlifter, so I train for strength, power, and performance, not a bikini bod. But to help me be a bit leaner, I’m working with a nutrition coach to help me cut body fat while still getting stronger.

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Weightlifting wise, I’m aiming to qualify for the 2016 American Open and lift in the A session at University Nationals. I’m in the gym almost every day, and also dialing in my nutrition to perform better. I’m also a big believer in visualization helping performance, so for three weeks leading up to each meet, I practice mindful breathing and visualize every lift I’ll take on the platform.
What do you love most about the Ann Arbor community?
I love Ann Arbor’s diversity. I grew up in a small homogenous town, so nobody ever challenged my ideas and beliefs. Being around people with different backgrounds and ideologies has taught me to see through the eyes of others and be more creative.


My passions give me energy. Between school, work, training, and dance, I’m always on the move. Most of my days start before the sun is up and end long after the rest of Ann Arbor is in bed. As much as I love coffee, it’s easy for the long days to wear you out. Thankfully, I’m so passionate about everything I do that I can stay energetic all day (power naps help too).
Thanks lululemon! You can check out the original posts here and here. And special thanks to the amazing Zparkle Productions!

Music and Memory – Alzheimer’s makes me sad


The other day at work, I was doing an ice breaker with a group of students. I asked, “If you could get dinner with three people from any place and time in history, who would it be and why?” As we shared in a circle, we had some great ideas — Taylor Swift, Charles Darwin, Barack Obama, and almost every Food Network star. When it was my turn, I admitted I couldn’t share the names of my three people for privacy reasons. If I could get dinner with three people at any time or place in history, it would be with three of my favorite patients and residents I’ve met at work. In the past, these ladies were activists, leaders, scholarship founders, and decades ahead of their time. Now, as they are in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, I catch glimpses of their wit and power when the fog breaks briefly. I would give anything to see these women in their prime, and to thank them for shaping my future career.

The biggest thing I’ve learned in college is how to see past your own experiences, and understand through the eyes of others. As an aide in both a nursing home and in home care, I experience the impact of aging on a daily basis. What hurts more than the falls and aches and weariness that comes with age is losing one’s memory.  Every day, I clock into work in 2016, but I spend my shift dancing through the decades.

Some days are good — like when a previously nonverbal patient sings a song with me. A lot of days are bad — watching the fear in my residents’ eyes when they don’t understand where they are, who I am, or when in time we exist. But most days… most days are a beautiful learning process. I’ve time traveled to Paris, drawn pictures of the New York City skyline, and flown across the world with my memory care patients.

Over 5.3 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia, a condition where the brain is quite literally dying. But if a silver lining can be found, it’s in music. The parts of the brain that recognize and are stimulated by music are the last ones to deteriorate. If you play music from someone’s era, their brain will light up like a Christmas tree. So when I sneak out  my phone at work to play big band hits, I’m not leisurely listening — I’m engaging my patients and waking up parts of their brains that have been quiet for too long.

And as a future physician (focusing in geriatric primary care), I began working as an aide to boost my application. But over the years, my work becomes less about my own path, and more about the beautiful sights along the way. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia is hard. I’m talking being screamed at and hit, getting soiled briefs thrown at you, chasing your fall risk patient down the all as they try to escape, crying during the car ride home kind of hard. And still, even through the tears, I will tell you how much I love my job.


“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”


Alzheimer’s and dementia is one hell of a brick wall, so thank God for my tenacity and stubbornness. I live for the moments when my patients briefly come back to me — they’re few and far between, but seeing the fog lift from someone’s eyes is so rewarding. I will happily climb a brick wall for twelve hours just for that one special minute of clarity.

There is a lot of research on music impacting Alzheimer’s and dementia. My platform with the Miss America Organization is Music & Memory, and our goal is to provide memory care patients with MP3 players to keep their brains alive and engaged. If you’re interested in learning more, donating an old iPod or funds, or helping out, please contact me.


“There is one thing Alzheimer’s cannot take away, and that is love. Love is not a memory — it’s a feeling that resides in your heart and soul.”



My first national meet – maybe it’s not my weekend, but it’s gonna be my year


(yes, the title is a lyric from an All Time Low song. No, I’m not embarrassed)

Wednesday: “Oh shoot, maybe I should pack now”

The best thing about being chronically overscheduled is that you don’t have time to worry about the future. Instead of stressing about nationals all week, I was too busy trying to tie up loose ends before I left. After hastily throwing some clean laundry into a bag, I went to the gym and tried to pretend I wasn’t antsy.


Support from the big brother from across the country

Thursday: I did not get lost/stolen/detained

My coach wanted me to lift in the morning before my flight… which involved me going to the gym at five am. On the bright side, I was too anxious to sleep the night before, so I rolled out of bed at 4:50 wide awake and ready. It was my first time flying alone and I made it all the way to the host hotel without any major incidents! After two naps, I attended a meeting for new athletes and coaches. I didn’t learn anything particularly useful, but it was fun listening to stories of other coaches and athletes who didn’t know the rules and blew their first big meet.


I may not have had the biggest numbers, but I had the best headshot


Friday: “I get to lift things today!”

We started the day by checking out the competition venue, then doing some light complexes and back squats. That afternoon, I dragged my poor coach around the Ogden Dinosaur Park (pubic service announcement: do not visit a pre-historic life museum with me unless you want your ear talked off). Later, we went back to the gym to hit some heavier lifts. I was feeling slow and tired and missing (what felt like) more lifts than I made. It was terrifying, but I tried not to think about it. I wasn’t ready to panic.

I get carsick very easily, and we had to take shuttles everywhere, so I was having a hard time eating enough because I felt so yucky. The only thing I could stomach that night was sushi (Danielle you are so Asian) so I ate what I could manage, said a prayer to the barbell gods, and went to sleep.


Hello Weber State University!

Saturday: “OMG I’m competing at a national meet?”

I woke up before the sun to do a super light morning session. I felt fantastic. After the best nap of my life, I did my hair and makeup, packed my bag, and tied my rhinestoned hair bow.


My view from the warm up area (sitting on the floor, as always)

I don’t remember most of the rest of the day, to be honest. No idea what happened during my warm up lifts. I just lifted whatever my coach told me to. Before I knew it, I was walking onto the platform – where I missed my opener by throwing it behind me (that’s weird).


My “damn it I missed my opener” face

I made it on my second attempt, and then had a heartbreaking no-lift on my last snatch.


Chasing 63

Clean and jerks went fairly smoothly (okay, that’s a lie, but I’ll discuss later). Opener felt easy, 78kg felt fine. I cleaned 80kg without a problem, and wanted the lift so baldy. I locked out the jerk…


and I missed.


And just like that, it’s over. After two years of learning and months of preparation, it’s all over after six short attempts. I missed both the lifts I had wanted, and didn’t hit my goal total… and I was crushed. I cried into my backpack, tried to pull myself together, but cried again in the bathroom after a stranger said I was a beautiful lifter (darn you, kind stranger). After sulking on the shuttle back to the hotel, I wrapped up the waterworks in the shower (shower crying is the best).

But good beer puts everything back into perspective, and I realized I had nothing to be upset about. I touched a barbell for the first time barely two years ago, and have only been competing for a few months. Not only did I post a total at my first national meet, but I tied my meet PRs (despite belt drama and travel fatigue). I opened heavier than my qualifying total and fought harder for lifts than I ever have. It wasn’t the meet I wanted, but that is okay.


What I learned:

1: Your belt can only be 12 cm wide. I learned this as I was walking onto the platform for my first clean and jerk with my 60 seconds already counting down when an official stopped me with a tape measurer.


My “what do you mean my belt is illegal” face

2: When you’re really freaking mad that your belt got taken away, 75 kgs feels like 75 lbs. Anger PR.

3: Sometimes strangers are nice. Thank you to the nice blonde girl with cute makeup who lent me her belt for my first lift.

4: Officials do not like to be sassed. After I killed my first and second clean and jerks, I flashed Mr. Tape Measurer my best pageant girl smile. He was not amused.

Sassily walks away from official

Sassily walks away from official

5: Weightlifting has a fickle heart. I’ve been chasing a 63 kg snatch on the platform for a while. On my last attempt, I finally stood it up. And got three red lights. As I stood the bar up, my left elbow bobbled half an inch, resulting in a no-lift. See you on October 10th, 63kg.


6: After a long week, sometimes your body just gives up. I should have made my last clean and jerk at 80kg, but my legs just gave out and my back knee slammed into the floor during the jerk (it hurt FYI). Fickle sport, fickle body.


7: Utah is dry, literally and metaphorically. Some lifters intentionally dehydrate themselves to make weight. Why bother when it’s -29834% humidity? Also, I am not inspired by rocks.

8: I have the best gym mom ever. It’s easy to stand at a distance and evaluate someone’s progress. People prefer to attribute someone’s success to luck or the fact that “you’re naturally flexible.” What people don’t see are the early hours and late nights at the gym. Nobody sees the anxious nights when you talk yourself out of your dream, or the lonely 5 am drives to the gym when your peers are walking home from parties. When we say “blood, sweat, and tears,” we’re not kidding. My gym mom is the hardest working person I know, and she understands how hard I worked to make it to nationals. When I wanted to give up in the fall semester because my numbers and progress were regressing, she reminded me it was worth it. When I couldn’t sleep the night before my meet because I didn’t think I belonged there, she reminded me I earned it. Thanks mom.

9: I have the most wonderful coach ever. It takes someone special to turn a ballerina into a weightlifter, and takes infinite patience to deal with me. I am so very thankful to have found someone who sees potential in me, lets me take as many naps as I want, and doesn’t get too annoyed when I whine nonstop about working out. Thank you.

10: I am so motivated and so ready for the next year of training and improving. 


How to be a good freshman

As my baby sister moves into her dorm for her freshman year, and as I skim social media, I’m thrilled to see so many bright and eager freshman starting their college journey. I’ve tried to throw bits and pieces of senior wisdom around, little tips and tricks I wish someone had told me as a new student, but there’s too much to say at once. But to start:

You can never be overdressed or overeducated

Wear a suit to job interviews. Take yourself and your employer seriously enough to dress respectfully. Doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing for a coveted internship, food service job, or lab-rat-poop-scooper position. Just wear the suit.

Forever21 cotton/spandex blend pencil skirts are not business wear

Yes, they make suits for women. Yes, you can wear a skirt suit. Spent 10 minutes looking up professional attire and hit the clearance rack at Target or Marshals. Wear a damn suit, people.

Sleep. Eat. Bathe.

There will be students who brag about how little sleep they get, or how they “haven’t had time to eat or shower since Thursday.” Don’t listen to their noise. Neglecting your health and personal care is not a badge of honor or courage – it’s a sign of poor time management skills, procrastination, and disordered priorities. You’re not a machine, so take time to take care of yourself.

Buy textbooks with discretion

Buy them for your first semester, and then readjust (unless you like blowing up to $1000 on paper, in which case, go for it). If you can handle reading off computers, go for the cheaper ebook. For many courses, the textbook will be available at campus libraries or learning centers, so don’t bother buying those. Ask around and learn if the textbook is even necessary or helpful for the class (just because the professor listed it as “required” doesn’t mean you’ll ever use it)Compare prices and buy online. Better yet, forget buying and just rent.

Wear your university gear with pride

I once lived with a girl who made fun of students for wearing Michigan apparel because they “looked like lame freshman.” Let me tell you, kids: being proud of your school isn’t lame. Take it from a jaded senior. The excitement you’re feeling comes once in a lifetime, so enjoy it. Live it to the extreme. Wear that blue hair extension to football games and your Michigan crewneck home for fall break. Remember that “ohmygodididit” feeling when you got your acceptance email? You worked damn hard to be here, so be proud.

…but don’t wear a lanyard

You have pockets for a reason. Just don’t.

If/when you drink, don’t be stupid

I’m not your mom, so I’m not going to give you a “no underage drinking” speech. And I’m not a cop, so I won’t give you another “roar roar MIP” lecture. You own your body and your decisions, so if you’re drinking:

Watch your cup. Watch your drink being made. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. DO NOT PULL FROM THE HANDLE (do you really want mono that badly?). If you’re new, don’t get drunk at your first party. Instead, start somewhere safe with people you trust so you can learn your limits and what it all feels like. Don’t leave alone. Don’t let strangers walk you home (take an Uber instead). Keep your phone, keys, and cash with you. Keep track of your friends. Stay safe, and don’t be stupid.

Don’t eat alone for the first few weeks

Easiest way to meet people is to hit the dining hall in groups. You’re all new and lost and awkward and scared and confused, so roll with it.

After that, don’t be afraid of eating alone

I did all my studying for Bio 173 during meals in the dining hall. Use it as quick study time or down time.

Use a planner

You have no idea how busy you’re about to get. Start writing things down. Assignments, due dates, meetings, appointments, your grocery list.

Learn and use proper email etiquette

Use appropriate salutations, farewells, and signatures. Include your course number and section in the subject line and body of the email. Write appropriate and informative subjects. Reply to emails within 24 hours, and check several times a day. Always be the last to speak in correspondence with a superior – if you email a professor or GSI for something, always acknowledge their email and thank them for their time and help.

Have an umbrella with you at all times

Unless you want a surprise free shower, be prepared. Most lecture halls don’t have windows, so you won’t know that it went from sunny and 75 to monsoon season.

Write thank you notes

A month or so into your first semester, take time to write a thank you note to people who helped you get to where you are now. Your favorite teachers, coaches, family, friends, etc. Especially those teachers and coaches. So many people shaped you, so thank them for doing a good job.

Know your resources (university and otherwise)

Where do you go when you’re sick? If there’s a weather emergency? Where is the nearest bank, ATM, Secretary of State office, 24 hour convenience store, pharmacy? See if your university offer free tutoring or study groups. Identify who to call to report disturbances, sexual assaults, mental health concerns.

Check your ego

Once upon a time, you were in the top 5% of your high school. But now you’re at a school where every other person was also the best in their class. Work that out statistically, and you’re now hovering around “average.” Sink or swim, kid. Don’t let that break you. Keep your perspective honest and work hard.

Ask for help

Math lab, physics help room, Science Learning Center, free tutoring, university run study groups, office hours. Asking for help doesn’t make you stupid. It means you’re smart enough to know you don’t understand the entire picture, and courageous enough to accept that.


It goes fast.

Pageant Coaching

Personal Introduction Packages – You’re amazing, talented, and ambitious – how in the world do you fit all your achievements into a 20-30 second introduction?! That’s where I’m here to help. I’ve had great success in writing personal introductions for pageant contestants, with 90% of my clients placing in the top 10 or higher.
The Princess Package: Custom personal introduction tailored to your pageant system and all about you! The intro with be timed perfectly to fit within your organization’s guidelines.
The Queen PackageCustom personal introduction as in the Princess Package, and a personalized video with tips on style, inflection, tone, and delivery.

Skype Coaching – I am available over Skype or Google Hangouts to work with you on any aspect of your pageant preparation. Topics include:
  • Walks
  • Posing
  • Personal introductions
  • Wardrobe consultation
  • Talent consultation
  • Hair and makeup
  • Any questions you may have!
Intensive interview coaching: In addition to a Skype coaching session dedicated to interview prep, I will give you exclusive access to my database of over 200 pageant interview questions tailored to your pageant system.

Personalized Videos – If Skype coaching might not fit in your busy schedule, I offer personalized videos on specific areas of concern. That way, you can watch and re-watch at your leisure.

Miss Michigan Recap and Debrief – what the heck happened to me

The following is a long overdue word-vomit on my Miss Michigan experience:


I’ve never been speechless before. Talking and writing are some of my favorite hobbies, and I don’t usually struggle to put my ideas into words. But the reason I’ve put off this update post for so long is because I honestly do not know how I feel about Miss Michigan week.


I need to begin by saying that the girls were incredible, out of this world, outstanding, amazing, absolutely indescribable. Starting the day with sleepy smiles and ending with candid conversations in the suite (WHAT HAPPENS IN THE SUITE STAYS IN THE SUITE), these girls were the highlight of the experience. Yes, they were kind, letting me borrow fake eyelashes, sharing butt glue in dressing rooms, and always helping zip each other in and out of dresses. But there’s so much more. Bonding over hundreds of cups of coffee, painfully honest conversations on awful boyfriends (CLIP EM LADIES), twirling a Tahitian dancer’s props in the hallway (but mostly getting hit in the face)… somewhere between the brutally early mornings and late nights, somewhere over the trays of room service, and between quick changes in the basement of the theater, magic happened with the 34 contestants. I made dozens of new friends, strengthened old bonds, and learned about life and myself through these young women.


I also need to say that I love pageants for teaching me how to be me. I’m the best, most polished version of myself when I’m in pageant mode. As exhausting as that may be, it was great to feel “on” for a full week.


Okay, I can’t keep going without touching on the exhaustion. Everyone told me Miss Michigan week would be tiring, but I had no idea. I barely slept, barely ate, and could barely move at the end of the week. The physical exhaustion, however, was nothing compared to the emotional and mental depletion. There were nights (especially at the afterglow) when all I could do was sit and cry because I was absolutely drained, like I had run out of smiles during the day. And I’m annoyed with myself for not being able to describe that any better, but I can’t put a week’s worth of fatigue into words.


The rest of the week was stained with something I still don’t know how to put in words. I’ve been trying to describe it as “a bad vibe” or “darkness” or just “really really weird.” Whatever it is, I didn’t like it, and I don’t know where it came from. Maybe it was the culmination of the most difficult year of my life coming out during pageant week, a year of stress finally manifesting itself? I can’t put it into words, and it’s infuriating because I need to talk about it. Not just for myself, but for others who may feel the same.


The week was incredible. I had a great time. I made friends, made memories, got a $500 scholarship just for showing up, was treated like a celebrity all week, volunteered in the local community, and truly lived an adventure of a lifetime. But somehow, I came back feeling… I don’t know. Not myself.  I “lost my sparkle” at Miss Michigan – the glittery bit of my personality that defines me. I don’t know how or why, but I came back different.


None of this saying “oh, the pageant was awful and now I’m depressed and not myself and I blame the pageant and the girls wah wah.” Exactly the opposite. I’m trying to figure out how to say that 1) I had a spectacular experience and 2) I returned changed and don’t know how or why.


Have I loved my time with pageantry? Yes. Have pageants shaped me into the person I am today? Yes. Do I love them, regardless of their absurdity, for what they’ve taught me? Yes. Will I be competing again in locals in pursuit of another week at Miss Michigan in 2016? I don’t know.

I’m still processing.


Real talk guys. Real talk.

In twelve short days, I’ll be crammed into a car with 15 lb. of makeup, 87 pairs of earrings, enough “dressy casual” attire to last a lifetime (or at least a week… and can someone please define that phrase for me?) on my way to Muskegon to compete for the title of Miss Michigan.

My most honest and truly “Danielle” moments happen at the gym. If you’ve had the immense (dis)pleasure of working out with me before, you know that I explode sass or tears. During a particularly sassy day, after delivering a particularly sassy face to a particularly sassy coach, I was told that “frowning won’t help you win Miss Michigan.” Mid-pull-up, I replied, “I’m not trying to win Miss Michigan.”


We need to go back further.

The other day at the gym (of course) between squat sets, I confessed to my friend that I had been feeling a lot of pressure leading up to Miss Michigan. Peers and respected adults said to me that lifting and pageants were not compatible, especially on the state level. Those opinions, plus a few statements from others that week, made me feel like my body was no longer pageant appropriate. I am by no means large or muscular, and I’m abolishing the word “fat” from my vocabulary, but it was made clear to me that weightlifting pageant contestants are not the norm. My wonderful friend replied to those fears, as she unracked her bar that weighed more than five full grown bears, “just be true to yourself.”

Be true to yourself. That was always my goal in pageants – as the 18 year old nerdy girl who was “too smart for pageants” or “too mature” to be a teen competitor, or the 20 year old who was “too manly looking” to wear a bikini on a stage – my goal was always to be my own self. But I lost sight of that goal, and forgot where my intentions began.

So to what am I being true? This time around, I am being true to my passions.

I am in love with barbells, with the physical and mental growth they provide. I love the long hours in the gym, the sweat and chalk permanently stained into my clothes, the calloused hands and bruised… well, everything is bruised. I love being free to eat what I need to fuel my body, and I am probably the only contestant who is trying to gain weight leading up to her pageant (this girl needs two kilos worth of quads, asap). I refuse to sacrifice my happiness and health, and if that costs me a crown, that is okay.

I am in love with ballet, and threw away the predictability and safety of a lyrical routine for my talent, instead opting for a classical ballet variation en pointe. I refuse to sacrifice my training and technique for tricks, and if that costs me a crown, that is okay.

I am in love with learning, and put academics and my future career as a physician before almost everything. I’ve turned down dozens of appearances to study for the MCAT, missed glamorous events because I had an exam the next morning, and hid pageant prep in the back of my brain to focus on the MCAT. I refuse to be shamed for putting my education first, and if that costs me a crown, that is okay.

So I am not trying to win. I am trying to be Danielle – the girl who eats Cheetos in her evening gown before modeling it at her send-off party; the girl who came to said send-off party straight from the gym, sweaty hair and chalky hands and all; the girl who acknowledges the absurdity of pageants but loves them for what they taught her, and is always ready to discuss said absurdity (wait, why am I in a bikini and heels onstage?); the girl who has gained twenty pounds since her pageant debut three years ago and could not be happier about it. And if that costs me a crown, that is okay.

Check your blind spot

Last year I danced to a spoken word poem by by Shane Koyczan called Instructions for a Bad Day. I quote it on Instagram when I’m emotional.

There will be moments when the drought of joy seems unending. Instances spent pretending that everything is alright when it clearly is not. Check your blind spot. See that love is still there. Be patient. Every nightmare has a beginning, but every bad day has an end. Ignore what others have called you. I am calling you friend. Make us comprehend the urgency of your crisis. Silence left to its own devices breeds silence. So speak and be heard. One word after the next, express yourself and put your life in the context – if you find that no one is listening, be loud. Make noise. Stand in poise and be open. Hope in these situations is not enough and you will need someone to lean on. In the unlikely event that you have no one, look again

Check your blind spot.

Junior year was a bad year. Between almost failing a class, having to retake it, stress over the MCAT, questioning if I’ll make it into medical school, my grandpa passing away, always worrying about my family, health issues that landed me in doctors offices almost every week, and general life-blowing-up-in-my-face, it was bad.

Humankind is really stinking cool because everyone is connected in a web of relationships, friendships, acquaintances. The downside, though, is that everyone carries their hurt and sorrow through the web. And (consciously or unconsciously), people let their own issues hurt other people in their web. Hey, baggage is heavy, and sometimes you want to drop it on someone else’s foot. Whether someone actively seeks to hurt others to make up for the times life hurt them, or someone repeats toxic patterns because it’s all they know, the human web facilitates a community-wide flow of negativity.

But the beauty of human kind is that every single person has an opportunity to stop the flow of negativity. Every single person is broken to a degree, and every single person can choose to wear their sorrow. But life is so beautiful because you don’t have to.

This blog post was intended to be a short Facebook status thanking people for saving my butt this year, but I realized I had more to say. So:

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who chose to end their personal web of negativity (even for a minute) to touch my life.

Thank you to my dancers for reminding me that it’s okay to sit out of rehearsal when you’re sick or injured, to my friends who are teaching me how to take care of myself, those who dragged me home from the library at 4 am and reminded me that “yes Danielle you do have to sleep and eat eventually because you’re not a machine.” Thank you to everyone who noticed my bad days and asked (out of concern, and not curiosity) what was wrong, and reminded me that I’d always come out on top. Or, if that wasn’t the case, thanks for offering to beat people up for me.

Thanks to the stranger on the street the other day who reminded me to “smile, because life is gonna suck anyway.” Thanks to the stranger on the street yesterday who told me my smile reminded them to smile.

Especially this past week, thank you to everyone who forced me to take care of myself when I didn’t know how to – thank you to the friends who dragged me to the ER when I was too dehydrated and sick to remember my name, to everyone else who put their life on pause to make sure I was okay, to my roommate (aka my guardian angel from heaven) for helping me get any possible extensions on finals and making sure I slept and had a good supply of Gatorade. And thank you to the people who are smarter than me and banned me from working out for a week so I could finally get healthy (don’t let that go to your head).

tl;dr – Life sucks. People hurt other people because life sucks. But special people choose not to hurt other people, even when their life sucks, and they decide to help make other peoples’ lives suck less. Thank you to my favorite people for making my life suck less.

My First Weightlifting Meet


A little less than two years ago, baby 19 year old (barely 115 lb.) Danielle skipped into a local CrossFit gym and chirped, “This looks cool and I wanna do it” to the owner. As my ponytail and I bounced out of the room, armed with a few brochures, the owner saw I was wearing a huge red hair bow. He didn’t think I’d last a week.

A few days later, I tried pressing a 35 lb bar. I was shocked at how heavy it felt, and could barely press it overhead. I ditched the red bow for some chalk, calluses, and hard work.

About a year later, I saw a friend qualify for university nationals. I looked at the qualifying totals, my own numbers, and my own progress… and I set a goal. With that goal in mind, I buckled down at the gym, squeezing in sessions alone before class (before the sun was even up), even biking to the gym if necessary.

Less than two years after I bounced into the gym with a red bow, I skipped onto the platform at my first weightlifting meet (donned in a red singlet and red bow) and hit my qualifying total! My first meet was a wonderful experience, and I hope my story encourages you to try competing:


Training –  When I’m not dancing, I’m in the gym five days a week, with olympic weightlifting classes three of those days, and strength cycle work scattered throughout. I do yoga weekly to stay bendy and devote lots of time to mobility/body care.

Food – To maintain my strength while leaning out for Miss Michigan, I have a nutrition coach working with me and my macros. I eat donuts daily.

Misc. – I learn movements by watching them, so I spent a good amount of time watching national meets and videos online. I also tried to start weighing myself in kilograms and converting my training percentages to kilos in my head.

Night before

If you’ve met me, you know that I CANNOT lift without snacks. The night before I left, I packed a big bag of my favorite quick carb and protein sources, as well as some cold steeped iced tea. Then, after a light mobility session, I was off to bed.

Day of

Sleepy, hungry, grumpy Danielle showed up at the gym 20 minutes prior to weigh it to claim a spot and get situated. I introduced myself to as many volunteers and officials as possible, letting them know it was my first meet. They were all nice, made sure I felt welcome, and answered all of my newbie questions.

I weighed in way lighter than expected, but still in my anticipated 63 kg weight class. After weigh in, I happily stuffed my face and sipped tea and water.

With my coaches advice in mind, and the help of a few coaches who took me under their wing for the day, I settled into the warm up area, going through my normal barbell progressions and building up to my opener

Lifting time!

I stepped up to the platform, looked down, and saw the bar was not what I was used to training with. It was a different brand, so I didn’t have my usual landmarks for hand placement. Nervous, I rushed my first lift, caught it too far forward, and missed. Missed my first lift at my first meet. Grumpy Danielle sulked off the platform. After some angry self talk (“Get it together because that is literally only 90% of your 1RM CHRIST Danielle what are you doing”) , I took a deep breath, changed the voice in my head (” You’ve made this lift a million times before. Rely on your technique and you’ll be fine”), and stepped back onto the platform.

I took my time, settled into my usual ritual, and pictured myself at my gym back home (breathe okay I’m staring forward at the 9 on the clock above the door breathe Ingrid is behind me and Joelle is to my left and Jeff is in the center of the room and Traci just picked up her green water bottle breathe). 55 kg went up easily, as did 59, putting my back on my game plan.

After a short break, clean and jerks began. 67 was a breeze, as was 71 (as I dropped the bar after my second lift, I mentally sent my coach a million hugs for teaching me to be consistent at 90-95%). Up next was 75, and I knew I had to hit it (per my game plan, hitting 75 would get me to the qualifying total I was aiming for).

Then, things got weird. People started changing their declared lifts, and before I knew what was going on, I was sitting in a chair for 15 minutes as several other lifts came before mine.  I realized I was getting cold, which is not a good thing for someone who lifts best warm/semi-fatigued. I jogged over to the warm up area, did some more progressions with an empty barbell, and finally, it was my turn to lift again.

Ritual time: check hair. Tighten wrist wraps. Chalk chalk chalk (no really, I say that in my head at the chalk bucket). Walk to bar. Breathe. Tighten belt. Tighten it again. Breathe. Adjust bar setup with foot. Look up, find a target to spot. Breathe. Set hands, set back, go.

75 felt crazy light, and I got all white lights (despite my little elbow bobble due to my crazy hyperextended elbows. After I got the down cue, I looked anxiously at the judges until I saw all three white cards. Then I happily skipped off, thrilled with hitting my goal and excited for future meets.

What I learned:

  • Trust – trust the process, trust your coach, trust your body, trust your training, trust yourself
  • It is okay to wear hair bows (as long as they don’t fall out during your lift like mine did during my second c&j attempt
  • It is okay to skip on and off the platform. Again, rituals. You do you.
  • Don’t rush
  • Pretend you’re at your home gym
  • Snack time is the best time
  • Be friendly, ask for help if you need it



Day, Gym, Night – Styling Lululemon Tops

Fact – Lululemon is expensive.

Fact – I am a broke college student

Fact – You can still wear Lululemon if you keep styling options in mind!

As a shopaholic on a budget, I used to have a hard time buying pricier items. However, after some number crunching, I came to realize –  Why spend $15 on a cheap shirt I’ll wear once or twice, when I can invest more in a top that I can wear for years in different ways? So now when I shop, I keep different styling options in mind.

When I first saw the City Tank online, I KNEW I had to have it since I could see how versatile it was. I somehow managed to restrain myself and snag it on sale a few weeks later, and it has quickly worked its way to the top of my rotation. While this tank may no longer be available, any top from Lululemon will do! With a variety of shapes, fabrics, styles, and colors, you’re sure to find a piece that you can style for different occasions. For example, I’m a sucker for peplum, which is why I fell in love with the City Tank. However, I could just have easily made these looks with any other singlet or tank!

Look one – Daytime (school, running errands, etc.)

I live for the jean-cardigan-boot combo, which is how I pulled together this first outfit. As much as we all want to wear cozy sweats to school, cardigans are just as cozy.

Jeans – American Eagle

Cardigan – New York and Company

Boots – Macys

Look 2 – Active (Gym, dance, yoga!)

I’ve shamelessly worn this look to all three of the above suggestions. Simply ditch the cardigan, throw on your favorite stretchy pants, and get moving.

Shorts – Lululemon

Look Three – Night out

After your daily sweat session, spritz in some dry shampoo and easily transition your top from the gym to the bars (or, if you’re like me, the quiet pizza place across the street from your apartment).

Jacket – Express

Leather lined leggings – Macys

Boots – Macys

Wristlet – Target

picstitch (1)

What are your favorite ways to style investment pieces? Leave a comment below, or post it to Instagram and tag @daniellenicolepurtell and #BarbellBeautyQueenFashion