Fitness Fave Friday – Yoga

Edit: yes I know it’s not Friday. Sometimes life happens and we forget to publish our drafts on time.

This past year, my shopping addiction caught the Lululemon bug. One evening, as I was laying in my small pile of new purchases, high on shopping euphoria and ignoring my growing buyers’ remorse, I realized that most of my yoga pants had never seen a yoga studio. This semester, I set out to fix that.

Every week, I’ve been taking a rest day slow flow class at aUM Yoga in Ann Arbor (happy hour classes for $7? You bet I’ll be there). Since I began doing yoga regularly, I’ve had the effects carry over into school, dance, and the gym. So my first official Fitness Fave Friday is yoga!

Why it’s awesome:

At the beginning of every class, we breathe and set an intention. This could be anything from “relax my jaw and neck more” to “learn how to be more open.” This helps me with my studying. Every time I sit down to do an assignment or study for an exam, I set an intention or goal for myself, giving myself more direction and focus.

Looking for balance (literally)? Yoga is a great option. I spend a lot of time on my toes (putting the “baller” in ballerina. Just kidding), and yoga has been helping me with my balance and control. When you’re holding poses and moving with control between them, your nervous system is firing like crazy to help you find and maintain balance. Even after class, you’ll find yourself feeling more centered and energized (thanks to increased circulation, decreased cortisol levels, and more!) This helps me in the dance studio, at the gym, and walking on ice in this awful polar vortex.

Yoga is also helping my back feel better. When I’m not throwing around heavy stuff at the gym, I’m hunched over textbooks and carrying heavy backpacks, leaving my back a painful mess. I’ve spent the past few weeks laying on foam rollers and lacrosse balls trying to relax my super-tight-super-painful thoracic spine. Nothing was working… until my one hour yoga class. Moving out and between lengthening poses in a hot room has done wonders for my back, which is why weekly yoga is a huge part of my recovery.

My favorite poses:

Inversions – I’m scared of being upside-down (I was dropped on my head once in a gymnastics class and never went back), so one of my 2015 goals is to spend more time upside-down. These take practice, but are great for balance, circulation, and cool Instagram pictures!


Dancer (Natarajasana) – Because what kind of dancer doesn’t love this pose.


Child (Balasana) – And as much as I love dancing and bending… I love laying facedown on the floor more. This is a great spine and hip stretch too!


Sun salutations in the morning – While I wait for my water to boil to make tea, I do a few sun salutations to begin the day with stretchy hamstrings and a relaxed back:

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(Shorts – Lululemon. Leotard – Gaynor Minden)

Favorite yoga poses/outfits? Your own Fitness Fave Friday? Something you think I should see? Share it on Instagram and tag @daniellenicolepurtell and #BarbellBeautyQueenFitness !


Defining Your Philosophy

Last year, while helping me prepare for a national pageant, my friend gave me the following advice:

“For interview, boil down your life philosophy – who you are and what you believe in –  to a few key points, and base all your answers off of them.”

(Side note: This is one of the benefits of pageantry – how often are girls asked to verbalize their core values and beliefs? Their goals and aspirations? Demonstrate their vision for achieving these things? Pageants teach valuable real-world skills, people)

My philosophy boiled nicely down into Danielle’s Three Rules for Life, as follows:

1: Bring yourself closer to your goals every day

I am a firm (no, obsessive) believer in goal setting, short and long term. Goals should be S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). Once you set out a goal, you have something real to work towards. But almost as important as goal setting is the vision and action plan to achieve them. That’s where “bring yourself closer to your goals” comes into play. As an example of a short term goal, I want to score well on my physical chemistry exam next tomorrow – but it’s not enough to simply say that. My battle plan includes dividing chapters up, making concept maps and notes, and memorizing relevant equations. I can measure my progress as I move through chapters, and the process is time bound since each chapter is assigned a time slot. On the other hand, as a long term goal, I want to be Miss America. I have S.M.A.R.T goals written out for my talent, platform, interview, fitness, etc. to get there.

An important part of the action plan is saying no to things that don’t bring you closer to where you want to be. If I know I need to study, I’m not going to goof around on Facebook all night. Similarly, if I want to be Miss America (or a doctor, or any of my other plans) I can’t allow negative things into my life. In yoga and ballet class, I “set an intention” for the next hour or two – what do I want to accomplish? What do I want to learn or improve on? Setting a daily life intention of getting closer to your goals makes them attainable.

2: Be the person you would have looked up to when you where younger

I was a shy kid growing up. No, really. I was so shy that my elementary school teachers thought I was mute because I didn’t speak to them until the fourth grade. Behind my wall of silence, I’d stare with big brown eyes at the girls who were able to say and do whatever they wanted. I wanted to be brave enough to be honest with people, confident enough to wear red lipstick to the grocery store, and strong enough to fight for what I think is right. So every morning, I try to wake up and make that little girl proud.

3: Do what makes you happy

I’m obviously overscheduled and hyper-organized, and have little sets of obsessive rules for everything. But at the end of the day, the first two guidelines only matter if you’re happy. I literally ate cookies, chips, and guacamole for dinner tonight. Is that bringing me closer to my Miss America dreams? No, but it was fun and I don’t regret it. Would six year old Danielle appreciate the fact that I’ve been wearing the same sweatshirt for three days in a row? Probably not, but this is the comfiest article of clothing on the planet, and I feel like I’m wrapped in a million warm hugs right now. None of these guidelines are worth anything if you’re not smiling.

Life is messy. Short lists are not. I like short lists about life because they make everything easier.

For my readers, what is your philosophy? What are your goals? Writing them down will help you in pageants, extracurriculars, and life in general.

A Workaholic College Student’s Survival Guide

Let’s be real: I wrote this while procrastinating because I don’t want to study for my evolution exam and I don’t listen to my own advice. Oops.

Sometimes, I look like this:

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…but usually, I look like this:

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People ask me all the time, “How do you stay on top of everything?” Obviously, with a double major, two jobs, dance, my position as my dance company’s community outreach chair, gym time, Miss Michigan prep, titleholder appearances and commitments, and working on my platform, I’m a bit busy. 6 am alarms, 18 hour days, I-haven’t-had-time-to-eat-food-off-a-plate-instead-of-out-of-a-tupperwear-container-in-days busy. BUT! There are ways to manage it all, and to even maintain a little bit of sanity:

1: Schedule – I live and breathe for Google calendar because it’s incredible (click it). If you don’t have a gmail account or any of the fancy google-whatever accounts, get one. Then, make Google calendar your best friend. Sync it to your phone (ask Google because I have the tech skills of a lettuce leaf). Put in everything. Everything. Classes, meetings, social events, practices, workouts, rehearsals, etc. As soon as you get a date for an event, put it in, even if it’s 32 weeks away. I also suggest color coding and making different sub-calendars (if everything is one color, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Break things up visually so you don’t get panicked before the day even starts).

A typical week in my calendar looks like this:Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 12.46.21 PMClass and meetings related to school or group projects are orange, work is gray, CrossFit is yellow, errands/things I need to do are purple, dance and dance outreach related meetings are green, pageant stuff is blue, and social events/fun things are pink. It works, I promise.

Danielle, why. Whyyy. That’s so much work. Yes, it’s a pain to sit down and put it all in the calendar. But how many times have you:

  1. forgotten to be somewhere
  2. double (or triple…been there) booked  yourself because you forgot about a meeting, or
  3. panicked because you didn’t think there are enough hours in a day?

Planning this all out avoids all of those issues, especially number three. When you feel like there’s too much going on, look at your calendar to see what you can move, and reassure yourself with the few white spaces that remain. For example, this week was scary because I had several due dates and exams approaching. But look at that gloriously open Tuesday afternoon! Seeing that I had time to regroup and refocus made life a little easier. Even better is that you can plan ahead. Three appearances across the state immediately followed by three midterms, all in one week? No problem, because I see my open space this week that I can use to prepare for next week. And after all, Beyonce has the same 24 hours that you do. Make it happen.

2: Sleep – First off, I dislike my generation’s tendency to equate late nights and sleep deprivation with hard work, but that’s another blog completely. In reality, though, no matter how well you schedule, or how efficiently you work, sleep may be hard to come by. When rehearsal ends at 11 pm and you need to wake up at 5 am to make it to the gym, things get crazy. But when you can’t control the quantity of sleep you get, you can control the quality (and research shows that quality is just as important, if not more so, than quality). Five perfect hours is better than seven restless ones, so arm yourself with whatever it takes. If you need earplugs and a lavender scented eye mask to sleep in your noisy college town apartment (*coughcoughME), do it.

3: Minimize distractions – So you come home after a long crazy day and only have two hours to finish all your homework before a meeting. How do you work efficiently? By minimizing things that limit productivity. For most college students, it’s social medial and our phones (continuous interaction with devices actually changes how your brain uses and stores information). So block access. There are tons of apps for your computer or browser that let you block sites for designated lengths of time, so be honest with yourself and limit your go-to traps. And don’t just set your phone down, but put it far away. It’s easy to scroll through Instagram if your phone is next to you, but not if you hid it behind the refrigerator in the other room.

4: Take advantage of breaks and transition time – When you don’t have a ton of free time, use what you can scrape together. For example, I get to the gym 15 minutes before class starts, so I use that time to review notes and flashcards. Waiting for lecture to start? Review last lecture’s notes, or catch up on work emails. Baked sweet potato in the microwave for eight minutes? Just enough time to sort your whites/darks/colors before doing laundry tomorrow.

5: FOOD (written in all caps because food is my favorite) – Your body needs fuel. Good fuel. There is no honor in skipping meals to study, and you don’t get a gold star for being “too busy” to eat. Make time for three solid meals a day. Also, on Sunday nights (or whenever you have a free hour) pack snacks for the week. I fill about a few dozen bags with carrots or almonds, wash and set out a few apples, and stock up on Larabars. On your way out the door, grab a few snacks to carry around all day. Nothing like a burst of sugar to keep you awake during lecture.

6: Write things down – Get in the habit of writing to-do lists. Not only is it super satisfying to cross things off lists, but writing down tasks as they come up keeps you accountable and on top of everything. I have a planner for school and work through the University, and a small notebook where I make grocery lists, pageant to-dos, etc. Write things down as soon as they occur to you, and work them into your schedule.

7: Recharge – Schedule “maintenance” time. Think of your self like a car – the more you use it, the more work it needs to stay in working order. At least once a week, do something fun, or something that you can look forward to. Buy yourself a present after a long week of exams. Catch up with friends who energize you. Take a yoga class, or stretch while listening to music. Start a blog and draft posts when you’re too stressed to study (aka me). Also, long term stress increases cortisol levels, which is all around bad for your health and wellbeing. Find fun ways to relax!

8: Remind yourself why you do this – Have a list of short term and long term goals, and picture yourself achieving them (someone once told me that goals are nothing without vision, and he’s right). I tell myself “all this hard work will be worth it when I get to put on that white coat with M.D. behind my name” at least once a week. I also love volunteering at hospitals and being around health care professionals to remind myself how excited I am about a career as a doctor. Remember the last time you achieved a goal, and how happy it made you? Work for that. And if all else fails, Instagram cheesy inspirational quotes like there’s no tomorrow. I’m serious. My phone lock screen says “Beautiful girl, you can do hard things,” and it keeps me going.

9: MOST IMPORTANTLY: Take care of yourself. Migraine? Exedrin, tea, and a nap. Hurting after your workout? Recovery food, mobility, and probably another nap. Crying in a bathroom stall because you have three exams in one week and a paper due the week after and you haven’t slept in two days? Go home, eat a healthy meal, and go to bed. There are a million more classes, a million more meetings, and a million more tests in life, but you only get one body and one mind.

*I learned how to insert links and kinda went crazy. I’m not sorry.


Between my pageant work with my sparkly four-pointed hat, dance, and working at a museum, I’m around young kids a lot. Especially young girls. And every day, I try my hardest not to call any girl “pretty.” I believe in being “pretty ___fill in the blank___,” but not simply pretty.

“But Danielle, people tell you you’re pretty all the time, so that doesn’t make any sense. What’s wrong with pretty?” Okay, call me “beautiful” and you’ll have my heart (female weakness). And nothing is wrong with the word “pretty.” The issue lies in how we use it, how we smother young girls with it. What does “pretty” teach people?

Let’s start from the beginning: my siblings are incredible. My older brother is charismatic, brilliant, athletic, and fun to be around. My younger sister, too, is brilliant, athletic, and a musical genius (with a killer sense of fashion). My not-so-baby-anymore of a baby brother is also great at sports and music, and armed with a maturity and command over words that most adults don’t reach. And I’m… well, I’m the pretty one.

So what kind of space does that give someone? As a child, when your siblings and peers are being praised for their hard work and you’re being praised for your face, how do you see your role? Why push yourself at school when you can be pretty? Why pursue STEM fields when engineering could get your hands dirty, or thinking too hard over a calculus problem might give you wrinkles, when you can just be pretty? Why work hard to get a degree and get into medical school when you’re pretty enough to find a rich husband? You fear change, and you fear the idea of pushing yourself past your prettily defined boundaries. You don’t want to do anything wrong, because wrong isn’t pretty. So how does being “pretty” shape you? You become scared.  You settle. You hold yourself back because all you know how to be is pretty, and you’ve never heard how to be anything else. But your face doesn’t get grades, or degrees, or accomplishments. You can’t put your face on a resume. My face won’t be taking the MCAT or applying to medical schools for me. Does my face do my homework, or lift barbells for me? Nope. That’s all hard work. Telling girls they’re pretty enforces ideas and stereotypes that harm them for the rest of their lives. **

So I stopped being “pretty,” and I decided to be “pretty ____.”

Five days a week, no matter how tired I am, I wake up at 6 am to bike (uphill, often through snow) to my brother’s house in the dark, then drive to a neighboring city where I throw around barbells that weigh more than me for a few hours. It’s not pretty. It’s full of blood, sweat, and tears (especially if wallballs are involved). That’s not pretty. But the sacrifices I make to get to the gym mean that I am pretty disciplined, and I am pretty dedicated. And how many girls do you know who can lift things that weigh twice as much as them? Looks like I am pretty strong.

Gym memberships aren’t cheap, especially on a college student’s budget. So, I work two jobs during the school year. Instead of socializing on Friday nights, I pick up extra shifts at the Museum. Instead of watching Netflix or shopping with my friends after class, I lead study groups through the University. Trust me, workaholicism is anything but pretty (coffee stains and dark circles?), but I am pretty hardworking. 

I also have a habit of falling in love with things I’m bad at. Fun fact: I didn’t have any proper, classical, technique based dance training until I was 12, which is ancient in the dance world. By then, I was a decade behind my peers. But thankfully, I am pretty stubborn, so in addition to taking every single class possible, I spent hours at home and in the library researching dance history and ballet technique. Are bruised knees and toenails, bleeding blisters, and floorburns pretty? No, but thanks to my hard work, I am pretty talented (or at least my mom says I am. Thanks Mom. That’s pretty great).

I’m also terrible at biology, which is hilarious because I’m a biology and evolutionary anthropology double major. Thankfully, I am pretty motivated. I spent my childhood (and my workdays now) in museums, falling in love with science. I spent my high school lunch hours in my biology and math teachers’ classrooms, asking question after question until I understood the material. Even today, when I know it’ll be a miracle if I score above average on my biochemistry exam, I am studying all day long to fight for every single point. Ink stained hands aren’t pretty, but I am pretty driven.

And despite all this hard work, good GPAs and MCAT scores are difficult to come by. And then there’s medical school, which will be exponentially harder than my intro biochemistry course. And then there’s The Real World, where I have to figure out what the heck a mortgage is and how student loans work and when I should get my tires rotated. And then I’ll be in a career where people’s lives are in my hands on a daily basis. Obviously, The Real World is scary, but I think that my excitement to tackle it (and anyone who has the guts to get out of bed and face it every day) is pretty brave.

So I’m pretty sick of using the word “pretty,” and I’m pretty tired of watching another generation of girls fall into the same traps. We didn’t ask for “pretty” faces, but we worked our tails off for everything else, despite knowing it may not be acknowledged because our faces are more interesting. But regardless, we are pretty incredible. Let young girls know that. Recognize and praise how hard they work, and teach them to value their work ethic more than their faces.


**Note: for further reading into how the words you use to describe children change their self perceptions, motivation, and work ethics,  I suggest Mueller and Dweck, Kamins and Dweck, and Wood and Bandura.

Why Pageants?

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “but… why pageants?” I could finally buy those fancy Nike weightlifting shoes I’ve been drooling over (but customized. Pink. Obviously).

But really, why pageants?

When I was 18 years old, during the spring of my senior year of high school, I received a letter from a national pageant system geared at building the confidence, poise, and speaking/interview skills of girls ages 4-20. The letter encouraged me to attend an open call to learn more about the system and interview to become a state finalist. At the open call, I stood out awkwardly as one of the few teenagers among a sea of children and preteens. I stayed and stood my ground, mesmerized by the fact that I could dress up while learning real world skills and potentially winning scholarship money. I realized that it would not only be a fun way to push myself out of my comfort zone, but a chance to win scholarships as well.

I came home armed with a few brochures and asked my mom if I could give it a shot. She practically screamed NO, saying that 1) I would be competing against experienced girls who had been doing this for years, and 2) I would make a fool out of myself. So naturally, I decided to compete. I made a powerpoint describing how I would personally benefit from the pageant, and why I was a good investment in my hometown’s present and future. Then, I met with managers of local businesses, presented my case, and raised over $600 to pay for the entire competition. My mom was still reluctant, but couldn’t say no.

From there, I spent weeks preparing, trying to make the unknown as predictable as possible. I read blogs and articles, researched the system and past winners, and studied pageant videos on YouTube. I believe that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. A few weeks later, I packed my prom dress, second hand interview suit, and hairspray, and headed to my first pageant.



And I won. At my very first pageant, against a field of 111 girls, several of whom were previous titleholders and seasoned veterans, I walked away with the title of Miss Michigan Teen. On top of that, I won the academic scholarship which had drawn me to compete in the first place (I later won the academic scholarship competition at nationals as well).


When they called my name, I stood and stared at the judges to make sure I wasn’t being punked.

Since then, it’s been a whirlwind. I’ve co-founded a national nonprofit, started my own platform based foundation, driven and flown thousands of miles to competitions and appearances, volunteered at countless events, used social media to reach out to and inspire girls across the country, and competed in two (and placed 6th overall!) national pageants. I’ve also taken the scary first steps (swimsuit competition. trust me) towards my goal of becoming Miss America by competing in Miss Michigan/Miss America local preliminaries. Between now and Miss Michigan in June, it’s yet another crazy year of appearances, practicing, training, and studying.


Bring cookies to all the firefighters in my hometown to thank them for being awesome


After being interviewed at an auto show


Visiting and speaking with campers at the Midland Center for the Arts


After hosting a drive in my freshman year dorm, I delivered several boxes of donations to the local Ronald McDonald House


Sometimes this happens too


Supporting the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals… by eating ice cream


But why pageants?

In the short term, being successful in pageantry will help me financially. As a premedical student, I will be in school for the majority of the next decade, so scholarships are particularly meaningful. I’ve won over $5000 in scholarships through pageants, which pays for my textbooks and a chunk of tuition (yes, pageants can be expensive, but if you’re smart and budget properly, you’ll make a net profit).

In the long term, though, pageants help me by teaching real-world skills. For example, the interview and onstage question competitions refine my speaking as I approach medical school interviews. Further, service work and appearances deepen my passion for helping others, while sharpening my interpersonal skills. Both of these skills will be helpful in my career as a doctor.

Even further, the types of girls that pageantry attracts have changed my life – who I am, who I strive to be, and my standards. Pageant girls are beautiful, obviously, but the truth is that we radiate that beauty from the inside out. We have service driven hearts of gold. We work tirelessly at – school, dance classes, music lessons – to better ourselves and refine our gifts. When I think of the typical “pageant girl,” I think a girl who knows who she is, what she wants, and how to get there without compromising what she believes in.

Moreover, pageantry teaches girls to never settle for just one option, but rather, to seek the best of all worlds. Young women today often feel that they can be intelligent, talented, internally beautiful, or externally beautiful, but never all four at once. However, pageantry taught me that it is acceptable to pursue excellence in all aspects that I chose, and that I may do so unapologetically. Pageants nurtured me to pursue my variety of passions, but also shut me down and challenged me to defy odds in the quest for these passions.

So why pageants? Because pageantry breeds a special type of young woman, one who unrelenting in her quest for success and fulfillment in all aspects of her life.

(and hey, the dresses are fun too)


“If I had a dollar for every pageant girl with a blog…” *dramatic sigh* *eye roll*

Well hey now. Here’s another.

My name is Danielle. I’m a 20 year old junior at the University of Michigan with a double major in Biology and Evolutionary Anthropology, with minors in overachieving and over-scheduling. I am a ballet and lyrical/contemporary dancer on Salto Dance Company, as well as Salto’s Community Outreach Chair. I work at the UM Museum of Natural History as a docent, and through the University’s Science Learning Center’s peer led study groups as a study group facilitator and course leader for all of the Chemistry 130 study groups. I love CrossFit and weightlifting, and get up before the sun every day to throw heavy things around. I am also a local titleholder in the Miss America Organization, and will be competing at Miss Michigan in June. In my free time… um. Well. I don’t have free time, though I procrastinate by cuddling with my kitty.

In the past, I ran a YouTube channel geared towards middle school/high school aged pageant girls. It began as a way to document my awkward newbie journey through pageants (I started pageants at 18, which apparently is ancient), and to give advice to girls who were in the same boat. I’m a firm believer in “be the person you would have looked up to as a child,” so I emphasized the value of hard work and intelligence, not only in pageants, but life. Unfortunately, as a professional overachiever, I don’t have time to film and edit videos, so I’m switching up my medium.


So welcome. Hi.