Documenting Kristian: The Girl with the Titanium Spine

February 24, 2017
Kate Pullen

Kristian Head, aka, the girl with the titanium spine, is a woman on a mission. After literally breaking her back, suffering setback from a misdiagnosis of her condition, months of pain, and surgery that left her with 6 titanium screws and 2 titanium rods in her back… she set out in 2014 to rise above the odds and pursue a life of health, wellness, and strength. I’m honored to be let in to document her world. Telling stories like Kristian’s comes with it the responsibility to produce images that resonate where she has been, where she is in her journey, and where she is headed. I hope that these images give you an insight into her journey… I would say, “struggle,” but that would be inaccurate. Kristian has found a way to turn “struggle” into strength and determination. (I first shot with Kristian in January 2016, see blog post with details of her initial injury.) Make sure to check out the link at the bottom of the page for  Light Filled Media’s video project featuring Kristian’s story.

I’m on a one way mission to make health and wellness a priority for those who are ready to take that step themselves! I’m excited to keep expanding my knowledge and to teach those around me what I know!  

What’s it like starting your day around 4:30 a.m.? What motivates you to get up and “get going?”

Sheww, to be totally honest.. I’ve been waking up around 4:15am multiple days a week since April 2016! So I’m nearing my 1 year mark!  I figured it would get ‘easier’ as time went on, but it still seems to be a challenge some days haha the biggest motivator for me right now is my 5:30am class.  These girls started training with me in October and have all stuck with me since!  It is an incredible feeling and so motivational to see them up before the sun breaking a sweat… and THANKING me for it? Haha I love seeing their progress, hearing their stories about what they’re doing outside of the gym and standing by them in their struggles!  They will all be taking on the next 12 weeks with me.. For my 3rd class with ALL of them starting Monday, Feb. 27th at 5:30am.  This group has done nothing but grow since October!  I’m excited each and every time I get to teach and challenge them!  They’re always up for it!

I noticed you are weighing out your food and are on a strict diet. What are you training for, and how do you see nutrition as it fits into fitness goals?

I’m training for my first NPC Bikini (bodybuilding) Show in June and July of 2017!  I’m in what is called a ‘prep’ phase right now.  This basically means we slowly decrease caloric intake over a long period of time to reduce my fat % to show of my muscles on stage!  It is no small task haha My prep will be about 20 weeks long!  It will end after my final show on July 8th!

Nutrition is such a HUGE part of fitness.  Honestly, up until last year I felt like I ate ‘intuitively’, but was never strict on myself. In bodybuilding, nutrition is such a huge part of it that you HAVE to be on your game.  This means a few things in ‘growing’ season when youre in a caloric surplus it means that you’re eating even if and when you aren’t hungry.  It’s uncomfortable.  In a ‘prep’ season it means being.. Well… hungry!  Which is also uncomfortable!! Haha

[“Even though there are days I wish I could change some things that happened in the past, there is a reason the rearview mirror is so small and the windshield is so big, where you are headed is much more important then what you’ve left behind.”
—> a bit before 5am headed to the gym. Probably trying to blink fast in and effort not to close my eyes for too long and fall asleep while driving…]

What is your routine when you get to the gym to prepare for your students?

I try to be to the gym by 5-5:10am.  This always me enough time to turn all the lights on, get the music set up and playing, write out what we will be doing on a whiteboard and then set up whatever equipment we will need for that class!  OH and… making coffee!! Haha If I get time too!  If not… no caffeine until after class!

Jon (pictured above with Kristian) gets up with you – early in the a.m. and is right by your side. In what ways does he support you as you pursue your goals?

Oh goodness, haha where to even begin!! He is definitely one of my #1 supporters.  He actually takes the rath much more then anyone else! Haha I’m in ‘prep’ right now for my first bodybuilding show.  Which for him means, I’m not cooking regular meals anymore, I’m always hungry (and act it) and sometimes a little moody haha and he is always there just taking on the day by my side.  He goes above and beyond at the gym helping me clean, fix things and just generally make everything work more smoothly.  

Jon has been with me since before I broke my back so he has seen first hand how my life has changed and he has helped in every way possible to make my life easier since.  He even helps me put my shoes on in the mornings when I’m to stiff to reach my feet! Haha

What is the design of your early morning class? What do you hope your students get from it? What do you learn from it?

So the design of this class that is ending now was high intensity interval training (HIIT) and circuit training combined!  It was a doozie!!  Since opening the gym I’ve had a lot of women reach out to me about how the gym can be an intimidating place and I couldn’t agree more.  As a female we have been brought up in a world where the men play the strong role (in a majority of situations).  We also live in an age where society is pushing ‘thin’ and ‘skinny’ on every female in sight. So my goal is kind of a few things for these women.  I want them to embrace who they are and what they get from feeling 1) strong 2) accomplished 3) growth 4) challenged and 5) supported.  These girls are so awesome at cheering one another on during class.  It is SO fun to see them.  There is a certain power I feel from being a strong woman and feeling happy with my body and I want every woman to feel that way.  Happy and confident in her own skin, no matter what body shape/type she may have.  We all deserve that!

I noticed that you are working out alongside your students. How important do you feel it is for them to see you working out alongside of them?

So I don’t always workout with the girls (I would love to, but with my training it’s physically to much on me), but when I see them struggling, slowing down, needing motivation and etc.. I don’t mind jumping in! I actually love being able to do things with them because then I’m more of a part of the struggles and the triumphs! I also want them to know that it’s OK to sweat! It’s OK that something is challenging!  I want them to learn to push through those times so sometimes that takes me pushing through myself right by them!

[A conversation with my sister the other day went a little something like this: “People will criticize you now matter what you choose to do. They are small minded and have nothing better to talk about in their own lives.” <– well, that was the gist of it anyways. 🤷🏼‍♀️
It’s true. When you choose to break the mold and be your own person many won’t understand ‘why?’ That doesn’t make what you’re doing WRONG or BAD! Bettering yourself should be about YOU only. Are you happy? Are you moving in a positive direction? Working hard towards your goals? Pushing yourself? Maybe even getting uncomfortable in order to see progress?
If you’re following a path that is pushing you to do all of those things then you need to be bold and stop caring about what others have to say about it! You need to DO YOU babe!]

In your own training,  you’re definitely working hard and getting uncomfortable – can you talk about that?

So on the week that Daniel got to hangout with me my coach, Nick Tong, put out a ‘Squat Challenge’ to his clients.  The rules were for males: 1.5 times your body weight and for females: your bodyweight.  You basically put your weight on the bar and squatted until your couldn’t squat anymore haha I tried this challenge 3 different times during that week. (it also had to be videoed and submitted).  I ended up getting 30 repititions at 145lbs.  This is just over my body weight currently! So as spot on as I could get it!

Back squats is actually my weakest lift.  Since having my back surgery it is just uncomfortable to have the pressure on my spine the way it feels in a barbell back squat so for me… this was a huge mental hurdle.  In fact… I had only ever tried squatting 165lbs prior to this and it was for less then 5 reps!! So 30 reps at 145lbs basically made me realize that 1) i’m not made of glass and i’m not going to break 2) I need to step it up haha

A lot of progress is made when you are challenged.  In fact, most progress happens when you’re uncomfortable.  At least for me! It’s important to know that you’re allowed to struggle and it’s OK for things to feel HARD or even IMPOSSIBLE! Because when you feel that way… that’s when your true passion comes out for what youre doing.  Pushing through things is IMPORTANT!

We don’t grow when things are easy. We grow when we face challenges. 💪🏽
(This was how the #TeamTongStrong Squat Challenge went…) (insert gasping for air sound here 😱)

As a trainer you work with very different people with different goals. How do you work with each client to acheive their goals? 

So I’ve taken on a few new clients lately and they are all SO very different!  With each client (no matter if they’re related to me) we look at things a few ways.  We look at their goals, we look at their strengths and their struggles.  I want them to have a healthy lifestyle long term.  So when I write a plan or train a client I want them to enjoy what they’re doing (because most people who don’t will quit within the first 2 weeks).  I want them to feel better and be progressing toward whatever it is they are looking to do.  For brett, he wants to gain strength in a few certain areas that he feels are his weakest.  So we work on a lot of balance related strength exercises for him.  We want him to be able to land any air that he might take off on!  I think we are well on our way to making that happen for him! 

 What is most rewarding to you through training? 

I LOVE training clients.  I love seeing them learn and my favorite part is watching their progress.  I take videos and pictures so we can compare things from time to time, but mostly hearing how they are less sore or have seen muscle definition or started doing more even when I’m not training them.. That’s what fuels me!


What is the most difficult aspect of training?

The biggest struggle for me, as a trainer and an instructor is… people’s excuses.  Now, I know a few years ago I was known for this too!! But what I struggle with is the “I can’t” “I won’t” and “I don’t have time”… For me… I workout in pain every day.  I walk around with pain.  I could make any excuse in the book, but I prioritize, I focus and I get the job done.  The truth is… You’re hiring me to help you reach a goal.  Whether thats extreme like bodybuilding or simple like feeling healthy overall.  You’re placing the reigns in my hands and I WILL get you there, but you have to trust the process!  I’m a no excuses kind of girl 😉

You were going over notes and studying throughout the day. What were you studying for? How do you balance studying, work, and training yourself?

So not only am I a gym owner, fitness instructor, and personal trainer… I’m also a paramedic (volunteer) and a lifelong learner.  I love growing what I know.  I’m constantly doing continuing education for the certificates I hold and I LOVE any opportunity to learn more about what I’m passionate about.  I’m also a legionnaire for a really awesome company called 1st Phorm so I’m always reading up on their products and listening in to conference calls.  I also listen to podcasts pretty much every day and I love digging into a book that either motivates me or teachs me! My favorite pocasts right now are: the MFCEO Project (By Andy Frisella CEO of 1st Phorm), Bucci Radio (a young female bodybuilder entrepreneur and bodybuilder) and EverForward Radio with Chase Chewning (Army vet and health coach).  

I have grown my business through my personal brand.  I believe that a lot of my credibility for people comes more from my story and my physical changes then from my certificates hanging on the wall.  As a trainer you can’t just ‘talk the talk’ you have got to ‘walk the walk and look the part.’  I believe that bodybuilding is a big part of my brand right now, so I’m exploring the path it can take me!

Truthfully, blessing come out of strange and often painful situations. I wouldn’t be where I am today OR who I am without this experience.

How has your injury affected your training? 

Sooo.  This is a tricky one.  I have people tell me all the time that I shouldn’t lift weights because it will ‘screw up what you already have in there.’  Honestly, weight lifting not only changed my body physically, but it also completely changed things for me mentally.  

I’m in pain every day.  I wake up stiff.  It’s hard to tie my shoes.  Simple things like changing the laundry are a total pain in the butt!!! So when it comes to training I take each day on it’s own.  I know when to work through the pain and I know when I need to rest.  My coach plays a huge role as he monitors my progress, diet intake, training plan and etc. Basically, I push through pain regularly so when it comes to pain in the gym.. I’m really just used to it! 

[In your toughest moments remember –> you are writing your legacy babe❣️
.
Your character is being built brick by brick as you handle the difficult situations life throws you. You are tougher then you know.
So press on –> and push through.
.
You’ll be glad you did.]

Kristian identifies herself as not just a gym owner, but an Encourager. Fitness has become a lifestyle of health, wellness, and strength- strength of body, character, and mind – for Kristian. She wants to pass that on to her clients and help them live fuller lives by making choices that bring out the best in themselves.

When you start working at 5:00 a.m. in the morning, you’ve already worked a full day by lunch time. Kristian and Raja head home for mid-day recharge.

I see your dogs are around most of the day… Do they stay with you throughout the day?

YES!!! Absolutely.  If you know me, you know Raja and Ellie are nearby!  These two are my pals and they come to the gym with me every day!  I always say they are giant house cats haha but they are constantly greeting gym goers, snuggling under my feet or following me around like my shadow waiting for me to drop a carrot, banana or apple!

What are your current personal and professional goals?

Oh BOY! Shew.. I think these two honestly go hand and hand! My personal and professional goals mix daily.  I’m on a mission right now to truly see if bodybuilding will be my niche.  Bodybuilding is truly a lifestyle and it takes a toll on every aspect of each and every day.  From the time you wake up you are thinking about spacing your meals apart at certain hours, how much food you need to prep, what time you need to eat it, what time you need to train, what body part needs stretched, what muscles need the most recovery, when you need to schedule your posing sessions, what you can eat when you’re out at a restaurant, where you can eat at (when it comes to restaurants) and so so much more.  It means missing out on some things to focus more on a goal that may be further off.  For me right now, that’s not eating cookies with a goal in sight in the future – my shows in June and July!  

Follow Kristian’s Journey:

Join The Fort Strength and Fitness, Kristian’s Gym

Check out Light Filled Media’s Video Project Featuring Kristian’s Story

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