Name: Julia Frense
Age: 28
Hometown: Milford, Delaware
Occupation: Coach/Volunteer

Time Cycling: 1 year
Start Weight: 196.8 pounds
End Weight: 155.9 pounds (still going!)
Reason for Cycling: To empower myself to be the healthiest version of me.

When I was 26 years old, right at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, I was dealing with some health issues that led to a rare diagnosis of hyperparathyroidism. In layman’s terms, I had a tumor growing on my parathyroid, and I needed surgery to remove it.

I scheduled the routine surgery on my neck and everything went great. But a few days later, I had awful excruciating chest pain radiating down my arm—the pain got worse, and I ended up in the emergency room where my diagnosis was “possible heart attack.”

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For days after, nobody really knew what my true diagnosis was or why my heart was in distress. It was months later that I was finally diagnosed with myocarditis, a rare disease that causes inflammation of the heart muscle. (To this day, nobody knows if it was because of the surgery or completely unrelated.)

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It was around that time that I was also diagnosed with genetic high cholesterol and was told I needed to improve my diet and exercise more if I wanted to avoid being put on statins at the age of 27. At this point in time, I was not active, and had weighed my heaviest at about 197 pounds. I committed to myself that starting in January 2021, I would exercise for at least 30 minutes every day, and for cholesterol reasons, would primarily stick to the Mediterranean diet.

In January 2021, I weighed 184.1 pounds. I bought myself a huge dry erase wall calendar, and committed to moving my body each day, and for accountability purposes, would write it up on the calendar for all to see. I started making healthier choices when I would go out to eat, and I would challenge myself daily by beating my Apple Watch rings from the day before.

I also began to crave exercise—the endorphins are no joke! I loved walking, and I had a usual routine walk in Philadelphia, where I now live, that was 3.5 miles long, and I would walk it a few times a week. Then, my fiancé bought me spin shoes, and I started cycling and riding Peloton on Demand classes. I signed up to run a virtual 5K one weekend, and then challenged myself to run one every weekend since then. I’m still going, and my runs are longer, faster, and more frequent.

As I started getting fitter, I signed up for some in-person running races, and loved the feeling of competing and accomplishing my goals. I pushed myself to do the Women’s Philly Duathlon in July 2021, and after that, I was hooked—I thought to myself, “Could I do a triathlon?” I loved cycling, I loved running, but could I do them both together, back to back, and add swimming?

I went to swimming lessons twice a week to learn how to swim, and I also hired a running coach who trained me on how to become a stronger runner. Both of my coaches are women who had women-owned businesses, which was really important to me. For the first time in my life, I felt like an empowered woman. I was taking action to become a better and healthier version of myself—and I was wholeheartedly loving it.

Julia’s Must-Have Gear

Wahoo RPM Cycling Cadence Sensor: It allows you to track your cadence on a spin bike that may not have this functionality built into it.

Peloton App Membership: It’s great for indoor cycling classes (from home) and strength workouts.

Wahoo TICKR Heart Rate Monitor: It tracks your heart rate while biking simultaneously.

I was also sharing my journey on Instagram and gathering support from people all over. I looked for women-only triathlon groups online, and found one in New Jersey—Mullica Hill Women’s Triathlon Club—and joined immediately. Never have I ever met a more caring, inclusive, supportive group than this one. I came to my first triathlon open water swim practice, and one woman swam the entire course with me because it was my first time.

On August 21, 2021, I raced in my first women-only triathlon, and achieved first place in my age group. I was officially crowned a triathlete. I went from an overweight 26-year-old with a possible heart attack diagnosis to becoming the fittest and strongest I’ve ever been in my life just two years later. And, in just nine months, my running race pace for a 5K went from an 11:55 minute-per-mile to a 9:06 minute-per-mile. I celebrate every personal record, every victory, and every effort. I’ve also lost 40 pounds. I never stop pushing myself, and I’m still in awe of what this body can do.

In July, I resigned from my corporate job, and I’m now a volunteer coach for Girls on the Run, which is an after school program for girls in third through eighth grade that uses an experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident. I also volunteer for an organization in Philadelphia called Women International Leaders of Philadelphia (WIL), and they invest in underserved women through microfinancing, loans, education, and empowerment.

I think about how important health is, how important taking care of yourself is, how important advocating for yourself is, and how important it is to surround yourself with women who feel the same way. I want every woman to feel the same sense of accomplishment and strength that I’ve felt. I realize not all women in the world have this opportunity, and that makes me want to work harder for them. The empowerment of women and girls has been a passion of mine for a very long time, and I’m ecstatic to be effecting change locally and globally.

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Emily Shiffer

Emily Shiffer is a former digital web producer for Men’s Health and Prevention, and is currently a freelancer writer specializing in health, weight loss, and fitness. She is currently based in Pennsylvania and loves all things antiques, cilantro, and American history.