These Legs Were Made For Lifting

Artemis at Age 40, Summer Vacation 2016

Me at age 40, Summer Vacation 2016

Recently during an interview with Scott Iardella, Owner of RDella Training and the RDella Training podcast, he asked me questions that led me to think about why strength training is important to me and how strength training has impacted my life.

Strength training has played a pivotal role in not just my physical body transformation, but also in my personal body image transformation. This personal body image transformation includes,

  • My Mentality about my body. What I actively think about my body from day-to-day or even throughout the day;
  • My Inner Self Talk about my body. The words I choose to tell myself about my body, for better or for worse; and
  • My Visual Perception of my body. Which, although much better than it ever has been in my life, is not always realistic and can be distorted depending on many external factors such as stress, my menstrual cycle, or whether I’m having a generally positive self day or generally negative self day, as I am human after all.

This body image transformation did not just happen overnight. It was a process over 25 years and it’s still ongoing.

I started taking classical ballet classes in 1979 when I was 3 ½ with an Argentinian woman by the name of Madame Nora Irinova Venchi. (Read more about Madame Nora Irinova Venchi in my post Russian Gym. The Original Barre Class.”) This began my journey into athletics and into all things fitness.

Artemis 3 years old 1979

Me at age 3, 1979

At age 6 my mother enrolled my sister and I into ballet classes with a well-known Boston based ballet school. Soon thereafter I auditioned for the school’s performance of the “The Nutcracker” and I landed the role of a Polichinelle; one of those cuties who come out from Mother Ginger’s skirt to show The Nutcracker Prince and Clara their dance moves.

From there began my quest to be Clara in “The Nutcracker”, as was every young ballerina’s dream. It was known, if you were Clara in “The Nutcracker” then you had made it as a young girl ballerina and were sure to be the Sugar Plum Fairy or some other soloist role thereafter.

I trained diligently with this school for 9 years for upwards of 5 and 6 days a week as I grew older and advanced in level.

I auditioned and was accepted for this school’s competitive summer dance camp for many consecutive summers.

I auditioned for many Nutcrackers and other ballets with youth roles. I landed many parts in these Nutcrackers but never Clara.

I came close one year when I was 11 years old when I landed the part of a Party Child. As a young girl, if you had made it as a Party Child then you had achieved the ultimate winning youth role next to being Clara. I only hoped that the role of Clara would be next as I had watched many of my young ballerina girlfriends land the role of Clara. I had to be next.

Artemis Nutcracker 1987_11 yrs

Me at age 11, 1987, in our kitchen after a Nutcracker performance with my combed out banana curls that I had worn for the performance. I was a Party Child that year.

Earlier that same year I came down with a violent stomach flu. I was bedridden for 5 days with a basin next to my bed for vomiting. Once I was well again, I returned to ballet classes. My ballet teacher looked at me and said,

“Artemis, you’ve lost weight.”

I replied, “Yes, I’ve been sick with the stomach flu.”

To which my instructor replied, “You look good. You should keep it off.”

I was 11 years old.

I had just recovered from the stomach flu.

When I told my mother about this exchange she was furious. This was not the first time I was criticized or insulted for my body at this ballet school, but this comment went too far.

Over the years I had been told that I was too fat, too curvy, too short, my limbs were not long enough, and my thighs were too thick.

This began my obsession with my legs. They never looked liked many of the other girls, long limbed and lean. They were short and seemingly thick.

My mother had words with my ballet instructor about her inappropriate commentary and then insisted to me that she wanted me to stop taking ballet classes at this school.

I cried as I responded to my mother and said, “No! But I want to be Clara!” not realizing the subliminal effect that these negative words and exchanges were having on my personal body image.

Artemis 11 years old. Village Day, Newton Highlands, MA 1987.

Me at age 11. Village Day, Newton Highlands, MA 1987 for Madame Nora’s ballet school. I am front and center in the yellow tutu with my arms overhead.

Finally, when I was a sophomore in high school, I stopped dancing with this ballet school. After 9 years of training with this school, and of being told that I was too fat, too curvy, too short, my limbs were not long enough, my thighs were too thick, and that I should keep the weight off that I had lost from vomiting from the stomach flu for a week when I was 11 because I “looked good” with my post stomach bug figure, I decided that I had had enough of a mental beat down about my body.

I loved classical ballet, I loved to practice it, I loved to perform, I loved to watch it, and I still think it’s beautiful, but this particular aspect of dance, of not fitting an aesthetic mold and of being mentally punished for it, had killed the joy of dance for me.

After I left this dance school I continued to dance with Madame Nora Irinova Venchi. She always focused on what I could do and how capable and skilled I was and not how vomiting up my meals would “improve” how my tween figure looked in a pale pink leotard and tights.

At this time I saw the movie Terminator 2 with Linda Hamilton and I fell in love with her muscular, chiseled arms. I wanted them for my own.


So, in addition to continuing to dance with Madame Nora Irinova Venchi, I started lifting at the local YMCA, where I also discovered the stairmaster. I also started running a few times a week.

I tried to rebuild my confidence and body image after years of being told that my body didn’t fit the mold of a classical ballet dancer; that it wasn’t good enough. This was not easy. In fact, at that time not only did I fall into my first official round of disordered eating, (read more in my post “Just Eat.”), but also, this process is still ongoing.

When I was a senior in high school I was running up the street to our house and my sister’s boyfriend was in the driveway with my brother. He looked at my legs and commented, “Wow! Your legs are getting really big!” I think he had good intentions and meant that I was building some solid muscle, but as a 17 year old still trying to recover from hearing that my body looked better post vomit flu bug I did not take it as a compliment.

As the years went on, and I went off to college, I continued to try different modalities of strength training and fitness, from body conditioning, step, spin, and urban rebounding classes, to strength programs that my brother, (Leonidas Scantalides, DPT, CSCS, Martial Arts Specialist), who was working as a personal trainer at the time, would write for me. I also continued to keep up with ballet recreationally through college and beyond however, I did not have the same passion for it. It no longer fulfilled and empowered me.

Artemis Tendu Center 1996

Me at age 20. Studying abroad in Aix-En-Provence, France. I took ballet classes abroad while I was there.

In my search to find what I had lost, passion, fulfillment, and empowerment, I discovered kung fu.

Artemis at age 31. Greater Hartford International Chinese Martial Arts Tournament, June 2007.

Me at age 31. Greater Hartford International Chinese Martial Arts Tournament, June 2007.

After discovering strength training at the local YMCA when I was a sophomore in high school, kung fu was the next step for me to regaining my passion and feeling fulfilled and empowered.

Me at age 33 at my kung fu black belt test.

The Chinese Martial Arts Institute, Fairfax, VA

Like Madame Nora Irinova Venchi, my Sifus and my kung fu instructors focused on what I could do and how capable and skilled I was and not if my body fit an unrealistic aesthetic mold because my genetics could not be altered.

Me at Age 33, Black Belt Test 2009, Nanquan Form

From there I discovered kettlebells and the Iron Maiden Challenge and how empowering it was to become insanely strong to press, pull-up, and pistol squat almost half my body weight.

Iron Maiden Challenge 2014_Thin No Text

Me at age 38 completing the Iron Maiden Challenge, July 2014

Again, no one was judging me on the shape or size of my body but rather on whether or not I was strong enough to press, pull-up, and pistol squat 24kg (53lbs), and skilled enough to do it correctly.

Me at Age 38 Completing the Iron Maiden Challenge in 2014

After I completed the Iron Maiden Challenge I needed a new goal for myself and as a coach I wanted to improve my knowledge and skill of barbell lifting. A little over a year ago I attended the powerlifting seminar Optimizing The Big Three with coaches Greg Robins and Tony Bonvechio. At this seminar, as we were going through the back squatting practical, my now powerlifting coach Tony Bonvecio commented to me after I finished a set of squats, “Artemis you have the best quads in the building!”Thank you Tony! Maybe I need to send Tony back in time to teach my sister’s high school boyfriend how to compliment a woman about her legs! Although, how I received Tony’s compliment is a reflection of how far I’ve come with how I perceive and think about my body. At age 39 I was mentally better equipped with a positive and confident mindset to receive his comment as a compliment versus when I was age 17 and feeling very insecure about my perceived fat, thick thighs.

Artemis 300lb DL 12 13 15

Me at age 39 deadlifting 300lbs at my first powerlifting meet in December 2015.

This past June I spoke at the Perform Better Summit in Chicago and I when I saw the picture below I thought, “Wow! My legs look strong and powerful! Powerlifting does a body good.” My next thought was that I could remember a time in my life that I would not be so complimentary about my legs and instead beat myself up and think, “My legs look so big and fat in this picture.” Like when I was 17 years old running up the hill to my house.

Artemis speaking at the Perform Better Summit Chicago 2016.

Me at age 40 speaking at the Perform Better Summit Chicago 2016.

Seeing this picture led me to go back and pull up pictures from past years before I started lifting truly heavy weights and training for the Iron Maiden Challenge and powerlifting to compare how strength training physically transformed the shape of my legs.

Artemis 2010, age 34.

Me at age 34 in 2010.

These pictures were taken the summer of in 2010. At that time I was training with kettlebells about 3 times per week, running and spin classes 3 to 4 times per week. Sometimes doubling up on “workouts” within a day e.g. kettlebells for one hour and then a spin class or 30 minutes run or 30 minutes on the Step Mill. 4 years ago my cardio to strength training ratio was probably about 70/30 percent, respectively.

Artemis in 2016 at age 40.

Me at age 40 in 2016.

These pictures were taken this year 2016, after spending almost 4 years training for the Iron Maiden Challenge, and after consistent powerlifting for 1 year, heavy lifting collectively for 5 years, plus dialing in my nutrition with Renaissance Periodization. (Use the code ‘artemis10’ to save $10 off of a Renaissance Periodization nutrition template HERE.)

Compared to the pictures from 2010, today in 2016 the majority of my training is comprised of strength training, often heavy weights, 6 days per week. I powerlift 3-4 times per week, strength train with kettlebells 3 times per week, plus 5 times per week strictly for conditioning (e.g. kettlebell swings, snatches, chains, etc.). I rarely run anymore. In fact this year I ran 4 times total and it was only because I was traveling and did not have many other training options. Today my cardio to strength training ratio (including kettlebell swing and snatch conditioning) is about 10-15/85-90 percent respectively and my nutrition is the cleanest, most nutrient dense, and accurate for my activity level and female physiology, than it ever has been in my entire life.


Me at age 40 at the ReebokONE Fitness Ambassador Summit in Palm Desert, CA showing that the dancer in me still lives!

My body transformation is not just physical, as it is a body image transformation. It’s been a process of years of rebuilding confidence and having positivity about my body, particularly my legs.

I have been judged by other women, because although I have battled with my own fair share of distorted body image and insecurities, I am short and small framed with an athletic build, so what business do I have claiming that I too battle with body image demons.

It does not matter whether you are underweight, overweight, average, or lean and athletic. Most women, no matter their past or current size or build, have had experiences that have molded the vision, often distorted, that they have of their physical selves.

My physical appearance was judged and criticized before my body finished developing.

My physical appearance was judged at my heaviest and unfit.

Artemis at age 20 in 1996 studying abroad in Aix-En-Provence, France.

Me at age 20 in 1996 studying abroad in Aix-En-Provence, France.

My physical appearance is STILL judged to this day while I am at my leanest, strongest, and most fit that I have ever been in my life. (Read more in “Once Upon A Bulky Myth”.)

We all have a body image journey and transformation, whether we are a woman or a man, as I know my partner in love, life, and business, Eric Gahan has his own.

No one should be judged but rather celebrated for how they rise above and overcome.

These legs were not just made for dancing, but most especially for lifting.

Artemis at the ReebokONE Fitness Summit 2016 in Palm Desert, CA.

Me at the ReebokONE Fitness Summit 2016 in Palm Desert, CA.

This is MY version of body positive and just one piece of MY body positive story.


I Am Not Afraid To Lift – The Retreat 2017

If you would like to learn more about kettlebell lifting, powerlifting, mindset, and nutrition, and to feel empowered and fulfilled through strength training, then I hope that you will join me, the amazing, “Wonder Woman” Julia Ladewski, and Dr. Lisa Lewis, at my women’s strength retreat, I Am Not Afraid To Lift – The Retreat, on May 5-7, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona at the Arizona Grand Resort.

Lift Retreat Leadpages Banner

Keep your eyes out for more details about this event, as well as Early Bird Registration. Registration will be limited to 30 women so if you’d like to make sure that you reserve your spot then click on the SIGN UP NOW button below to complete the contact form and to get on the pre-registration list.

With pre-registration, you will receive an exclusive email with details about the retreat and a registration link 24 hours before we publicize registration and make it available to the masses.

 I Am Not Afraid To Lift – The Power Of Mindset Edition Workshop November 2016

If plan to attend the Lift Retreat and would like a prelude to what you will learn at the Retreat or if you’re not able to attend The Lift Retreat in May 2017 in Arizona, then Dr. Lisa Lewis (learn more about Dr. Lewis below…) and I will be presenting our I Am Not Afraid To Lift – The Power Of Mindset Edition on November 6, 2016 at Iron Body Studios, Boston, MA.

Artemis & Lisa_Lift Workshop

This workshop will focus on kettlebell lifting, how to become the master of the pull-up, strong mindset, and how to overcome those negative self-talk demons.

Learn more about the workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift HERE.

Register* for the workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift HERE under the “Events” tab.

*Early Bird Rate through October 9, 2016 – Only NINE spots left at the Early Bird rate!

About The Presenters

About Artemis

About Dr. Lisa Lewis

Dr. Lisa Lewis is a licensed psychologist with a passion for wellness and fitness. She earned her doctorate in counseling psychology with a specialization in sport psychology at Boston University, and her doctoral research focused on exercise motivation. She uses a strength-based, solution-focused approach and most enjoys working with athletes and athletically-minded clients who are working toward a specific goal or achievement.

Lisa is also a certified drug and alcohol counselor, and has taught undergraduate courses as an adjunct professor at Salem University, Wheelock College, and Northeastern University in courses including exercise psychology, developmental psychology, and abnormal psychology. Lisa currently works as the assistant director of a college counseling center in Boston, MA, and she has a small private practice in the nearby town of Brookline.

As a new addition to the “I Am Not Afraid To Lift” workshop, Lisa will integrate mental skills into the physical skills training of the day. Mental skills can enhance performance, maximize motivation and prevent barriers like negative thinking, fear, and self-doubt from interfering with goals.

Learn more about the workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift HERE.

Register* for the workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift HERE under the “Events” tab.

*Early Bird Rate through October 9, 2016 – Only NINE spots left at the Early Bird rate!

2 Comments on “These Legs Were Made For Lifting

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