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This year, we had an incredible turnout of amazing women who challenged themselves physically, mentally and emotionally through Oxygen Challenge 8. Five athletes stood out and today, we recognize them for their individuality, perseverance and dedication to Oxygen.

(Photo: Nneka Gerrard)

Biggest Transformation: Nneka Gerrard

Age: 34
Location: Raleigh, NC
Occupation: HOTWORX Franchise owner
Team: Coach Sohee

“Oxygen Challenge 8 came at the absolute perfect time in my fitness journey. When I first saw a post about signing up, I was nine months postpartum and having the hardest time I have ever had in my life staying consistent with my nutrition and exercise. I always knew that with my first pregnancy, changes would happen to my body that I’ve never experienced before. But as a former trainer and bodybuilder, I thought that once my body felt like mine again, I could jump right back into my usual routine of lifting weights and dance classes. I had started over in the past, but nothing prepared me for the disconnect I felt from my own strength, will, and balance.

Though I found myself getting more and more discouraged by the fact that everything in the gym felt foreign to me, where I was physically and mentally felt familiar. I reminded myself of the countless postpartum clients I have had that I have told to give their new bodies the love and grace they deserve. As I embark on the journey of opening up a HotWorx fitness studio with my husband, I knew the story I told of my postpartum fitness journey I wanted to tell was one of patience and self-love. 

Joining OC8 was just community I needed. The women posting daily in the message boards were so motivational to me. There were moms with multiple kiddos who reminded me how important it was to make time for my health and how those benefits lend themselves to every aspect of who I am. And Coach Sohee’s program was so similar to my own lifting style that it was the perfect way for me to comfortably push myself and find my strength again. My inspiring message would be to all my fellow mamas on their own postpartum journeys: Your new body deserves all the love, time, attention, and praise as your old one. Give yourself all the grace you need; nobody’s path will be the same.”

                                                                                          — Nneka Gerrard

(Photo: Ashley Anderson)

Fittest Mom: Ashley Anderson

Age: 37
Location: Oregon, WI
Occupation: Functional Medicine Nutritionist
Team: Coach Sohee

“I love Oxygen magazine for its cut to the chase workout inspiration and its dedication to feature strong women. I picked up my first Oxygen magazine when I was 18 years old in college. Shortly after, I became a group fitness instructor and personal trainer to make some extra cash, have fun, and keep my health in check. I did not realize this choice would end up influencing my health and wellness for a lifetime. I have been in the nutrition and fitness field for almost 20 years now and have seen it evolve multiple times (Tae Bo anyone?).

In 2008 I got married, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Health, Human Performance, Recreation, and Coaching, and worked as a wellness specialist/nutritionist. My husband and I have four kiddos, all under the ages of 10. Being a mom is my top priority, my proudest accomplishment, and what brings me the most joy in life. In 2013 I lost my best friend, my mom, to ALS. It was around this time I began to have autoimmune issues that left me with chronic pain and anxiety. Left with what seemed like limited options, I took it into my own hands and discovered the field of functional medicine. It completely changed my life. So much so, I couldn’t wait to help others in similar situations, so I went back to school for a master’s degree in human nutrition functional medicine and opened my own nutrition practice. This fall I will be starting the doctorate of clinical nutrition program at the University of Western States. To say nutrition and fitness are my passions would likely be an understatement. Helping others live their most energetic lives, free of pain, strong, and healthy, is a blessing I am grateful to be a part of. 

This was my second year participating in the Oxygen Challenge. I chose to participate in 2021 because I was busy with work and school and wanted to follow someone else’s workouts instead of coming up with my own. I also like to learn from others in the field, try new things, and continue to perfect form. I had so much fun in 2021! The women in the challenge were inspiring, motivating, and supportive. There is a camaraderie amongst the women that hooked me, so it was a no brainer to sign up for OC8. Both coaches for OC8 were fantastic. I ultimately chose to focus on Sohee’s program, going back to coach Carmel after OC8 was complete. Physically, I gained quite a bit of strength in my glutes, legs, and core. Mentally, I learned to slow down, embracing the 2-3 minute rest periods between sets. I really appreciate Sohee emphasizing rest periods in the program, as this was something I was not great at prior to the program.”

                                                                               — Ashley Anderson

(Photo: Donna Blackton)

Fittest Masters Athlete: Donna Blackton

Age: 56
Location: Cary, NC
Occupation: Mom/Grandma
Team: Coach Sohee

“I was coming out of physical therapy for shoulder problems at the start of OC8. I read through the programs, started with the two teams, then chose Coach Sohee’s program so I could be gentler on the shoulder. My goal was to maintain or improve my body while working around the injury.

Thanks to this program my mentality has changed from being frustrated with a setback to succeeding with that setback! Sohee’s Instagram posts REALLY hit home with my strict eating. I totally transformed from that way of thinking. That is a win for life! Also on her program we had Wednesdays off – never before  have I changed my workout days. I reluctantly tried this and is now my NEW schedule! My body responded well to that! (Best tip from this challenge!)

I have always loved the online community, I have met and remained friends with quite a few like minded women.. you could always jump online for support wether it be fitness or life related.

Any reader who is on the fence about a program: DO IT. I have been doing the OC challenges since OC3, and I can seriously say I have learned a LOT every single time, whether it was about, weight training, nutrition, family, or life.”

                                                                                              — Donna Blackton

(Photo: Sonia Morris)

Biggest Team Player: Sonia Morris

Age: 49
Location: Liverpool, England
Occupation: Retired Registered Care Manager
Team: Coach Sohee

“My goals for this Oxygen Challenge were to build on my physical strength in my legs, given my recent diagnosis of severe osteoarthritis in my right knee (still awaiting ortho consult at time of answering this question) and to learn and develop new skills from the coaches to be able share to other others.

The hardest part of the program was psychologically accepting my limitations for some of the exercises, thankfully given prior knowledge of OC6 and OC7, I learned how to make the program work best for me by switching out and modifying exercises.

The community aspect of this challenge allows the opportunity to build friendships, offers accountability, builds confidence emotionally and offers a form strength, courage and safe space.

 To be part of a team of over 1200 women in 3 challenges (OC6,7,8). Wow so uplifting knowing you are not alone. We all can choose how much we want to share or give of our 90 days journey together as the common goal.”

                                                                                                        — Sonia Morris

(Photo: Stephanie Lewis-Vance)

OC8 Rockstar: Stephanie Lewis-Vance

Age: 53
Location: Northern Virginia
Occupation: Analyst for the Department of Defense/High School Crew Coach
Team: Coach Sohee

“Being an eight-year Oxygen Challenge participant, I believe each challenge after the next has helped build who I am today.  Oxygen Challenge 8 was the icing on the cake!  Between the amazing coaches, the challenging programs and the tremendous group support, I myself have become an evolution. I can honestly say I’ve never been part of such a fantastic experience where I was able to walk away with inner and outer growth, confidence in my yearly progression and probably the biggest of all things, women that I call Sisters.  Oxygen Challenge 8 even helped me better deal with peri-menopausal hormone craze – fitness makes everything better.

A later in life fitness enthusiast (jumping in at age 40 and turning 53 on September 26), I’ve learned to find inspiration in everything I do and to be focused but not so serious. I feel you have to have a passion for what you’re doing or it will become chore vice something you can truly enjoy and commit to. I love the power and strength I feel in weight lifting whether it be 5 pounds or 500 and my husband and I conquer the weights (and all the Oxygen Challenges) together. Distance running was a go to staple until an achilles injury and major surgery halted that. But, I love being outside, particularly on the water. My true passion is rowing.

It’s a proven fact that young ones watch and emulate what we big people do. But, we big people can learn from our children too. My son is my inspiration for rowing. He was an incredibly gifted rower through high school plus one additional year.  Watching him intrigued me. It was then his coach and another coach for a local adult team that approached me, one saying “You need to come coach with me,” and the other saying “You need to come row with us,”.  So, long story medium, I now do both and spend nine months of the year on the water –  half of it coaching a high school team and the other half rowing myself – Go Hylton!  Go Prince William Rowing! Passion for rowing just doesn’t seem to cover it though. I’m literally having the time of my life.

Health, nutrition and fitness were not always forefront in my life. At my heaviest, I was 250 pounds and 58 percent body fat. My Dad (always hovering between 350 and 450 pounds himself) and I started a six month fitness challenge together in late 2011.  Mid way through, he succumbed to his obesity complications. It was from then forward, my health became my priority. I lost 100 pounds, floundered a bit and then came across the Oxygen Challenges.  I had done quite a few challenges up to that point, but it was the OC’s that became so pivotal to my successes.

                                                                                                             — Stephanie Lewis-Vance

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