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The Magnificent Healing Journey of Charlotte Simpson, RKC

Charlotte Kettlebell Carries
Dragon Door: Dan John mentioned that you’ve inspired a lot of people with your transformation. How did you get started?

Charlotte Simpson: When I was younger, I tinkered with gymnastics, but I had never been considered athletic or lean. I had gotten married, had a family—life happened—and I put on quite a bit of weight. I did not really know how to eat, and "macronutrients" was an alien word. I had been basically going to the grocery store and buying processed, packaged food and eating what I could while having a family. But it got out of control and I reached my peak weight of 269 pounds. My meals consisted of cereal, hamburgers, and fries.

I knew I had to change my eating habits. My mother was diabetic and I’d seen what she went through with health problems, so I decided then and there—pre-diabetic at age 48—that I was not going to have the same experience.

At the time, I was not healthy and had been on pain management for about five years. I had been overweight for so many years that my joints were damaged. Then, my sister and I accidentally fell in the driveway. The force of the fall and the sudden stop was nearly like being in a car wreck. My shoulder was injured so badly that the scapula leaned out so far that it would not go back into place.
Charlotte Before

After the fall, and because of previous injuries, the doctors opted to go ahead with surgery—a scapula bursectomy in March 2010. After the surgery, it was better but did not relieve all of the pain and impingement. Then, because I was very top heavy, they did a breast reduction in September 2010 to see if that would help my shoulders. In December 2010, I had surgery on my neck—which was keeping my from fully extending my arms. Then, in May of 2011, they did a subacromial decompression, along with a clavicle excision where they shaved off my clavicle bone. Now my left side has a completely different structure than my right side.

Next, they wanted to do back surgery, and that’s when I realized I needed to get fit as well as healthy. One day while I was healing, I heard "I want you to be a teaching tool and I will guide you through your journey" in a clear voice. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I eventually got there, though I still struggle. I was a puzzle that had to be pieced back together. I'll always have the cracks, but I'm now the total beautiful picture.
After the surgeries, I began a rehab program in 2012. The physical therapist’s and chiropractor’s offices became my second home. Then, I went to water aerobics and arthritis classes at Healthzone. After I hit a plateau, I heard about a local gym called Sky Fitness and Wellbeing where I took my first group Pilates Reformer class. After 2-3 years of surgeries one right after the other (I also had an artificial disc in my C5, instead of a fusion), I wanted and needed to be active.
Charlotte Uneven Shoulders
When I started at Sky, my left arm was so atrophied that I couldn’t pick anything up—my shoulder even looked dented in on the left side! I knew I needed to continue losing weight, so I joined their weight loss program. Even though it was my first weight loss program at a gym, I was the top winner, which was very motivating. I realized I could keep going. I think of losing weight more as releasing weight. When you lose something, you find it, and I never want to find it again, especially after struggling as a yo-yo dieter for so many years. When I released the weight, I set it free!

I worked with several different trainers while trying to find my balance. In 2014, I decided to explore kettlebells—and the first time I picked up a light kettlebell, I hurt my right elbow. All of my ligaments were hypermobile and weren’t attaching correctly to my bones, so trying to get stronger was incredibly difficult. While my right elbow is better now, I occasionally need to wear an elbow brace for exercises like snatches.

When I got down to a size 14-16, I was still learning how to eat properly. I just needed to dial everything in. In 2015, I started training with my coach, Steven Morales. He’s been right there with me since the first day we started training. After working with so many different trainers and coaches, I’ve learned what I want to be as a coach. I want to be there for my clients to make a positive impact and inspire them. Unfortunately I’ve also worked with top trainers who told me that I’d never be able to train in a particular way, or to be a normal person. I never want to tell a client they can't do something!

Next, I got involved with CrossFit, bodybuilding, and running 5Ks—a general mix of everything. But I still wasn't headed in the right direction. At this point, I was as Dan John would put it, "chasing too many rabbits".

Dragon Door: How did you decide to try kettlebell training again?

Charlotte Simpson: My coach was really focused on core training. He incorporated kettlebells with hip bridges, pull overs, bent rows and other exercises. Compared to dumbbells, the kettlebells felt like they belonged in my hands. After I had started tinkering with kettlebells again in a group class with Aric Hornig at Sky in December 2014, I wanted to know more about them because they seemed to belong in my hands.

Charlotte Kettlebell Get-Up
While searching for kettlebell information online, I found Pat Flynn and started following him in July, 2015. Several months later, I started training with him online. We dealt with a lot of my food issues and figured out that not only was I sensitive to gluten, I was also sensitive to nightshades. I was about a size 14 when I started working with Pat, and when I finished I was down to a size 10. He really helped me, and wasn’t just one of those coaches that just says "good job", I had to redo some assignments three times!

Dragon Door: When did you decide to train for an RKC workshop?

Charlotte Simpson: When I first started getting healthy, I had no idea I would end up doing this. My plan was to retire from my full time job then become a wedding coordinator because I love being creative and getting things organized. At the gym, people started asking me if I was going to be a trainer. Then my doctor along with a trainer who was RKC certified asked me the same thing the next day. I realized I was being told something.

Since I wasn’t confident about the snatch test, I signed up for the HKC in Tulsa, which got canceled, so I decided to just go for the RKC in September 2017. I chose that workshop so I would have enough time to train without feeling pressured at the last minute. At this point, I was also just three pounds away from being able to test with the 12kg. But then, I also started training for the GORUCK Tough.

You have to eat while training for those events because you’ll be carrying so much. So, I just concluded that I would be strong and confident for the RKC, and wouldn’t worry about the scale. The point wasn’t to starve myself to get to the lighter weight class. I’d always worked with the 12kg because I didn’t have the mobility, strength, or the confidence to use a heavier kettlebell. In the middle of January, I finally did my first snatch with the 14kg. I kept saying that I could do it. My motto is that you have to believe in yourself, love yourself and give yourself a hug. You’re doing these things because you are worth it.

For so many years I didn't believe in myself and tried to stay back in the shadows. I didn't want to be recognized. I was always giving out to others at our church and was previously a group meeting consultant. I had to learn that taking care of myself wasn’t selfish. Now, I want to reach out to others who are still caught up in everyday life and encourage them to move better and often.
Charlotte Snatching Kettlebells Gym

I’m training to be strong and flexible—I’m practicing it, and don’t think of it as a workout. It has to be fun for me too. I believe in God, and would always say, "Okay, what fun are we going to have today? Because You are my joy." The Joy of the Lord is my strength. I stood on that Scripture, day in and day out. That joy can become infectious. So, let's enjoy getting better, and encouraging each other.

I’d also like to thank my faithful husband of 37 years. He has taken care of me through my surgeries and supported my adventurous journey after I changed my lifestyle.

Dragon Door: How did you prepare for your RKC?

Charlotte Simpson: Because of my arms and elbows, it took me almost a year to train for the RKC. I had to train a little bit at a time to build up to a full pushup with Jeremy Morrison at Sky. I trained with Pat Flynn online for months, as well as two other local kettlebell instructors.
Charlotte Push-up

Before, I was afraid that if I lifted heavy, I would throw my back out, but then I learned to lift with my hips. During a kettlebell workshop at Mindful Body Fitness Tulsa (the gym where I train now) the instructor told me that I needed to be lifting heavier. I couldn’t believe it since I was already swinging a 53lb kettlebell. But, I did three 70lb swings that day. He told me to keep doing them and after a while, I could do ten of them at a time. I am not sure I could have passed the RKC if I hadn’t had that experience.

Dragon Door: How was your experience at the RKC?

Charlotte Simpson: The RKC was wonderful, it felt just like family. It is so down to earth and practical. Everything can be applied to training and everyday life. Many other workshops aren’t applied in practical terms. But Dan John is one of the best instructors, and he laid out the training step by step. With the swing, you have to know about the hip hinge and core before you should even pick up a kettlebell.
Charlotte Double Kettlebell Swings

When I went to the RKC, I felt very comfortable. I’d already practiced the snatch test and passed it three times before I went, so I knew that I could do it. But, I was concerned about the completely different very dry environment in Denver. I arrived a day early to get used to it, but on Friday my nose was already starting to turn dry and I felt a burning sensation in my throat. I didn’t take the test the first day—and probably should have. On the second day, my nose was so dry that it started to bleed that morning.

I realized I needed to go ahead and try the test. I’d told Dan John about my history and that I might not be able to lockout my arms every time. I thought I was doing a pretty good job—then I got to the 99th rep and my arm just collapsed. It wouldn’t do that last rep even though there were five seconds left. Dan was just beside himself. At the end of the RKC, everyone congratulated me with the song, "99 Luft Balloons". I was ok with it because I knew I could do it at home. I’d overused my elbow earlier that day when I had been having problems with the clean because my elbow wasn't cooperating.

The very next weekend at home, I did my test on video and sent it in with no problem. I’m just excited to be able to share, inspire, and let others know that getting healthy isn’t impossible. We can turn "impossible" around and make it "I'm possible". There are so many possibilities with kettlebells.

Charlotte With CertificationsDragon Door: Do you have a favorite kettlebell exercise?

Charlotte Simpson: I would have to say loaded carries. They’ve helped me to get that grip, wrist, and shoulder strength. They engage everything in my arms, and I can’t bend my elbows the wrong way while doing loaded carries. They’ve changed my posture. The suitcase carries, rack carries, and waiter carries improved my overhead strength. After practicing them for just a few weeks, I was amazed at how different my arms felt.

Dragon Door: Are you leading classes or training others now?

Charlotte Simpson: Yes, I am leading group classes and am also available for private training at Mindful Body Fitness Tulsa. Even though I've just started, everybody knows me since I’ve attended many workshops and MovNat classes at the same location since the middle of 2015. The people I am training are new to kettlebells. Teaching them from scratch is challenging but exciting.

Dragon Door: Now that you’ve earned your RKC, what's your next goal?

Charlotte Simpson: My next goal is to get my NASM certification. I’ve just started and am learning anatomy—there’s so much information to retain and I haven’t done school work in years! My other goal is to do a pull-up without assistance from bands.

I'm very excited and humbled to share and encourage others to never give up. It's possible to get healthy and enjoy the process.

CharlotteKettlebellCarries thumbnailCharlotte Simpson, RKC leads group classes and individual sessions at Styrka and Mindful Body Fitness Tulsa in Tulsa Oklahoma. She can be reached through email or follow her on Facebook at Chara Kettlebell Strength & Fitness