In a couple of weeks, Darlington and I will walk together in the ESTEEM Fashion Show to help benefit The Elisa Project. It’s the first time we’ve ever walked the runway together, and I’m so excited to share this experience with my baby girl. I’ve always loved walking the runway, but to be able to be a part of something so wonderful and share it with Darlington will make it that much more special. As a mother, I’ve realized a strength in myself that I’ve never seen before and a love so profound that it’s beyond words and can only be described in actions. I recently read about a mother jumping in Lake Powell after her two year old fell in. She kept his head above water, though she didn’t have the strength to keep them both afloat. He survived but she did not, and it struck me because as mothers, most of us would give our life for our children.
This is the type of love I could feel and see when my friend Melissa Rountree talked about being a mother. I was pregnant at the time, but I remember vividly our conversation about daughters and our need to be shining examples for them. We both lost sisters, something that will bond us for life. And we have both used our losses to inspire and cultivate a sense of sisterhood in our professions and way of life. So when Melissa asked us to help raise awareness about The Eliza Project and join the runway show, I didn’t hesitate to be a part of this. Spearheading this year’s fashion show, along with my dear friend and Friscovania’s Frights of the Round Table member, Rhonda Sargent Chambers, I’m honored to be in the company of such multifaceted, multipassionate women whom I admire so greatly.
Be sure to check out the bottom of this post for more info about the ESTEEM Fashion Show and about The Elisa Project. But for now, I’d like to extend a warm thank-you to Melissa for her heartfelt interview with Courtney.
MB: We’re so excited to have you on MB this month, and we have TONS to talk about, but before we jump into all that, can you share a little bit about who you are and what you do?
MR: That’s always an interesting question because I’m never quite sure how to answer it. The best answer I have for what I do would be…everything! I truly believe in giving every interest a shot. Currently, I’m a luxury Realtor for Dave Perry Miller Highland Park. After leaving my corporate job with luxury wholesaling, I needed a break from travel and felt luxury homes were a perfect fit.
However, I’ve never given up my passion for health and fitness. I started teaching aerobics in college and I was hooked on training people. Working out made me feel good, look better, and the connection that you have with your clients is so personal and empowering. Currently, I teach at the Bar Method.
I’ve always kept the itch for the luxury and fashion wholesale world. If you love the art and architecture of fashion, then you’ll understand the limited amount of unique fitness fashion wear available. So, I decided to create my own. I opened Level 3 Active almost two years ago selling unique brands while developing my own. What I love most is that I limit every print so when you buy them, you—the client—are the unique one to stand out and feel confident at the gym because no one else is wearing your fitness fashion.
MB: That’s such an awesome idea! I’m interested in learning more from women who own small businesses. It’s a huge commitment, and it takes a lot of drive and motivation. What have been some of your largest road bumps along the way? And what advice do you have for anyone looking to start a small business like yours?
MR: It seems like everything is a road bump when you’re starting a new business and it is true that most fail. For me it was feeding a passion I had. If you’re starting a business, my advice would be to ask yourself why. If you’re starting one solely to make money, then quit now because money is not a strong enough motivator. For me, it was something I just couldn’t stop thinking about. I had all these great ideas and wanted to put it out there.
MB: That’s really great advice, and I feel it applies to many areas of our lives—follow your passion and be honest with yourself. Another thing I’m curious about with Level 3 Active…where does the name come from?
MR: As a teacher, the elite class offered is Level 2. All the clients would joke that I was the “Level 3” teacher because I’m very high-energy. As I was going through the naming process, I was working from home on my third-floor (Level 3) loft. The term just kept popping back up.
MB: How fun! Okay, so one of our big talking points is The Elisa Project and the ESTEEM Fashion Show that will be happening later this month. Can you tell us about this nonprofit and your role with The Elisa Project?
MR: The Elisa Project was formed by a fitness client of mine with her husband after the loss of their daughter to an eating disorder. Their daughter was very close in age to me. I knew it was the right thing to join the board last year. I’ve also lost people very close to me from eating disorders. It’s a difficult disease to go through for the person but also for their friends and family as most people don’t understand it as a real disease, much less as one of the deadliest. Because of that, gaining charitable donations is much more difficult than it is for more commonly understood diseases like cancer. I feel that I’m truly saving lives by being part of The Elisa Project.
MB: That’s such a beautiful thought, and I can definitely understand the fulfillment you’d gain by being part of it. When I was a freshman in college, I took an introductory psychology class, and my professor was a psychiatrist who specialized in working with adolescent girls with eating disorders. She told us that eating disorders, in particular anorexia, were the only mental illnesses that cause death. She said other mental disorders can cause behaviors that lead to death but that eating disorders themselves can be the cause. That has stuck with me throughout the years, and reading through The Elisa Project site, it’s difficult to grasp just how serious and prevalent eating disorders are (30 million people suffer from EDs in the US). For a lot of people, this is not an easy subject to talk about, so could you share with us why are you drawn to this work? What makes it so important for you?
MR: Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any disease. However, because it’s still not socially understood or accepted, many people overlook its severity and true need for help. The majority of people with eating disorders look perfectly healthy. So it’s important to help others understand the behaviors, the cause, and the devastating results if they go untreated. One of my favorite things about The Elisa Project is that it has teen screening programs, which identify ED behaviors, and if they’re caught early enough, people can be saved.
MB: Where could we go to learn more about EDs? Do you have any good films, documentaries, TV shows, books, podcasts, or online resources to recommend that we could check out if we’d like to learn more?
MR: Definitely! Visit The Elisa Project website. You can purchase Elisa’s Story, which is her journal leading up to her death. It’s great insight for those trying to understand the mindset and thought process of those struggling with the disease. They also offer other resources and suggested material as well. One book in particular I’d definitely recommend is Dying to Be Thin: Understanding and Defeating Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia by Ira M. Sacker.
MB: I’ll be sure to check those out! Thank you. So let’s dip into the ESTEEM Fashion Show a bit. One of the coolest things about the ESTEEM show is that you’ll be modeling with your daughter! What is the significance of this, both for The Elisa Project and for you personally?
MR: The last few years have been a whirlwind for me with charitable events. I’d just decided to back away from them in order to have more family time, but when Rhonda Sargent-Chambers called and asked if I’d chair ESTEEM with my daughter, it was the perfect opportunity to give back to the community, support TEP, and involve my daughter in a cause that teenagers can identify with.
MB: From what I know of eating disorders, self-esteem plays a big role in helping individuals along the road to recovery. Was there ever a time when you felt low, or like you lacked self-esteem? What was that like? And then, throughout your life, what have been some big factors in helping you grow and develop your esteem?
MR: I love that you asked this question. Yes, absolutely! I’m the middle sister of three girls. My sisters looked like my gorgeous, thin mother and I resembled my father who is a strong, tough, big guy. I tried very hard throughout high school and college to be “skinny.” After an aerobics class in college, the owner of a well-known gym approached me and asked if I would be interested in teaching. That was the day I understood that being strong was my gift. It made me mentally and emotionally stronger as well. Once you realize the gifts you’ve been given in life, you’re able to embrace and improve on them and care far less about what you cannot become.
MB: That’s so powerful. Especially because, I feel that in today’s world there are degrading messages coming at young girls from all angles (pop culture, social media, even friends and family sometimes). What can girls do to develop the inner strength and confidence necessary to block out those negative voices?
MR: Growing up in a small town, I ordered every fashion magazine there was and lived in that Photoshopped fantasy world. However, not long ago my daughter was looking at a social media picture I was tagged in and said, “No one uses filters. That’s so fake.” I couldn’t have been prouder. I hope we’ve reached a tipping point as a society.
MB: I’m sure that Photoshopped fantasy world ensnares a lot of young girls. It definitely got me when I was a teenager. Is there one clear moment for you when you sort of stepped back and realized just how much the constant barrage of those “perfect” images could negatively affect your self-esteem? What did you do to counteract those messages?
MR: I’m not sure there was a moment of clarity, but I know that the harder I work at taking care of my health, the less I care about trying to look good. When you’re healthy, you’re beautiful. My body needs to keep up with me for many years to come. I want to make sure to take care of it.
MB: That’s such a great way to look at it! As if being a board member of The Elisa Project and owning your own active wear store weren’t enough, you also teach classes at The Bar Method! You truly embody the multifaceted, multi-passionate spirit of MB! I’ve always been interested in barre classes but heard they were super intense. What do you enjoy most about this particular form of exercise?
MR: Bar Method is great because it’s non-impact but is still a killer workout. It’s a full body workout and great stretching so you’re strong and lean.
MB: I don’t know how much you’ve been watching the Olympics, but I’ve been so inspired by our female athletes this year. They’ve excelled in so many different areas and watching them perform has inspired me to reflect on my own fitness journey. This year, more than ever, I’ve focused on making fitness a priority. I did it for health reasons, but an unexpected side effect was a huge boost of self-confidence. Do you experience this as an instructor at The Bar Method, in yourself and in your students? And if so, what do you think it is that makes engaging in physical activity raise a gal’s confidence so much?
MR: Yes. We laugh about it all the time. When we don’t work out, we get grumpy. It’s the endorphin kick that comes from the exercises. Plus, it’s a group class and many of my closest friends have come from working out together.
MB: On The Elisa Project’s Facebook page, it describes all your activities, all your charity work, and all your many accomplishments (some of which I haven’t even had a chance to mention!), but after listing everything, it says, “Her greatest accomplishment will always be her family.” I thought that was a very beautiful way of putting it. So in your own words, what does family mean to you and why is it your greatest accomplishment?
MR: Thank you. I don’t post much of my family life on social media so I can protect my family and children. I didn’t grow up with a lot of people around because we lived out on a farm. Our family time was always just us. I try to hold the most important part of my heart for them.
MB: What a wonderful thought to leave us with. I’m really going to take that one to heart. Thank you again to Melissa for opening up and sharing her wisdom with us.
To find out more about The Elisa Project, check out their website here. And to find out more about the ESTEEM Fashion Show, to purchase tickets, or to donate, you can go here. The show is on Saturday, September 17. There will be mimosas at 10:00 a.m., a raffle prize giveaway, and the fashion show at 11:00 a.m. As we mentioned above, Darlington and I will both be in this show, and Melissa and her daughter will, too. We hope to see you there!
Until then, stay tuned for our Woman of the Month’s Day in the Life Feature, which will include an awesome giveaway, and don’t forget to follow Melissa online!