LYNDHURST, N.J. — Tara Shoebridge-Ramos of Lyndhurst makes CrossFit look easy.
The 28-year-old breezes through burpees and throws hundreds of pounds around like confetti.
Ramos can do strict pull-ups from the high bar with a 45-pound plate strapped to her torso and muscle-ups on the rings, an exercise that most athletes have to scale back.
And to Ramos, that's pretty crazy, especially considering where she was six years ago: rock bottom of anorexia.
"It took over my life," said Ramos, a Wayne native. "I didn't realize how sick I was until I saw how many things I wasn't able to participate in.
If you're not willing to seek help, you're never going to get better.
Ramos has certainly come a long way from her food-fearing, pavement-pounding days. She's a top-performing athlete at Great White CrossFit — the gym she runs in Hackensack , formerly Paramus, with her husband, Steve Ramos.
She only wants to keep getting stronger.
But there are parts of Ramos' past that always seem to linger "like a cold you can't get rid of," she said.
The road to recovery hasn't been an easy one, but CrossFit has given Ramos a new outlet for her energy. A healthy one.
"It sounds really cliche," she said, "but strong is the new sexy."
Ramos has been an athlete for as long as she can remember. She played softball throughout high school and continued for a year into college. In her sophomore year, things started to change.
"I was living with a lot of girls who were naturally thin," Ramos said. "I felt a lot of pressure to also be really skinny and have a certain look."
Losing weight became Ramos' primary goal, and no means was too extreme. She cut her calories drastically and upped the ante on her runs.
Ramos had one banana for breakfast and wouldn't let herself leave the gym until she ran 10 miles. Meals consisted of raw vegetables, and a cup of coffee tricked her into thinking she wasn't hungry.
Walking to class became a struggle because all her energy was going toward her time at the gym.
Things only got worse.
Ramos began isolating herself from her friends and any social situation that involved food. She missed senior week and many nights at the bar, fearful that she'd end up purging, or worse, gaining weight.
"I didn't want to eat in front of people. I didn't want to eat out," she said. "So I'd be at the gym running another five miles, even though I'd already done 10."
One Friday night, it all came to a head. She sat in her bed alone and made a list of everyone and everything she loved.
"And at the end I read it and I just broke down," she said.
I realized I was reading a suicide note.
Ramos needed help. She didn't know if she could make it to the end of her senior year.
"You need to find me somewhere to go," she said to her mom on a teary phone call. "Because I can't live this way."
Ramos ended up walking at graduation in 2011, and graduating with an education degree. She spent the summer nannying and working out with a young girl in Wayne, who she says changed her life.
"There she was doing everything and there I was feeling sorry for myself," said Ramos, who also was going to therapies and treatment in Ridgewood several times a week.
She asked me why I wasn't going to be a personal trainer. That opened my eyes and I realized I like to teach exercise.
Ramos enrolled herself in the Academy of Personal Training in New York City and was hired at 24-Hour Fitness in Paramus the following December.
She hasn't looked back since.
"For me, it was about finding a passion... and putting my energy toward that instead of my eating disorder," Ramos said.
Her loved ones are thankful she did.
"Having someone believe in you the way [Ramos] has believed in me is one of the most powerful things someone could have," said Hazel Luque, who first met Ramos while working together at 24-Hour Fitness. The pair now coach alongside each other at Great White.
There's one workout in particular that Luque of Hasbrouck Heights won't forget. It was at the CrossFit Open last year, and she was terrified to perform in front of the whole community.
"For literally the entire workout, [Ramos] made it feel as if we were the only two people in the gym," Luque recalled.
That's the kind of effect she has on people and it's truly so rare and special.
Thanks to Ramos, Luque's workout that day has become the best she's ever had, she said.
Ramos says she occasionally has negative thoughts about her body, and she thinks every girl does. But she wants to get her story out there and show others struggling with an eating disorder that recovery is possible.
Happiness is possible. Self-love is possible.
"Food was the devil," she said. "It's fuel now.
"Back then I couldn’t do pushups on my knees without falling. Now I do 30 on my toes, chest to ground. It’s fun, I’m competing with the guys and I feel badass.
I can honestly say I’ve never felt this way in my life.
TRAIN WITH RAMOS: www.greatwhitecrossfit.com
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