This interview is part of the Real Talk Real Women interview series, where we bring you the life-changing, heart-warming and inspirational stories behind the most successful women in health and fitness. Make sure to follow us on Instagram for the latest interviews! For this installment, we are joined by Jess Quinn.
Let’s start off with a general introduction. How would you describe yourself, what are you all about and how did you get involved in health and fitness?
Where do I begin! My name is Jessica Quinn, I’m 24 from Auckland, New Zealand. I’m not exactly sure how to explain what I do, as I’m still figuring it out. But I guess I’m lucky enough to be turning my passion into my career which is simply helping others by inspiring and motivating them to live a happier and healthier life. This all started by accident for me, apparently I’ve been inspiring people my whole life without even realising and it was only recently I realised I could actually make a difference to other people's lives.
I did a photoshoot simply to get photos for my own portfolio. I wanted to get an agency so I could work with brands on campaigns and modelling gigs to promote a healthy body image, to help people understand that you don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful, confidence is key. These photos went viral earlier in 2016 and now I’m lucky enough to be doing what I love full time - still figuring it all out but it’s an exciting time that for sure.
I’ve always been really into health and fitness as a hobby, my health and wellbeing is really important to me and I like to push myself past my limitations which is why I spend so much time training.
At age 9 you went through a life-changing event, can you tell us what happened and how it impacted your life?
I fractured my femur bone playing with my sister when I was 9, I had immediate surgery to heal the break followed by months of rehab. After what felt like extensive rehabilitation, I was still in a lot of pain and the bone wasn’t healing properly. I was put through a series of tests and it was discovered that I had an Osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in my femur.
I was rushed instantly into hospital to start chemotherapy. After rounds of chemo and other treatments things were not getting any better and I was getting sicker and sicker. In order to save my life the decision was made to amputate my leg with a rare amputation called a rotationplasty (of which I was one of the first in New Zealand to undergo). This was followed by more chemotherapy before years of rehabilitation and my new life began.
It obviously impacted my life massively but being only 9 and having always had a really positive can-do attitude I just got on with things. There's definitely something to be said for the resilience of a child, my 9 year old self is my ABSOLUTE hero.
I struggled a lot through my adolescence years, as we all do, but during this time I had a lot of body image and confidence issues as well as coming to terms with the impact of what I went through would have on the rest of my life. I eventually got myself out of this and haven’t looked back since.
I now see my adversity and what I went through as a positive thing, I could not tell you the last time I got down about it and that’s simply because more good things have come out of it then bad. That’s not to say I wouldn’t like to be free from all the issues I have to face on a daily basis but overall, I’m lucky to have been able to learn the lessons I have, experienced the things I have and met the people I’ve met because of it.
Despite wearing a prosthetic leg you decided to fearlessly chase your dreams. What advice can you give about overcoming limitations and obstacles in life?
There were so many different things that added to my fearlessness to overcome such adversity. A part of me just decided enough was enough, I’d already been through so much and had overcome so much that I didn’t want to waste anymore of my time or life on letting it affect how I live or my happiness - cancer took one of my body parts, I wasn’t going to let it have any further control of my life.
I believe that often our limitations are self-imposed or developed out of fear, once you realise this you really are limitless. There will always be obstacles in life, use them as a motivation to push forward become the person you want to be. Don’t become a prisoner to the things you can’t change.
You set a goal to run a 10k race in 2017. How did you decide on this particular goal and how are you preparing yourself for this challenge?
As I mentioned earlier, fitness and training has always been a huge part of my life, I like to challenge myself and push my limits as far as I can. My biggest goal in life is to not be dis-abled by my adversity. The only thing missing from my training was the fact that I couldn’t run, I’d been told I never would due to the complicated surgery but I decided to ignore that, order a running prosthetic and then figure it out.
I spent 9 months in the studio figuring out how to use my new leg, working on balance and weight bearing. I began to run a bit, so I decided one day (early January) to set myself a goal of running 10km by the end of the year. I like completely throwing myself into something new, whether it seems physically possible or not, I like to find a way to make it work. At the time, December seemed really far away and 10kms didn’t seem very far so I figured it’d be achievable.
It’s been a HUGE year of training and a constant 10 steps forward, 8 steps back. Unfortunately I keep getting knocked down by injuries that have stopped me running but I am by far the strongest I have ever been and have come such a long way in my training despite still not being able to run properly.
So hopefully next year will see less injury and more running but we will see. My biggest learning curve this year was that no matter how hard you try, sometimes things are completely out of our control, and as long as you’ve given it everything you’ve got then you can not fail.
You’ve inspired thousands of people across the globe, what is the one thing you’re most proud of and why?
This still blows my mind, I feel so privileged to have a platform that I can do this through. I’m mostly proud that I have remained 100% true to the person I am. I told myself right for the get-go that I wanted to be 100% raw, authentic and honest in my approach and the way I come across, I don’t want to create an illusion of my life because that doesn’t help anybody (including myself).
I’m also really proud of the vast range of people I’ve been able to help, my biggest fear was that I was going to be channeled into being a ‘disabled model’ when I didn’t want to only help people with a disability, I want to inspire everyone from all walks of life, I want to help people who have insecurities that may not seem like a big deal but affect them in the same way as someone with a huge adversity is effected by theirs.
I’ve received messages from Marine Corps who have found motivation from me to push on, to people struggling with mental illness who have found some hope to believe in themselves, to others battling cancer struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, every single message makes me smile.
What’s your perspective on the importance of believing in yourself?
It’s one of my strongest beliefs. I think we get caught up in this concept that we can’t cheer for ourselves and love ourselves out of fear of seeming conceited. I think you should be your biggest cheerleader because if you don’t believe in yourself then why should others believe in you?
I believe our mind is our most powerful asset, whatever you tell yourself you will become. The mind can defy science and all facts, I’m a walking example of that, there has been so many things I’ve been told I wouldn’t be able to do; I listened, gave a smile and a nod, then continued on to do it anyway because I believed I could. If you truly believe you can do something then you will find a way to achieve it.
Many young women struggle with going after their dreams and aspirations, thinking they’re not good or talented enough. What kind of advice would you give them?
I guess that’s similar to my above answer, if you believe you can achieve it, than you will. I believe in talent to a degree, sure, some people are more talented than others but talent can also derive from hard work. For example, it’s quite obvious that I am not a natural runner, but if I want to be a competitive runner, the only thing that is going to get me there is if I work really hard to make it happen.
We sometimes excuse ourselves because of our circumstance or situation, we compare to someone else's achievements and that they got to a certain place because of talent or circumstance, which may be true, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. I read something that has stuck with me, “the same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg, it’s all about what we’re made of, not our circumstance”. If you want something bad enough, make it happen, you are your only limit. And don’t fear failure, you’ll fail endlessly, but that’s how you grow.
How important have the people around you been when it comes to your success?
Incredibly important! I know for a fact that I would not be here today had it not been for the people around me. My family throughout my treatment are what pulled me through, they somehow remained so positive which goes back to the power of the mind and good energy.
My whole life I’ve had incredible people around me, from friends to teachers to colleagues to my coach to the people who ’support’ (I hate the term “followers”) my instagram and blog - I am so lucky!
If you could only choose one thing, what would you tell your younger self?
Stay true to who you are kid, things are about to get really good. Continue to be thankful for the people around you and learn to see the experiences that now seem unfair as an opportunity to become someone you might not have otherwise been.
Don’t get caught up in materialistic things or pointless drama, at the end of the day it will never matter. Times will be tough, this life won’t be easy, but I don’t need to tell you that, you’ve learnt it already, continue to be brave, be strong and be happy.
Where can people go to learn more about you online?