I am Caren Evangelista. I’ve always been a very curious and adventurous type of person when I was growing up. I was born in the Philippines and was raised in the small island of Guam. I wanted to experience, see, feel, and know more about what is out there. I always wanted to do something bigger and be different. I didn’t want to be the same as everyone else on the island. I wanted to aspire, be inspired, and somehow reach my potential, and just DREAM BIG. I just didn’t know how I could do it.
I thought joining the military would eventually give me some answers to my curiosity in life. I joined the Guam Army National Guard at age seventeen as a medic. After completing my training, I thought it was the most daring adventure I have ever experienced in my life. The Army introduced me to new things that I never would have imagined doing, specifically the physical training part.
I never really considered myself as an athletic person until I became serious about fitness and health to a point where it became my obsession. It all started after I got divorced from a very physically abusive marriage relationship. After the divorce, I became a single parent of two loving boys. I was then living in a terrible world. First, I was judged by my own family and disowned by my own parents. There was no emotional or moral support from them. Instead, they pushed me away because it was shameful in our culture. Then, I became lost-I was exhausted. I needed help and I didn’t know what to do. In addition, I was also struggling financially, providing for two children because the final divorce decree only required their father to provide $50 per month per child, which is only $100 for two children a month. I prayed so much and let God guide me through these difficulties.
I realized I have to take care of myself physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and financially so I can take care of my two children. I decided to run every day to clear my mind. Since then long-distance running became an outlet for my stress relief. I found myself running 5ks, 10miles, half marathons (13.1miles), then full marathons (26.2miles). I would compete in any 5k running events in the local area and would win 1st or 2nd place in my age category. I collected so many running medals and hung them in my medal rack. I would run endlessly and tirelessly. In total, I ran 18 half marathons and four full marathons. I became very obsessed and running became my life. I ran long distance for eight long years non-stop and I love every moment of it. It gave me confidence so whenever I had to take the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), I would maximize it effortlessly. Running was aligned to what I was doing in my military career.
Within those eight years of running long distance, I was able to incorporate CrossFit workouts. I became a member of a CrossFit gym and became addicted to it. I combined it with my running skills and I felt so unstoppable. I didn’t have much upper body strength back then. I was never that strong when it comes to lifting weights, but I could outrun the crossfitters at the gym. Running was my strength, I had the stamina and endurance. I love both crossfit and running long distance but honestly, I was always sore from crossfit and I couldn’t find the balance between the two.
During my life struggles, I am proud to say that I was able to obtain my Associates degree, Bachelor’s degree, and Master’s degree in Human Resource Management. I’m also a member of Delta Mu Delta, a recognized international honor society in Business Administration.
I traveled to so many places just by being a part-time Soldier. I was a program analyst in my last civilian job and I had a tough time balancing both my civilian and military job due to numerous travel opportunities. So, I decided to apply for the Active Guard Reserve (AGR) position and immediately got picked up as a recruiter. I am currently a full-time Health Care Recruiter in Deerfield, Illinois.
Two years ago, something BIG hit me that opened my mind. I competed in the Army’s Ultimate Outrider Challenge which consisted of five events: a 5-mile run, bench press, dead lift, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, and dips. I didn’t win it because I was weak on my upper body. I couldn’t do one bench press, which was 95lbs for my category, or one pull-up which frustrated me because I could perform the rest effortlessly. I took it hard and was so angry with myself that I started working on those weaknesses. I found myself lifting more weights and spending more time in the gym than I was running long distance. I wanted to win that challenge and prove to myself that I deserve that trophy of success. I started to do research online, watched YouTube videos of bodybuilders who can lift heavy, and explored Instagram for additional motivation and inspiration.
This is when my passion became clearer to me. All those times, I knew in my heart that I was passionate about fitness and health. I just didn’t know which one I should focus on more because running long distance and lifting weights and bodybuilding are two different entities. Once I started researching and opening my mind, seeing people who are also bodybuilding or weightlifting; I started to believe in myself and realized that in my heart, this is what I really want to do. This is my calling and I am responding to it.
I was in denial for a long time before I embraced the fact that running such long distances in so many hours can damage muscle mass which I needed for lifting heavy. I courageously took a 180 degree turn when I chose to become a bodybuilder. I gained so much knowledge and continue to learn and grow. Believe it or not, I came back the next year and competed again. This time I was able to lift 95lbs, bench press, and do five pull-ups without any struggles. I won that competition and proved to myself that I can do whatever I set my mind to. It was absolutely another confidence booster. However, I didn’t stop there. It was just the beginning of a new journey.
I began to have visions, such as competing in bodybuilding and becoming a personal fitness trainer or a coach. I became very passionate about going to the gym instead of running long distance and was no longer afraid of becoming bulky and looking like a man. I became thirstier and hungrier for more muscle gains. At the same time, I was worried about what other people would think. However, I just kept going. I wanted to transform my body and challenge myself to the next physical level. The more I do it, the more it becomes part of my life.
At this point, I can still maximize my APFT without having to run AS long in so many minutes; running was never an issue for me. My food intake definitely changed as well. It was difficult, but I took baby steps since it can be very overwhelming in the beginning. This is a lifestyle, not a temporary fix. Today, I want to advocate about bodybuilding by using my social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat.
In the beginning, I was hesitant to post photos, workouts, or even talk about what I have done because I was afraid my family and friends were going to judge me and not support what I decided to do with my body. However, I could only contain myself for so long and started posting and sharing anyway. I realized people will always have their own opinions that aren’t necessarily true. I figured, someone out there just like me is doing the same thing, which is trying to educate, add value, and promote fitness and health within our community.
As of today, I am planning on getting my personal fitness certification with American Council on Exercise (ACE) so that I will have more credentials in teaching fitness and share my passion on how to live a healthy, fit, and balanced life. I understand competing or being on stage is not a requirement to promote fitness and health, but I believe competing gives an individual a new goal or challenge to achieve. I would like to reach out to as many people as I can to share my fitness journey and hopefully, they will find it motivating, inspirational, and beneficial to their own fitness and health.