HACKENSACK, N.J. — By now, most people would've quit — not Hackensack's Alexis O'Shea.
It's been almost two years since the 29-year-old turned to fitness to help pull her out of a deep state of depression, and she still finds herself underneath that same barbell — every single day.
“He who knows pain knows how to survive.”
Those words, tattooed on her right bicep, stare back at O'Shea in the mirror of a squat rack in Retro Fitness Hackensack.
The message, inked in Italian, serves not only as a testament to her strength but as a reminder of her late uncle, who died in a hit-and-run accident in May 2014.
The months following her uncle’s death were marred by drugs, alcohol and oversleeping for O’Shea, who showed up late for appointments if she showed up at all.
O’Shea, haunted by her uncle’s death and the knowledge that his assailant was never punished justly, spiraled until New Year’s Eve 2014 when she saw herself through her uncle’s eyes in a dream.
“If he saw me totally fall apart he would’ve told me that this isn’t who we are,” said O’Shea, who works at NBC Sports in Englewood Cliffs. “It’s not what we do.”
The former 140-pound athlete had ballooned to 215 pounds. It was time for a change.
So, O’Shea committed to a one-year membership at Retro along with three weekly personal training sessions. She spent more than an hour a day on the treadmill, using the alone time to reflect.
“Allowing myself that helped me clear my mind and occupy my time,” O’Shea said. “I started realizing how much you can change your body with nutrition and fitness. Learning yourself inside and out like that is really cool.”
O’Shea had strength, but she wanted to prove her resilience. She signed up to compete in a National Physique Committee bikini competition 16 months after the days of “barely hanging on."
She eschewed the traditional route of using a coach, only accepting the occasional advice about posing.
“I was doing that for me,” she said. “It made me refocus and see that I can put my mind to anything, get back to being who I was and see something through.”
While O’Shea didn’t place at the competition, she demonstrated she was capable of holding herself accountable. She also came to terms with the fact that she’ll never have answers regarding her uncle’s death.
“I do believe that you go through things for a purpose,” she said. “I definitely feel I am who I’m supposed to be.”
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.