Woman with CMT Charcot Marie Tooth Disorder Inspires others with Fitness Tips

Meet Tara Lyn Emerson:

Tara has been in athletics her whole life. In fact, her father is a professional tennis coach, so you could say coaching runs in her DNA. Tara is a certified trainer, spinning, and TRX instructor.  She was named one of Los Angeles’ best instructors by Class Pass.

Movement is important to Tara because she lives with Charcot Marie Tooth Disease (CMT). This disease has caused progressive atrophy in her lower legs, limiting her balance and strength.

Although her body is different and certain movements are hard, she does not let the condition control her life. By maintaining her physical and spiritual strength, she has been able to defy any challenges associated with the incurable disease.

Suspension training, cycling, and weight training have been important players in developing her movement and her athleticism despite her physical limitations. As a coach, she is able to connect with people on a different level because she understands individual obstacles but motivates and inspires everyone to find their unique “sweat zone.”

In addition to weight training and spinning, Tara enjoys keeping active with salsa dancing, yoga, paddle-boarding, and tennis.

What are your current physical issues/challenges?

I have numbness in both feet, high arches, very lean calves, nerve pain in my lower legs, limited range of motion in my ankles, and occasional numbness in my hands.

During athletic bouts, it is challenging for me to stay balanced. I lose my balance when I am lunging, squatting, and dead lifting. I am also very limited in anything that requires jumping. I am unable to shift my body weight to the balls of my feet, and I have to modify any exercises that require me to be on my toes (such as jumping jacks, jumping rope, etc).

I am able to run. My running speed is a jogging pace for most people, but I can do it. I also have to take many breaks when running because my foot dorsiflexion fatigues quickly. So, when I feel like I am struggling to pick up my feet, I slow down or go back to walking.

What’s the hardest part about having CMT for you?

This is a tough question for me to answer because I decided a long time ago to stop saying that I have CMT. As a teenager, doctors told me I have CMT. I then began to tell myself that I had a disability. I told other people “I can’t do that.  I have a disability.” I carried the story of my CMT around like baggage. I thought of it as something I “had” but did not want. I told myself that I was different and flawed. Saying that I “had” CMT made me feel like a victim- like I was damaged goods.

So, I decided to change my story. I now tell people I am a CMT athlete! Saying “I am” makes me feel powerful, and it makes me sit up a little taller just saying it. It fans my confidence flame.

I grew up in an athletic home where my father was a baseball coach, a tennis coach, and an all-around athlete. I played competitive tennis for many years, and I’ve also been a gym rat since I was a teenager. I always wanted to be an athlete.  It was just a matter of telling myself I am. That was the hardest part.

How can I get a body like yours?

First of all, thank you! That’s such a nice compliment. I have built the strongest version of my body that I can. I wish the same for everyone! It has taken years, lots of hard work, discipline, and patience.

My body is uniquely mine – imperfect, and, of course, imbalanced due to my CMT. I work with what I have! I play to my strengths and work on my weaknesses. The most important thing is to create a strong core. Your core isn’t just the ripped abs in the front (think of David Beckham’s six pack). Your core is a cylinder and wraps around your body: front, sides and back. Your core stabilizes you and helps keep your body in balance.

I suggest core exercises like forearm plank, side plank, and reverse plank to do a couple times every week. Next is the booty! Work your glutes – again, another strong stabilizing muscle that keeps your body balanced. Especially with CMT, the body’s posterior strength needs lots of love and attention. For a lean body and muscle tone, find a cardio activity that you like and that works for your body. Try swimming, rowing, cycling, or the elliptical. A low impact cardio activity will be best for your joints and feet. Lastly, work on your balance and stretch. I’m the first to admit that I hate standing on one leg because it’s incredibly taxing on my mind and body, but I know that I need to do it. This is what I meant by being patient. I swear, when I’m going to yoga regularly, my balance gets better.

You teach both spin and TRX. Can you explain each and how someone with a disability would benefit from doing them?

Spinning made me feel like an athlete again. First off, you wear cycling shoes that clip into the bike. Being clipped in made me feel safe. I can’t lose my footing, like when I’m running. Secondly, I didn’t have to rely so heavily on my calves for speed. I was able to sprint and climb up a hill like everyone else. It immediately felt like home to me.

TRX Suspension Training was born of the Navy Seals and is a portable performance tool that leverages gravity and one’s own body weight to execute strength training moves. What I love is that TRX is perfect for someone in their 80’s who’s trying to stay functional; yet it’s also perfect for an elite athlete who wants to train outdoors with minimal equipment. TRX works for my body because I have an anchor with two straps and handles that I hold on to. I use my handles for balance and do everything from squats to lunges to split jumps. Lunges are challenging for someone with CMT, but if you could hold on, would you feel more confident trying them? Yep!

What advice do you have for people who feel self-conscious in group classes when they can’t do things and/or keep up?

For so long I was afraid of trying something because I didn’t think I’d be the fastest, the best, or even notable. The perfectionist in me hated not being the best in the class, but I realized that I was taking away opportunities from myself before I even tried. My mindset needed adjustment.

Don’t be embarrassed about being different. Don’t be ashamed you have flaws. You don’t have to give up because something that is hard for you is easy for someone else. There will ALWAYS be stuff that is hard; just because it is hard doesn’t mean it wasn’t meant for you. Sometimes it’s the hard things that end up being really great!

When I was told I have CMT, I could have decided that I wouldn’t run, sprint, climb or move because I have a disability and it’s hard for me. I had a good excuse. But, I wasn’t raised to choose easy. Not Tara Lyn Emerson. I cycle, lift, or move every damn day now. And, as the universe intended, my greater calling became just that.

I move differently, but I still move. And, deciding to move was where the real medicine was. Do hard stuff every day because you have to believe that there is a bright and shiny flip side to this penny, and that is within your reach if you just persevere.
So, when you think to yourself how different you are, also think how special you are.

You’re also an ambassador for an online active wear retailer Carbon38. Tell us what that’s about. Any workout fashion advice/tweaks for people who wear leg braces?

Carbon38 is more than just an online retailer for me; it is a wonderful community of strong, athletic women who are the movers and shakers in the health and wellness world right now. As an ambassador, I am lucky enough to be dressed in the hottest athleisure, but also supported in an empowering women’s community.

I do not wear leg braces, but I have very lean calves and not everything looks good on me. Leggings are a staple of mine, but I look best in 7/8 cut or full length leggings. The capri length makes my calves look even smaller and more noticeable. Mesh is a trend in athleisure right now, but I avoid that look because the mesh does not fit to my lower legs and looks baggy at the bottom.

For those with braces, track pants are back in style, and Carbon38 has some very fashionable looks that aren’t spandex. Leg braces can fit nicely under the track pants, but honestly, I say rock shorts with your leg braces. Again, don’t be embarrassed about being different. Let them see your leg brace and that you can still do more push-ups than them!

Click here to shop my favorite looks from Carbon38 and automatically receive 25% of your purchase!

What’s one thing you wear that boosts your confidence?

A cute sports bra. You can’t buy a cute sports bra and then put a shirt over it. So, when I’m rocking my cute sports bra it’s definitely because I’m feeling confident and good in my own skin.

What is your favorite book?

The Alchemist is my favorite book.

What is your favorite movie or tv show?

My favorite Movie is Dumb & Dumber. I recite the whole movie by heart. Seriously.

Favorite TV show is currently This Is Us, but I also love re-watching How I Met Your Mother.

What is a quote you love, or your motto, and why?

“You don’t have to be the best athlete in the room, you just have to be the best version of you.”

Others may have more genetic power than me, but you cannot outwork me. I am tough. Don’t be confused.  Tough and strong are two different things.  Tough people have a different way of operating. Someone who’s tough does hard stuff when no one is watching. They accept discomfort both physically and mentally because they have something brewing. They are like a ninja.  They do a lot while appearing like they are doing very little. CMT has made me a ninja in many ways!


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