“Deep down, it felt counter-intuitive to stop doing something that I thought about daily. The reality too is that my bikini comp journey inspired more women to pick up a weight than me preaching hard about the beneficial endocrine response.”
Name: Danette “Diz” Rivera
Occupation: Personal Trainer and Lead Coach at CrossFit Los Angeles
Location: Santa Monica, CA
Weight: 138 (competition weight: 130)
Type of Training: CrossFit and bodybuilding
Q: What were the steps you took to transition to plant-based nutrition?
Over 12 years ago, after I shut down a business I owned, I proceeded to participate in an emotional escapade I like to call The Holiday Gorge of 2003.
I ate everything in sight from Thanksgiving to the Epiphany. It wasn’t pretty, and when all was said and eaten, I felt like living hell.
I had been a semiconductor broker, which was impossibly volatile and stressful like a constant kick in the guts, so when I took my next job, I wanted something as far from that as possible. I became a cashier at a health food store.
“Every day from my register, I stared at the produce section, which was illuminated like a stage by hanging halogen lights. I thought, ‘This is what perfection looks like.’”
I knew fresh food had to be part of my healing and ultimately, my plan for optimal health. A few of the young cashiers I worked with were vegan. I asked a ton of questions and decided to try being vegan for one month.
Though I went cold-turkey vegan then, I had been weaning off animal products most of my life.
In 1980, at age 13, I stopped eating red meat, a choice made from a very limited knowledge I had of the meat industry then. Foods like chicken, fish, eggs, and milk were already a bit gross to me. Eating vegan, even in the beginning, never felt difficult. It felt natural and right. I didn’t feel depraved.
During that first month, as I felt increasingly better physically and mentally, I read in detail about the ethical side of being vegan. When I learned exactly how living beings were treated for overproduction and overconsumption, my stomach hurt. My heart hurt. That month, February 2004, became a lifelong dedication.
“Though I’ve never had a desire to go back, my advice to those starting on a vegan (or simply a more meatless) journey is to explore the science, read up on anecdotes, and then put on your own lab coat to find what works best for you.”
There are so many vegan options now, and there are many philosophies within being vegan; it will be hard not to find something that fits you personally.
Q: Staple vegan post-workout meal:
Immediately after I workout, I usually have a scoop and a half of chocolate Plant Fusion protein powder with coconut water. The first meal I eat after I workout is usually lunch. Sometimes, I’ll have a huge salad with lentils or riced cauliflower with black beans.
Today, I had a baked sweet potato with a Field Roast Apple Sage Vegan Sausage with greens thrown on top. Yum!
Q: Tell us about CrossFit Los Angeles and your role there.
I’ve been a lead, full-time coach at CFLA for over three years.
I coach eight classes a week, including the Women’s Program, which are amazing classes created to provide a safe environment for women to be true to the athlete they are in the exact moment, no matter the level.
I’m dedicated to the empowerment of these athletes. I also have about 12-15 private clients.
What I love about CFLA is that because we’ve been around 11 years (the ninth CrossFit gym to open), we’ve evolved a lot.
Though the basic principles of CrossFit are still pretty spot-on, the way CFLA executes them is relatively different.
We don’t throw clients against the wall every workout in typical CrossFit fashion.
“We ‘practice’ the majority of time: honing technique, working strength, and staying at – or under – 85 percent perceived rate of exertion.”
Believe me, we still get a great workout on practice days, and we definitely have competition days too, but we’ve found this type of training is more sustainable mentally and physically.
It’s the brainchild of our head coach and CFLA owner, Kenny Kane. He calls it Contextual Training. I think it’s brilliant, and it works amazingly for our everyday-athlete clientele.
Q: What does your training look like these days?
I just began training for my second Bikini Bodybuilding competition, so though I still do CrossFit about three days a week, I’ve now incorporated more isolated bodybuilding work. I do a couple days of cardio, which I love, and I do yoga once a week.
Mainly, I love the grind of training. It’s my meditation. Training is my house of discovery. I feel I can explore the entire universe within the context of movement.
Q: Favorite Three Exercise/Movements:
1. Weighted Glute Bridges. I started these when training for my first bikini comp last year to build bigger, stronger glutes, but what I discovered is that stronger glutes meant I got better at everything else physically: CrossFit, running, and so on. I also realized with my clients that most everyone’s glutes could be stronger.
2. Snatch. I am a relatively weak static lifter, but the dynamic lifting takes more coordination and trust, really, which are more my strengths. I’m not breaking records by any means, but I really enjoy the rhythm of Olympic lifting.
3. Double Unders. Again, the rhythm thing. Double unders are a perfect balance of tension and relaxation and finding a rhythm.
Q: Favorite Three Forms of Exercise:
1. CrossFit (How CFLA does it!). I love the variety. I love my community. I love the mental-toughness aspect.
2. Isolated bodybuilding. I love the solitude and dedication this takes. I feel incredibly empowered lifting this way.
3. Riding my bike. Though, I really don’t think of this as exercise; I think of this as a way to commute. Also, being on my bike is pure joy to me.
Q: Tell me a story of the mentor who played a key role in building confidence in yourself.
I’ve definitely experienced glimpses of encouragement and interactions with amazing people throughout my life, but I’d have to say that I’ve been my own best mentor.
“I’ve had to rely on my gut instincts even when they didn’t seem popular or when the road seemed difficult.”
I’ve had to shake off mistakes, and bob and weave through a lot of bullshit, and fall down, and crawl, and get back up, and get angry, then let it go. And forgive – myself, mainly. But I never gave up hope in myself. I still haven’t.
I found that after all the hurt and knock-downs, if you can still be kind to yourself and be your own best caretaker and best cheerleader, nothing can really touch you. Nothing builds confidence more than that.
Q: What would your friends/colleagues say you’re really good at?
I think my colleagues would say that I’m nurturing but still kind of a hard-ass. My clients would say that I’m really good at connecting to them personally and that I have the ability to hone in on what they need in the exact moment.
Q: What unpopular opinions do you hold?
“Currently, I’m exploring the contrast of how my feminism works within the world of bikini bodybuilding. I’ve had a lot of inner conflict about it, honestly, and had some pushback during my last competition, like what I was doing was antifeminist.”
That pushback felt oddly familiar, though historically, the pushback and the tsk-tsking came from conservative sources, not the radical ones!
I was taken aback, frankly, and suddenly, I felt embarrassed that I had enjoyed it all so much.
Last year, I decided not to compete again. Yet, I continued to think about it every day. I missed the training. I missed the dedication. I missed how invincible I felt from lifting that much.
I missed working toward a muscular and athletic aesthetic even though I was still conflicted about the pageantry of the actual competitions and the subjectiveness of judging.
“Why was I so into a sport that is based on aesthetics instead of performance? I’m still not sure.”
Getting on stage – with the tan and the heels and the hair and the makeup and the harder-than-it-looks posing – is only a fraction of the whole process, and as odd as that felt at times, I dug the glamour aspects, too. Then I thought, fuck it. Eff anyone who has something to say.
Deep down, it felt counter-intuitive to stop doing something that I thought about daily. The reality too is that my bikini comp journey inspired more women to pick up a weight than me preaching hard about the beneficial endocrine response.
Lastly, I realized, like anything else, my decisions and my feminism are not up for debate. I do what I like. Anyway, it’s been interesting sorting through all these complicated issues that have come up during the process, and I look forward to writing more in-depth about it in 2016.
Q: What have you changed your mind about in past 10 years?
I’ve finally realized that judgment is the worst kind of poison. And I’m done with it, man, as much as I can consciously be aware.
I wondered why I saw the same exact behaviors and attitudes toward women that I experienced when I was younger still existing for girls and young women my daughters’ ages, even if certain forms of it have shifted.
“We still get judged constantly by the usual suspects, but why are many women still so shitty to each other? And I realized that we’re all trained to judge women no matter what.”
We’re all too something or the other, and it doesn’t even matter what side of the cause we’re on: if you’re a rebel or conservative, some woman is doing something wrong somewhere, in any sector, in any culture, the fitness world being right up there at the top.
“I’m sick of the bulky conversation and the thin conversation and the thick conversation.”
I’m done with the fact that what we do with our bodies is constantly up for debate. And don’t get me started on our own systematic levels of self-judgment. I don’t let other women, especially my clients, talk shit on themselves around me. That conversation is tired and dated.
I make one client do five burpees any time she starts in on herself. She did a lot of burpees in the beginning, but now the story she tells herself is starting to change. The ridiculousness of not holding oneself in the highest regard is starting to become apparent to her. Anyway, I renounce judgment to the best of my current ability; I reject it all now.
Q: Fun fact most people don’t know about you?
In the early 90s, I was hired to be a dancer in the movie “The Mambo Kings.” I turned down the role because I was working three jobs then, and filming would be “indefinite.” It’s my only regret in life.
Q: What three pearls of wisdom would you tell your 18-year-old self?
Since I’m raising daughters 20 and 16 years old, I’m dolling out those pearls left and right!
Everything I say to them, I would tell my 18-year-old self – as well as repeat to my 48-year-old self.
The main things:
1. Always trust your gut, in good and bad situations. Barge ahead when your instincts say “Love!” no matter what others say. And bail the eff out when your gut says “Whoa – no.”
2. Don’t let anyone squash your power. Not a boy/man/partner, not critics, not friends or family. That’s not to say don’t express kindness, compassion, love, generosity, humility, gratitude. We do these things because they are beautiful, human qualities, not because it is our place as girls/women to be demure and modest and selfless, especially if that’s not our nature. Be truly you and be a beautiful human, however those two show up. They can – and do – coexist.
3. You are inherently worthy. Your weight, thigh size, the length of your skirt, your hair color does not determine worth. You’re already great. Now that that’s out of the way, go do some cool shit that makes you happy, which will probably make the world a better place.