Good Human Spotlight: Jessie Hilgenberg9 min read

In Stories, Theirs by Crissy SaintLeave a Comment

With Hustle & Heart

This month we’re collaborating with good human, amazing mom, and fitness icon Jessie Hilgenberg. When we approached her and asked if she’d be interesting in teaming up with us to support a nonprofit cause that positively impacts humans, she was ALL IN.

We asked her what nonprofit cause meant the world to her and she immediately chose a nonprofit in the heart health space and filled us in on why this cause matters so much to her. In February for American Heart Month Jessie and Only Human are joining forces to do whatever we can to bring awareness to heart health, all benefitting the American Heart Association.

What about your story made you want to work with us to bring awareness to heart health?

While I was training for that first competition, my dad – a healthy, fit, handsome, vibrant 55-year old – died suddenly of cardiac arrest while he was bench pressing in the gym.

It stopped my entire life – my entire world in its tracks. My dad was my everything. And he was so proud seeing me and Alex working out and lifting weights. But in my eyes, being fit and healthy – eating right and lifting – didn’t matter. How could a young man so healthy with a passion for fitness die mid-workout? I never wanted to look at another piece of workout equipment again for the rest of my life. Had my dad not worked out, he’d still be here with me. We learned that he had an undetected enlarged heart, what is commonly called “athlete’s heart.” The enlarged and thickened walls of his heart disrupted his heart’s electric system, leading to arrhythmias during his workout, causing his sudden cardiac death. Had he been in a more public space, with an AED (automated external defibrillator), his life may have been saved. He was alone, in his home gym.

After about a year, my perspective slowly (VERY SLOWLY) shifted from hating the gym to realizing that perhaps my dad died doing one of his greatest passions, and he’d be so disappointed if I didn’t follow that same dream because of what happened to him. So workout by workout, I built up the emotional strength to try again. It wasn’t easy, I left many gyms mid-workout crying, sat in many gym parking lots crying without ever going in, fought a lot with Alex (my husband), but mostly – I GREW. I mean emotionally when I say that – but I guess I was growing physically, too. Lifting weights can do amazing things for your physical, emotional and mental state.

What does it mean to you to have Hustle & Heart?
Having hustle and heart is everything to me – they go together. The hustle is obvious -work your ass off and things will happen. But if you want those “things” that happen to be amazing and life changing for YOU and for other humans – you gotta have heart, too. I’m in the gym hustling and keeping my heart healthy, that one’s obvious. But on the emotional side of things – I changed and I grew because I had heart, and you can too. Hustle hard to change the world and change your heart.
What does “Only Human” mean to you?
We need each other, we need our stories. I believe we all start our journeys as individuals, but the most successful ones – the ones with the most growth and the most change – find community and togetherness along the way.
What makes collaborating with Only Human a good fit for who you are?
Ummm…hello! Perfect! I am all hustle and all heart. When OH presented this concept to me I could barely speak because so many ideas and similarities were coming to mind! OH has built a community of people just like I have with Jessie’s Girls. If you could solve one problem for humanity, what would it be? Find a way to get every human to exercise every day – whether it’s a walk outside, a hike or a gym workout – it all counts.
What kind of impact do you hope the “Hustle & Heart” Campaign has on humans who support the cause or sport the apparel?
I hope they see both the physical and emotional side of it – I hope they feel inspired to hustle in the gym and keep their hearts healthy and strong, but also never stop hustling to have a beautiful, open, unconditionally loving and forgiving heart. What kind of human do you want to be remembered as? One that helped people love themselves for what/where/who they are RIGHT NOW – and that they are not alone. I want to be remembered as a woman who gave them tools and encouraged them to lean on community and support – no one should feel alone on this crazy journey of life! Also that I inspired them to get into the squat rack and feel strong and beautiful!
Anything else you wanna share about your story?

Fitness has always been a part of my life indirectly. I grew up in a fit family—my dad ran marathons, we had a home gym, and my parents always had gym memberships. Still, I never really caught the fitness bug. When I was 19, I was a typical college kid. I smoked cigarettes, partied A LOT, and didn’t give fitness a second thought. It was a phase in my life where I ate ramen noodles, drank, skipped class, and partied.

After college, I moved back to my home town and knew it was time for a change. Shortly after, I met my husband, Alex. Alex was competing as a NPC (National Physique Committee) heavyweight bodybuilder when we started dating. I was an artist and graphic designer, and was ALWAYS embarrassed by my muscular physique. I truly didn’t know what to do with my body and wished hard that I could just be skinny and not have these muscly legs and arms. I was always hiding them.

I always felt self-conscious at the gym. I hated cardio – I wanted to lift, but never wanted to do it alone because I didn’t feel I belonged in that space, didn’t want to bother all the serious lifters (men) and didn’t want people to watch me make a fool of myself not knowing how to use the equipment.<

I wanted to impress Alex, though, so I would follow him around the gym making him tell me what to do, how many reps, which weight to use, etc. I would have an anxiety attack if he left my side. It drove me crazy that I didn’t feel like it was something I could do on my own, so in my typical stubborn fashion – I hit the textbooks and began staying up all night onBodybuilding.comresearching how to lift, eat and take supplements. After several notebooks full, I felt so powerful. I wanted to apply everything I was learning. So, I started studying for a personal training certificate and signed up for my first figure competition. As I always do, I took something that was hard for me – went nuts self-teaching and then go all the way and then some trying to master it – haha!

With HUSTLE AND HEART, I went on after my dad passed away to make the gym my stomping ground. I won figure competitions, earned my IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding) professional status as a Figure Pro, became a fitness model and graced the cover of multiple fitness magazines, earned sponsorships from top companies in the world like Bodybuilding.com (who’s website remember I used to stay up all night on researching “how to lift weights”) and started my business, Jessie’s Girls. What started as a hobby to impress my boyfriend turned into a women’s fitness empire with over 2 million dollars in sales, e-books, events, public speaking, travel, an app, and over 26,000 women’s lives changed all over the world. And I almost quit. But with some hustle and a lot of heart, amazing things happen.

I have a better physique, I’m healthier, and I feel better than I ever did in my 20s. It’s incredible, and I want to keep that going for myself and for women everywhere as long as I can. I want women to feel better and love the crap out of their lives more at 40 and 50 than they do at 20, and I know the only way to do that is to have a healthy diet, to stay consistent in the gym, have a kick-ass female support system (Jessie’s Girls) and live a lifestyle they can be proud of and teach to their own daughters.
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