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My Up and Down to the Top

In this month’s Withum 300 blog, we speak with the firm’s Talent Acquisition Specialist, Michelle Aurich!  Michelle has quite an interesting history with Withum:  She originally started with the firm as a tax season intern in 2009, which was followed by an additional internship over the summer, before officially starting with Withum in August of 2010.  Since then, she’s gone from tax work, to forensic work, to joining our Talent Management team!

Michelle was also one of our original Withum 300 participants.  In this discussion, she talks about how the group has evolved and how some big personal news has impacted her exercise habits.

You’ve been a member of Withum 300 since the beginning.  How has the group changed or evolved since then?

The group has gotten so much bigger since it was first established idea and more “legit.” Matt Basilo does a great job publicizing the group’s accomplishments online. I can’t really remember how we tracked our miles in the beginning, but now it’s much more official and even has a great “give back” component since 50 cents per mile is contributed to Withum’s Staff Hardship Relief Fund. All of this has evolved over the years.

What made you originally decide to join Withum 300?

I originally decided to join because Eric Wilson, “Founding Father” of Withum 300, was a good friend of mine and he was looking for people to join him and I thought, “why not?” There was no real downside to joining the group. I also realized that 300 miles in a year was realistically obtainable.  I mean, that’s less than 1 mile a day! I could definitely do that. I also knew that I didn’t need to be a “runner.” I am far from being identified as a “runner.” I walked a LOT (read: ALL) of the miles for most years.  Walking 300 miles in a year seemed very manageable, and it gave me a goal to hit- so I decided to sign up.

How have your individual running habits and goals changed since you first joined the group?

My exercise habits have changed quite a bit since 2014. And not necessarily all in a straight line to the top. It looks more like an up and down cycle:

I started out really just looking to walk and hit the 300 mile goal. But towards the end of 2014 into 2015 I was “sweating for the wedding.” I was running and way more active to be in great shape for the wedding. It also helped that we adopted Milo from Save Animal Shelter during Withum Week of Caring in 2014. Milo is an active black lab and was 3.5 years old when we adopted him, so he has really been my Withum 300 partner through all of this.

Milo has to be walked several times a day, EVERY day, so he’s really my accountability partner. When I skimp out on his walk because of the weather or temperature, we both regret it. For example, if we get a short walk in the morning, he’s usually really wound up when I get home, which means he’s probably destroyed a shoe, a couch cushion, or broke something that was on the counter.

In addition to walking Milo, I go through seasons when I’m more active at the gym on a treadmill or signing up for 5ks.  Some years I shoot to hit 300 miles, and some years I want to hit closer to 400 or 500 miles.  It all depends on the season of life I’m in.

Congratulations on expecting your first child!  How has your pregnancy impacted your exercise routine?

Thank you! I found out I was pregnant during the last semester of grad school this past Fall. I wasn’t getting in too many miles while I was in grad school since I’d go to school in the evenings after work and would work on group projects with other students on the weekends. So my mileage count for 2018 was low to begin with just because of that schedule. Adding the pregnancy to all that meant any available time I had, I was pretty much sleeping.  I didn’t have any morning sickness during my first trimester but I was EXHAUSTED. So Milo and I slept in quite a bit.

The second trimester I’ve felt great, have lots of energy and grad school is done so I have more time to work out, BUT I’m not really walking/running much since its Winter. My husband handles walking Milo in these colder months since my immune system is weaker being pregnant and risk of falling is higher. Milo isn’t the easiest dog to walk, but I still love him.

So my exercise during this pregnancy has been primarily swimming laps and doing strength training. I can’t remember the last time I have actually swam laps, but it’s been great! It’s not just a great cardio workout but also a whole body workout.  I’ve heard it’s a great workout during the third trimester to help manage swelling and other joint pain that comes along with the added baby weight.  I also feel like it’s a special bonding time for me and Baby A. It’s just us in the lane and I only hear the water as we swim through and I have all these conversations with the baby in my head during this time. It feels like meditation at times.

I think as the weather gets warmer, I’ll get back outside with Milo. Once Baby A arrives this summer, we’ll get to take some nice strolls outside as a family to get fresh air and stay active.

As a former Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader, staying fit and healthy has probably always been a priority.  Has the group helped with your fitness goals?

Definitely! Let’s be clear though, I’ve never been the skinniest or most fit girl on the squad, and I was okay with that! But being fit and healthy was definitely top of mind while on the squad. First, I needed to have the stamina to perform the routines. We’d have a 3+ hour rehearsal twice a week for about 10 months a year.  We’d start rehearsal with a 30 minute stretch and then the rest of the time would be either learning choreography or running the routines back-to-back.  It took a lot of energy and stamina to get through those rehearsals and late nights!

We didn’t have any formal workout times together, we were responsible to work out on our own to maintain our stamina and fitness levels year round. So Withum 300 kept me active when I didn’t necessarily have anything else to hold me accountable.

What is your health goal for the year?

My health goals for 2019 are really focused on maintaining my health and wellness for a healthy pregnancy and post-partum.  I’m staying as active as possible to build up my stamina and muscle strength for labor and to hopefully have a healthy recovery process.  When I think about my health goals it’s not just a focus on exercise, it’s actually more of a focus on what I’m eating and the nutrients I’m feeding myself and my baby.

Have you ever ran in a marathon?

I have never run a marathon, but I do want to.  Actually, my goal is to run two marathons in one day! (my first and my last) 😊 All kidding aside, I really would love to do it at least once. I want to prove to myself that I can do it! Every cell in my body is telling me I can’t, I’m not a “runner,” and that I shouldn’t even bother. But I want to shut up that negative self-talk, one day! Just not a goal for 2019, but maybe in 2020 we’ll see!

Do you have any running or walking stories you’d like to share?

I have a very embarrassing walking story. Most of you reading this probably don’t know that I am a recovering Pokémon Go addict.  So in the summer of 2016, I would walk around with Milo playing/catching Pokémon on my phone. Us Pokémon “trainers” were getting a bad rep. Most people called us Zombies (that was my husband’s word for me at least) because we would walk around with our heads in our phones, no real regard for where we were walking or what the no trespassing sign said.

Well one day, my husband wanted to go on a walk around Princeton after dinner with the dog so we could burn off our meal. I, of course, jumped at the chance to walk around Princeton to play Pokémon Go to catch ‘em all! I’m sure I was still playing the game as I was getting my shoes on to go for a walk.  While we’re walking around town, my husband asked why I was wearing two different shoes.  I was confused, I didn’t put on two different shoes, I also didn’t notice a difference in my shoes while we were walking. Low and behold, I did, in fact, have on two totally different shoes. One was a running sneaker, the other was one of my dance sneakers! After that point, I never gave him a hard time when he called me a Zombie.

What motivates you to exercise?

I have always been active. I have been dancing since I was 3 years old. Once I was in middle school and high school, I’d be at the dance studio for almost 40 hours a week. I just loved to dance and move my body and perform. So exercising for me never felt like a chore or something I “had” to do.  So I try to maintain that attitude. When I think of working out or exercising, I want it to be fun, not something that I have to force myself to do. Changing our mindset and the language that we use can be a very powerful tool.  Don’t think “I have to go to the gym/workout” instead say “I get to go to the gym/workout.” Our minds and words are more powerful than you think.

Do you have an exercise routine?

I don’t really have a routine, but I definitely want to develop one. Making exercise a part of my daily routine is a goal for 2019. Even if that’s stretching before bed or taking time to meditate/practice yoga to start my day off on the right foot. Routines/habits are hard to break, so I want to develop healthy routines that will stick with me into Parenthood.

Where do you run or walk?

I walk/run around my neighborhood with Milo primarily. We have a “normal” route we take. I know exactly where he likes to sniff, do his business, and which streets to avoid because they usually have a dog in the yard at the same time we’re walking by.

If I’m not walking outside, I’ll head to Life Time Fitness in Princeton to get on the treadmill before I do some strength training. Or some days you might find me in the Carnegie Center gym near the Princeton office.

You often promote your healthy eating habits.  What can you tell us about that?

Oh man, this changed my life, and that’s not me being dramatic. In Fall of 2017, I was diagnosed with a skin blistering autoimmune disease called Bullous Pemphigoid. You’ve probably never heard of it.  Many of my doctors never saw anything like it, so it went undiagnosed for several months.  The primary treatment for the disease is steroids. Some individuals with this disease are on a low dose of steroids for their entire lives. I refused to accept that as my only treatment option.

I was fortunate enough to have a family friend who introduced me to the world of plant based eating. A plant based diet is exactly what it sounds like, you eat primarily plants, fruits, veggies, beans, nuts and minimally processed foods.  I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it so I changed my diet to be primarily plant based. It isn’t just a “fad” diet, it’s been a lifestyle change. I’m allowing food to be my medicine. By changing my diet, I’ve been able to heal my body. I no longer show any symptoms of my disease. And I’ve gotten off all my medications.  It really has changed my life and my family’s life. My husband is also plant based. I plan on raising my children on a plant based diet as well.

Thank you, Michelle, for sharing your story!

In the month of February, the Withum 300 group collectively completed over 4,000 miles, bringing their annual total to close to 9,000 miles!  As a result, over $4,000 is being donated to Withum’s Staff Hardship Relief Fund.  Great job to our runners!

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