Today, Canada’s Filsan Abdiaman is an ultrarunner and fitness professional at a women-only gym. But before 2013, fitness simply wasn’t a part of her life and she’d barely even used her gym membership. Then a difficult breakup sent her world crashing down and she had a choice: continue along the unhealthy path that was harming her physical and mental wellbeing or take steps to reclaim her life. She chose the latter and now she’s thriving—and using her role as an ambassador for Reebok’s Be More Human campaign (about celebrating women who are transforming themselves and the world around them) to spread her message of hope. Here’s her story.
A bad breakup threw Filsan’s mental and physical health off-kilter
When a significant romantic relationship imploded at the end of 2012, Filsan was devastated. Having just finished university, she chose to run away to Kenya and work for a non-profit organization. “I thought working in Kenya might distract me, but I didn’t enjoy it,” she says. “I was in an office and wasn’t active.” That’s when the depression and anxiety started to creep up, and she began to doubt herself constantly and think she wasn’t good enough. “Going out with friends became difficult,” she says. “I would seclude myself. I also had low self-esteem and body-image issues and the depression magnified them. I started to feel uncomfortable in my own body and I would resort to emotional eating, which turned into binge eating.”
Then some medical news brought her needs into focus
“My ‘aha’ moment was when I had a checkup at the doctor’s,” Filsan says. As a result of her binge eating and inactive lifestyle, she had gained weight and her doctor revealed that she also had high cholesterol and was pre-diabetic—in her mid-20s. “That was a turning point. It woke me up and made me realize that I had to take control of my life and be more caring and loving towards myself.”
She decided to overhaul her life
First, Filsan returned to Canada to confront the life she had run away from. Then, she started working with a personal trainer to help her lose some of the weight she had gained due to emotional eating. She also began running and fell in love with the sport.
Running became Filsan’s magic pill
The more she ran, the more she enjoyed it—but it wasn’t just about the physical benefits. “Running gave me mental space to heal and learn more about my body and my strengths and weaknesses,” she says. “Every time I went for a run, I would give myself little challenges—say, to run between a lamppost and a tree. Being able to run just that distance made me see some of the barriers I created for myself and that I could easily overcome them.” Because she found herself achieving each of the small goals that she set, she slowly built up her self-confidence and realized she was capable of more than she ever knew.
Like anyone else, she still has setbacks
When Filsan recently moved to Vancouver and had no friends and family nearby, she returned to the solace of food. But this time, she had running to help her cope. Every time she would binge eat, she’d go for a run the next day and it helped her put her problems back into perspective. “I felt like a new person at the end of each run,” she says. Due to her newfound coping mechanism, she was able to prevent her binge eating from spiraling out of control and hijacking her health once again.
Now, she tries to give back to other women
Not only does Filsan feel proud to train women on a daily basis and help them reach their goals, but she also started Project Love Run, a women-only run-brunch that “offers women a safe space to run, stay active and eat healthy as they discuss self-love and self-care,” she says. The project was inspired by her own journey, because she knows that many women struggle with body image and low self-esteem and they need to see role models who have also suffered so that they know they aren’t alone.
That’s why she thinks Reebok’s Be More Human campaign is so important, because it showcases women of different ethnicities and backgrounds who have persevered and pushed past the obstacles that could have held them back. “It terrified me to come out publicly and share my personal story, but at the same time, I thought, ‘If it helps someone to own their truth and be their best self, then I’m going to do it,’” she says. “Reebok gave me the platform to reach out to other women and show that anyone can unlock their potential through fitness.”