Together We Thrive Community Celebration: Brianne Fitzgerald & Kristen Groeniger

In 2021, the City of Lebanon launched Together We Thrive, a community wellness campaign that reimagines the idea of health and wellness to create a vibrant community through all aspects of healthy living. This year, we are enhancing Together We Thrive with community celebrations to highlight the stories of your neighbors and friends who prioritize health and wellness every day.

This month’s Community Celebration highlights two incredible women who inspire and motivate each other to achieve their fitness goals: Bri and Kristen. Bri and Kristen’s workout motivation is contagious, inspiring other gym members who have witnessed this dynamic duo in the weight room. They rely on each other to stay accountable, encourage each other to push harder in their workouts and share laughs during their early mornings at the gym. Continue reading Bri and Kristen’s Celebration to learn more about their goals, workout routine and how having a partner can make working out fun!

Q: How did you get started in your fitness and wellness journey?
Bri: I started about 10 years ago, very slowly. I have always been very uncomfortable in my own skin and struggled with my eating issues. I have a more muscular/athletic build and skinny was what I was striving for. After I had my two girls, health and wellness, both physically and mentally, were much more important me. I started running, which changed my body. I plateaued with running and started lifting with a trainer, Monica, through the Y. I was very self-conscious thinking people were judging me for my routine. I started coming on my own without a trainer on my “off days,” using the machines. I then started to become more comfortable working out with free weights. My sister-in-law, Kristen, and I would pass each other and discuss our routines which then escalated into working out together.  

Kristen: I got started in my fitness and wellness journey around five years ago by using at-home exercise DVDs when my daughter was little. I would watch them and exercise in my basement early in the morning before she and my husband woke up. 

Q: What were your goals when you first started? How did you create those goals? And how have they changed as you have progressed in your health journey?
Kristen: Before I got pregnant, I threw out my back and spent many months at doctor’s offices and physical therapy appointments. After my daughter was born, I was focused on her and did not think about my own health and wellness. As she grew and got bigger, I told myself that I needed to get stronger so that I could pick up my baby without fear of throwing my back out again. That was when my mindset shift happened. I no longer wanted to exercise to lose weight. My one and only goal, seriously, was to be able to pick up my baby and not hurt myself. I wanted to be strong, not skinny. That is when I started my at-home workout DVDs and began lifting very light weights in my basement.  

After a short time, I began to notice something…I was getting stronger! Even if it was only slightly stronger and no one noticed but me, I was proud of myself. 

At that point, I decided I wanted to go to a gym to use heavier weights with the added benefit of being able to put my daughter in child watch where she was safe, and I could exercise. I hired a personal trainer at the YMCA CSC, and he gave me advice that changed my life. He gave me pointers on my nutrition and set up a lifting routine for me to do when I came in to workout so that I didn’t feel so lost in the gym.  

It was at this point in my journey that I learned something… If I focused on getting stronger and how exercising made me feel, that day, that moment, that I could lose weight without even trying. Exercising became something that I couldn’t do without. It helped me, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. As long as I remained focused on strength, and how I felt after each workout, I lost weight, got stronger and felt great!  

Bri: My goal when I first started was to get “skinny.” I tried to reach those goals through exercise and restricting calories. Now I want to be strong, both physically and mentally. Skinny is not the goal; muscle definition and power are my goals now.  

Q: What is your typical fitness routine?
Bri: I move my body every day, seven days a week. I lift weights five days a week, working different muscle groups. I do two days of cardio/running, and if I don’t feel like working out, I still get up and stretch for thirty minutes. My body wants to move and I’m extremely active with fun outside of the gym like riding a bike, hiking and activities my kids can do with me.

Kristen: I try to get to the gym for strength training six days a week. I go very early in the morning so that I can get my workout in before family and work obligations take my time and attention.  

Q: How does having a workout partner help you?
Kristen: Having a partner helps so much! There are days that I don’t feel like working out and knowing someone is there waiting on me helps to get me out of bed. Then, once I am there, we talk and laugh, and I’m so grateful that I went! We encourage each other, push one another and have a great time. 

Bri: It holds me accountable, to show up and to push myself. I’m a very competitive person. If she does something or lifts heavier than I do, I will push myself. And I think that goes for her too.

Q: You two are in the free weight room crushing it with mostly other guys, which would deter some women. Did either of you feel weight room anxiety when you first started? How did you claim your space in the weight room? What advice do you have for other women who would like to start lifting weights, but are experiencing weight room anxiety?
Bri: Absolutely - I didn’t want to make a mistake and felt like people were judging me for being “weak.” Now, I realize we are all doing the same thing. I’m not judging them, and they are not judging me. We are rooting for each other.

I kept consistent with coming, interacting with others, and now I have a “gym family,” as I call it. Just know that no one is judging you. People are too concerned that they themselves are being judged. Keep consistent and talk to others around you, whether it’s just saying hi or asking how their day is. We have an extremely friendly morning crew at 5 am and love new faces.

Kristen: No, I never felt anxiety or intimidation. For me, in the very beginning, I just didn’t know what to do. Having a personal trainer helped me know what to do in the weight room and how to do it.  

Honestly, the men are not intimidating to me at all. Bri and I have made so many friends at the gym that workout at the same time we are there. We have a wonderful community of like-minded people, men and women, that encourage each other and help each other throughout each workout. 

Q: Are there certain stereotypes that you hope to break down?
Kristen: I want to show both men and women that women can do more in the gym than cardio. We can lift and hold our own in the weight room. 

Bri: I would like to say yes, but honestly the Y has created a safe atmosphere where everyone is welcomed. The morning staff are friendly and willing to help with any questions you may have. Deanna, the Fitness Coordinator and a personal trainer at the Y, is one reason I don’t miss. She gives me a hard time in a friendly way if I miss, but I love that. It makes me want to show up every day and I know if I have a question, she is more than willing to help. Her music choices are definitely my favorite.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to start a health and wellness journey – what would it be?
Bri: Just start. Be consistent and take baby steps. Start with walking on the treadmill or using the elliptical. Then, advance as you become more comfortable. Set goals for yourself, specifically daily/weekly obtainable goals, such as:

  1. I’m going to the gym for thirty minutes today.
  2. I’m going to the gym three times this week.
  3. I'm going to make healthy eating choices today.

Your daily/weekly obtainable goals will eventually progress, and the results will follow.

Kristen: I don’t know if I can give one piece of advice. But I would tell anyone who is just starting out to start small. Give yourself a lot of grace. Listen to your body. Don’t look at where someone else is on their journey and get discouraged with your own. Talk to those people. Learn from them. Curate a social media feed that encourages you, not makes you feel less than or ashamed. Surround yourself with people that inspire you. Learn as much as you can about exercise, nutrition (not diets), sleep and mental health. Let your wellness journey come from a place of love for yourself and your body, not from hate. Hate is not sustainable. Focus on today, do what you can, keep trying and keep learning. 

Do you know someone who has a great story for a Together We Thrive community celebration? Reach out to us! Please contact Rebecca Nelson at or 513-228-3110.