When Sasha Exeter laces up for a workout session, she isn't just stepping into a pair of running shoes — she's tapping into her power.
Speaking with Yahoo Canada, the Toronto-based influencer shared as she embraces her 43rd year of life, she's on a mission to become the fastest, fittest and strongest version of herself.
"I want to be the healthiest and fittest person to keep up with [my daughter] Maxwell, and to inspire her because I believe it's important to lead by example for the little ones," Exeter said.
"I don't have any injuries plaguing me as I did in the past, I don't have my fibroids anymore. I'm in a situation where I can manage my fibromyalgia — a chronic pain disorder — quite well through movement and diet. So, this is my shot."
A former athlete-turned-entrepreneur and creative director of her brand, Exeter explained her current partnership with On — a sustainable, athletic shoe and performance Swiss sportswear company — is part and parcel of her evolution's next phase.
"This partnership is a big deal for me," she said. "As a former athlete, I was looking for a true brand partner for my next journey of active and fitness storytelling that really matched who I am and my values and brand ethos."
Exeter added while it may sound frivolous, having workout clothes that make her feel good are a great motivator.
"As a woman, it's important to be in apparel that makes us feel supported and confident when we're moving," she said.
"When I [wear] On apparel, I feel like Superwoman. Like I've put on my kick-ass armour and I'm ready to take over the world."
It's important to tell all the stories
Authenticity is a big part of Exeter's brand identity. She doesn't hold back from being candid about her life.
"I can't pretend to be OK," she said. "The idea of putting on a facade is just exhausting."
As women, we are very tough on ourselves... We feel that we are not enough, or doing enough, or we compare our lives to other people.
Exeter — a fierce advocate for women's health — often uses her platform to speak up about miscarriage, mental health, being a single parent, racism and health care gaslighting.
"It's important to tell all the stories," she said. "As women, we are very tough on ourselves. ... It's my responsibility to actually show the other side and find solidarity for myself too."
Moving forward after 'lowest of lows'
In 2001, while in university, Exeter suffered from a rare kidney disorder. After graduation, she entered the corporate world but became sick again in 2009, eventually becoming diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Exeter spent the better part of a year in and out of the hospital, and a year after that on bedrest at her parents' home. At the time, she could barely walk a few feet, which she said was terrifying given her life revolved around movement.
"I was on a lot of medication. It took me about two and a half years to pull myself out of that," she said.
To get off the pharmaceutical drugs she had relied on for years, Exeter took a holistic approach. She turned to cannabis and found a naturopath to combat her illnesses through nutrition. She explored osteopathy, chiropractic care and acupuncture, even embracing Tai Chi to reconnect with her body's movement.
Around this time, Exeter came to understand that movement can be medicine; the more she stayed still, the worse her pain became.
"I needed to take [my movement] another step further, but what could that be? I was too insecure to go to the gym. I was 35 pounds heavier and didn't want anyone in my hometown to recognize me because I was a well-known athlete growing up," she said.
This is how Exeter turned to running, eventually helping her down the road to recovery.
"Somehow at my lowest of lows, I was able to find a pathway forward," she said.
Running made her who she is today
Exeter was never a fan of running. However, she decided to put her mind to it.
"When people ask how I get motivated to start a fitness journey or continuously stay on the journey, it's setting realistic goals for yourself," she said, adding it could mean a goal of running for one minute or for 30 minutes.
"It's waking up every day and working with what you have. ... Running was the one thing I could do anywhere at any time. I could wake up and do it before my neighbours saw me. The sport requires nothing but a pair of running shoes."
She recalled her first post-illness run around the block to be gruelling and she had to stop 20 times. Still, something happened in her body and mind.
"It was enough that it intrigued me to get up and do it again the next day, and the next day and the next day," she said.
After two weeks, although still in pain, Exeter began to feel stronger at the end of each run. She was stopping less and noticed the benefits were both physical and mental.
"Those round-the-block runs served as a strategic retreat, like how the gym is for me now," she said. "A time where I can just shut down and focus on my breath and body and keep going."
Exeter shared that running helped her go from a high-stress situation of being unwell, unsure of her future and dealing with insurance companies for long-term disability to where she is now.
"I credit running to so much of who I am today. If I didn't have running, I wouldn't have Maxwell because [that's how] I met her father, who is a running coach," Exeter said.
Running gave Exeter the confidence to be vulnerable and open about her struggles. After completing a race in 2013 in San Francisco while still working through her health hurdles, she finally spoke out about her fibromyalgia.
After opening up to the public about her story, her website crashed.
"The feedback was so overwhelming, it changed the trajectory of my storytelling," she said. "I think the driving force for me and the motivation as to why I'm still doing this job is to inspire other people, especially women."
'We can do hard things'
Exeter regularly posts her workouts on social media, showing how movement helps manage her health. She even shares on days when she has to dig deep to work through her pain to encourage others to face their hurdles.
"Sometimes you need a little help or someone to get you there, but [that strength] is in all of us," she said.
Why I'm still doing this job is to inspire other people, especially women.
Exeter said she believes the encompassing benefit of being able to dig deep in moments of struggle is you can draw on that strength when you need it at other times.
"It doesn't only apply to the gym or a run, but to other difficult parts of your life or challenges that you're facing," she said. "It tells us we can do hard things."
As a full-time single mother managing her empire, Exeter understands this well. She said the physical and mental load of "juggling parenting alongside a non-traditional career with a lot of travel can be quite intense and anxiety-inducing."
This is why she prioritizes carving out time for self-care in the gym, but finding that space is not always easy. It's a conversation she said comes up a lot in her DMs.
"I think it's difficult for women, especially moms, to push past the idea of guilt," she said. "We are the epicentre of the home and the ones that make everything move. We're always thinking and caring for others and not putting ourselves first.
"Making sure we get adequate sleep, eat well, move our bodies and do things to keep our minds healthy helps the people around us."
Nobody has everything together
Parents or otherwise, we can all borrow from Exeter's methods for ensuring some me time.
"Understand the time of day you feel the most motivated and have the most energy," she said. "For me, the end of the day is not it. So I try to put myself in a situation where I'm able to take out time at the beginning of the day."
Another trick that's worked well for Exeter is treating workouts and self-care as normal appointments or meetings in an attempt to honour time for yourself.
"If you're a mom or have a busy working career, [several] things can sidetrack you in the day and make you miss out on the time you were [hoping] to move," she said. "So I block it in my calendar, and just like a meeting, I'm not going to cancel it unless there's an emergency.
"The biggest key is to do what you love. Hiking isn't for everyone. Neither is yoga. But if you find something you love and enjoy, you're going to continue doing it."
Exeter emphasizes that everything won't always go to plan, and that's OK — it's part of setting goals.
"I never want to give the illusion that I have everything together because nobody really does," she said.
"I definitely couldn't do it alone. As crazy as it gets, I wouldn't change anything. I don't want to get emotional, but I would not change it for the world."