Falling In Love with a Canadian

Since you'll be seeing my fiance, Mark Novak, quite a bit here on the blog, I figured I'd give you some insight into our relationship: how we met, when we knew we wanted to spend our lives together, our engagement story, starting a business together -- all the things!

I LOVE, LOVE. I love talking about relationships, and hearing about other people's love stories. Feel free to comment below and share your love story so we can get all. the. feels. :)

HOW WE MET: From 'liking' photos to liking him

Let's rewind to September 2015. I had just left my full-time job in advertising in order to pursue my solo career as a personal trainer, online fitness coach, etc. It was a terrifying, yet exciting decision - and one that I'm still living out the results of my dream to this day.

At the time, I was doing all the research I could on how to grow my biz, become a better coach and just overall take over the world (mwahah). So one day, I was looking up something fitness related and came across Elliott Hulse, the owner of Strength Camp Gym (where Mark worked, and where I would soon become an intern/full-time employee). As with anyone who find's Elliott's videos, I binge watched dozens of them; I literally think there was a 3-day period where I just sat in my room and watched his videos ha!

It was then that I found one of their Train videos (a video series of the guys on the staff working out/hanging out together). My initial thoughts:

1. Why is everyone at this gym so attractive, funny and smart?

Ironically (or not, since I don't believe in coincidences), I stumbled upon Elliott's Facebook page, where he was promoting an upcoming event in Tampa - just two short hours from my house in Orlando. It was called the NonJob Summit, and it was for small business entrepreneurs who were interested in growing their business, and turning passion into profits.

I immediately called my friend Jen and said, "WE HAVE TO GO."

Ironically, again, I found an envelope I saved from one of my one-time personal training clients with exactly enough money to attend the summit. #GodWink

The seminar was invaluable. I met a bunch of amazing people, including Elliott. We linked up later for lunch which is how I got the internship and eventually the job. But for the sake of this blog post (relationship-related)... this is also the first time I met Mark.

I had followed him and all the other guys on Instagram immediately after finding them on YouTube - they were all super charming, motivating, smart, professional and people I wanted to associate with in my industry.

But something was special about Mark...

And if you've ever seen Mark's Instagram, you know exactly what I mean.

He's the most hilarious, genuine guy there is - and that was very obvious through his Instagram. (When I met him in person briefly, this just reassured me he was exactly the same in real life, so for those of you who've only met him on YouTube or IG, he's even better in person. <3)

I remember calling my friend Jen again as we reflected on the NonJob summit (she was just as obsessed/excited about Strength Camp as I was at the time) and said,

"I'm going to marry this guy (Mark) some day."

... I was half joking, but apparently part of my heart knew I was also very serious. ;)

I Fell In Love with My Future Husband at Work

As I mentioned above, I got an internship with Strength Camp after meeting all the guys and being invited to lunch by Elliott.

The internship began in January 2015, and was a 3-month, unpaid internship. I pretty much had to uproot my life for this venture -- move all my belongings to St. Pete, find a place and a roommate, work for free while running my biz. It was a trying time, to say the least (I will talk about this at a later time).

And pretty much everyone who works at Strength Camp has started in this way, which reassured me that: 1. there is actual hope to get a job here, should I want it and 2. It allowed us to bond very quickly.

While I was just two hours away from home, Mark made the same trip, all the way from Canada a year before. There were points where he literally lived in his van, lived at the gym, did a bunch of manly rugged things that I'm not interested in whatsoever... ha!

But needless to say, we all found comfort in each other since we were all away from home. Everyone who comes to Strength Camp quickly bonds for this reason, plus many others - it truly is like a big family there (and one that I was so blessed to be a part of).

So I was a coaching intern from January-March 2016. This meant some mornings I would coach with our Head Coach, Shannon. Other nights, I would work with Mark.

While I was interning, there was nothing going on between Mark and I (or so we thought). My friend Josh and I actually met up with him while he was on date once. LOL.

But we would spend hours after I'd coach with him at night having deep conversations about life, family, love, traveling, books, all the things.

When you work at Strength Camp, this isn't so out-of-the-ordinary, because everyone at SC is super deep and intellectual, which is part of the reason I love it so much.

So I never really thought anything of it... or so I thought.

So when did it all begin?

In my mind: In a strange way, I had always been super protective (I think that's the right word?) of Mark. I remember one time (said girl) was acting cray, and I immediately felt a sense of 'wtf are you doing with her then? You are so much better than that.' And then the night of the (said date), I felt a weird little pang of jealousy. I remember I was like 'woaaaah. Why are these feelings coming up? Why do I even care? I literally came here knowing I was going on a date with him and another girl.' So, yeah. Feelings of protectiveness or jealousy: huge sign to me there may be something more there than just a really good friendship.

In his mind: Mark had a friend come to town to visit, and he invited me along to hang out with his friend, along with a few others at the gym. We spent a week or so going on random adventures with his friend.. and I'm pretty sure his friend said something about me (nothing bad!) that sparked a similar pang of jealousy in him. He had the same feeling: why do I feel like this?

Fast forward to Elliott's Grounding Camp.

It's a very intense weekend where you stay at a cabin in the middle of the woods with no Internet access, and do various meditations guided by instructors. It's a very introspective, transformative weekend.

By day 3, we were toasted. Brains fried. Emotions fried.

So, Mark asked if I wanted to go on a walk with him during lunch.

But this walk wasn't like any other walk:

In true caveman-Mark style, we were barefoot, walking for what seemed like miles through dirt paths, under barbed wire fences, through bushes that nearly tore my shorts in half.

Eventually, we came across a tree that looked like the Tree of Life. Naturally, we decide to climb it - and ended up spending hours overlooking the forest we'd just spent hours rummaging through.

We descended from the tree, did our last partner meditation of the weekend together, came back to the gym and spent another 5 hours talking out back on the deck. At this point, it was 3 a.m. and I had to coach at 6 a.m. the next day. When in love, right?

These late-night chats continued for a week before he finally kissed me.

A week later, he told me he loved me.

And from that day forward, we spent almost every waking minute: working, hanging out, reading, adventuring, training, doing all things imaginable together.

Oh, and it's worth mentioning our first 'official' date together was paddle boarding.

I really knew he was the one when he picked up snacks for me on the way to our first date: kombucha, berries and Dunkin Donuts coffee - all my favorite things. I would've said "I Do" right then ;)

TAKING TRIPS & Moving in Together

Once I got hired on as an employee at Strength Camp (and started dating Mark), it became very apparent to me that I had no plans to go back to Orlando any time soon.

This meant finding a permanent place in St. Pete.

At the time, he was living with a roommate, as was I.

However, we both wanted our own individual places (but let's be real, the rent in St. Pete is out the wazoo), so after a few months of dating, he asked me to move in with him & his roommate. Why? Because we were making our first trip up to Canada, where I'd meet his family for the first time!, and then we'd find a place together when we got back.

For the length of a few months, we took a bunch of trips together:

North Carolina for his weightlifting competition (our first road trip together!)

Canada so I could meet his family (which has turned into multiple trips visiting his cottage in Bala, his parent's place in Brantford, and where he grew up in Toronto)

Mark &amp; I at his family's cottage in Bala, Ontario

Mark & I at his family's cottage in Bala, Ontario

My first time visiting Downtown Toronto

My first time visiting Downtown Toronto

Orlando so he could spend Thanksgiving with my family

And lots more!

When we returned from most of our travels, we subleased a cute little apartment by the beach, thanks to our friend, Olga.

When she came back from out of the country, we were again on the hunt for a new place together.

Except this time, our relationship changed in a way we would've never anticipated...

In Part 2, I'll talk about how we were forced - pretty quickly - to take an honest assessment of our relationship, and how we ultimately got engaged!

Sorry for the cliffhanger, but this post was too long already. Part 2 is where it gets real juicy, though ;)

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