The first STRONG Fitness Magazine STRONGCAMP has come and gone and this post is well overdue. The weekend proved to be unlike anything I was expecting and one I will never forget.


Before getting into the details of the weekend I need to go into a little history. When I decided to start STRONG, I wanted to make it more than just another fitness magazine. I wanted to bring together a group of like minded, driven women, a community if you will. I wanted to build the entire concept in a manner that has never really been done before. I have a few ideas on how and what we are going to do besides the magazine and the first one out of the gate was the Bootcamp format which we have titled STRONGCAMP.


It occurred to me STRONGCAMPS would be a good way to reach out and connect on a deeper level. Any time I spend a weekend on a course or seminar, I always find I’d make some pretty good friendships. Add some gruelling exercises, make it informative and add awesome pics of the process and I knew we had a kick-ass formula for a successful camp.
I had spoken with Kirstyn Brown, STRONG’s Editor in Chief about this concept / vision from the very beginning.


So I prepared myself for our first STRONGCAMP in Phoenix. At least that’s what I had thought. Nothing could have prepared me for the amount and depth of passion and intimacy that was to come.


I went down a couple of days early. This afforded me the opportunity to meet some of the ‘Campers’ beforehand. There were a couple of people that didn’t like the way they were looking coming into the shoots. And although everyone liked their pictures, some were still a bit uncomfortable about their bodies.


After I finished shooting with the last model on Friday, we made our way to the Meet and Greet. It was a casual diner for all those attending the STRONGCAMP. I remember being surprised at the familiarity of everyone.  You would have never guessed most of these women had never met before that night. In fact many flew in from out of town to attend the diner.


A bunch of tank tops were prepared as gifts for everyone attending. We thought it would be a good idea to give them out the night before for those interested in wearing them the next day. Along with the tank tops, Jessie prepared a loot bag of goodies from a bunch of companies looking to contribute to the weekend. If you’re interested in owning a STRONG Fitness Magazine tank top you can buy them here.


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The next morning, to my amazing surprise, everyone wore their tank tops. It felt like they wanted to wear them, they wanted to represent, they felt proud to be part of the weekend. I could tell we were off to a great start.


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Jessie started everyone off with warm up exercises that were insane. I know if I was participating it would have destroyed me. After a short break, everyone moved on to a circuit series which was both inside and outside of the gym. It included ropes, tires, sleds, weights… you name it. As everyone was pushing through the circuit I was running around shooting like crazy.


Once the circuit was finished, everyone sat down to do some stretching and cooling off. It was at this time, everyone gathered in a circle. The questions were along the lines of, Why are you here, what’s your story about nutrition and what does STRONG mean to you? Before they began speaking, I stepped out to get back to messages. I assumed there wouldn’t be much worth shooting with a bunch of women sitting in a circle. I came back a few minutes later to find people talking of their lives in the most heartfelt manners. They were talking about sickness, deaths, disorders… You name it. They were sharing on a level I would never had imagined. And there were tears. Lots of tears.


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I grabbed a bunch of tissues to pass out and made sure to keep a bunch in my pocket for personal use. I really was caught off guard by the amount of emotion everyone was experiencing – Even myself!
The talk went over by an hour. No one wanted to stop. It was so intense and therapeutic. I’m pretty sure if we didn’t jump in, everyone would have happily skipped lunch.

During an amazing outdoor healthy lunch, I had a few people come up and tell me this is the best camp they have ever attended. One of the girls that was uncomfortable about her physique during the show was now over it and couldn’t wait to post and share her photos! A few others admitted if the camp ended here, they would have gone home happy. I really couldn’t believe the passion these women have. I was both honoured and humbled by it.
For many participants, this STRONGCAMP was about an opportunity to shoot with me, the rest was gravy… Or so they thought. By afternoon of the first day, everyone had all but forgotten about their shoot. It became quite secondary.
We went back to the gym after lunch and spend the rest of the day talking about techniques for working out and proper muscle isolation.


We took a couple of quick pics of everyone at the end of the first day.
Later that evening, we all met for a lovely healthy diner. I tried my first kale drink. I think it was called a Kale-aid. But I digress. We took up two big tables and everyone was sharing stories and getting better acquainted.  It was like everyone was already lifelong friends. What an incredible day.


The next morning we all met to hike a mountain. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous about this. I’m 45 years old and not in the best shape. Certainly not in the shape many of these women were. Add to that, I had camera gear to carry with a big backpack. While they were hiking up-hill, I would run past everyone to get to the front of the line to get pics as everyone walked past. I did this at least three times. I also did this in the Arizona sun.
Needless to say I was the last one to the top. Everyone was laughing at me and my back was completely drenched from the back pack. I also forgot to pack a water! I was a disastrous mess. After everyone caught their breath and took some pics at the top, we began our descent and trek over to Tiffany Bachus’ house for the afternoon of nutrition talks and yoga. Two things I knew I could survive. Tiffany was gracious enough to offer her beautiful back yard. I say beautiful as an understatement.
Everyone snacked and the nutrition talks began with both Jessie and Tiffany.  (I should mention Tiffany is a certified nutritionist). I was happy about this as there was only so much I could shoot here. This gave me the opportunity to rest a bit from the earlier hike and drink lots of water.
Once the nutrition and diet talks ended, we moved to the other side of the yard where the shade was. The women stood in a circle facing inwards and took turns announcing their greatest fears and or stresses would proceed to laugh at them along with everyone else. Before we even got to the end, everyone realized how just how insignificant and meaningless the stresses were. I couldn’t help laughing myself and found the entire experience amazing.


This set the stage for Yoga. Jessie’s friend Jessamyn Parker agreed to lead the group while Jessie walked around adjusting and correcting form. Her voice was hypnotically soothing. I found myself completely relaxed just being close. I can’t even imagine how everyone else was feeling.  At the end of the session, everyone was laying on their back in Shavasana . This was basically everyone laying flat on their backs with their eyes closed relaxing. Jessie and Jessamyn would walk around and help the process by pushing down on shoulders, massaging hands etc. All the while the most relaxing music playing in the background. The weather was beautiful, there was a slight comforting breeze, the birds were chirping… It was almost surreal how comfortable it was.


As Jessie and Jessamyn sat in the center of the circle holding hands, they invited everyone to open their eyes and sit up. I don’t know why and I certainly can’t explain it but most started crying at this point. Even I was surprised at my own feeling having only been an observer of the process. Perhaps it was because it was the realization that this would be the finale of the STRONGCAMP, or maybe because it was simply that beautiful an experience. I’m not sure.


Jessie Hilgenberg STRONG Bootcamp


What I do know is I have an amazing group working with me, and we have started more than just a magazine, we have begun a movement.


If you’ve been sitting on the fence about attending a STRONGCAMP, it’s time to get off and join. You’ll be happy you did. You can get more information on dates and cities at STRONG-CAMP.COM
To all my friends from the camp. I give you all the biggest hug imaginable.
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