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Meet Cheryl Ilov

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cheryl Ilov.

Cheryl, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am originally from a small steel town in Western Pennsylvania. Immediately after graduating college I moved to Denver to seek my fame and fortune. Or at least to ski the Rocky Mountains. After enjoying a rewarding career as a respiratory therapist, I decided to further my education and pursue a career as a physical therapist.

It was not a smooth or easy path. Along the way, I was sidelined by a devastating injury that changed my life. In a few short months, I was transformed from a healthy, active, vibrant young woman to a chronic pain patient. For two and a half years I lived the nightmare of constant, debilitating pain. Instead of going to work, ballet class, and Pilates, I went to multiple doctor, physical therapy, and massage therapy appointments. I took all of the pain pills, anti-inflammatories, and muscle relaxers that were prescribed to me. I did all of the exercises and stretches the physical therapists taught me. Instead of getting better, I continued to get worse. I finally hit rock bottom when one of my doctors told me to start applying for disability because I was going to need it. She also told me to forget about physical therapy school. Her exact words were, “Even if you were physically able to do the work, which you aren’t, you’re too old to go back to school.” I was thirty-six at the time.

That did it. She took away my hope, shattered my dreams, and destroyed my spirit. Or at least, she tried to. Instead, she lit a fire in me and I found my fighting spirit. I knew in my heart that this was not the life I wanted to live. I fired my entire medical team, stopped taking the medications, started listening to my body, and learned how to heal myself. Not only did I recover, but I also graduated with my Master’s Degree in physical therapy from Colorado University just three months shy of my fortieth birthday. Apparently, I wasn’t too old.

Two and a half years after graduation, I opened up my own small PT practice specializing in Pilates-based rehabilitation and conditioning, became a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, and spent eighteen years helping hundreds of people recover from chronic pain, injuries, discover the power to heal themselves and enjoy the life they deserve–a pain free life full of vibrant health and vitality.

Along the way, I also discovered an incredible martial art called Ninpo Tai Jutsu, the Art of the Ninja. I like to say that I did not go looking for the art. The art came looking for me. My teacher, Marc, was my acupuncturist long before he became my Sensei. The first time he saw my dancer’s legs, he told me that with my legs and his coaching, he could teach me how to kill with them. I couldn’t believe that anyone would ever think like that, let alone say it out loud. And he wouldn’t stop nagging me about taking martial arts classes with him.

It took him three years, but I finally agreed to take some classes, even though I knew I would hate it. I also knew I needed some self-defense techniques. Because just a few months before I met Marc, I had a traumatic experience where my voice was silenced and my power was taken away from me. Three years later I was still struggling with the symptoms of PTSD. So, I registered for one month of classes, thinking I would take a few classes, learn a few skills, and quit.

But something funny happened along the way. I didn’t hate it. I fell in love with the art, I fell in love with the training, and I fell in love with the sense of strength and empowerment I got from training. Ten years later I became Marc’s first female black belt. In twenty years of teaching, he had never had a woman achieve such a high rank. I was fifty-seven years young at the time.

In July of 2016, I published my first book, “Forever Fit and Flexible: Feeling Fabulous at Fifty and Beyond.” The book busts the many myths of aging and fitness. Instead, it focuses on mindset, silencing the nay-sayers, listening to yourself, finding your ability to heal yourself and be able to engage in every activity you love to do at every stage of life. I also included a program of movement explorations based on the principles of dance, Pilates, Feldenkrais, and martial arts.

In May of 2017, I closed my practice to embark on a new career as a motivational speaker, teacher, and writer. I also host a podcast “The FemiNinja Project,” which is about personal empowerment and how to unleash it. My message is one of strength, recovery, and empowerment. I believe that everyone can be fit, healthy, and vibrant, no matter what their age. I know that it is possible to recover from terrible injuries, illness, and trauma. I also believe that there is a black belt in each and every one of us, just waiting to be discovered. I share many of the secrets of the ninja in my presentations to help my audiences discover that power. I also demonstrate how they can use these principles as valuable life skills which can be applied to every aspect of their lives. I also know that it is possible to look like a woman, act like a lady, move like a ninja, and think like a warrior. It certainly makes life more interesting, and a whole lot more fun!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Absolutely not! When I was five years old, I almost fell off a roller coaster at our local amusement park. The roller coaster had a lot of twists and turns, and a series of bumps at the end of the ride, each bump bigger than the other. Fortunately, I was in a car with my older sister. When we hit the first bump, I was so small and light that I flew out of the car between my sister and the safety bar. When she tried to grab me to pull me back in, the only thing she got a hold of was the waistband of my underpants. We hit the next bump, with me flying even higher in the air and landing halfway out of the car. I could see the grownups screaming below me, including my mother, who was seven months pregnant at the time. Bless her heart, she was running alongside the track with her arms outstretched as if to catch me if I fell.

Obviously, it all worked out. But life is a lot like that roller coaster ride, because there are always a lot of twists and turns, and unexpected bumps in the road. Sometimes you’re having a great time, and the next time your flying by the seat of your pants. Other times you just hanging on by a thread. Sometimes you feel like you can’t hang on, and you’re going over the edge. That’s when you hope that there is someone who can catch you if you fall.

Most of my struggles during my personal and professional journey were when I felt like I did not have the support or the help that I needed. Especially when I was hurt or suffering in silence, that’s when the struggles became unbearable. On the other hand, those were the times that I was able to look deep inside myself and find the tools that were there to help me help myself. And to ask for help when I needed it.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
My current business is an integration of my professional experience and expertise combined with my personal history of recovery from multiple chronic pain syndromes and challenging experiences, and learning to thrive, not in spite of them, but because of them. I have been able to help hundreds of clients over the years discover their path to health and healing through my private physical therapy practice as well as through teaching martial arts and self defense classes to women and girls.

However, I realized that I could only reach a finite number of people working with them on an individual basis. I could impact far more people and reach a variety of different populations with my positive message of hope, health, and personal empowerment through my book and my speaking engagements. That’s when I decided to close my practice and transition into my current career as a speaker, educator, writer, and online talk show host.

I have a reputation for my energetic, engaging, and interactive speaking and teaching style, as well as the ability to motivate, educate, and inspire my audiences, readers, and listeners. I have a capacity for storytelling, and the ability to apply valuable and important life’s lessons to even the most ordinary situations. I help people discover their own path to health and healing, as well as how to move through life with strength, grace, and confidence.

In addition to my speaking engagements, I also teach classes, provide consulting services, authored an award-winning book, and am working on my next book which chronicles my journey into the strange new world (for me) of men and martial arts. I host a podcast called The FemiNinja Project, which provides a platform for other inspirational and courageous women and men to share their stories so that others can learn and benefit from their experience and expertise.

I’m not sure I can accurately express what I am proud of, because am not exactly proud. Instead, I am incredibly humbled and honored, to do the work that I do. However, what feeds my soul and fills my heart with joy is when I receive a text or a call from a client, reader, or audience member saying, “Thank you. You changed my life forever.” That’s when I know I am living my life’s path, and living my dream. What more is there to life than that?

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Wow. That’s a really tough question for me to answer. As I’ve said, I am just so honored and humbled to be where I am at this point in my life and my career.

However, I would have to say that three of my greatest accomplishments have been going from a chronic pain patient to a physical therapist in private practice, from a terrified middle-aged princess to earning a second degree black belt in Ninpo Tai Jutsu and receiving two merit awards as a first time author. Not bad for someone who was written off as a chronic pain patient, don’t you think? Okay, maybe I am a little bit proud of myself!

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Image Credit:
Vanessa Plouffe Photography

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