When in 1998, Ruby Murray, a retired master sergeant at Fort Bragg, N.C. realized she could possibly lose her job if she didn’t shed nearly 100 pounds of postpartum weight by her training deadline, she knew she had to do something drastic.  

A 26-year army vet, the then 25-year-old new mother was physically fit for most of her life, so this revelation left her reeling.  

“I was so scared I would lose my job if I couldn’t lose the weight in time,” she shared with Essence, referring to the 6-month time frame the army gave her to shed 90 pounds. “I didn’t feel like myself at all—I couldn’t wear any of my clothes or do the exercises that had become integral to my daily life.” 

In addition to her basic training, she enlisted the help of a personal trainer to help her with a fitness regimen that started at 4am daily. Combined with cardio and strength training, Murray said it completely shifted her outlook on life. “I really felt lost when I’d gained weight,” she shared. “In addition to being a new young mother dealing with the pressures of being in the military, AND a Black woman, I didn’t think I could handle all the stress.” 

But she said with the help of her personal trainer, and her baby daughter, she pushed through. 

“A few weeks in, my trainer saw I was struggling and asked me what inspires me–without a thought I said ‘my daughter does,” she shared. “My trainer told me to paste a photo of my daughter on every piece of equipment I needed to use and leverage that as motivation so every time I wanted to give up, I’ll see my baby.” 

Her dedication paid off. 

Not only did she lose all of the weight, she did so by the deadline and kept her job. After seeing the impact her journey made on other postpartum soldiers, her superiors tapped her to lead a fitness program dedicated to assisting mothers with their weight loss. 

She says it was truly a full circle experience. “The program was definitely about so much more than just losing weight,” she said. “I was helping these women find themselves again.” 

Her modifications to the long-standing program are still being implemented more than 20 years later. “Before, the program was mostly led by men and even while I was running it, I was still assisted by them,” she said. “I changed certain elements of the fitness regimen to complement the new mothers’ bodies in a way that a man would never know about. I remember I had to tell a male instructor to hold off on telling one of the mothers to do sit ups, because her navel wasn’t completely healed from the umbilical cord removal.” 

Now retired, the life-long teacher and leader is writing a book to help women to step into themselves no matter what. “So often, we are taught to put everyone ahead of ourselves, especially Black mothers,” she said. “I want us to realize you have to put yourself first before showing up for anyone else.”