WCW - Meet Jo Belton

What makes the Women's Movement Collaborative extra special is that it truly is a collaborative effort of so many women.  We asked some amazing women to share and nominate other strong, amazing, and inspiring women to be featured on the #wcw blogs. 

While I personally have not had the pleasure of meeting this week's #wcw, Jo Belton,  I am super pumped to help introduce you to this strong woman.  She was nominated by a former #wcw, Sarah Young.  

Sarah says she nominated Jo because she's been inspired by reading her blog, My Cuppa Jo.

In her blog she writes honestly and courageously about living with chronic pain. She is a true badass. While a work injury ended the career she loved, fighting fires, and left her with chronic and unrelenting pain she refused to let that be the end of her story. She worked to understand her pain and find her way back to movement and living life fully. Her blog documents that journey. One she’s still on.

Sarah believes she offers a unique perspective for all women and her voice is one that needs to be amplified.

My hope is that sharing my path, of how I got here and where I’m going, will help others see their pain a bit differently, too. That it will help them focus less on the pain and more on the aspects of their lives that they value, that they find meaning in, that they enjoy, that they love..
— Jo Belton

Get to know Jo!

Instagram and Twitter

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What do you do?

I am the co-founder and executive director of the Endless Possibilities Initiative, a nonprofit with a mission of empowering people living with pain to live well. 

I am a blogger at MyCuppaJo.com where I discuss my own lived experience of pain through a pain science lens.

I also volunteer as an adaptive snowboard coach with the National Sports Center for the Disabled, which is a really awesome gig.


What else do you do?

Spend time with my boys (husband and dog), read a lot, write a lot, cook some, and snowboard, hike, and spend as much time in the great outdoors as possible. One of my favorite pastimes is nature photography (which is all over my Instagram). I also love hanging out with family and friends over good food, drink and conversation.


How do you define the word 'strength'?

Strength is an ability to be vulnerable, because only when we are able to be vulnerable are we able to be our true selves. Strength is letting people see that we are not perfect, and don't need to be. Strength is compassion and kindness when it's most difficult to be compassionate and kind, including to ourselves.

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How did you discover your passion?

I unexpectedly landed on this path.

I was a firefighter paramedic when I stepped off a fire engine awkwardly, something I'd literally done thousands of times, and felt a twinge in my hip. That twinge led to ongoing, worsening pain and years of various failed therapies, surgery, and eventual medical retirement from the career that defined me. The pain was debilitating and was worse when I sat, so that meant no socializing, no riding in cars, no relaxing on the couch to watch movies with my husband. I became socially isolated and withdrawn and my world became very small and dark, rarely leaving my house. I felt weak, frail, broken - ways of feeling that I was wholly unaccustomed to in my years with the fire department.

But there was light. After my medical retirement I went back to graduate school and earned my MSc in Human Movement, with a research focus in pain science, in order to make sense of my own experience and figure out a better way forward. Learning about the science of pain literally changed my life and opened the door to me getting back to meaningful, purposeful living and to moving again without fear of damage or a life of pain. It helped me get back to myself.

That's why I started blogging. I hoped that by sharing my story others could gain insights into their own experiences that could help them move forward. A common refrain I heard over and over again was 'why hasn't anyone told me any of this before?' When I met my cofounder, Beth Requist, who broke her back cliff-jumping and became paraplegic with ongoing pain, she asked me the same question. So we started the Endless Possibilities Initiative in order to get good information, skills training, and support to people living with pain through experiential learning retreats and workshops. We also provide workshops for pain practitioners because we believe we all need to come together to change the way we talk about, research, treat, and live with pain.


How do you incorporate movement into your daily lifestyle?

I move every day, even if it's just my daily walk with the boys (my favorite time of day! No screens, no work, no distractions. Just us). In the winters I am an adaptive snowboard coach so spend one-two days on the mountain with students. I also try to get in as much free-riding as my work schedule will allow (which is certainly not daily, though I wish!). I also cross-country ski and snowshoe in the winters. In the non-snow seasons I walk or hike nearly every day and have recently gotten back into running, too, which I took a break from for many years after my hip surgery.

I do spend a lot of time on the computer, though, so have my FitBit Blaze set to remind me to move every hour and get in at least 250 steps. I don't always heed the reminder, but I move much more so than if I had no reminder at all!


What do you recommend for someone starting out?

First, figure out what you love to do or would really like to try.

Too often we think about structured movement or exercise when movement can really be anything. One of my favorite things to do is take pictures of nature, and that requires me to get out in nature which requires a whole lot of moving! I walk, climb, squat, scramble, and contort myself in all sorts of ways just to get the right perspective. Another favorite - coaching an activity I love. So it doesn't have to be 'exercise'.

If you love to dance, dance. Even if it's just for 5 minutes a day. If you want to learn martial arts, learn martial arts. If you want to paint landscapes, hike to some scenic locations and paint. If you're into sports, join a league, if you like to be around other people, sign up for a class. If you like or think you might like yoga, download an app or become a member of a studio. The way to get better at anything you want to do is to do that thing. The possibilities are endless.

So my best advice is just to do what you enjoy doing, you’re much more likely to stick with it.

If you want or need guidance, hire a knowledgeable coach. And there's always walking. Daily walks are a great way to start moving more. Stop at the park along the way and try your hand at the monkey bars. Try a cartwheel. Do a somersault in the grass. Chase your kids or play frisbee with your dog.

I'm a big fan of the reminders, too, especially if you're working at a desk. My watch reminds me every hour during the work day and there are apps and computer programs galore to build some gentle nudges to your day. Take that few minutes to walk, stretch, get in some bodyweight exercises or yoga - whatever appeals to you.


 How do you define 'fitness'?

Fitness is being able to do the things in life you want to do with ease, while also being able to challenge yourself from time to time, too.

Where do you see the future of fitness?

I hope the future of fitness gets out of the gym or studio and into lives more frequently and consistently.

Fitness is not about six-pack abs and selfies, it is about taking care of ourselves and each other in body and mind.

I hope it becomes more of a cultural shift than just an industry.

A culture where fitness is imbued in our everyday existence.

Where our built environment makes it easier and more accessible to move.

Where there are more parks that encourage walks and communing with nature and people, more stairs than escalators, more nutritious foods in our food courts and vending machines.

Where workplaces encourage and foster movement by incentivizing active commuting and allowing time and access to walks and workouts.

Where adults are encouraged to just play, to embrace their inner child and just move in ways that are fun and enjoyable.

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Does movement increase your self-confidence? If yes, how?

Absolutely. Being able to move with ease means I get to engage with the things in life that I want to engage with, which makes me feel confident and capable. It allows me to experience the inexpressible joy of riding down a mountain on a snowboard and the sense of accomplishment of hiking up one. It allows me to create my own adventures and challenge myself in an endless variety of ways, be it snapping a great camera shot or bagging a new peak.



What advice do you wish you could have given your former self?

Oh my, so much. First, that how much I could lift or how lean I was was not as important as I thought it was. That my fitness was not what defined me. When I went from being a firefighter - from being the strongest I'd ever been, from being super lean and cut, from being fit and intimidating in the gym (which I arrogantly prided myself in) - to being in chronic pain and not able to walk to the mailbox without excruciating pain, to feeling weak and frail, damaged and broken, it was a devastating fall, made that much more difficult because so much of my identity was tied up in how I looked and what I could lift.

It took me a long time to realize that I wasn't who I was because I was a strong, fit firefighter, that I had become a strong, fit, firefighter because of who I was. And I was still that person. Fitness is not the goal, it is not the destination, it is a way of life. It is about taking care of ourselves in body/mind, which are not separate entities. It is about getting to know ourselves and what we find meaningful. Six-pack abs, which were so important to me at one point, are not meaningful. What is meaningful is being able to take a daily walk with my boys. To be able to coach people with disabilities to snowboard. To help people living with pain find their way back to their own valued, active, meaningful lives.

That's what I wish I knew. Pain is a humbling teacher.


What motivates the crap out of you? 

Outside. Outside motivates me. I struggle when my workouts are confined to the indoors and find I move much more readily when I'm in the great outdoors, surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature.

And the people with disabilities who I coach, who taught me more about movement and strength than all of the weekend courses I ever took when I worked as a peer fitness trainer for my fire department. Who made me appreciate the adaptability, resilience and beauty of the human body in all its shapes, sizes, and ability levels. Who made me truly see that we all have endless possibilities within our individual limitations.

And remember this...

You are not alone in your struggles, whatever they might be. You are human and imperfect, and in that imperfection you are perfect. You are not doing this whole living life thing wrong, we are all just trying to figure it out, so be true to yourself and follow your own path. Be vulnerable. Be open to new things. Be willing to fail.

And know that you are strong, capable, resilient, and courageous. You are beautiful, just the way you are.