Growing up Stephanie Rosemarie Buchanan was a tough come up.
My parents divorced when I was 5. My Dad took off a few years later. Like most West Indian families (and, from what I hear, other families too), we never talked about feelings. Or, really, anything.
We buried that shit. Deep.
Not having those tough conversations caused a lot of pain in the long run, and created a “crack” in our family that would only deepen and spread, much like a crack in a car windshield.
Family dysfunction 101, amirite?
We were constantly sweeping the dirt under the rug.
I felt alone, and lost, at a time when I needed safety and guidance.
Home wasn’t a safe space for vulnerable emotion, and the world seemed to only be a barrage of bullies, who bullied me for things that included (but weren’t limited to):
-not being black enough
-being a woman
-having big boobs (which I eventually had surgically reduced to make other people comfortable)
-having buck teeth
-having a big forehead (they would call me ‘Worf’)
So I took my beatings, both emotional and physical. (More on that here.)
Long story short, like most people: I spent much of my life hating myself for not fitting in.
My Mom would eventually remarry a man who would continue to divide our family. Now I had an evil step-person, but sadly, no Fairy Godmother. No voice of wisdom, no protective older person to guide me through life’s storms.
A lot of young women struggle in situations like this.
I was no different.
I had a miscarriage.
I failed a suicide attempt.
I found my way into therapy.
I’m lucky I did. A lot of other women have the same experiences, and don’t get this kind of help.
Through it all, I somehow tried to keep it all together.
I looked for escape.
I found martial arts and comics as a refuge from a lonely, confusing childhood.
After a few weeks of regular sessions, my counsellor urged me to leave home, because she felt the environment I was living in was toxic.
She explained it was going to be tough, but there were resources she could recommend to help with the transition. I needed to leave for my mental health and safety.
I was terrified by the thought of being on my own, but deep down it felt right, so I left.
Out I went into the world, with a retail job, no direction, and very little self-esteem.
I dropped out of a Kinesiology program, went to the bank, applied for credit, and did the things that I thought adults do, even though I was very much still just a terrified kid. I remember the banker talked to me about mutual funds and RRSPs, which I had a lot of trouble understanding.
So, I went home, researched the products mentioned, and took a course to better understand things adults needed… you know, mutual funds and stuff.
At age 19 I completed my Canadian Securities Course (CSC) and got a job working at AGF Mutual Funds. From there I went to BMO, then to various small, high end insurance brokerages in the role of Account Manager.
In this new corporate world, I found new bullies: nepotism, ageism, sexism, and my old friend, racism.
All the “isms”.
Still no Fairy Godmother, Sifu, Shidoshi, Sensei, or Master.
Martial arts and exercise continued to nourish me.
Like most fighters, I gravitated to these things as they were the only places I felt allowed to express myself fully, in all my angry, sad, broken glory. I was never “too” anything for martial arts.
My fury and strength were welcomed, and channeled in healthy ways. Here, I was powerful, and in these places nothing else mattered.
Tae Kwon Do and spin classes kept me partially sane as I faked my way through adulting in my 20s. I still didn’t value myself much. I found myself in several abusive relationships.
When I found Muay Thai, it helped me develop the strength and courage to eventually rid my life of lecherous, toxic relationships.
I began to value meaningful relationships. In my late 20s started to foster one that would prove to be the most important: the relationship with myself.
(First love yourself.)
This was the game changer: learning to love myself, warts and all.
In doing so, I learned how to better listen, and care for my broken inner child, as well as evolve to have meaningful relationships with others.
So, back in therapy, using all my sick days at work. Really sucking at my job because I didn’t enjoy it, and felt it was the thing I should be doing. Not surprisingly I was fired.
When I was “let go”, an enormous weight lifted. Like the last piece of my fake adult had been torn from body, letting me feel really free for the first time.
Now, I could discover who I really was.
I could explore life with fun, and curiosity. I was no longer just surviving and doing the things I thought I should be doing, but doing the things I actually had an interest in, and enjoyed.
So with a supportive and loving partner, and a wise sage-like friend/coach, I was gently guided back to my North Star: martial arts. This time, it was boxing.
Support and coaching/guidance matter.
At age 30, I became an athlete. I trained, learned and competed while healing the broken pieces of my past.
I took courses in health and wellness, sports nutrition and psychology, and started to actively surround myself with great people.
I started to enjoy life because I felt free to create what I wanted and needed.
I got pretty good at boxing. Good enough that it was worth traveling to compete. I needed endorsements to help with the extra costs.
My wise and sage-like friend/mentor/coach suggested I create a sponsorship package. In this package I would have to create an idea that people and businesses would buy into, and want to stand behind and support.
There was just one catch about this “brand”:
I had to be authentic, represent the “real me”, and be true to my own personal journey.
This was the birth of Steph “Iron Lioness”.
The Iron Lioness symbolizes a force of nature who is strong on her own, but strongest with her pride — her family and community. This protective persona I created let me move forward in life, while allowing my inner broken self to heal.
Like Sasha Fierce was to Beyonce, the Iron Lioness is to me, a strong, funny, childlike, rockstar superhero, who was is larger than life, took no shit, stood up for others, and always had bomb-ass, fuck-off awesome hair.
She went after what she wanted, the way she wanted.
She was sassy, classy, and motivated others to find freedom in doing the same.
She was the superhero I needed: fierce, femme, fun, and fabulous.
The Iron Lioness puts up with no discrimination, of any kind, for any reason.
The concept expanded to a brand, and then a physical location where we welcome everyone now to:
Find your power in the pride.
The Iron Lioness Movement focuses on the health and wellness of women, and children. It’s a body-positive, judgement-free zone.
It’s a physical space, and a virtual space too. Because:
Safe spaces matter.
With both middle fingers up to the multi-billion-dollar fitness industry, I give women an alternative to be more, and do more.
Women benefit from safe spaces to explore their strength, and be unapologetically strong, and confident in their own skin.
I became the person I needed.
Then I became the coach I needed.
I offer a unique skill set and experience.
I have both technical and practical knowledge as an active, competitive athlete.
I help examine, and fine-tune, people’s movement, activity and nutrition, while helping them become more aware of body, mind, and spirit.
Also (to the dismay of some of my younger students), I am very much human. Like most, I have struggled to be healthy in all aspects, and through those struggles I’ve learned the importance of balance, and simplicity.
I take care guiding clients compassionately along their individual fitness journeys, while keeping it fun, safe, and sustainable.
If you are tired of big box gyms, or trainers that seem more focused on their own abs and gainz, maybe Iron Lion Training might be just the place that helps you find your roar.
Steph ‘Iron Lioness’ Dykstra
Co-Owner Iron Lion Training
1485 Dupont, #312, Toronto, ON
Contact us at: