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A Little Personal

Why I Became a Health Coach

December 10, 2020

I’m April Likins

Hey friend! If we haven't met, I am a board-certified health coach and stress relief expert who helps leaders and high achievers go from exhausted, and fried... to flourishing in all areas of their lives. Are you stressed or burned out? Here's how I can support you  Read more.

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My journey to becoming a health coach begins with my father.

My dad and I weren’t always close. He was an engineer, software developer, and entrepreneur, so he was incredibly busy, often working 70 or more hour weeks. I can still remember being a small child and longing for him to come home so I could see him for a brief moment to give him a hug or to show him something I’d made for him or drawn. However, for most of my childhood, I felt pushed aside. He was often unavailable except for the occasional math or science homework tutoring, or for sports. Having been an incredible athlete himself, he would always make time for sports and he never missed my games. As busy as he was, I still have no idea how he managed to coach us a few years and to always make it to my games. (Which must have been incredibly challenging because I played sports year-round, and so did my siblings). 

My father and I didn’t see eye to eye on much growing up, but we always had sports. It was the only way I really knew how to relate to him. It wasn’t until I left for college that something shifted and our relationship really began to change. As his firstborn child, he seemed to have a complete change of heart when I left for school. It was really only then that our relationship began to heal and then ultimately flourish.

Suddenly he became the kind of dad that would drive an hour and a half on the weekends to take me out to lunch, or just take a walk with me. You could talk to him about anything and everything; the solar system, philosophy, science, faith, sports, the latest movies, my college lifestyle (which he didn’t approve of)—whatever was on my mind. There wasn’t a topic I could bring up that he wasn’t knowledgeable about and no matter how wild or different my thoughts or views at the time were, he listened without judgment. 

He could also be incredibly giving and kind. I’ll never forget when he went with me on a field trip in DC. We’d left a museum and were looking for somewhere to have lunch when a homeless man turned to him and told him he was hungry. Without hesitation, my father walked into a bistro and ordered food for all of us. I expected him to walk out and hand food to the man and we’d be on our way, but instead, we sat down outside and had lunch with him. I’ll never forget the jaw-dropping looks and the glaring stares we got from well-dressed people passing by, but my father paid no attention to them. He just focused on being present and casually chatted with the man. I’d never seen anything like it, and that day changed me for the better. 

For the next few years, he turned into the father I’d always wanted. He became a father, a mentor, and ultimately a best friend. This is why, a few years later when he was diagnosed out of nowhere with an aggressive prostate cancer, my world was completely shattered. I was beyond devastated. The thing I’d so desperately wanted for most of my life was slipping from my grasp. It felt like life had just thrown me the cruelest curve ball ever and initially I was overwhelmed with shock.

My father was brilliant and I was fiercely determined—we would just figure this out! It was then that I began diving into why cancer rates and diseases were escalating, and how things besides genetics, like those environmentally, were playing a role in rising illnesses. Together, we revamped our diets and he began taking a more holistic approach to his overall health which I firmly believe prolonged his life. I spent my free time reading every book related to cancer that I could get my hands on and scouring clinical trials. He ended up doing a few progressive clinical trials in Mexico (because at the time there weren’t many options in the states) and he was looking into advanced clinical trials in Europe when ultimately he ran out of time. 

A few years after his death, my husband and I were vacationing in the Caribbean during a massive mosquito outbreak when suddenly my health collapsed. I’d previously been exposed to a slew of things before the trip, like Lyme disease and toxic mold exposure. Then, during the trip, I was exposed to West Nile and toxic aerial spraying that was used to combat the spread of the global mosquito outbreak. (The body, much like a computer, can only handle so much before it becomes overloaded and crashes.) I went into the vacation at the peak of my career and in the best shape of my life, and I came home nearly bedridden for most of my days for the next year and a half. Before the trip, I could easily work 8, 10, or even 12 hour days. Afterward, suddenly I couldn’t read emails, finish my own sentences, or understand at times what was being said to me. I experienced severe dizziness, neuropathy and food sensitivities, heart palpitations, chronic pain, very severe hormone fluctuations, you name it. I’d been incredibly active before the Caribbean trip, and afterward, a good week became one where I could actually make it to the grocery store or drive to a doctors appointment.

In those next few years I was shuffled to over 30 doctors trying to get to the root of what in the world was going on. Many of the doctors were either unsure of how to help me (I was an incredibly complex case) or completely dismissive of me altogether—”You have vertigo… you just need more rest… are you sure this isn’t all in your head… it’s normal for women to have incredibly painful periods”—which were all ludicrous and when in reality I had a slew of unbelievable things going on in my body and most likely undiagnosed encephalitis. (Side note: you know your body better than anyone else. If something is wrong and no one is listening, it’s time to see a new doctor or get a second opinion.)

When you’ve seen that many doctors and specialists and no one has a clue what to do with you (and half don’t believe you), you can eventually start to lose all hope. My faith was tested beyond measure. I lost close friends over my health, and there are friends and family members who still don’t quite believe all I went through.

Losing my father is the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve ever been through, and yet there’s nothing quite like the hopelessness, loneliness, and incredible darkness I walked through with my own health. Months turned into years and I was emotionally and physically at the end of my rope.

In full transparency in sharing my heart, I can still remember laying in bed for months, in and out of consciousness, praying to God to just take my life. “What was the point in being here if life as I knew it was essentially over?!” During that time I really longed not to wake up. My former self and former life felt like a distant memory and I was fearful of what my future might hold.

The light in the darkness came when a friend referred me to an incredible health coach and integrative nutritionist. Quite simply, Maggie saved my life. She understood firsthand some of what I’d been through having overcome her own health challenges, and she was fiercely in my corner. Not only was she a beacon of hope and unconditional support, but by working together, slowly my health began to turn around. It took many many years of working with her and multiple integrative practitioners, all of which I am eternally grateful for, but she first gave me the courage to fight and not give up. I learned to change my mindset from “WHY is this happening to me?” To “WHAT can I learn through it? HOW can I grow through this and leverage it for good?” 

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it… When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.”
Brené Brown  

The more I listened to my body and began nourishing it with healthy whole foods, balancing my stress levels, switching to nontoxic beauty and home products, practicing mindfulness, adding in regular movement, and setting healthy boundaries, my body started to thrive. As I began to radically change my life and get better, people noticed and started coming to me in droves for direction and advice with their own health challenges. As I started helping others based on my own experiences I began to realize that the darkest things I’d been through had tremendous purpose. 

I signed up for the Institute for Integrative Nutrition on a whim because it sounded intriguing and I was already deeply passionate about health and wellness. However, I quickly fell in love with the program and realized I wanted to pivot and become a health coach. I graduated from IIN and then studied at Duke Integrative Medicine’s Health Coaching program, which solidified my passion for helping others. 

I always tell people jokingly that I am an accidental health coach but I don’t really believe that it is random. When life throws us a devastating curveball we have two options: we can let it crush us, or we can let it change us. Our past and our scars don’t have to be hidden, nor do they have to define us. They can however, be a POWERFUL catalyst for good and for change in the world around us. When we give back to others, we get back so much more in return. And at the end of the day, this life really isn’t about us—it’s so much bigger than that. It’s about others.

From loss and trauma, to severely debilitating Endometriosis pain (that caused me to collapse in the middle of a meeting cross country and have to be ubered to the hospital), to skin issues, and extensive food allergies, you name it—there isn’t much I haven’t been through. And the beauty of it is that I view those past scars as tremendous assets. I truly understand the difficult things people go through because I’ve been there, and I’m deeply empathetic because of it. While I wouldn’t want to go through what I’ve been through again, those life lessons were necessary in order to do the work that I’m doing.

So while I cannot bring my father back or take back the years I lost with my health, I find deep joy and purpose in helping others. It is my calling.

This has been a personal journey for me, which is why I’m fiercely passionate about helping others regain their health so they can live more joyful lives and spend more time on the passions and the relationships that matter the most to them. 

Our past and what we’ve been through is only a chapter in our larger story. When we realize this it no longer holds power over us. We get to decide from there how we’ll grow through it and how we can leverage it as a catalyst for something far bigger. It takes courage and vulnerability to show others your scars, but it can also elicit a deeper connection as it empowers others to face and rise above similar challenges. And that, my friends, makes our struggles worth it. 

This life is beautiful and painful at times, full of highs and lows and everything else in between. And yet, it is a precious gift! No matter what you are going through, keep going, have faith, find your support system, and keep looking up for the silver linings—they’re always there!

If I can help in any way, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

With much love,

P.S. I deliberately chose to have a destination wedding in Mexico because I knew my workaholic father wouldn’t dare to miss it. It was our last vacation together, and it was amazing! I’m so thankful we had that uninterrupted time together. The family spent a week together dancing with mariachi bands, snorkeling, rappelling, and visiting ruins. On the day of the wedding, my father picked me up in a horse-drawn carriage. We rode throughout the resort until we reached my guests and future husband waiting by the beach. For a brief moment in time, I got to be Cinderella. And the little girl in me enjoyed every single minute of it. 

I have a terrible fear of heights, so it was all I could do to rappel down the side of a cliff. My father, the daredevil athlete, went down upside down.



Interested in Working with a Health Coach to Nourish Your Body and Reduce Inflammation Naturally?

As an Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Duke Integrative Medicine trained health and wellness coach, I’m passionate about helping people create sustainable long-term changes with their health so they can feel their best inside and out. Together we’ll optimize your health utilizing a whole-body approach, working on things like eating more clean whole foods, reducing your inflammation, and lowering your stress so you can thrive and achieve your full potential.

To get started, fill out this form to schedule a complimentary 30-minute health coaching consultation with me.

Looking for Healthy Breakfast Ideas?

You’ll love these easy smoothie bowl recipes that are full of nutrients your body needs to thrive! 

Free Download: Epic Smoothie Bowl Recipes

Free Download: Epic Smoothie Bowl Recipes

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