Nicole Roggow ‘Capurso’
By: Genevieve Gyulavary
The fist time I came across the profile of Nicole Capurso, owner of Honor your Nutrition and more recently, Honor Your Barbell. I was down a rabbit hole of research into the depths of the Internet on the ‘if it fits your macros’ lifestyle in the summer of 2015. Immediately, I was drawn to an article titled, ‘How Donuts Gave me Abs & an 80kg Snatch’. The blog post opened with a picture of this insanely shredded human who had embraced the world of IIFYM, which completely changed her relationship with food, body composition, and athletic performance.
“That is my favorite story ever of my entire business, for one it started my business. Prior to writing that post I had worked really hard to cut weight to a 63kg weightlifter, I was already super lean and found success though flexible dieting.”
Nicole had taken a “bro” approach to her fist cut eating mostly out of Tupperware and focusing on a steady stream of chicken, rice and veggies. This strategy left her feeling weak and sick when eventually, she had re-introduce ‘normal’ and less bland foods back into her diet. During her second attempt at cutting she tried the flexible nutrition approach, which worked out so much better since she was able to eat a more well balanced diet.
“People used to come up to me all the time because I was traveling so much and I was visible playing on the Grid League. I would walk around eating M&Ms and get comments from people like ‘oh my gosh I cannot believe you’re eating that’. It used to really bother me because people didn’t think I was a regular human, they thought all I was eating was chicken and vegetables.”
Nicole realized, that although this kind of attention bothered her it truly came from a place of misinformation. At the time, Paleo was the buzzword and the community believed this is how every single high level competitor was eating.
“The night I wrote that blog post I was at a friend’s house and we were rained in. This was one of my really smart friends who was a gymnast at Cornell. She was being a smart ass and telling me that if the reaction I was getting from people was bothering me that much, I should write about it. She felt like it was a really good place to educate people. So I did.”
How Donuts Gave me Abs, & an 80 kg Snatch
Nicole composed the post, had her friend proofread it, and posted it. Nicole had forgotten to add contact information at the end of the post, never realizing the reaction that it might receive. Thankfully, her friend caught that during the edits.
“I had just gone upstairs to shower and when I came back my friend was like, ‘heyyy you should look at your phone it’s been going off this whole time’. There had been almost 40 emails in less than an hour. I had just posted it and I didn’t have much visibility then, like very few followers on any social media platforms.”
Nicole was shocked that it has been repinned on Pinterest when she didn’t even have a Pinterest account, retweeted, and had received so much engagement in such a short amount of time.
It went viral immediately.
“I think it was because I had expressed the struggles that so many people who had been working out hard and eating Paleo felt. Everyone else was afraid to say Paleo was only working to a point. When I explained my experience without providing any coaching it was an ‘oh me too’ moment for a lot of people.”
Nicole immediately began to grow a client base from the post. Without a formal website for coaching, her words had opened up the floodgates and brought to light a real need for information within the community. Soon after, nutrition coaching became the main source of income for her and something she could always depend on to support herself.
“I didn’t have a formal website until I met my husband. He was basically like, ‘what are you doing?!’. Up until that point clients would find me through my blog and I was just sending them PayPal invoices.”
Rikji (Tyminski) Long aka: Lil Riki, Nicole’s nutrition coach, was heavily mentioned in her blog post. Riki received a similar response in regards to her own coaching business when the post went live.
“Riki still helps me when I need a coach or want to be held accountable. She thinks that the article did as much for her business as it did for mine.”
Circling back to Nicole as the athlete, nutrition coach, and gym owner we now know…how did she transition from Division One basketball player at Hofstra to a competitive athlete in the sport of fitness?
Nicole grew up on Staten Island as an only child. She was pushed hard in academics and expected to excel in school. Her parents started her off her in tennis because she was long and quick on her feet, but at 8 years old Nicole was bored out on the court alone. A friend of her parents suggested that she try basketball.
“I was tall and I had success early [in basketball]. I learned to love the game. I loved success and that was what motivated me. As people began to compare me to some of the better people who had come through New York that’s what got me excited to play.”
Nicole was on a team with the same girls from her small private school from third through eighth grade, winning the state championship every single year.
“I didn’t grow up with with sisters or brothers, but those girls on my team are my bridal party and my best friends.”
By the time Nicole began her senior year of college she had been suffering from chronic knee pain. She tore her ACL at 16 and had her meniscus repaired at 18. Nicole had moments where she wanted to continue playing, and she thought about going overseas to continue her basketball career in Italy, but mentally she was drained. She was sick of being on call 24/7.
“We used to joke that being on a Division One team was like being in the army. Nothing was for free. You are basically having your school paid for to be at the beck and call of your coach. I didn’t know what it was like to be a regular college kid and do what I wanted. I had parents at college- they were just my three coaches; they checked to make sure I went to class on time, met curfew, had good grades, and after all of that I just wanted to live.”
Nicole graduated with a degree in exercise science which exposed her to mandatory internships each semester. Gearing up for her final semester and excited to start a rotation in cardiac rehab, Nicole was bummed with the internship got pulled due to lack of resources and funding just one week before the start date.
“I was really interested in cardiac rehab and was let down when that wouldn’t be my internship placement. However, since I had done a rotation in the weight room for the wrestling team already and really enjoyed it, my advisor placed me in a CrossFit® internship in Garden City, NY. That gym (Garden City CrossFit®) is run by Jen and Dennis Marshall who are Level III seminar staff. I basically showed up on my first day and they were like ‘this is how you do CrossFit® in here, the first thing you need to do is read this.’
By ‘this’ they were referring to the Level I handbook. From day one Nicole was educated ‘the way the sport was meant to be taught’, as if it were a collegiate class. Nicole’s only personal frame of reference came from things she had seen on the internet like Annie (Thorsidottir) at the Games. The selfish competitor inside of her always thinking ‘hey, I could be good at that’.
“When I first saw it I thought ‘this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen.’ There were soccer moms doing strength and conditioning and all I could think was someone is going to get hurt here. But the more it was explained to me and the more Dennis and Jen taught me about it, the more I bought into it.”
Having a background in exercise science Nicole loved things that make sense scientifically and fed into the curriculum that was presented to her. Learning about programming from Level III seminar staff was fundamental in her understanding of the art and science behind it.
“If I had been placed in a gym where there wasn’t this kind of structure I don’t know if it would have worked out this way.”
As her internship came to a close and graduation became more tangible, Nicole needed to begin planning the next steps of her life without basketball. Another intern planned on moving 10-15 miles away to open up his own box once he had finished his rotation. Nicole reached out to him wondering if he was looking for a coach and was hired on the spot.
Nicole had been enjoying taking classes and improving her skills for a few short months when she decided to sign up for an individual competition. It was here Nicole met Daniel Tyminski owner of CrossFit Lindy, army combat veteran, and Games competitor.
“That was back in the day when an individual could qualify a team. He knew I had an athletic and competition background and asked if I wanted to start training at his gym.”
Nicole had no weightlifting shoes and routinely skipped snatching because of the difficulty she was having with her overhead positioning. Daniel took her on, seeing her obvious potential to excel and brought her to a training camp with his coach.
It was there she did her first open workout.
“Once we finished the open workout they were like ‘we’re going to do this again on Monday’. All I could think to myself was, why would I ever do this again? Daniel was the one who introduced me to lifting, which was really cool because he is a very competitive person and I finally felt like I was doing a real sport.”
By 2013 Nicole was on her way to regionals on Daniel’s team. By this time she could basically do everything. She had always been blessed with athletic ability and the only things she remembers taking some time was gaining the strength to press out of a muscle up.
“That year there was a three rep max overhead squat. As a basketball player my overhead mobility wasn’t great. We were about to take the floor, like lining up in the corral when my other teammate was like, ‘where are your weightlifting shoes?’ And I was just kind of like, oh… they are in the car I don’t need them. Nicole laughs.
Her teammate was horrified.
“She was like, ‘No, you NEED your shoes, you’re bad at overhead squats!’ At the time I was more concerned with cleaning the weight than over head squatting it which is really funny because I think I was only able to get to 125 pounds.”
One thing that didn’t phase Nicole was the crowds. The stands were packed in 2013. The part where athletes struggle with seeing that many people in the stands for the first time never really impacted her performance because of her long career in basketball.
In 2014 and 2015 Nicole went individual.
“I was really good during that season. That was also the year that the Grid League began and I basically got to do what I was good at and be on a team. It re-ignited a fire in me. I loved the co-ed team atmosphere and I wish it would have lasted. Also I got a pay check, which I loved.”
By this time Nicole was able to support herself entirely with her business as a nutrition coach. She moved out to Virginia so she could train under the coach Daniel had introduced her to, the man behind The Outlaw Way. Nicole became the gym manager at Outlaw CrossFit® and when she wasn’t coaching, she was training. She would bring two meals to the gym and spend her entire day there, then get up and do it all over again.
“After the 2015 season I was done. I was burnt out and sick of training alone. I didn’t know many people in Virginia and I didn’t have a team that was going to be competitive.”
Nicole began talking to a friend, Marco Coppola, who was on her Grid League about the loneliness surrounding her training. He told her that their team was missing a girl and qualifying for The Games by a few points each year. If she joined, he had no doubt they would make it.
“I was at a point where my current life was in Alexandria, Virginia and this potential team was in Houston, Texas so I didn’t know how I would manage that. But, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
Nicole called him back after a week of soul searching and asked when he needed her there. With all the rules surrounding team in The Open, being in Texas before the first of the year was the only timeline that made sense. This gave her less than three months to sort out all the details.
“I had never thought about moving that far in my life. It was insane. Marco and his wife kind of took me in for the first few months and gave me some coaching hours at their gym, which made the transition easier.”
It all ended up being more than worth it because they went to the South Regional in 2016 and won, securing their spot at The Games. After that, it all finally made sense for Nicole.
Being on a team isn’t always smooth sailing. Six adults trying to work and get along together every day isn’t easy but, in Nicole’s mind it was completely worth it. Her goal was always to have her name on that shirt and compete in that arena. Being on a team finally gave her that fix she had craved.
In the midst of this all, 2016 was also a stand out because Nicole met her husband. Brenton Roggow, event host and MC for many fitness venues, crossed paths with Nicole at that years’ Wodapalooza. Nicole expressed interest in the MC and reached out to him - and a long distance relationship ensued.
“I knew Brooke Wells knew him, and I knew her really well because she had been on my Grid team. I messaged her and asked if she knew anything about him and she was like, ‘omg do you want me to message him for you?’ I reached out to him myself and he kind of took it from there.”
Brenton was with Nicole through The Open that year as they began a long distance relationship between Missouri and Texas. They keep this up until she was done with The Games.
Post Games and post Grid Nicole had decided she didn’t want to be in Texas anymore. She was ready to move closer to Brenton and build a life with him. One year after her move to Texas she left and has been in Springfield, MO ever since.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m a New Yorker stuck in slow motion here, but mostly I really enjoy the slower pace.”
When she left Texas she was still very much in competition mode. The only initial steps she took away from this was by recognizing that this man - who may be her future husband - was more important than exercise. When she got to Missouri there were five other girls who had the ability to make it on the Games team at the gym Brenton belonged to (CrossFit® 417), an unheard of number of contenders. In terms of competition, it was like tryouts: there were spots that needed to be earned.
“I got there and I was like wait, this is not what I want. I would have helped a team get to the games if they needed me, but I wasn’t there for tryouts.”
Nicole worked out at CrossFit® 417 for a few months, but then really missed coaching. 417 was not in need of coaches at that point, so she began coaching at another gym in town- CrossFit® Provision.
“After about a year of working at CrossFit® Provision, Brenton and I were feeling the itch to open and run our own gym. Around that same time Brenton’s boss came to him and told him he had a space we might want to put a gym in. I was honestly pessimistic at first, but we started moving ahead with it. “
“We opened Honor Your Barbell in March of 2018 and six months later we were expanding. Both of us were painting and sweeping dirt off the floor and it was incredibly stressful, but he would always remind me that this is what we wanted. You just keep putting the work into it and remember that.”
I asked Nicole what it was like living and working with her spouse. Brenton works for Driven Nutrition whose offices and warehouse are in the same building as Honor Your Barbell.
“I honestly don’t understand how couples don’t do that. Maybe it’s because thats my life and thats all I know. It seems so strange to me that couples leave the house in the morning and go separate places and then don’t see each other till that night. I’m sad for them.”
Nicole goes on to say that the comfort of having her husband upstairs while she is working is almost calming. If she has a question she can run upstairs and talk to him.
I wondered how Nicole knew Brenton was different. How did she know he was someone worth moving far away from a world and pace she was accustomed to?
“I trusted Brenton 100%. I had gotten out of a really bad relationship where I learned to almost be numb to words. People would tell me things and I just wouldn’t believe them because of my past experiences. Anytime I ever talked to Brenton, that never happened. That was also strange to me, like why do I believe him?”
That feeling only got stronger and sharper over time. Even when she wanted to not believe him she knew what he was saying was true.
“As a friend, business partner, and wife; without having that trust and feeling like you don’t need to ask someone something a hundred times to see what they really mean is huge. To me that was worth moving because when he said we were going to be awesome together, I knew that was truth.”
When I asked Nicole about her desire to compete in the sport again Nicole expressed that she has come to a point where she didn’t want to spend six hours in the gym anymore, something that is now required of competitive athletes. If you’re not putting in your time for at least three hours a day you are not going to be successful.
“I went to the Games in 2016 and that was kind of my “okay I did it, I’m over it” point. No part of me wanted that lifestyle anymore. I moved across the country to be with my boyfriend (now husband), and I actually wanted to spend time with him. I wanted to build a life with him that didn’t include being in the gym for hours everyday.”
Now, on days Nicole can squeeze in an hour of training she is content. Realistically, sometimes that doesn’t even happen. The week of this interview Nicole and her husband had just purchased a house, a major milestone and life event. This week she worked out a total of three times and had no remorse about it.
“I am really thankful that I have this huge platform from the sport though. Now is when I’m gong to work to reach more people as my life is a bit more realistic and relatable to the “everyday person”. I used to be the exerciser who monitored everything that went into my mouth, how much I slept, and how much I trained. Now, my life includes a husband, a house, two businesses, two dogs- all things that are more important than my training schedule. Because of that I can influence and help a lot more people.”
When you walk into Nicole’s Honor Your Nutrition office you are met by a poster of her locked out at the top of a bar muscle up (the same image used for the blog post that went viral), totally shredded in a camo sports bra. That was the logo of her business for a long time she tells me. More recently, she had Brenton take that image down because she was tired of people coming into her office and asking what they needed to do in order to look like that.
“Now when people ask I reply with, ‘that girl was pretty sick and she didn’t even know it’’. I was so lean my body was shutting down. I would grow fuzz on my stomach because my body couldn’t thermoregulate, I wasn’t getting my period at all, I was constantly cold. I was so lean and had all these cuts and that was the image of what people thought they wanted to look like. I was 5’9” lifting in the 138 weight class, walking around at 145# on a heavy day. That was not healthy.”
There have been repercussions to that. Now Nicole has injuries that continue to nag, which she contributes to the low bone density she most likely had at her leanest.
“We have learned (through the CrossFit® Level I course) that there is a sick and well continuum and I actually believe that you can get so fit you begin to make your way back to sick from overtraining, adrenal fatigue, low body fat, the list goes on. You can have 6 pack abs and be working out 4-6 hours a day and be sicker than you are well.”
Nicole’s message to people is; “Do not to get hung up on high level athletes or super shredded people that you only know through Instagram. Chances are they are not as healthy as they look on the outside.”
The reality is, high volumes of training for extended periods of time may be more damaging than healthy. At this point the long term effects of this full time volume of training is unknown.
As Nicole’s message and lifestyle has changed, so has her Instagram feed.
“Recently I’ve been starting to unfollow people who only post about their training and look more at women who are running businesses, building a life, and having babies.”
Two fit moms who immediately come to mind are Miranda Alcaraz and Christmas Abbott.
“I love the way she [Miranda] handled her pregnancy and postpartum, her Street Parking business, and the great mom and business woman she is. I have many clients who don’t want to have kids because they cannot imagine their bodies changing. It’s really sad to be afraid to lose your abs to creating another life.”
Nicole’s plan for the future? Running a business, owning a home and hoping that people will continue to pay attention to her, even if she doesn’t have a barbell in her hands.
Nicole writes in one of her older blog posts about finding the barbell and ‘wanting to live under it’. It seems she’s come full circle and her reach will be far more profound with this new chapter.