In 2015, Natalie Hurst suffered an unexpected stroke that made her pause and reflect. Though she has had no residual speech or movement damage, the experience encouraged her to take a closer look at her diet and begin a new journey with Pilates. Today, 36-year-old Natalie spends her days climbing at Memphis Rox, instructing community classes at the Core Collective on Broad, and chasing after her five-year-old daughter, Evelyn (with another on the way).

Where did your fitness journey begin?
The very first leg of it began with my older sister, who was a runner through high school. Although I don’t use it as my main workout anymore, if I need cardio, I incorporate a run here and there.

I really changed my attitude and goals after I had Evelyn and started at Memphis Rox. My philosophy shifted from skinny to strong. That made a world of a difference. I have begun to make measurable goals like accomplishing a certain climb or hitting a certain number of push-ups or pull-ups. It’s not good for your head to weigh yourself constantly or count calories. Now, I don’t need a scale; I measure by climbing, which I see as a healthier obsession.

What inspired you to start climbing?
My husband worked at Outdoors Inc. when we met. He taught me how to do their small climbing wall, and he bought me my first pair of climbing shoes.

When we came to Memphis and heard Memphis Rox was opening, I knew as soon as I stepped in the door in March that I was hooked. The people there are amazing. Everyone learns your name and gets to know you. People aren’t afraid to help each other and give advice.

There’s so much I love about climbing. One reason is that men and women are on the same field; I might have an advantage over someone who is taller or stronger than me. It’s a true community, but it’s also a solo sport. It’s not just about muscling through but planning and always thinking ahead.

What does a typical week of exercise look like?
When I have it my way, I climb at least three times a week and workout (usually Pilates) five times a week. I always warm up before a session with some weights or cardio. Then I head into an hour-plus climb if I have the time. I just get so lost in it.

What foods are essential to your diet?
I follow a pescatarian diet. My staples are quinoa, yogurt, eggs, fruits, and veggies (especially broccoli). I always have almonds and carrots in my purse. If I’m on task, I’ll meal plan, and that gives me a lot of energy. If I’m training, I normally won’t go out to eat, but if I do, I try to be as good as possible because there’s going to be more salt and fat in restaurant food.

Why are you passionate about Pilates?
I consider it to be very mindful movement with strength built in. It’s not an easy workout, but it’s efficient and involves everything: core-strength, tone building, resistance work. You’re so much more aware of your body and tuned in with Pilates, which helps a lot with climbing.

What motivates you?
What I love about fitness is that it’s always changing, so my goals range from doing a triathlon to getting more certifications or becoming a lead climber. My workouts are fun, and they give me the energy to keep up with my daughter. I’m motivated to stay healthy for my kids and be a good example to them of what a “strong mom” is.

By India Nikotich. Photo by Ziggy Mack.