By the age of 24, WBFF Pro and Pole-Fitness Champ Dashiell Berri had lived on food stamps, had slept for 8 months on a stranger’s porch, and had helped prepare dead bodies in mortuary school. Six years later, and having found her professional passion as an elite level athlete, Dashiell sits down with us to discuss her incredible journey, fitness plans for 2017, and tips for living a healthier life.
Bear Mattress: Can you tell us a bit about your upbringing and the struggles you faced early on?
Dash: I was born in Wareham, Massachusetts which is a small town near Cape Code. It’s your standard sort of middle-class town. I’m one of ten siblings and was actually born with severe hearing loss so by the time I was a kid I had had 14 surgeries to correct my hearing. I learned sign language at a young age and used it to communicate. After my surgeries I would practice speaking whenever I could.
Bear Mattress: I wouldn't think that you had any issues with speech growing up. You speak perfectly now without any sort of lisp or accent.
Dash: Yeah well it’s a funny story. My favorite show was “Blossom” which I loved because it featured a main character who spoke incredibly fast. I loved her! I wanted to be just like her so I would watch the show and practice speaking to the tv all the time (laughs). That definitely helped me improve.
Bear Mattress: Was your family close growing up? How was it dealing with so many siblings.
Dash: It was interesting growing up. My parents were divorced and both remarried. I grew up with only 8 siblings and didn’t know about the 9th until I was in my 20s which was difficult because the rest of us were all pretty close by that point.
Bear Mattress: Were you athletic growing up? How would you describe yourself back then?
Dash: I wanted to be an athlete so bad. I always knew that I had heart, and am competitive to a fault. I played field hockey in high school but unfortunately our home situation made it pretty tough. My Mom worked 17-18 hour work days so I had to walk two hours each day to practice. Oftentimes I would need to shower at my boyfriend’s parents house in the winter because it was the best option for hot water. I lived with my mother and stepfather Mike, who also worked long hours as a truck driver. My mom tried her best but she had had her first child at 18, and we we’re always on the brink of having trouble making ends meet. There was food on the table but it wasn't always the healthiest by any means. We were part of a government assisted food program, so canned food was probably the healthiest thing we had to eat a lot of the time.
Bear Mattress: It’s clear now from your social media that you place a big emphasis on nutrition as much as anything else. Would you say this is a result of how you had to grow up?
Dash: Yes, definitely. Growing up there was always food on the table but it was usually just the cheapest thing that the food assistance place had. We had a lot of frozen pizzas, pancakes, things with sugar, pasta, etc. I was raised to have one meal a day and my body basically had no fuel. Now that I know how important nutrition is to your athletic performance, it’s something that I take really seriously and never take for granted.
Bear Mattress: When you graduated from high school what was your plan? Did you know by then that you wanted to devote your career towards fitness?
Dash: No. Definitely not (laughs). After high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I enrolled in college locally at Framingham State and bar-tended to make money on the side. I didn’t really have anywhere to live at that point so I started renting someone’s screened-in porch and lived there for 6-8 months.
Bear Mattress: So you lived on someone’s porch outside of their home?
Dash: Yeah. It was the screened-in area outside.
Bear Mattress: Wasn’t it freezing?
Dash: It got pretty cold but I had a sleeping bag and can pretty much sleep anywhere. I’m pretty independent so it was fine. Unfortunately one night the screened in porch area was broken into and my laptop for school was stolen so that’s when I dropped out and decided that mortuary school would be a good next step.
Bear Mattress: Being a mortician isn’t something that most people consider as a career. Where did you get the idea for it?
Dash: (Laughs) It was completely a business decision. The bar that I worked at had a lot of older patrons. They were all very friendly but definitely on the older side. I saw all these aging baby-boomers and thought that it would be a solid, reliable source of income. I don’t like to see people sick, but dead bodies I’ve never had a problem with. It was an environment where I got to be creative, and the people were all really nice, so I was pretty comfortable with it from the start.
Bear Mattress: So when and how did you first get seriously into fitness, Competitive Pole-Fitness, and WBFF?
Dash: My first introduction to Pole-Fitness came when I found a class package on Groupon. I purchased it and remember going to the first class not knowing what to expect, but immediately felt drawn to it. I got good pretty fast because I had an unlimited class pass and kept going back. From there, I attended my first major competition. There was a huge crowd and the competitors were all of these hardcore athletes and Russian ex-gymnasts. That’s when I decided to take fitness more seriously and consider it as a career.
Bear Mattress: How would you describe the overall changes to your health and body that you’ve seen since getting involved with professional competitions?
Dash: Once I came back from that first competition, I started noticing changes. They weren’t immediate though by any means. It was small things - I would be at the grocery store and find myself thinking ‘Can I buy a healthier type of bread? What about the cheese I’m eating from the deli? Can I get a healthier option there?’ I cut back on drinking alcohol as well, which helped obviously. When I got into WBFF (World Beauty Fashion & Fitness) competitively I learned a lot more about nutrition in terms of things like my metabolism, macronutrient intake, et cetera.
Bear Mattress: How would you describe WBFF (World Beauty Fitness & Fashion Inc.) to someone who has never heard of it?
Dash: WBFF is basically Miss America for fitness. Competitors are judged on criteria such as body tone, overall marketability, and stage presence.
Bear Mattress: What advice would you give for someone looking to get active/in-shape in 2017?
Dash: For me, by far the biggest thing that helped me get fit was altering my mindset. Nutrition is an opportunity, not a punishment. Look to put things in your body that will make you feel good the next day. If you’re struggling, find support from family and friends. Give yourself an indulgent day where you eat something you’ve been craving, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
Bear Mattress: Do you have any resolutions for the New Year?
Dash: Yes, I just had shoulder surgery a few weeks back and am still recovering but want to get back to everything 100%. My main resolution for the New Year is to continue with my physical therapy and not let any of it slip so I can get back to competing ASAP.
Bear Mattress: How are you sleeping on your Bear Mattress? How would you describe the importance of sleep to your training regiment?
Dash: We’re loving our Bear Mattress and are sleeping great on it. I just had shoulder surgery a few weeks ago and it’s been really supportive, which has been key to my recovery. For me, sleep is hugely important and I consider it one of the three main parts of my training (along with hydration and nutrition). I try to get 7.5 hours of sleep per night, but when I don’t I feel weaker and less motivated. My lack of sleep begins to negatively impact the other parts of my training - for example I’ll supplement coffee for water. My nutrition gets messed up because my body needs more energy and has a habit of naturally reaching for unhealthier foods. When I’m not sleeping well, I’m just not myself!