An Eau Claire woman shares her domestic violence survivor story

She credits a fitness studio and its owner with changing her life
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 9:35 PM CDT|Updated: May. 26, 2022 at 10:17 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Many people join a gym as part of a New Year’s resolution or simply to get in shape. However, one Eau Claire woman says her time in a fitness studio helped her heal from an abusive relationship.

“I never thought that I would ever, ever get the pieces back together again because what I went through was really, really bad,” said Ashley Faanes, a survivor of domestic violence.

31-year-old Faanes is a happily married mother of four. A life just five years ago she says she couldn’t imagine.

“There was no sunshine in my life,” Faanes reflected. “My life was out of control.”

“Oh, she was a bright light, but she was in a tough situation,” said Emily Balow, a friend of Ashley.

In July 2016, Faanes met her ex. She says that first month was magic.

“He was the most attentive, sweetest, loving man that you will ever meet,” Faanes explained.

Shortly after those first few weeks of bliss, she says something changed.

“It was a full pop can he chucked across the room as hard as he could at my knee,” Faanes said of the first sign of abuse. “Then it was everyday beatings. There was no apologies, no nothing. It was, ‘you know better. You know what you did wrong.’”

About six months into their relationship, her ex was arrested for an unrelated crime.

“I realized that I was safe in my bed,” Faanes spoke of the relief. “I didn’t have to put things under my locks to make sure he didn’t break into my house. I actually was able to breathe for the first time.”

After taking her own legal action, she joined Dragonfly Fitness ready to leave the relationship in the past.

“The second I met Emily, we just clicked. She became my best friend at hello,” Faanes said.

“She was at a point in her life she needed something new and I was really happy to help her,” Balow remembered.

Balow has owned Dragonfly Fitness and Training in Eau Claire since 2013. Her studio isn’t about just losing weight.

“There’s so many women that come in with body image issues and that’s not what it’s about,” Balow said. “It’s about feeling good from the inside out. The power of nutrition and the power of lifting heavy weights and the power of becoming strong.”

With each rep, Faanes says it wasn’t just her body getting stronger, but also her mind and soul.

“She taught me about how to love myself, how to take care of myself,” Faanes said. “She made me realize that I didn’t need someone to save me, but I could save myself.”

With her new mindset came new realizations.

“I always thought it was my fault, that I would be judged, that everyone would hate me,” Faanes said of her abusive relationship. “I thought people would think that I was a bad mom because I didn’t leave immediately.”

After a year at Dragonfly, she was able to put her guard down and let love in. She was swept off her feet by Adam Faanes.

“I’m one of those people who loves being a wife and mom,” Faanes explained.

The couple has since welcomed two children in addition to Ashley’s two kids from a previous relationship. Faanes showing her kids not to allow a bad situation to define you, but also what true love looks like.

“A healthy relationship is truly what my children need,” said Faanes. “Coming from a household of abuse, your children need to see that healthiness in order to grow.”

She credits her 180 all to the gym owner.

“She counsels you. She talks to you. She explains how to take care of ourselves,” mentioned Faanes.

“You just you don’t realize until later on in life that you’ve made an impact and I am just very glad I could help her,” said Balow. “I’m happy that [Dragonfly] is the place that it’s happening in”

For anyone currently in the weeds of a hard time, Faanes has one message.

“Nobody can force you to leave a situation that you’re in,” Faanes said. “Many people will try. You have to find it within yourself to make that change, but there is hope. There is always hope.”

Some say dragonflies symbolize change in life-- a change in perspective and a shift toward self-realization. For Faanes, Dragonfly Fitness was just that. The place she truly found herself.

Today, Ashley journey has come full circle, now teaching classes at Dragonfly and looking to help other women in a similar situation.

If you or someone you know are in an abusive relationship you can call the domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for help.

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