By Aly Teich with Megan Brown, Julie Rotondi & Barry’s Bootcamp Trainers
Diem Brown was a force to be reckoned with, as anyone who watched her compete on the MTV challenges can attest to. She was a fighter, determined and strong — and her brave fight came to close when she passed away on November 14, 2014, at age 34, ending her third battle with cancer. What many may not know is that she trained at Barry’s Bootcamp regularly — sometimes twice a day when she was training for the MTV challenges — and it was the only excursion she would push herself to make when she was feeling her worst, even if it meant just visiting her favorite trainers.
I didn’t know Diem Brown personally, yet her story, her strength, and her determination to live have always been a source of inspiration for me, especially as I have watched my own mother go through an almost identical battle with ovarian cancer over the last five years. Reading about a girl my age having to endure everything I saw my mother going through struck a deep nerve. But then I would read Diem’s candid chronicles of her journey on her website and in her weekly column in People magazine, and be left feeling nothing but inspired by her will to fight, her conviction to live life to the fullest — even through the worst of circumstances — and her never wavering positive outlook on her situation and life in general.
My respect for and awe of Diem reached new heights after her passing when I had the privilege of speaking to so many who were so close to her. In addition to speaking at length to her close friend, Julie Rotondi, about her life and her death, I reached out to a community that meant so much to her, and her to them — Barry’s Bootcamp.
Use side arrows to scroll through photos.
Hearing the stories of her time spent at Barry’s during her final weeks, even when she could not workout, made it clear that Barry’s Bootcamp was so much more than just a workout to her — it was a community of friends, a place of love and support, and a source of strength she so deeply needed in her final days. And as you will hear in the words below from her friends and family, and the trainers at Barry’s Bootcamp that were closest to her, this relationship did not go in one direction. She, too, was so clearly a friend who offered love and support, as well as a source of strength and inspiration to all she came in contact with.
We could not be more honored to share even a piece of Diem’s story with you, and offer our deepest condolences to her family, her friends, and to all that knew her. She will be forever missed and forever remembered. Here, her friends, family, and Barry’s Bootcamp trainers pay tribute to a life well lived. —Aly Teich, Founder of The Sweat Life
“Diem was synonymous with Barry’s, and Barry’s with Diem. I kept telling her she needed to be a trainer there because she was so passionate about it. Barry’s served as a friend to Diem when she first moved to NY. I don’t think people realize when she moved here it took a while for her to warm to it as she so deeply missed her LA lifestyle — a lifestyle that included Barry’s as often as she could get in. She continued that relationship in NY and encouraged so many others to give it a shot. I was in a Hamptons share when Diem moved to NY and nearly everyone in that share are still Barry’s regulars because of her enthusiasm. If Diem wasn’t at the apartment when I got home, 9 times out of 10 she was at Barry’s. When I walked into the Chelsea location the other day, I just felt her, everywhere. This is where she was happiest, this is where she could beat the odds, push herself, often weak from treatment with a scarf covering the evidence. If that image didn’t push the person on the treadmill next to her, I truly don’t know what would! I know it sounds cliché but I truly believe Barry’s helped bring out the fighter in Diem, helped her beat her first two bouts with cancer, and fight as long as she did. Barry’s wasn’t just a workout to my sister, Barry’s was part of what made her up, challenged her, and kept her with us.” —Megan Brown, Diem’s sister
Use side arrows to scroll through photos.
“When I went to go see Diem right after her first emergency surgery, within a minute she said to me, ‘I'm so upset.’ I said, I know I'm so sorry this is happening again. She said, ‘No I'm so upset because I was gonna win that challenge. I was so ready. I was in the best shape of my life.' We changed the subject, and within 10 minutes she brought it up again. ‘I was doing Barry's twice a day leading up to it, and I'm just pissed I didn't get to finish because I had this one!’ Anyone that had met Diem, even just in a social setting, probably heard about Barry's and were drilled about why they hadn't tried it yet. Most people probably assumed she worked there — but no, she just had that much passion for the place and wanted nothing in return, except for more people to join the Barry's circle and share her enthusiasm. And of course being the most competitive person you'll ever meet, she couldn't wait to hear, ‘You were right, Diem,’ so she could smirk and say, ‘See? I told you!’
I was at Barry's almost every day for 3 months, just picking up her shakes from the bar, and once the Barry's crew started recognizing me as her friend, the amount of support and love everyone showed was unbelievable. Every day multiple people were asking for her, having me send messages or written notes, or sending her some swag. I delivered every message, and without fail every time she lit up and said how sweet it was — always followed by, 'They're all so awesome. I just can't wait to get back there.'
In the final few weeks, outings became less and less frequent. Aside from hospital and doctor visits, it was just too much for her to get out of the apartment. But 2 weeks before she passed, I made a deal with her in an attempt to motivate her. If I did a bunch of errands and rearranged her room, she had to agree to go for a walk (in the wheelchair) to get some fresh air. That night we wheeled over to Barry's to get another shake, and it was packed. The amount of love and support she was greeted with was something she couldn't have anticipated. So many familiar faces, so many hugs and messages of encouragement. She was a legend there! We were still there when the doors opened for the next class, and watched as the group went in and the music started blasting. My heart kind of sunk at that point but the look on her face was priceless. Then she turned to me and said, ‘I think I can come back and at least start with just arms in the next couple weeks. You'd do that with me right?’ Just being in that atmosphere had her smiling and thinking about goals other than her sickness. The way she spoke about getting back in there (just 2 weeks before she passed) would've made you think she just had a minor knee surgery, and it was annoying that the recovery wasn't happening at a faster rate." —Julie Rotondi, Diem’s close friend
“I was lucky enough to see Diem just a few weeks before she passed. It was one of her last nights out and she came to Barry's. Although at this point she was experiencing intolerable pain, she still had a smile from ear to ear and talked about how excited she was to get back to class. She mentioned loving how soft and comfy her Barry's sweat clothes were, so we ran downstairs and found as many items as possible for her to take home. I didn't realize that was the last time I'd see her. She meant the world to so many people at Barry's Bootcamp, not only because she had been a client for so long, but because she was someone we looked up to as a hero. A true soldier who never gave up and fought for her life until the very end. We are so sorry she is gone.” —Joey Gonzalez, Barry’s Bootcamp Co-Founder
“I grew up watching Diem compete on MTV, so having her in class was such a thrill. Over the years I got to know her more and more as she frequented my classes. Before her last MTV challenge she was determined to go in super strong, so she was at Barry’s every day for weeks leading up. Her history in and out of the hospitals battling cancer is beyond inspiring; her constant determination seemed to never falter, and you couldn't help but watch that with admiration. These last few months don't seem possible, it's terribly sad to see cancer take someone you love away so quickly. Just a few months ago you could have walked into Barry’s Bootcamp in Chelsea, on a Tuesday at 12:30, to see her there sweating it out with the rest of us. Barry's Bootcamp operates like a family, and her death was like losing a member of the tribe. She will be missed, undeniably loved, and forever celebrated. We love you Diem Brown.” —Patrick Frost, Barry’s Bootcamp trainer
“I had the honor of knowing Diem both in the gym and on the field competing. She was an animal! A true fitness enthusiast with all heart! She would love to keep adding things to the routine, and always run afterwards. When she moved to NYC she fell in love with Barry's — the workout was perfect for her, and she would get everyone to go with her! I really feel Barry's changed her life." —Kenny Santucci, Cross Fit trainer and fellow MTV challenge competitor
"Dear Diem, As I sit here alone on an empty row of treadmills at 5:30 am, I am thinking of you. I haven’t turned on the lights yet, and the room is cool and silent. I wanted to sit and thank you. I want to tell you how much I will miss you, how much your love and support has affected me. You see, when a running coach is affected so deeply by a runner, it shakes them, it changes them. You were that runner for me. You came into my life and grabbed a hold of me so tightly. You showed me the impact of perspective and power of the human spirit. I will remember the miles you ran, and the moments you ached more than most of us could ever imagine. I will remember how you never quit, ever. You were the elusive, unbreakable runner a coach meets but once in a lifetime. You have affected us all in so many different ways, but this is my way. Thank you for being my little pistol, my perspective, my ultimate lesson in confidence. And as I sit here alone, with the gentle hum of the treadmill beneath me, I miss you terribly. I sit here shaken by your absence, but realize that this is the very moment YOU have become MY coach. I will remember you always, I will make you proud Diem Brown, and I promise, I will finish this race. Love Always, David" —David Siik, former Barry’s Bootcamp trainer, Creator of Precision Running at Equinox