What brought you to crossfit in the first place? What is your story? We all have our own personal reasons for hitting the crossfit gym, day in and day out. Some come to get fit or to lose a few pounds, some to build muscle or get stronger and some come for the social outlet. I come for ALL of those reasons, but there is more to my story and I am both grateful and proud that Carlin asked me to share it. As a competitive gymnast, I was always an active and athletic girl who never turned down the opportunity to play a sport or try something new. However, things changed a bit as a I became a college student at BGSU. Don’t get me wrong, I’d hit the rec center for an aerobics class or 30 minutes on the stair stepper, but working out definitely took a back seat to beer and new friends and boys and studying. It’s really easy to take your life and health for granted when you are in your late teens and early 20’s. I was invincible, right? We all are… And then my life changed in a way I would have never imagined. In late December, 1994 I found a lump in my neck. It didn’t hurt, but I just couldn’t shake the fact that it just didn’t feel right. I confided in a family friend who got me in to see a general surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic immediately. By the first week of January, 1995 I was scheduled for a biopsy. I woke up from the surgery with two oncologists standing over me telling me that preliminary pathology indicated Hodgkins Lymphoma. Lymphoma. I couldn’t fully comprehend, but I knew lymphoma was cancer. I was 21 years old and a college senior and these doctors just told me that I had cancer. My first thought was “oh my God, I am going to die”. I remember spending HOURS in my local library (because there was NO internet at the time!!!) researching Hodgkins Lymphoma leading up to my first meeting with my very own oncologist. This is when my fight started, when I decided I was NOT going to lose this battle. I never asked “why me?” but I couldn’t shake the question “how?” How did this happen to a healthy 21 year old? I will never know. I had a fantastic group of doctors who had some pretty good news for me: my cancer was very treatable and I caught it fairly early. Hodgkins Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system and the cancer was in both lymph nodes in my neck and it had spread to my chest, where I had a very large mass (so big you could actually see it in photographs), but the cancer was all located above my diaphragm which was a great sign. I had stage 2 cancer (out of a possible 4). The bad news was that although it was treatable, that treatment consisted of 6 months of chemotherapy and one month of radiation. Chemo would consist of a hybrid of 7 nasty drugs that I would receive both orally and intravenously, 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. It was highly suggested that I drop out of college while going through my treatment. I would undoubtedly lose my hair. The drugs, while effective, were so toxic that they could leave my hands and feet numb, could be toxic to my heart and lungs, could put me in premature menopause, leaving me with only a 50% chance of having children, and years later, put me at high risk for other cancers. The month of radiation to follow would occur 5 days a week for 4 weeks. Because of where I needed to be radiated, I would be left at ultra high risk for breast cancer. It’s crazy, the treatment that was going to save my life, could also take away my life in the future. Yet the only words I could say was “when do I start?” My only condition was that the doctors only had until August to fix me. I was determined to get back to school at the start of the new school year! I was blessed with an extremely positive attitude. I smiled and laughed a lot. I made jokes. At the advice of my doctors, I tried to live as normally as possible because the more “normal” life seemed, the more positive your attitude. They were right. I got a job that I only missed on the day of and the day after chemo. I went up to Bowling Green every month to visit with my friends. I spent lots of time with family. I stayed active, hitting the local rec center and going for walks in the Metroparks. But let’s be honest, chemo is really, really hard and I was really sick. Losing my hair was the single most devastating part of my cancer experience, stripping me of my self-esteem and acting as a visual reminder that I was now “damaged goods”. I was lonely. I missed my friends and college terribly, yet it was very difficult to find common ground with my friends because they couldn’t relate to what I was going through. As they worried about their next school project or what bars they were going to hit on the next Thursday night, I worried about how sick my next chemo would make me, or worse yet, I worried if the chemo was even working! Cancer treatment is such a long process and you have very little knowledge of if those diseased cells are getting killed off or not. I hit a wall at 4 months, calling my oncologist one evening to tell him I couldn’t make it through one more treatment. I wanted to quit. I couldn’t take it anymore. For an hour and a half, this doctor sat there on the phone with me and reminded me of all that I had to look forward to…graduating from college and getting married, being a mother and living a long life…all things I wouldn’t be able to do if I quit. Obviously, I didn’t quit! On my very last day of radiation, I moved all of my stuff back up to Bowling Green to start my new school year. A month later, on September 25, 1995, I was told the most amazing words I had ever heard…you are in remission! Eventually, I graduated and went on to graduate school at Ohio University, becoming a licensed Speech-Language Pahtologist. I met and married the love of my life and my very best friend, and beat the odds by having two beautiful, perfect girls, Riley, who is 11 and Reese, who is 9. I fought and I WON. But cancer leaves its scars and I know for me, I lived in paralyzing fear every time I had to go back for my quarterly cancer check-ups. What if it was back? How would I go through it all again? What if I died and left this world? I didn’t want my daughters to be left without their mom, and my husband left without a wife. See, my cancer was 90% treatable, but I became friends with 2 young men who were going through the same cancer diagnosis as me…and they both died, one during treatment and one when his cancer returned after being put in remission. I was scared all the time. Your mortality becomes very real when you see your friends in a coffin, who battled the same thing you did. As I prepared for my 12 year check-up, the year they would deem me cured, I was once again overwhelmed with fear, spending lots of time crying and imagining all the horrible “what ifs”. I remember my husband, Brian, sitting me down and sternly telling me to STOP living like my cancer was back. It wasn’t! He told me I had no control over it and that I just had to live my life. His words hit a chord…I didn’t have control over if or when my cancer would come back, but I DID have control over how I treated my body! I vowed at that moment that I was going to make exercise a priority and become more educated on what foods to fuel my body with. I got my first personal trainer, started weight training, dropped a few pounds and for the first time in YEARS made exercise a habit! A couple of years later, I noticed that the Akron Half Marathon was going to be run on my 14th cancer free anniversary and I decided to train and run it as a “screw you” to cancer! I was told cancer treatment would damage my heart and lungs and I set out to prove them wrong…cancer was not going to stop me. I successfully completed the race, with a respectable time. Before that, I had never run more than a 5K. I was overcome with pride! After the race, I discovered and fell in love with kettle bells (thank you, Amy Dudley!) I discovered a strength I never had, my body totally changed, I was fitter than I had been in years! Over the next several years, I continued to run and weight train. I found a power yoga class I loved. I trained for another half marathon and shaved 10 minutes off of my original race time. My husband, who had been cross fitting at Root 18 for about 8 months, encouraged me to give it a try. He was sure I would love it!
What was your first impression? How has that changed? I was very hesitant to begin crossfitting. I had heard all the talk about it being “dangerous”, a place where coaches are constantly pushing you to lift more and more weight. And I feared what it would do to my body…I was looking to transform my body into the look of a yoga instructor and feared all that lifting would make me bulky and “manly” looking. When I took my foundations class, I was totally discouraged! I was used to doing bootcamps or weight training classes where I was one of the fittest ones in the room, and all of a sudden I was being introduced to movements I wasn’t even CLOSE to being able to do! I remember the first few months of WODs, coming into every class saying to myself, “I am not going to like this”, actually nervous and intimidated to walk in the door, yet I would continue to come back! And for months I felt almost embarrassed that I couldn’t do some movements or that I required such a light weight to complete a WOD safely and correctly. I struggled with the sincerity of every cheer, “LIKE” on Wodify or “you crushed it” that came my way! In a world where everyone is so darn competitive, where everyone is fighting to be the best, all of these people in this gym were surely mocking me, right? But they weren’t! That is the culture of cross fit! Compete against yourself, set your own goals…and push, cheer and celebrate the accomplishments for not only yourself, but all of your peers around you! It’s a family and slowly, but surely, I began to feel like I belonged! The more I showed up to class, the more “gold stars” I saw on Wodify, the handstand pushup that once required a 25# bumper and 2 ab mats was down to 1 ab mat and the strict pull-ups that once required bands were now being completed unassisted! All of a sudden, I was getting stronger, I was letting go of the idea that the “perfect” body was a super skinny body and I began embracing my strength. I was empowered! That girl, who once was a very sick cancer patient, who spent years scared of a disease that might come back and fearing the damage of treatment that was necessary to save her life, is now a strong-ass crossfitter!
What was your first “goal”? Did you hit it? I would have to say my very first crossfit goal was to be able to do a kipping pull-up and yes, I have achieved my goal! I can only do 3 in a row, which is frustrating sometimes, and every time they appear in a workout, I know that day I will come in last place, but I can do them! That’s the beauty of cross fit, you are always humbled by your weaknesses, yet you continue to work on it until it becomes a strength!
What are you working on now? I have lots of goals right now…I am VERY close to getting rx’d handstand push-ups and I am working on gaining strength so that I can rx the barbell weight on most WODs. I am positive that in time, I will accomplish these goals!
What is your favorite Root 18 memory? I have lots of great memories at Root 18, but there is one that tugs at my heart the most, the one that truly embodies the FAMILY of Root 18 and the culture of cross fit. A few weeks ago, there was a WOD that if I remember correctly, we had to cash in and buy out with an 800 m run and in the middle was a bunch of heavy thrusters and pull-ups…two things that I can honestly say are my weaknesses. That day I stepped up my weight for thrusters and as mentioned earlier, pull-ups take me a long time to get through. I was undoubtedly going to go over the time cap for the workout, but wanted to finish. I set out for my last 800 meter run, and when I turned the corner to start my 2nd lap, I saw Hope Wilson waiting for me by the door. She joined me on that last lap, pushing me to go harder and faster than I would have by myself. I told her that she didn’t have to run with me, but she insisted, saying “she knew how hard it was for her to get through that last run!” Crossfit workouts are amazing, but the friendships and support are second to none! All those people out there who knock crossfit, or are too afraid to try it or are intimidated by the workouts…I just want to say that in some way, shape or form, we all are…but you always have someone in your corner who is going to help you get through… and at the end of the day you feel strong, empowered, accomplished and confident! I crossfit for lots of reasons… I crossfit to get strong. I crossfit to stay fit and keep my weight down. I cross fit because I want my daughters to know that STRONG is beautiful. I crossfit because I truly love the family at Root 18. I crossfit because I CAN…because I am so lucky that cancer didn’t get me…that I overcame many odds! I cross fit because the last time I went to the doctor, I was told, out of the blue, how amazing my heart sounded, that my resting heart rate was so slow and relaxed. I was asked what I do to stay fit…I said that I cross fit. Of all the exercising I have done, my doctor has never commented on how healthy my heart sounded until this year! On September 25, 2015, I will be cancer-free for 20 years! 20 YEARS!!!! I had babies…I have no heart or lung damage…no signs of new cancer! I am healthy! I am blessed and proud! Screw cancer!