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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Couch to CrossFit

I'm sure everyone has heard of Couch to 5K. There are numerous apps and programs available to take you from a sedentary lifestyle to becoming a runner. I was never necessarily interested in running, but I did want to find a form of sport or fitness that would allow me to develop my body in a way that could be applied to multiple disciplines. What I found was CrossFit.

Let's start with a little background on my health. As a kid I was fairly active up through middle school. After various family events and some personal health problems, I stopped most physical activity and ballooned to almost 300 lbs in high school. As a junior in high school, I joined the swim team as a way to get exercise (insert fat girl in pool joke here) but had no clue what do to about my diet. My family was not the healthiest on the block and Taco Bueno for dinner and some Blue Bell for dessert was not uncommon. I moved out after high school and over the next 8 years I tried this diet and that, gave a personal trainer a shot for all of three sessions, went for walks, occasionally tried to go to the gym that was taking money from my account every month, and generally put my health last. I did manage to lose over 100 lbs over the course of the 8 years through various calorie restrictions, etc.

This picture shows me near my heaviest and least happy then another shot right before I joined CrossFit, lighter and more happy, but not yet fulfilled.

After a divorce last year and time spent wallowing for a few months, I decided I was tired of watching other people run marathons, play sports, ride bikes, go rock climbing, and all the other fun things I wasn't strong or fit enough to do. The drive from my apartment to my favorite little beer bar in Austin takes me up and down Burnet Rd. In the afternoons, I would drive past and see people running, jumping, squatting, and all sorts of crazy things in the parking lot and around the gym. After staring myself down in the mirror and verbally telling myself to put up or shut up, I was driving back from the bar and saw a row of girls doing pull-ups outside the gym. When I got home I looked them up and called the next day. I went in on my lunch break and spoke with the amazing Emily Baker who told me all about the program and reassured me again and again that all the training was scalable to my level. Inside my head I was laughing and thinking surely they couldn't understand how incredibly weak I really was. Regardless of my doubts and fears, and there were many, I signed up for Elements that day and paid right then to remove the chance to chicken out. I was scared to go to my first class and called the gym and rescheduled a week out. After a week of beating myself up, I showed up to my first day of Elements. It took all the will I could muster just to get out of the car. I walked in to the gym and saw people on the floor doing who knows what with cylinders of foam and little tennis balls and barely managed to walk to the counter to check in for class. Ben coached me and two other ladies through a lot of basics and we did at least a million* squats. And when I say we did, the other two women did and Ben went to get me a 20" box to sit on and get back up from because I couldn't actually support my weight past a slight lean. The next few days I was on fire and started using the handicapped stall at work so I could get a boost getting up from the seat. That is not an exaggeration.

I survived Elements and signed up for the 6pm Womens Only class. The ladies were all so friendly and I couldn't believe there were no chuckles when our coach pulled out the 20" box for me to work on my squat. Our warmup always ends with a 400m run which at that location involved running from the gym to an AutoZone down the street and back. Let's just say I didn't make it to the AutoZone before I was huffing and puffing and dizzy. Regardless, a lot of the girls gave me a high five on the way and told me I was doing a good job. What a way to kick off my first day of CrossFit. One of the workouts my first week was Annie which involves 50 each of double unders and sit ups, then 40 each, then 30 each, then 20 each, then 10 each and your goal is to complete all of that as quickly as possible. I don't think I had used a jump rope since kindergarten and I'm pretty sure I skipped the day where we learned how to properly jump rope. After fumbling around with it for quite a while I went over to try and do the sit ups. I kept at them, occasionally pulling myself up by the legs, and after less than 50 the coach called time and the workout was done. I hadn't even finished the first set. After class, the girls were kind enough to share stories from their first weeks and consistently reminded me that showing up and working through the WOD was a victory in and of itself.

I clung to that concept as the days went by and in what seemed like no time at all I was squatting to a med ball during the warm up. Then I finished the 400m run in the warmup without taking a break. Next thing you know it I finished an 800m run. I was almost in tears walking back in to the gym and one of my friends looked up and saw me and stopped what she was doing to give me a high five and tell me how awesome I was. Day after day I was racking up personal record after personal record. I got to call time in my first WOD and finished it completely. Then I ran a mile. Then I started squatting with weight. The hits just kept coming! Then came the day when I finally felt like I could describe myself as CrossFit. I had finally earned that description. Annie came back around in the rotation and I did every jump (single, I'm still working on the double unders) and every sit up and I got to ask my amazing coach, Carey, to give me my time. I sat on the mat and thought back to that first week when I had to get help getting up from a sit up and I had to fight back tears. I walked over to the whiteboard and proudly wrote my time, which was still longer than anyone else in the class, and I practically floated out to the lobby after stretching out.

Now I look forward to every day I get the pleasure of sweating it out with the amazing ladies in my class. I keep setting and reaching short and long term goals. I even added an extra day of training to get a better understanding of the various lifts when we work with weights. I love moving heavy weight and the strength I've developed over the past five months has changed my life. I walk with my shoulders back and every step is full of purpose. I am even competing for the first time on a team for the Iron Belle Challenge on Saturday. I love my life and I am loving my body and watching it change every day is such a joy to me.

So to anyone out there that has ever considered training, go for it. I can't recommend it enough. Find a supportive environment and, as Jen Cardella would say, do work, bitches. It is awesome. It may not be as simple as downloading an app, but it is worth every drop of sweat.

Go forth and conquer.


*The actual number is probably less than 100, but to a total newbie it felt like a million.

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