I have been wanting to write about CrossFit even before I became ill. So now I can share how it has helped me with my recovery as well.
I have always been a “bigger” girl. Isn’t that an absurd statement looking at me? But it’s one I have used to describe myself many times over the years. Growing up competitively dancing, I was never one of the “thin” dancers. I was taller (always being a boy in partner dances) and had curves (my long skirts were always cut longer in the back to account for my larger bottom, allowing all the skirt lengths amongst the group to be the same). So I think that’s where this idea first started with me; comparing myself to my dance peers. I never did anything drastic growing up to lose weight, but it was definitely something that was always on my mind and I was conscious of.
My body weight has fluctuated a lot in my adult years. The year I took off after high school had me gain quite a bit of weight. I was dancing less and only working. It was enough of a weight gain for my mother to actually comment on it. Which looking back is quite serious, as she never really commented on my weight before. It was always such positive body image remarks from her. But now seeing pictures of myself at that time, I can see why she said something. It didn’t help that I was eating a lot of Old Dutch Beef Jerky while working at the Shell gas station.
University helped me lose some of the weight. And then one summer, my bestie Kenzie and I were the only ones in our group of friends in the city for the summer, and we just started going to the gym each day. And we got jacked. And then fall started with school again and we became unjacked.
After graduation, some more weight came on. I had started trying various diets and weight loss routines and exercises. All while still dancing. I would be committed for a while, and then not really see results so I would stop. I did Weight Watchers for quite some time and I lost a lot of weight. And I became a horrific b*tch. My Type A personality did too well with the program, in that it became an obsession for me. I began to obsess about what I could and could not eat. I was thin, but was a super grumpy person. So I stopped. And the weight came back on.
I tried pilates and P90X and other exercise regimes seen on tv. I would be committed for a number of weeks, but again, not see any results and conclude that it wasn’t working for me and then stop. I was frustrated. Very frustrated.
After my mom passed, I started pole dancing again. I decided to start at Level 1 again though, to work myself back up. I soon progressed to the higher levels and then plateaued. I found that only doing pole once a week was not building the strength I needed to really progress with the new strength pole holds we had started working on. And I felt frustrated all over again.
It was around this time that one of my dear friends was going through a lifestyle change. She revamped her eating habits and started working with a trainer. She spoke highly of him and I was really intrigued by the workouts she described to me that she was doing. So two years ago this March, I met with him. I will always remember some of the things he first said to me.
“This is not about what you look like. If you want to train to look a certain way, I am not the trainer for you.” Wait, what? Working out isn’t so you look a certain way?
“You will not see physical results for at least three months, working with me.” Three months? You want me to commit to something, without knowing that it will work for me, for three months??
“I eat a lot of beer and cheese. You will be able to too.” Sold.
I will admit that at the time I was hoping that my legs would look better with his workouts for an upcoming Vegas trip, but I chose to keep that comment to myself. He explained that he would customize my workouts to first create the core and base strength I would need, to then be able to add on more upper body strength and start lifting heavier. He also told me that my workouts would be reflective of what I was wanting to achieve in pole. He would ensure that we would have certain types of exercises to create and mimic the strength needed for pole strength moves.
And so we began.
I quickly learned why I love CrossFit and how it works for me. He was right. I did not see any physical changes for a few months. But I was still super motivated. Why? Because all of his workouts are designed where you are either timing yourself to see how long it takes to complete a workout, or you are seeing how many reps of a circuit you can do in a set amount of time. So even though I physically could not see a change, I could see my times improving each week. I may not have looked stronger, but I knew that I was improving. And that was the intense motivation I needed.
That’s how we continued for a long time. I would update him with my progress and he would add in new wods when he felt I was ready. I definitely had times of plateauing, or other life distractions making it hard for me to really commit. But overall, it has been a constant in my life since we began.
Last summer I felt I was in the best shape of my life. I was also the heaviest I have ever been (not including be pregnant), but it was muscle weight. And I loved it. Not only did I feel strong, but I also really loved how I looked too. I will admit it. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.
And then without any warning, I became extremely ill and was bedridden for almost 5 weeks. The first 3 or so, almost zero walking. And then once I had my surgery to help with a diagnosis, I was walking again about a week afterwards. Slowly… Within the first week and a half of my illness, I lost almost 10 pounds. And while I was in the hospital, because of this weight loss, they had me on a high fat, high calorie diet. I explained to them it was all my muscle mass that I lost, and I didn’t need to be “fattened up” – I still had all my fat! But they were unresponsive to my explanation. Then they added a high dose steroid that decreases my metabolism, increases my appetite, and consumes my muscle mass. So pretty much everything was working against me.
Once I was discharged, I had gained back the 10 pounds and a bit more. But it was still all just fat weight. Not being able to do real physical activity did not allow me to gain muscle. And once I was home, more weight was added on. The steroid had me awake for about 20 hours a day for the first 7 weeks I was home, so that allowed extra time for me to eat with my new high appetite. Soon I was about 15 pounds heavier than I had been when I first became ill.
As my mobility improved, I was able to become more physical with my workouts. Mentally it was super discouraging. It was as though I was starting at even less than where I had been when I first started training a year and a half prior. I remember not being able to stand from a squatted position without holding on to something for support when I was first discharged. Just think about that. I couldn’t walk up stairs with alternating legs on each step. Healing from my lung surgery site left me with practically zero core strength. I despised my body and its inability to do what I wanted to be able to do.
But. I started all over again. It has been about 5 months that I have been back at it. I started while in the hospital. Doing seated weight training with my teeny 2 lb weights. My physio therapist in the hospital told me that I was her only patient that asked for exercises and actually did them. I am still far from being where I was before I was ill. I am still limited on certain workouts due to the ongoing recovery from surgery, and yet another biopsy on my kidneys this time. It took me a long time to accept that for now, I need to focus on just maintaining this current weight while I am on the steroid, and be patient with hoping for more visual physical results once I am off the medication, which is probably not for another 4 months. Originally I was told 6 months, which would have been this February. But that is not the case now. Another mental set back that I have been working through.
But at least CrossFit is giving me what it gave me to begin with – motivation. Even though I am not seeing any physical changes, again, I am seeing improvement in my times and rounds. And that’s what keeps me going. Knowing if it was achieved before, it can be achieved again. I just wish I could feel like I am making significant, consistent progress. But with each new medical test or procedure, there are times I need to recovery and not workout. And that is hard on my routine, both mentally and physically.
I have my own personal CrossFit goals, continued from before I became ill. Many will probably not be achieved for years…and I can accept that. I have to. And when the day comes when I get those toes to the bar, you can bet your bonnet I will drinking beer and eating cheese afterward to celebrate.
PS A huge thanks goes out to my trainer, who is patient with me, provides a lot of mental encouragement, and sends me funny memes about burpees.