Leah: CrossFit for Self-Love

Leah 1Leah is lovely. She has a warm smile and after a few minutes of talking to her, you have the feeling you’ve known her for years. Only when she starts to walk with slow, exaggerated steps do you realize there is something about her that’s out of the ordinary.

Leah has cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by an injury to the immature, developing brain, most often before birth.

Although born three months premature, Leah doesn’t know the exact cause of the cerebral palsy that affects her lower body.

As a therapist for young children, she is often asked about her disability. It’s not always easy to explain why you’re different or why you’re unable to walk at a normal pace. “They ask what’s wrong with me. I tell them, and then they move on to something else,” Leah said.

“Kids are good like that.”

Even when you’re comfortable with who you are, there are times when you just need a safe place to be normal. Having cerebral palsy had always prevented Leah from making fitness part of her life. She enjoyed being active, but she found large gyms too overwhelming.

Leah and John

“There was just too much I couldn’t do,” she said. “I stuck out because I would have to do the movements differently than other people.”

Leah 3Then in October of 2013 she came across an article about Stephanie Hammerman, the first certified CrossFit trainer with cerebral palsy.

“I thought, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’” Leah said. So she emailed John Kennedy, the owner of CrossFit West Nashville, attached a link to Steph Hammerman’s article, and told him she wanted to try CrossFit.

John immediately invited Leah to attend CFWN’s CrossFit 101 class, which is an introduction to CrossFit, its philosophy and its movements. “I didn’t have any other goal than just wanting to be able to do it,” said Leah. “From the beginning I focused on what I could do, which was a lot because there are so many ways to modify.”

She was also surprised at how much she enjoyed working out in a group. “I love the support. And everyone has to scale the workout, so I’m no different than anyone else.”

Because of the tightness in her calves, Leah has trouble with squats and movements like box jumps. “The coaches show me how I can scale those things, and I can do them,” she said.

Her favorite movement? “Push ups. And I’m working on getting my pull up.”

It’s been nearly a year since Leah started CrossFit. With coaching and community, she has pushed herself past her initial expectations. Not only can she do CrossFit, she has found new strength within herself.

Self-love is a slow growing process and it’s unbelievable how much Crossfit has helped me love my body just the way it is while at the same time giving me the strength and confidence to push my body to what it is really capable of doing.” — Leah

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Felicia CrossFit West NashvilleFelicia sat in the CrossFit West Nashville parking lot and cried. She had just watched a small, blonde woman enter the gym with a full grocery bag in one arm and a squirming child in the other arm…all without breaking a sweat.Functional fitness, Felicia reminded herself. Her introductory CrossFit class was scheduled to start in a few minutes, but she just couldn’t make herself get out of the car. She called her husband Eric.

“I’m not going in there.”

“Why not?” Eric asked.

“The women will be so much stronger than I am.”

“That’s why you’re there. To get strong.”

Eric had joined CrossFit over three months ago as a way to regain his mobility after a severely herniated disc had nearly crippled him. Felicia had been wary of his decision. Everything she had read about CrossFit mentioned injury, cults and kool aid. But she couldn’t help seeing his progress as he moved easier and started losing weight.

Felicia was an emotional eater – something she was able to keep in check until after her second pregnancy. “After a couple of years, I had to admit that it was no longer baby weight. It was just weight,” she said. Her demanding and sedentary desk job made eating regular and healthy meals difficult, and she soon slipped into a cycle of skipping meals completely then later binging on high-fat, processed foods.

When a stranger asked a not-expecting Felicia when she was due, she knew she needed to make a change. Despite having bad knees from her time in the service, Felicia started getting up at 4:45am three days a week to work out with a personal trainer and became more mindful of her diet. But three months later she was frustrated at the lack of progress her efforts were producing.

The next time Eric suggested she should try a class at CrossFit West Nashville, she agreed.

The first class was hard. Her body was unaccustomed to the movements, and she felt awkward and self-conscious. Even the warm welcome she received from the other CrossFitters didn’t calm her nerves. But she kept trying, and she kept smiling, and she kept coming back.

Felicia Deadlift

“After a few weeks, I wasn’t as sore. My clothes fit better. I was sleeping better. My knees were better,” Felicia said. “But now I had to do something about my diet.”

Together Eric and Felicia decided to do the Advocare 24 Day Challenge. She lost 15 lbs during that first challenge, but more importantly, it helped her establish good eating habits. “I’ve stopped stepping on the scale,” she said. “I’ve gone from a size 18 to a size 10. I don’t know how many pounds that is. I eat for my health now.”

But one of Felicia’s proudest CrossFit moments didn’t happen in the box. While shopping at a local Reebok store, another CrossFitter talked Felicia into buying a purple racer-back tank. When she modeled the tank for Eric, he took a picture of her back. “Muscles! I have back muscles!” Felicia said.

It’s been nearly nine months since Felicia made the decision to get out of her car and join her first class at CrossFit West Nashville. She is strong and lean. She can do Karen – 150 wall balls – without being sore. She has also realized her potential in other areas of her life. Personal goals she had abandoned long ago have become important again. “I have good health – physical and emotional health – and I’m going to keep it.”

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Scott Turner: CrossFit for Competing

Scott Turner 1After mountain bike racing for 18 years, Scott Turner decided to get serious. He had been competing as a Category 2 racer and knew he could upgrade his standing to Category 1 with some extra work and focus. He needed to improve his strength, and his wife Michelle suggested CrossFit.

Michelle had been a member of CrossFit West Nashville since its opening in April 2012. She had invited Scott to try CrossFit a few times, but he stuck with his cycling. “CrossFit was really Michelle’s thing, and I didn’t want to interfere with that,” he said. But Michelle was confident that CrossFit was a way for Scott to build his strength without losing his endurance. It would be exactly what he needed to elevate to the next level of mountain bike racing. Finally, Michelle’s persistence paid off and Scott started to join her at the box.

Although he was accustomed to riding over a hundred miles a week on his bike, Scott’s first CrossFit class was a challenge. “My first workout was with the PVC pipe, and it was the hardest workout I’ve ever done. The pipe…the pipe makes you hurt,” he said.

Scaling a workout is an important part of CrossFit and is usually reserved for athletes who are unable to complete the WOD with the heavier or more advanced movements. For Scott, the coaches at CrossFit West Nashville helped him scale his workouts so he would gain the biggest benefit for his racing.

Scott’s focus was on building strength in his legs and core. During a race he needed to be able to go over obstacles without losing balance or speed. After adding squats through CrossFit, Scott immediately noticed an improvement in leg strength. One of his favorite movements, toes to bar, is very effective in building the core muscles. Also, exercises that involve kipping – like toes to bar and pull ups – develop the fast twitch muscles which are very important in bike racing.

Scott Turner CrossFit

There were also a couple of benefits from doing CrossFit that Scott had not expected. “My heart rate stays lower and I’ve had fewer injuries,” Scott said. “Fewer injuries means less time out of training for recovery.”

Scott was seeing the results from CrossFit in his biking, but would it help him achieve his goal of a Category 1 status? Not only did Scott win the State Championship Category 2 division that year, he earned the upgrade to Category 1 and placed Second in the State Championship series.

“CrossFit was the difference,” he said.

Scott has continued to supplement his race training with CrossFit. His endurance and speed shine during metcons, but his wife Michelle still squats heavier. “Yeah, she out-squats me. All the time.”