by Coach Rachel
It’s been a little over four and a half years since I started CrossFit and I’m grateful everyday that I did. I’m thankful everyday to wake up and get to come to the box and coach such an awesome group of people and share my love for CrossFit with each and every one of them. Knowing that when I wake up each day, I get to go to the gym to do what I love is what gets me out of bed. But the reality of life is that all of this almost didn’t happen. It shouldn’t have happened. If I played my life by the books and followed the rules, I never would’ve started CrossFit. I never would’ve become a coach and I don’t know where I would be today but I wouldn’t be writing this post now.
Let me backup and give you all some history about my life to help you understand how CrossFit has had such a huge impact on me. I was born with two conditions: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome- Type 3 (EDS) and Chiari Malformation Type 1. EDS makes my joints loose and my skin stretchy among other things, but we’ll keep this simple. A Chiari Malformation is basically where my skull wasn’t big enough for my brain, so some of brain went in the space where my brainstem and spinal fluid should be (basically my brain is just too big). Chiari was the one that really gave me trouble growing up, even when I didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t officially diagnosed with a Chiari Malformation until I was 10 and wasn’t officially diagnosed with EDS until a few months ago, though I’ve shown symptoms of both my entire life.
When I was diagnosed with Chiari, no one ever told me that I shouldn’t do things. The only thing I was ever told was maybe don’t go playing contact sports, which wasn’t a big concern for me because by the time I was 10, I was obese and I had already stopped playing sports. I experienced daily headaches among other symptoms from my Chiari from the time I was 10 until the time I had my first surgery to correct it in May of 2017. I tried using medication to manage the symptoms for a few years, but a lot of times the side effects of the medicine were worse than dealing with the symptoms themselves.
By the time I was 17, I was dealing with daily headaches and I had trouble with balance as well as numbness and tingling in my fingers and face. I felt like I didn’t have control over my body anymore and I was becoming depressed. At this point, I had discovered that I had celiac disease and I had lost 85lbs (but that’s another story for another time). My fitness journey had begun, but I was starting to feel like maybe there wasn’t a point to dancing around my basement anymore if my body wasn’t going to function like I wanted it to. And then I saw CrossFit on TV and I had hope. Maybe I could function like I wanted to with functional fitness. When I started CrossFit, I found something that made me happy again and gave me something to look forward to each day. I looked forward to looking at the work out each night at 8pm and going to the gym each day to be with the community. I felt so strong and I felt like, even if just for an hour, I was in control of my body again. CrossFit gave me that back. It didn’t matter to me if in that hour my pain was better or worse, I had control over something again and I could do something for me and that was and is still what matters.
Little did I know that I wasn’t supposed to do CrossFit. After I drank the Kool-Aid, I had a follow-up with my neurologist to check on my brain and in conversation (as it always does), CrossFit came up. He told me I had to stop and that I never should’ve started. Apparently, in addition to not doing contact sports, I was also not supposed to do anything that would require me to strain or could increase the pressure in my head, which would happen with weight lifting. I was crushed. I left that appointment not sure what I was going to do. I was so torn. I loved CrossFit, but I didn’t want to do anything to make my head worse. I decided to do my own research and after a lot of searching, questioning, and talking it over with my parents, I decided that I just couldn’t give up CrossFit.
CrossFit gave me something to look forward to everyday. It gave me a purpose again and it made me excited to get out of the house, which hadn’t happened in years. CrossFit gave me the feeling of control back, which was huge for me. I came to the conclusion that if I was going to have pain either way, I should be happy and in pain and live the life I want to live, rather than be miserable and in pain and only lay in bed all day because that’s what’s “safe” for me. So I kept going to the box and eventually decided to coach because I wanted to be able to one day share my story with other people so I could share my passion for CrossFit with other people as well.
CrossFit has continued to help me along this journey for my health. Last May, it ended up being time to have surgery to try to slow the progression of my symptoms from my Chiari. I knew that the surgery was going to be tough, but I approached it like a long workout, slow and steady. CrossFit gave me the mental toughness and attitude I needed to approach the surgery with and I knew that in the end I would come back stronger for it. I was also better off in the surgery for having done CrossFit. As much as my doctor didn’t want me to lift so I wouldn’t increase the pressure in my head, both he and my surgeon were impressed at how strong I was, how well I was able to gain my balance back, and how well I was able to recover after surgery. CrossFit was my physical therapy.
CrossFit has continued to be there for me. My recovery hasn’t been as smooth as I would’ve liked. EDS has caused some bumps in the road and coming back stronger then ever will take longer than expected. CrossFit has helped me to overcome them. I’ve learned that I can adapt and overcome. There may be certain movements that I may not be able to do again, and that’s okay. When I found out about my EDS, I also found out that I have something called Craniocervical Instability- a complication of both EDS and the decompression surgeries from Chiari. Essentially, my head is falling off my neck. But, CrossFit has made my neck strong. So strong that I’m not in a wheelchair. When I met with my doctor, he said he’s never seen a neck as hypermobile as mine, and he’s not sure why I’m not disabled or how I’m able to function the way I am. To me, the answer is simple: CrossFit.
CrossFit has made me both physically and mentally stronger. It has given me an outlet to make me feel useful and feel like I have a purpose each day. It has given me a support system, a community I can lean on. CrossFit has given me control of my life, a way for me to feel like I have a purpose again. It gives me something to look forward to each day. It’s changed my life for the better, really for the best and I love that I get to share my passion for CrossFit with the members of CrossFit Kanna and the community each and everyday.
Has CrossFit changed your life for the better? How so?