Written by Liz Van Winkle
When I think about the 5+ years I have been involved with CrossFit, the first word that comes to mind is: change.
It may seem cliche or incredibly obvious to say, but it’s true: CrossFit has completely changed my life. When I left my teaching job last June to coach CrossFit full-time, my career changed. My eating habits (Paleo/Macros vs. whatever the hell I felt like eating) and my wardrobe (hello, Lululemon) both completely changed. My confidence, attitude, stress level, sleep, and overall happiness have all changed in the most positive ways due to CrossFit.
But the biggest change by far has been to my physical self. More importantly, how I think and feel about my body.
When I first walked in the doors of Friendship in the spring of 2012, I was pretty much a mess. I had just started a career I was quite unenthusiastic about, I had lost a coaching job I was very passionate about, and I was completely uncomfortable in my own skin. I could count on one hand the number of times I had been to the gym in the past year. After that first workout – bottom to bottom TABATA squats – I was all in. I immediately drank the Kool-aid and asked for seconds. I started feeling better right away and relished my new-found muscle soreness. I bought into the Paleo diet, usually making two meals for myself and my husband – who initially thought I was totally nuts. I loved the workouts, the community, and my new sense of self.
On December 31st, 2012, I was driving home from the gym thinking about how I had been feeling like absolute crap the last few days and couldn’t figure out why. On a whim, I stopped at CVS and bought a pregnancy test. Twenty minutes later, I was staring down at a purple + sign.
Maybe I should have been thrilled. Excited. Over-the-moon happy. But instead, I was terrified. I knew next to nothing about pregnancy. How much weight would I gain? What would I wear? How would I feel? And breastfeeding? Gross.
It took several long minutes for me to even comprehend the idea that an actual human baby would be the result of this pregnancy. I was almost totally focused on how my life and my body would change.
When I told my husband the news, he was ecstatic. I told him how I was feeling and that I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle all of this. His immediate response was: “It will be fine! We’ll figure it out as we go.” Always so annoyingly yet helpfully calm, this guy! After the initial shock wore off, I truly was excited. Telling our parents and friends was a really fun experience and I’ll never forget the looks on their faces.
CrossFit was constantly on my mind when I thought about how pregnancy and motherhood would affect my life. I hadn’t seen any other members be with child at FCF (remember, this was over five years ago) but Jeff and Jay assured me they would help however they could. I remember feeling worried that I would lose the self-respect and confidence that I had gained over the past nine months. I had just started to figure out who I was, and now my world was going to be turned completely upside down. Little did I know, the journey of self-discovery and change was just beginning.
Thankfully, my pregnancy was super smooth and healthy. I was able to workout at FCF about five days per week, and I felt great. I was lucky enough to have two other women (Hi, Allison and Emily!) who were also pregnant at the same time with whom I could celebrate and commiserate. Addison was born on August 23rd, 2013 in an easy delivery with no complications. I gained about 40 pounds in total, which my doctor assured me was normal, but which also gave me a lot of anxiety. The day I went into labor, I was 212#. I was eager to return to the gym and get back to my “normal”, pre-pregnancy self.
The first few weeks of Addie’s existence were a blur of exhaustion, elation, and constant adjustment. It really is a special (albeit stressful) time. Once I was cleared by my doctor to get back to the gym, I was PUMPED. I listened to the warnings from my doctor and my online research to take it slow but can’t say I really heeded them. I tried to jump back in with both feet – which looked something like this:
I vividly remember that one of my first workouts back involved 105# hang cleans. I was with my normal training partners, back in my old class time, with the same coaches, but I felt like I completely different person. I could barely move, the bar felt like it weighed 505#, every single person finished the workout before me, and I got time-capped without being even close to finishing.
Afterwards, I sat on the side, totally discouraged and on the verge of tears. Someone asked if I was okay. “No! I should be able to handle that weight!” I said. The person tried to be supportive and remind me that I just had a baby eight weeks ago, but I didn’t want to hear any of that. Through CrossFit, I had learned that I was strong, capable, and could do anything I put my mind to. I decided that coming back to working out postpartum would be my new conquerable challenge.
If only it were that easy. Looking back, I pretty much did everything wrong. I didn’t eat well, didn’t recover properly, didn’t sleep enough, didn’t take steps to restore my core and pelvic floor, but worst of all, I got caught up in this vision of who I used to be and was fighting like a madwoman to get that person back. And even though I knew I shouldn’t, I was constantly comparing myself to the other girls I trained with. I always left the gym feeling more defeated than when I arrived.
This internal and external battle became so bad that after a few months, I had to take a step back from CrossFit altogether, and I made the decision to leave Friendship. However, I couldn’t stay away from CrossFit for very long, and I ended up joining another gym a few months later. It was a fresh start for me mentally and emotionally. That change proved to be extremely beneficial for me. I made amazing friends, took my L1, and started my coaching journey.
When I got pregnant with Tess in early 2015, I didn’t have those same feelings of panic that I did with Addie. I’d been through a healthy and successful pregnancy and was confident I could do it again. What I promised to myself that I would change, however, was my postpartum journey. This time, I did my research, learned from my mistakes, and came back smarter, slower, and better.
When I returned to Friendship last summer, I truly felt as if everything had come full circle – from the out of shape and unhappy girl who first walked in, to the discouraged and overly-self critical new mom who walked out, and to now the mom of two who was now confident, self-aware and was actively seeking out change and challenge.
When I look at myself in the mirror and think about all of the ups and downs and sideways turns my body has endured, and then I consider what it has accomplished and what it can do now, I can’t be anything but grateful. And I’m grateful for the experiences of pregnancy and postpartum. First, for the two amazing little girls for whom I get the privilege of being a role model. Also for the knowledge that I gained that I hope to help other women to have active and healthy pregnancies followed by a postpartum time that is supported, safe, and full of self-acceptance.
Over the past five years, the primary lens through which I view change has been pregnancy and motherhood. Some of you may have a similar view; for others the lens might be very different. Maybe it is loss: the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or a painful break-up. Maybe it is injury or illness. Maybe it is finishing or starting school.
Everyone goes through change, but I’ve learned that the key is how you approach the change when you’re in the middle of it. Facing it head on, leaning on those that want to help you, and accepting yourself as you are through that change is what makes it bearable and even beneficial.
We are lucky enough to see lots of amazing changes inside the walls of Friendship CrossFit. People lose weight, gain confidence, make new friends, get their first pull-ups, PR their back squats, and do things that they never thought were possible. The changes that we are able to make in the gym in turn help us face the changes outside of it. As Friendshippers, we are learning to deal with things one rep, one workout, one decision, one day at a time; how to have the fortitude to keep going, keep trying even when things seem impossible and like there is no end in sight.
So whatever you may be going though (and everyone is going through something), I want to encourage you to be open about the changes and challenges that you are going through. Let your FCF coaches and community members help – maybe they have advice to share or have gone through a similar experience. Having a plan and team behind you can truly make you feel invincible. And you’ll also have lots of shoulders to cry on when you don’t feel so superhuman. Nothing is too daunting or too scary when you have your friends.
All of the changes to my mind, body, and life have been challenging, but in many ways this is just the beginning. There will always be more hurdles to overcome, both mental and physical. I can’t wait to see what additional changes are in store for me and my family down the road, but regardless of what they are, I find comfort and confidence in knowing that my health, fitness, mindset, and the people I love will be there to help see me through.
Author Liz Van Winkle is a coach at Friendship CrossFit in Dublin, OH as well as the head coach of the Barbell Club. Coaching Page — Reach out to Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org or Click Here to Get Started