The average month has 720 hours, and I wasted a lot of them in my life.
My diet was trash, and my health was in a steep decline and growing exponentially worse with each passing month.
No one would have accused me of being addicted to fitness at 42 and over 300 lb.—officially morbidly obese, with a BMI of 49.9. It was painful to walk, and I usually didn’t. When we stopped at the grocery store, I would wait in the car. Painful hip joints, painful knees, plantar fasciitis and minimal capacity to breathe all dictated a sedentary life. I could see the future: I knew I would be on a mobility device in the next few years, and I knew my quality of life would continue its downward trend.
I had paraded binge diet after binge diet through my life for most of three decades. Lose 30, gain 40. Lose 70, gain 100. Lose 3, eat an entire pizza.
The first day I saw the sign for CrossFit Fixx, in Tucson, I was hoping it was a new restaurant.
The gym was just 4 miles from my house and right across the street from my office. When I realized it was a CrossFit affiliate, emotions coursed through me. You see, for nearly a decade I had been stating that I would try CrossFit “as soon as I get in shape.” When I first started saying it, I “only” weighed about 250 lb. As the months and years added up, I said it less and less.
Simply stated, I loved the bodies of CrossFit athletes. The women were enchanting, beautifully muscled and wholly feminine. The men seemed to be living, breathing superheroes, sculpted and capable. I read the Journal, and I watched events on my computer. I wanted to be like them, but it seemed like an impossible wish, one that was drifting further and further from my reality each day.
I don’t believe in signs, but the thing I had dreamed of was dropped directly in the path I crossed every single day. CrossFit Fixx is literally the first business that I pass when I leave my home. Was it possible there was an exit I could take off the road to disease and onto a path of fitness?
I labored over an email to the box, deleting and rewriting it over and over and saving it to my drafts folder.
Finally, I sent one email.
The Decision to Start
It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be so obese to someone who hasn’t been. Things just get hard.
When I went to meet with the owners of CrossFit Fixx, they directed me to a high table with barstools. Most people don’t have to consider how they are going to climb onto a chair. I had to. I couldn’t just hop up. I wasn’t sure that the cross brace on the bottom of the stool would hold my weight if I used it to step up. All this was going through my head as we gathered to discuss the strategy for training me.
Dan and Anne Manka, the owners, assured me that CrossFit could be scaled for anyone. We tried to come up with a list of movements I could complete at some level. This was much shorter than the list of all the movements I couldn’t do.
The first day I lumbered in for training, Coach Raina had me do a “fit test” to serve as a benchmark. I had complete 3 rounds of the following:
- 10 wall push‐ups (standing nearly vertical, I put my hands on the wall and did upright push‐ups)
- 10 ring rows (leaning away from the rings, again nearly vertical, I had to pull myself to the rings)
- 10 air squats (just like it sounds; squat down, stand up)
- 10 step‐ups onto a 12-in. box (step up, step down)
It took me 10 minutes 58 seconds. I was covered in sweat and sucking air. It was more physical activity than I had intentionally done in probably two years combined.
I continued. I’d arrive three evenings a week and watch a class finish while I warmed up. I remember watching the athletes complete Filthy Fifty one evening. I was awestruck. I couldn’t complete 50 reps of any one of those movements, and they were flying through rep after rep. Raina saw my face.
“You’ll get there,” she assured me.
I’d love to tell you that six months later I was lean, fit goddess. In truth, my progress was glacial at times.
One of the hardest moments was the two‐month mark. I had completed 24 of the customized WODs Raina had designed for me. The scale still hadn’t moved more than a few pounds. Raina suggested we compare my measurements to those of Day 1. I was excited. I was sure I had been building muscle and was going to see some major size differences. She measured my thigh, hips, waist, bust and upper arm. As she jotted down the results, I was craning my neck to peek.
Nothing. Every area was the same or even larger than the first time.
I could see Raina felt terrible. I was so very disappointed. When I went outside to warm up, I cried. Tears just poured down my face and I wanted to quit. After all, I reasoned, I could have sat home and had the same results. I barely got through the workout and rushed out the door.
When I got home and walked toward my bedroom, I realized I hadn’t had to “think” about the walk from the car to the house. It might seem ridiculous, but 10 weeks earlier, my health was so poor that I had gotten to the point of mentally preparing for any exertion whatsoever. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had to do that. One of the compromises that had previously been piling up had disappeared. Granted, my lifestyle was still sedentary. But now I was comfortable, aside from the endless soreness of CrossFit, and each week it was getting a little easier to live.
It dawned on me that I also couldn’t remember the last time I’d fallen down. I was never graceful, but the last few years I had started falling pretty hard from the slightest loss of balance. Even in my lovely clogs, a pebble would send me to the ground.
I remembered my thoughts of a few months ago—that maintaining my weight might be the best I could do. I was already exceeding that. Yes, the scale hadn’t moved and I wasn’t any smaller, but I was seeing tiny improvements every single day. I was breathing better, sleeping better, thinking better. Even if I wasn’t going to get skinny, at least I could live better.
The bottom line was that I didn’t want to stop feeling better.
At the three-month mark, Raina retested me with the same workout I had done that first day, the one that had taken me nearly 11 minutes. I completed the entire test in 5 minutes 10 seconds—less than half the time it had taken me 90 days prior. That was significant. I had become twice as fast in 90 days. For a few moments, I didn’t care that I was 300 lb. I was measurably faster and stronger.
I joined the regular classes after three months. Coach Raina was still scaling the workouts for me so much that they were almost unrecognizable. The group was incredibly supportive, and I always got high fives after the WOD. Everyone treated me like one of the group even though I felt like an imposter.
In August 2014, I have a note on Wodify that says “first burpee.” I had been placing my hands on a 20-in. box and walking my feet back whenever burpees were programmed. During the warm‐up, Coach Dan suggested I try going to the floor. I don’t know that what I did was identifiable as a burpee, but Dan informed me that I had graduated off the box and onto “real” burpees. I was proud that day to put a score of 27 in the box for total burpees completed during the workout Ghost.
A few months later, I completed my first 400. Not a run; I had to walk. But for me this was a milestone. I had been rowing whenever running was programmed because of my plantar fasciitis. That, too, was getting incrementally better.
My work capacity was increasing. It was measurable.
I recorded everything about every workout so I could see improvements I might otherwise miss. I even kept track of how many WODs I had completed—100, 200, 400. I loved thinking about the fact that those numbers represented hours of work I had put in. How many hours would it take to build the body I wanted?
By the time I decided I needed to get a handle on the nutrition component, I had been at CrossFit nearly two years. I ate whole food already but I wasn’t tracking my intake. I still weighed 280 lb., and even though I was a lot healthier and mobile, I was still obese. In March 2016, I started tracking my food, really dialing in the nutrition. The next 20 months have been a life-altering series of PRs on every level: my first box jump, my first handstand, my first double-under, my first 5-km run, my first pistol squat.
I’m forever grateful that the depressed, uncomfortable, sick woman I used to be had the guts to give herself another chance at life. My life, body and mind are unrecognizable from the way they were on the day I first walked through that door.
I’ve gone from a Size 28 to a Size 6. My waist is smaller now than my thigh was on Day 1. I’ve lost over half my body weight. Thanks to CrossFit, people I meet cannot believe I was ever obese. I’m not a smaller version of the fat person I was. My body completely changed. As the fat comes off, those gorgeous muscles I had coveted for years have started to appear.
In November 2017, I will complete my 720th WOD—720 hours, a “month” worth of CrossFit. That “month” of my life has transformed me and set me on a path to conquer and to accomplish things that were beyond my greatest hopes when I first walked through that door.
Recently, I participated in a competition at a local box with a 27-year-old. When she asked me to be her partner, I was shocked. She is one of our resident firebreathers—strong, confident and capable. I thought she should pick a partner who would give her a better shot at the win she deserved. We won our division.
In October 2016, I ran 400 m without stopping for the first time. In December, I will be running a half-marathon with four of my sisters.
The woman who could only walk a dozen steps before pausing to rest three-and-a-half years ago.
“What’s simple to do is simple not to do.”
It’s easy to complete one workout or eat clean for a day. It’s also simple to skip a day or trash your diet for a day. But it’s all the good choices, day after day, that are steps toward goals. It’s simple, but it’s incredibly hard.
CrossFit has cemented in my head and heart that it’s vital to pay attention to the simplest of improvements. The 10 key physical qualities that CrossFit measures and improves mean that each workout can bring a PR, however small.
Last week, we had Filthy Fifty as the WOD again. I didn’t Rx it because I don’t quite have knees-to-elbows. But I’m thousands of steps closer to being able to do the workout than I was that day I watched it three years ago. I am, literally, inches away from being able to perform this workout as prescribed.
In two weeks, my husband and I will be taking the CrossFit Level 1 Certificate Course. This is the first step toward my goal of becoming an ambassador, of sorts, to the obese, to those who think they are beyond fixing. I want to bring these people the confidence and capability that CrossFit has given me.
I’ve yet to see anyone walk into our box anywhere close to the level I was. But I long for the day I can reach morbidly obese people who are seeking to escape the prison to which they have confined themselves.
It might not even take a “month” with the right guide.
Kai Rainey will be your “virtual on-ramp coach.” Read her six-part series that talks you through the early stages of CrossFit. Subsequent parts will be added here upon publication.
Part 2: “Change Your Life in 24 Hours”
Part 4: “When You Never Rx Anything”
About the Author: Kai Rainey lives with her husband of 21 years in Tucson, Arizona. She hopes to reach others who are battling obesity and help them take steps to reclaim their lives. Read more at Mylastfatsummer.com.
All images: Courtesy of Kai Rainey