I met Karen several years ago as the sponsor of a program that I’m a part of that helps encourage middle and high school students to make good choices. Over the years we have become friends, and I’ve observed her passion for health through CrossFit continue to grow. As someone who prided themselves on never trying CrossFit, I’ve always appreciated that people were really into it… from a distance.
When Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen invited me to partner with them and help recognize, share and reward goodness this year, Karen was the 1st person that came to mind. They also want you to share stories and nominate inspirational people, like Karen, to be rewarded for doing great things in your community, too!
I invited Karen to share more about her fitness journey and how she is helping make a difference in her school and community…. she invited me to experience a 6am workout with the staff of her school…. More about that later…
What made you want to change your health?
I grew up very active playing outside until the street lights came on and playing year round sports. I coached diving for 7 years in high school and college and would have coached forever if it paid the bills! I had my oldest daughter in college and staying active was the least of my priorities while going to school full time and working. Fast forward 17 years to 2012, I was now a mom of 3, working full time, getting kids to sports, a husband working second shift full time, while working on his MBA and my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer a few months before. I was the heaviest that I had ever been and was spiraling out of control! I was 60 lbs heavier than my wedding day in 1999. Needless to say, my life was pure chaos at the time and every meal was on the road between sports and getting my mom to treatments after work.
How did you get involved with CrossFit?
I asked a coworker what she was doing to stay fit and found out 3 of my acquaintances were all doing the same thing. They invited me to workout with them in this guys garage. This sounded really weird, but I had nothing to lose. I showed up on February 2, 2012 and had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t understand a single thing he said to me that day besides, “Hi, my name is J.D”. He demonstrated each movement and I just went for it.
During the workout, I was positive I was going to die. I sent the coach a text that night and said “I’m going to start walking/running on my own and I’ll be back when I lose weight”. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well. He convinced me to come back. I was still certain this guy was out to kill me every day and secretly enjoyed watching me die.
I couldn’t even do a CrossFit sit up without this stranger standing on my feet. I was mortified! I kept telling this guy in the garage, “I can’t do this. I’m too big. I’m going to die”. He dismissed every excuse I tried and said “it doesn’t matter! It will change! You can do this! Give it time! I know you can do it!” This complete stranger believed in me more than I believed in myself.
I loved it, I hated it, I didn’t understand, but within an hour of finishing, it was all I could talk about and couldn’t wait to go back the next day! It was all so confusing! I couldn’t understand why people would pay to be tortured like I felt during WOD’s and everyday I would say to myself “I’m not coming back tomorrow. This is crazy! These people are crazy! Why do I pay to feel like I’m dying?!”
I was absolutely terrified each time I walked through the door, yet felt so accomplished by the time I gathered my stuff to leave. I kept asking when it was going to get easier and the response was always the same. “it never gets easier, you just get better”. Of course I couldn’t grasp that concept at the time! Surely it would have to get easier! Everything gets easier with time.
In the meantime, I spent the first 2 months sleeping on the couch. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t even walk up and down the steps. I remember my husband coming down in the middle of the night and saying “if you’re in so much pain, why do you keep going back?” That was a good question.
I didn’t know exactly why, but I knew I wasn’t spending every waking minute thinking about my mom dying. I had something to distract me. Instead of looking up cancer information, I filled my down time with looking up CrossFit videos, movement videos, reading articles about CrossFit, reading about movements and nutrition.
What results did you see in your health?
Within the first couple of weeks starting, my coach took my measurements and started me on the Zone Diet. I was 48% body fat. By May of 2012, I was down 50 lbs. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, my mom passed away. I didn’t want to move. I just wanted to stay in bed, eat, drink and cry all day. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and I didn’t want to see anyone.
Thankfully I had a coach that texted me and got me back in the gym. It was there, that I realized this “community” was my “family” and it was a place where I could turn my depression and anxiety into positive physical energy. Dealing with my mom’s estate 4.5 years later after she passed, I still use CrossFit as my “therapy” and couldn’t be more appreciative of my “community”.
How did this lifestyle change affect your family?
CrossFit has been such a big part of my life that my husband and 3 children joined less than a year after I started! My husband and I love to compete together, my oldest and I took 3rd at our first partner competition and my second oldest is counting down the days to do a partner competition with me. My two youngest have also been part of a preteen barbell club the past 2 years, just to learn the mechanics of the lifts.
What is your favorite part about being involved in CrossFit?
While building a strong beautiful body made of 17% body fat was a giant perk of the hard work put in, my favorite part of CrossFit is the community! If it had not been for the people I met the very first day in that guy’s garage, I would have never returned. It was an odd feeling to have people cheer for you, but it drove me to push harder every workout. To dig a little deeper and empty the tank!
Why did you want to bring CrossFit to your school?
CrossFit has changed my life the past 5 years and I wanted to bring it to the school district I work for. I am currently the Social Worker in the middle school of what is considered a low income at risk district.
As a non profit affiliate, I’m able to share with everyone in the district what CrossFit is and how it can change lives. I want to give back to the community that has given me so much. I want to build a community that maintains the integrity of CrossFit, one that practices the culture, one that coaches both the most athletic athletes and the novice athlete. I want people to know that CrossFit truly is for everyone. I want a non profit affiliate that facilitates that positive change in people and one that encourages members to uses fitness as a life coping skill.
When I looked around at our students and staff, I wished that they could experience CrossFit like I have. Unfortunately, when students don’t even know if they will have access to food at night or over the weekend, so joining a local CrossFit affiliate is not an option for them. Our district high school weight room and plyometric room had a full renovation from a physical education grant and sits next to our middle school. I currently workout with 16 staff members before and 5-7 staff members after school at no cost to share my passion for fitness.
I wanted to give back to others what CrossFit has given to me. An outlet to deal with social, emotional and physical struggles, while building friendships. CrossFit has given me the opportunity to try new things, challenge myself, build my confidence, learn new skills, continually hit PR’s and build hundreds of new friendships. One of my favorite things is celebrating friends new skills and PR’s!
I actually get more excited for them, than when I accomplish something myself! Almost 5 years in….it has never gotten easier, I’ve just become better! I love looking back and seeing how far I’ve come, what I’ve learned, how my body has changed, how far I can push my limits and my relationship with food!
What did the staff at your school think about the idea?
I sent my principal a couple of videos about CrossFit in schools and the benefits for students and he was instantly sold! The most difficult and trying years for preteens and teens is trying to discover who they are and where they are going!
What are some of the changes that the staff noticed after a month with students?
Karen: For me, I see amazing things while they are with me. Building relationships, communicating, cheering for each other, celebrating together, camaraderie, trust, new friendships, team building, building confidence, building self esteem, competitiveness, following directions, learning how to take criticism to correct form, learning how to take criticism from a peer, learning how to critique a peer, accepting that we have weakness, learning what their individual strengths and weaknesses are, failing at something in front of peers, succeeding in front of peers, enjoying fitness, learning gym safety, learning functional movements from the ground up. I am over the moon with how well they’ve done! I know several of the students have taken some of our activities/workouts home to share with their family.
Other faculty observations
**A student and her dad talk for countless hours about working out and now enjoy lifting together.
** Before, she was very shy and never volunteered in class. Now, she always volunteers in class and is not worried about what others think. She reads out loud and answers questions and asks questions. She has become a model student.
** She seems to be in more high spirits and he is much more active with groups and has helped carry larger stuff and seems proud to do that when I saw him help another teacher.
*** Since he started CrossFit, he seems more confident not only in his interactions with his peers but also in his participation in class. He raises his hand to answer questions and read in class and his participation/completion of in class work is much improved. When we do group work, he is more engaged with his group where before he may have just sat back and done just enough. He has definitely become more of a leader!
He is always so excited to come share with me what they did at CrossFit and share any PR’s he got. Since I have also been doing CrossFit, it has given me an opportunity to find another connection with him and build that relationship. I know what a positive impact CrossFit has had on my life and it’s awesome to see the same effects. The school and the district are so lucky to have been given this opportunity. This is something that can change lives in multiple ways from physical health, mental health, coping skills, team work, and so much more!
***She is much happier and isn’t absent as often and he is alotttttt quieter.
*** I’ve noticed more effort in class participation lately from him.
*** She is definitely becoming more disciplined.
*** She is a completely different kid. She was always a great student, but just did not apply herself. She always seemed unsure in her abilities. Over the last 3 weeks she has completely changed. She is exuding confidence. She walks down the hall and into the classroom like she is untouchable. Because of that confidence, she is more engaged and has risen to a whole new level academically as well.
*** I do not have him in class but seeing him in the hall and talking to him he is so much more verbal. I love talking to him about his class. He just beams with confidence when he talks about how strong he is.
*** He had a difficult start to the school year, but he has been great since the CrossFit classes started. It almost seems like he has finally found a release to forget about all the other things in his life and just be a kid and have fun with his peers. That has carried over into the class. The one thing I notice about him is his relationship with his peers has improved significantly. He used to intentionally pick on other kids to put the focus on them. None of this is happening anymore in my class.
**** I have seen an impact with her It is building her confidence and she talks about the strength and the ability that she challenges herself with.
*** I have to say, I’ve seen an increase in confidence with her work in Math and Language Arts! She asks more questions and volunteers more answers!!
*** The biggest change I have noticed is that she is so confident now! She used to be so afraid to volunteer in class, because she did not want to be wrong, and now she isn’t afraid to fail.
***When he sees me out and about in the school, he makes it a point to talk to me about his CrossFit experience. He even told me that last week he brought a workout home to his family and they did it with him!
*** It is obvious that her confidence level has changed for the better! She has even talked to me about how much stronger she feels then when she started the class.
***I have worked with him on his behavior for TWO YEARS. All I have to say about this student is that if you have access to him on Infinite Campus then go look up his behavior referral data!!!! Something is obviously keeping him motivated this year.
*** He struggled at the beginning of the year and went through multiple schedule changes. It is amazing to me what confidence and support does for a kid. He’s like a new mature 8th grader!
What skills do adults and students learn while participating?
Global Life Satisfaction
- Understanding you’re healthy enough to workout (able body, able mind)
- That you have been given this opportunity to show what you’re capable of
- That you have control of how hard you work during the group
- That your actions today, can change your future. It’s a slow gradual process, like school. You don’t always see immediate results….
- A chance for me to show them they have some great supports at school, but they are ultimately in control of the outcome. Taking ownership of their actions.
- A chance for me to build their self esteem based on their individual strengths
- A chance for me to show them through example that weaknesses can become strengths over time
- Identifying weaknesses
- Determining how to improve weaknesses
- Working through weaknesses until they are strengths
- Determining what it would take to achieve those goals
- Writing out how we will hit those goals
- Staying on tasks to reach the goals
- Celebrating each milestone along the way to achieve those goals
- Setting new goals once you achieve old goals
- Realizing set backs happen and tomorrow is a new day
- Research shows exercise boosts energy, relieves stress, helps alleviate anxiety improves mood and promotes better sleep etc
- Being in shape or working towards a healthier lifestyle helps build self confidence
- We would also talk about nutrition and what being healthy means
- Teaching them the health benefits of exercise and good nutrition
- Learning to support and complement one another
- Celebrating accomplishments when we finish or when a peer accomplishes a task
- Learning how to interact with one another in a space we all share
- Teaching them to help their peers when they can do something the other can’t and helping give them feedback
- Learning how to accept feedback from peers
- Taking turns leading the group
- Inspire their peers
- Taking pride and ownership of our space and taking care of our equipment
What have you learned about yourself along the way?
Being a Social Worker is my career, but coaching is my passion!
I got to experience a small taste of why staff and students keep coming back to the class. I’ve tried MANY random adventures in the name of research, but CrossFit was one that I put off for YEARS because I was intimidated that I would look stupid and fail epically
I discovered that the community was extremely supportive and my fears about working out with them were blown WAY out of proportion in my mind vs. the reality. I thought that everyone would notice if I had a hard time keeping up with the workout exercises, but everyone was just focused on their own workout. The only person noticing was Karen, who was cheering me on and giving me confidence to try even harder.
I get it now and I have a greater appreciation for what she is doing in the school after experiencing a class.
Karen is receiving a $50 gift card to Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen as a thank you for all of the
hard work she does for her community.
Have you been to Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen lately?
Natural ingredients and scratch made recipes with double the number of cooks compared to other restaurants because fresh food takes time.
During our visit to Cheddar’s, my family started with the sweet & spicy crispy shrimp. (This is a special seasonal menu item) I really loved this appetizer because I LOVE spicy food. This appetizer is not for the faint of heart when it comes to spice level but it is sooo good.
For my entree, I ordered the New Orleans Pasta ( Shrimp, chicken, smoked sausage, peppers, onions and penne pasta tossed in Cajun Alfredo sauce, served with toasted garlic bread.) Wonderful flavor and delicious leftovers to look forward to the following day. My family also enjoyed the Fish Tacos, Top 6oz. Sirloin, and the Smokehouse Burger. EVERYONE was very happy and full at the end of our meal. There are plenty of menu items to accommodate any dining preference.
Do you have someone in your life that deserves special recognition?
I’m giving away a $100 Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen gift card!
**Each website submission also enters both the nominator and nominee for a chance to win $1,000!
***It’s mandatory to share a story on Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen website to be entered.
You can also use the hashtag #inspiregoodness to share your story on social media.
You can find out more from the Cheddar’s website.
Thanks again to Cheddar’s for sponsoring this post and providing the gift card for the giveaway. All opinions are my own.