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Friday, July 11, 2014

Sometimes We Need To Take the Scenic Route

Even the best laid plans don't always go as expected.

Since beginning my CrossFit journey almost 5 years ago, I knew almost immediately that I wanted to be a coach and one day have my own gym, but not for the reasons you would expect...or maybe so.

When I found CrossFit, I was needing something positive in my life. I was empty and lost and on a terrible spiral down into a dark depression. I had prayed for God to lift me up and what He did was lead me to a place where I would learn to lift myself up...and I did.

How could I not share this? How could I possibly keep this to myself? I had found the best therapy for me.

Yes. Therapy.

When I started CrossFit, I was 15 pounds underweight, living off minimal sleep and just trying to make it from day to day. I can promise you, "getting fit" was NOT on my mind. The only reason I joined my first CrossFit class was because my boys karate instructor had been pretty excited about the "new class" he was offering and he thought I would like it. If you don't know any karate instructors, they are quite persistent.

So, I tried it out, partly because he asked me to, but mostly because I needed to do something other than sit around feeling sorry for myself.

That first class we did a little chipper. It didn't look bad at all, but I ended up in a puddle on the floor. As I was pulling out of the parking lot that night, it occurred to me that in that hour long class, I had not thought ONE TIME of anything else that was going on in my life. My focus had just been on the moment I was in and I was hooked!

As time went on, I really began loving getting stronger. I fell in love with the barbell and I had finally found an outlet for my secret competitive side by competing in local CrossFit competitions. My husband soon began CrossFitting and my boys started CrossFit Kids. To say CrossFit had changed my life would be a complete understatement. It changed my whole family.

Fast forward two and half years and I was blessed with the opportunity to open my own CrossFit gym which I would co-own for the next 2 years. What an amazing experience! (That is a whole separate blog.)

My love continued for coaching. I fell in love with Olympic Lifting. I wanted to be better, to be stronger and faster and my goals continued to evolve. I felt more comfortable in my 40-something year old body than I ever had my entire life! I made life long friendships in the community and I was happy.

I imagined how the gym would grow over the next years, all the awesome things that we could do, but sometimes my plan and His plan are different.

In June 2014, I finally had to admit to myself that it was time for me to change course and I sold my part of the gym to my business partner. Once again, I felt like a failure and very defeated for those first few weeks, but God always has a plan and I had to remember that. I can absolutely testify that sometimes the right decisions are often the most difficult to make.

Almost immediately, my husband and I began working on our garage and made it into a garage gym. It was around our 3rd workout together that I realized how rare it was that we ever workout together. In all the years I have been coaching, I can literally count the number of times we have worked out together.

It was fun! FUN! and I was given another reason to love CrossFit. My boys joined us for the next one and I was given yet ANOTHER reason to love it.

Did I imagine 5 years ago that I would be coaching people out of my garage? No, but I did imagine that I would still be in love with CrossFit and I am. It continues to be the best therapy ever. It's my "Happy Dose" each day!

CrossFit has been given a bad rap over the years, but I can tell you that it saved me and it saves me everyday. I LOVE getting stronger. I love sweating and knowing I gave a workout everything I have but mostly I LOVE coaching. I love the look on someone's face when they do their first double under, or kick up to their first handstand or get their first pull-up..when I see the joy on their face, there's nothing like it. THAT's what it is all about to me and I don't see that getting old for me anytime soon.

I'm still on my journey and what I have learned is that God's detours are blessings and I believe sometimes He wants us to take the scenic route instead. I am thankful for the detours because it causes me to slow down and enjoy the scenery.

Everyone has a different reason for beginning CrossFit and my story is just one in a million. Whatever your reason is, the goal is to be happy with who you are and what you are doing.

So go be happy! Life is just too short to be anything else.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Blessings of Having a Child with Autism.

Something amazing happened this weekend that I would love to share with you. I also think it is neat that this happened this month because April is Autism Awareness month and my 17 year old son, Taylor, has autism. He is the one I want to tell you about.

I wanted to share this because I want to give parents who may have just had their world rocked by that word Autism and give them something else. Hope.

I will admit it. I love to talk about my children (I have 3 boys). They are my world! Yes, I am about to brag, but this post is mostly about a prayer that was answered. One that I have been praying relentlessly for 15 years.

I will go ahead and warn you that this may be a long post and has absolutely nothing to do with CrossFit. I also understand that you may not have a lot of time, we are all so busy, but I hope you stick around to read this. Pardon the history, but I do feel it is necessary to go back a few years to really explain this in the best possible way.

As a baby, Taylor was perfect. Absolutely PERFECT. He had the biggest, bluest eyes and was so pretty that most people thought he was a girl, in spite of the brown tractor shirt I would always put him in. He learned to walk at 10 months. He loved to give hugs and kisses and he was soooo curious, constantly into everything. ALL. THE. TIME.

It was around 18 months that it became apparent that he was no longer hitting those milestones. The biggest thing I noticed was that he wasn't talking like his peers. I was mildly concerned but I also realized that toddlers develop at different stages. He was walking earlier than my other friends' babies, so it stood to reason that they were just talking early.

I mentioned it to his pediatrician and he said “wait until he is two years old.” He didn’t seem concerned, so my mind was eased.

I started writing down every word Taylor said and kept it on the refrigerator. By the age of two, he had a total of 20 words, some of which he had said once and never again.

I knew this wasn't right.

Again I asked the pediatrician and he said “wait until he is 2 ½ years old”. I did, although my mind was not eased. I KNEW something wasn't right.

At 2 ½, he had a total of 24 words. Most of which only my husband and I could understand. NOW the pediatrician was concerned and he recommended speech therapy.

We immediately started speech therapy with Taylor twice a week. (FYI: the state provides these services for free and they will come to you!)

It was about 1 month into speech therapy that I asked his speech therapist a question that had been eating at me.

“Why can he repeat full sentences from his videos, but not put his own words together and make his own sentences?”

The result of this seemingly innocent question, turned our world upside down.
That day, all she did was tell us she wanted someone else to come see Taylor. A child psychologist. Yes. I was fairly alarmed.

A week later we were visited by this doctor. I remember specifically Taylor trying to get her attention the whole time he was there. He wanted to see what was in her bag and was using his words “can I have?” and she wasn’t listening to him. She was telling us about Autism.

I wasn’t concerned at all. Really!  I knew what Autism was. It was that guy in Rain Man. YEAH. Taylor was NOTHING like that!

But a week later we got the report…Autism.

The floor fell away from my feet and I couldn’t breath and then I cried. And I cried. And I cried some more.

But after a few days a switch turned on in me. I actually felt a little relieved. I wasn’t crazy! After being ignored by his pediatrician for year it turned out I was right about Taylor being a little different. (We got a new pediatrician) I still knew nothing about Autism but now I had something I could research. I could fix this, right? I made a plan and I went into action.

Remember, this was 15 years ago. There was no Google. No support groups to speak of. All I had was a few magazines and a brand new “information highway”. It took time but it gave me a purpose. It gave me a goal.

I was going to help my son.

My husband and I continued him in speech therapy and added Occupational therapy to his day. When he was three years old, we placed him in early intervention in the local school system.

Every year he made progress but every year I kept waiting for someone to tell me that there was cure.

I will be honest, those first years were an emotional roller coaster for me. Every 6 months or so, I would dive into a huge depression.

Why him? He did nothing to anyone. This beautiful, innocent child.
I would get angry at God. Why would God allow this to happen to this child? Look at all Taylor was missing out on.

While my friends were taking their children to t-ball, we were going to speech therapy.
While my friends were telling me all the funny stuff their children would say, I was telling them how he finally called me “Mommy”.
While my friends children were have sleep overs, we were sitting in hyperbaric chambers.

I didn’t have many things in common with my friends anymore. My circle became extremely small. I felt that no one could relate to me. No one knew what it was like. I felt very alone.

It was during one these really low days that my best friend, Cindy, set me straight.

We had just left a bible study that we were attending together. It was about how God wants what is best for us. If we live for him, he will always take care of us.

It made me angry. I remember her looking at me very carefully as we left the church. She knew what was going through my head. She took me to lunch so we could talk and once again, my life was changed.

Without even asking me what I thought, she told exactly what I was thinking.

“God is not punishing Taylor and He is most certainly NOT punishing you for anything in your past. He is not!”

She said, “I know you feel like Taylor is missing out, but he is one of the happiest children I know! Taylor is fine! YOU are the one that is missing out. (Ouch!)

Then she said, “BUT look at what you have that we other parents don’t!”

“Taylor is my angel,” she said. “He makes me laugh every single day. He has taught me to appreciate all the things we come to take for granted.”

Then she said, “Look at all the lives he has touched. How can God not be in that?!”

To this day I don’t think I can ever express how much I loved my friend as I did at that moment.

My whole perspective changed. I admit, I still mourn for those milestones that we as parents just expect to happen.

I still go through my mourning every now and then but it’s much more rare. The most recent I can remember is when he turned 16. He didn’t get that driver’s license and I didn’t get to post a photo on Facebook warning everyone that “Taylor is on the road! Look out!” But I got over it because I know I will have that moment one day.

But there was one milestone that I wished and prayed for him since I first took him to social therapy in the 3rd grade.

His first day at the Montevallo Speech and Hearing Center, Professor Murdock asked me what my goals were for him.

“My goals?” I kind of laughed. “They may not be what you are expecting Professor Murdock but here they are. I want to have a back and forth conversation with him one day. I want him to have a best friend. I want him to have a first kiss. I want him to go to prom. I want him to get married one day. I want him to have a job. I would rather him work at a gas station and have a family than be a surgeon unable to have to friends. THOSE are my goals for him”

Let me tell you that at 17 years old, I have a back and forth conversation with him regularly, albeit something that he wants to talk about.  He is mainstreamed into his classes and has been from the beginning.
From what one of his teachers told me, he had his first kiss in 9th grade under the bleachers during P.E. (He still can’t figure out how I found out about that one!)

And the biggest so far…PROM.

This Friday night, Taylor went to his Jr. Prom with his friend Allibeth, one of the most beautiful girls I know. They have been friends since they were toddlers and Taylor told me that she is his “best friend”.  (another goal I had for him.)

Allibeth gets him. It seems that she always has. When they were little, she could play with him when other kids didn’t know how to. She has never been embarrassed by him. She never ignores him. She loves to talk with him on the phone and now text with him. (He loves to talk about movies)

My child going to the prom had at one time in my life been something that I just expected to happen, but it became something so much more significant to me.

I still don’t feel like I have been able to express my feelings about that night as well as I wanted to. It is hard sometimes to put a feeling into a word or words, but what I saw Friday night was a prayer answered, a mom and dad that were moved to tears, a 17 year old that had the best time and young lady who has the most beautiful spirit about her.

My final word is for those parents who have children with special needs. I know there are hard days (or even weeks) but even on those days look for the blessing and know that you are not all alone.

These children are our angels. I truly believe that.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Just Show Up

The CrossFit Open is here and in full swing! Over 100,000 people have registered to participate this year! For 90% of them though, the Open is not about going to the Games, it's about something even bigger than that. It's about being better. Doing things they haven't done before, or just stepping out of their comfort zone and embracing new challenges. For Brett Reeder, it's even bigger than that.

If you ask Brett Reeder who his inspiration as he prepares for the 2014 Open, you may be surprised by his answer.

The 31-year-old dad began his CrossFit journey a little over 14 months ago at CrossFit J19.  “I had been doing the Mainsite WODs on my own, but a buddy of mine had started coaching there and I wanted to try it out,” Reeder says. “I showed up for those first 10 classes and then just kept coming back!”

Then, in April of 2013, while at a local competition, the unexpected happen. Reeder’s 3 year-old daughter, Charlie Jean, began complaining of her stomach hurting. “She doesn’t ever complain, she is always very active, so we knew she must really feel bad,” said Reeder.

Coming home a day early, they took Charlie Jean to the doctor. After discovering blood in her urine, the doctor sent them directly to Children’s Hospital for more tests. After a very long day, they finally did a CAT scan on Charlie Jean discovering a tumor about the size of a softball, in her midsection. “It pretty much took up her whole body,” Reeder explained.

Cancer. A word no parent ever wants to hear. Charlie Jean had been diagnosed with Neuroblastoma.

Immediately they began treatment for Charlie Jean. She went through 5 rounds of chemotherapy, 20 treatments of radiation, a stem cell transplant and is now currently having antibody treatment. The good news is that the tumor has now shrunk down to nothing. Just the scar tissue and remnants of it remain, but it was on September 16, 2013 that it got really rough for little Charlie Jean.

“It all seemed to culminate in September when Charlie Jean began her stem cell transplant,” says Reeder. “We were in the hospital for 56 days and she had to go to ICU for 7 of those days after developing a liver condition. At one point we honestly thought she was going to die.”

One night, while in ICU, the doctors told the Reeders that they were giving Charlie Jean 24 hours to improve, explaining that if she did not, they would have to put her on a ventilator. In that 24 hours, Charlie Jean had a miraculous turn around and was finally able to leave ICU.

Living at the hospital with Charlie Jean was what Reeder did for those 56 days. CrossFit and training was not the priority. “I was eating jelly donuts, and wasn’t working out much at all,” says Reeder. It was all about Charlie Jean.

“I remember that first week back in the gym and thinking, ‘I don’t have it in me to get back at it again,’” Reeder says. “Then I thought about how much Charlie Jean has impacted the lives of so many people and she doesn’t even know. I mean, she is only 3-years old! She has no clue of the magnitude of people’s lives she has touched.”
Charlie Jean doing a WOD with dad during the fundraiser "Charlie's Angels"

So with those thoughts, Reeder slowly began to get back into his training. What he began to notice was that the people at his gym seemed to gain strength just from the fact that he was there, just moving and working so hard to get back.

“I think that is what the Open is to me this year,” Reeder says. “I mean, you don’t know who is watching you. You don’t know whose life you are going to impact by just participating!”

“If you get your first double under or your first muscle up, or even if you are just able to come in and do each workout with a smile on your face,” Reeder continues,  “I mean, you don’t know whose life you are going to change by just showing up and being a part of the community.”

“You don’t have to be Rich Froning, Jr.,” Reeder says. “A lot of people have this misconception that you have to be Rich to be in the Open. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about testing yourself. Being the best you and showing people around you that they have the capabilities to do things they probably didn’t know they could do.”

Reeder demonstrates over and over again that true strength also means being the best you even on your worst days.

“Our gym name comes from the verse Joshua 1:9 about strength and courage,” says Staci Olcott who owns CrossFit J19 with her husband, Kelly. “To me and Kelly, Brett is the perfect example of strength and courage. He is a fighter. He is a warrior. He IS strong and courageous! He amazes us! And Brett says that Charlie Jean is the strong one.”

Coach and gym owner, Kelly Olcott, says that Reeder motivates members of CrossFit J19 on a daily basis. “All CrossFit gyms are unique in their culture but all have one thing in common, a strong camaraderie and family atmosphere,” Olcott says. “You really get to know people when they are exhausted and at the point of being ready to quit. You really become close to people when you are the one that is exhausted and others are around you encouraging you not to quit and telling you that you can do it. Brett Reeder is one of our brothers.”

“Back in April when his little girl Charlie Jean was diagnosed with cancer, our hearts were broken to see our brother faced with this great obstacle,” Olcott explains.  “Like a family dynamic, we all began to think of ways that we could help support the Reeders.”

Rallying behind the Reeders after Charlie Jean’s diagnosis, the CrossFit Community from all over the Birmingham area, quickly came together to help support the Reeders.

“People have been very generous with their time and resources and prayers,” says Olcott. “The CrossFit community came together as a whole and with only six weeks of planning put on a competition to raise over $10,000 to help support some of the financial needs of the family.”

Friends at CrossFit Trussville, after meeting Charlie Jean at the first “Charlie’s Angels” fundraiser knew immediately that wanted to help. In January, they hosted the second “Charlies Angels” to help raise more funds for the continued care of Charlie Jean, demonstrating just how many lives the Reeders have touched.

Reeder says he is just amazed by the community and that he is still “actively recruiting” his wife, Amanda. “Her first experience was watching the Games and she was like ‘Wow! These people are intense!’ and we are,” admits Reeder “but at the Charlie’s Angel Events, she saw the compassion behind that.”

“It’s amazing because the model of CrossFit are these high intensity workouts. You go [into the gym] and spend yourself in every workout, beating your old time, getting one more rep, and it carries over into the lives of these people because they ARE very passionate about what they do,” Reeder says. “You have to be [passionate] to do CrossFit and that drive carries over. When we, as a community put our minds to something, amazing things happen!”

While Reeder is inspired by the huge support of the CrossFit community, Reeder is also the source of encouragement and strength to all those around him.

“I have had the privilege of talking and walking with Brett through a lot of this experience. I and many others have learned a lot from this rock of a man. He has been a leader to us and his family by displaying unwavering faith and commitment to being positive in a very difficult situation,” says Olcott.

“To this day, Brett is the most encouraging person I've ever met,” says friend and fellow CrossFitter, Jeffrey Mollette. “Not only in the gym but outside of it. He always keeps a positive state of mind despite everything that is going on with Charlie. He inspires me to always push harder than I think I can.”

“What I feel like everyone can learn and take away from Brett and Charlie Jean is to never be afraid, instead push yourself further then you think you can,” says Mollette.

Reeder says he gets great strength from Charlie Jean. “If we keep working like Charlie Jean, I mean everything that comes in her path and the way she moves through her day… She is faced with obstacle after obstacle and trials and pokes and prods and she just keeps moving forward,” says Reeder. “She never allows herself to get down or sit in that place of ‘I Can’t’ for too long.”

“I think it’s important for people to know that they can do these things. They can lose weight. They can be active. They can play with their children.”

“You know, I am just an average ‘Joe’,” Reeder states. “but you get better by just showing up. That is what the Open means to me.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Strength from Within

I have met some amazing people and have heard so many stories of courage and strength and how CrossFit has been huge in the lives of people going through a very difficult time. Sometimes a persons strength has nothing to do with how many plates are on the barbell. Sometimes, it is God's strength from within that shines the brightest.

Recently, I had the honor of meeting Landon Johnson who has such a testimony. Both Landon and his story have truly blessed me. With his permission, I am sharing it you.
Landon and Jaime with baby Callie.

In November 2012, Landon Johnson had big plans. He was training for the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Open with a possible shot at making Regionals, preparing for his Level 1 Certification, and expecting his first child with his wife.

All of that changed for Johnson in just a matter of days.

After a routine check-up, the Johnsons’ doctor informed them that their daughter had not shown as much growth as he would have liked and thought it would be best to schedule a C-section for the next day. 

On November 9, their daughter, Callie, was born at almost 37 weeks, weighing only three pounds eleven ounces. An ultra sound revealed that Callie also had a hole in her heart. Understandably, the Johnsons were shocked but believed that surgery would be able to fix it.

The next day, the Johnsons were dealt another blow. A second doctor said that she noticed characteristics that were similar to Trisomy 18, a chromosomal abnormality, in little Callie.

As a concerned father, the first thing Johnson did was research Trisomy 18 and was devastated to learn that the prognosis wasn’t good. Most babies diagnosed with this condition usually don’t survive past the first year of birth.

“I was just in a state of disbelief. I had all these plans for my daughter,” Johnson said. “I wanted her to grow up, play with Barbies, paint my fingernails, and us go shopping. Now they were telling me I may not see her past one year of life?”

“It hit us hard. You go from excitement to a state of panic in just a day, in just an instant,” Johnson said.

Johnson and his wife, Jaime, made the decision to enjoy every single moment they had with Callie and told the doctors they wanted to take her home.
Landon holding his daughter for the first time.
“We wanted to hold her, love on her and just have her home with us as long we could,” Johnson said.

The day before Thanksgiving 2012, the Johnsons were able to take Callie home.

“Taking care of Callie at home wore us out physically,” Johnson said. “We had a hospice nurse that came in twice a week. Callie was also on oxygen and had to be fed through a tube every four hours, but we wouldn’t have traded any of those moments.”

They cherished every day they had, taking her to see Santa and to the Christmas party at the fire station where Johnson works as a firefighter and paramedic.

“We wanted no regrets,” Johnson said.

On February 7, 2013, Callie passed away at 90 days old.

“My wife woke me up early one morning to tell me that Callie’s breathing sounded funny,” Johnson said. “I woke up to see her take her last breath. I got my stethoscope to listen for her heartbeat. It was the most difficult day of my life.”

Johnson says it was his faith and his relationship with God that helped him through this time. He also discovered how much Callie touched the lives of so many people in her short life.

“At her funeral, I was blown away by how many people showed up,” said Johnson. “People from my gym, I mean, I didn’t even know all their names! I felt bad, but they were there supporting us through this time.”

It was during this difficult time that he said CrossFit became something more to him.

“CrossFit was therapy for me,” Johnson said. “The friends I have made through CrossFit just blew me away. They made me smile. They would tell me daily how much Callie had touched their lives. Talking to people about Callie was healing, and I took every opportunity to talk about her.”

“They are loyal. We suffer together, and we are family,” Johnson said.

CrossFit was also healing for his wife. Jaime had never done CrossFit before Callie’s death, but she credits it with helping her to relieve stress during this difficult time.

One year later, Johnson is now a coach at Over the Mountain CrossFit. 

As a coach he has such a positive attitude and always knows exactly how to push people and get them motivated,” said Clay Adams, owner of OTM CrossFit. ”Landon has been through some tough trials at a young age, and his faith and strength has made us all better people. I can truly speak for everyone at our box and say that he has not only made us stronger physically, but mentally taken us all to a new level. We are blessed to have Landon as a leader and friend.

As Johnson prepares for the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Open, he says he has a new perspective on life. He has recently started back competing on the local competition scene, putting his name out there as someone to look out for.

Although he said his support system and coaching is essential to his training, it is his daughter’s memory that drives him most.

“Whenever I get tired, want to quit or drop the bar, I think of Callie and I think, ‘Be strong for her. Push through for her,’ and most days I feel like I can go forever!”

Johnson said his daughter taught him a lot in her short lifetime.

“This situation taught me that life doesn’t always go the way we plan. Life is short. Whether you live 90 days or 90 years, life is still short. If you are not living out your purpose, your calling, it’s going to be wasted,” he said.

As for his ultimate goal in CrossFit, Johnson said he “just want[s] to make Callie proud.”

The Johnsons are currently in the process of adopting and are expecting a son in May.