sled push

sled push

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.”