Written by Invictus Athlete Dawn Stoll
This morning, a woman walked into my Box. She was terrified. She had so many questions. She wanted to make a change. She wanted to try something new. But she was wondering if CrossFit was for her. She was wondering if she would fit in. She was wondering if she would make a fool out of herself in front of the class. I assured her that she was amazing. That our coaches would work with her. That every single workout could be modified so that she COULD FINISH and feel amazing doing it. I promised her that I understood. She didn’t believe me, so out came the progress pictures – the ones that showed me when I was wondering if CrossFit would be for me. When I was wondering if I would fit in. When I was wondering if I would make a fool out of myself in front of the class.
Back When I Was the One Wondering
Unlike most gym owners, I have not always been fit. I was an athlete throughout high school and college, but once my college years were over, I steadily packed on the weight. I tried diet after diet, workout program after workout program. I became a mom for the first time at 23, and again at 26. Each time, I “ate for 2” and was never able to get back down to my pre-pregnancy size. I would join a gym, and find 50 reasons not to go. When I made it to the gym, I was lost, and I had no idea what to do.
I figured that I would try and work on my nutrition. I counted calories. I watched my fat. I ate low carb. I counted points. You name it, I tried it.
The Tough Choice that Felt Like the Last Option
In the Spring of 2010, I felt like I had no other choice. That nothing else would work. I was 31 years old and I was carrying 338 pounds on my 5’10” frame. I was sore. I was tired. I couldn’t play with my kids. I made the decision to consult with a surgeon and had a lap band placed around my stomach.
Here was the problem with this surgery. It didn’t teach me any new habits. Yes, it slowed down my eating. But only for things like rice, or chicken, or vegetables. I could still drink milkshakes. And on the days where I was “stuck” or “swollen”, a bag of tortilla chips soaked in cheese dip would slide RIGHT through. While I did manage to lose around 80 pounds, I was starving myself.
In the fall of 2011, my band slipped and I had to have it completely deflated. Over the course of the next 3 years, I regained all but 30 pounds of what I had lost. I was still getting “stuck”, even with no fluid in the band. And it was miserable. Although I often feel like this was one of the worst decisions that I’ve ever made, it definitely started me on the journey to where I am today.
The Catalyst for Permanent Change
Fast forward to April, 2014. My husband was on his way home from work and noticed what looked like a CrossFit Gym going into an empty building in our very small town in Southeast Mississippi. We had seen CrossFit on TV. And on Facebook, some of my friends who lived in other states were doing it. We asked some questions, and it was DEFINITELY a CrossFit Gym.
It took me about a week to gather up the courage to send the owner a message, and when I finally did, I typed out an email as tears were streaming down my face. I asked questions like – Will I fit in? I’m a morbidly obese woman in my 30’s, are you SURE this is something I can do? And I laid it out there for them. I had been mocked and laughed at in the gym SO many times. I was not willing to do that again. He assured me that this was the place for me. That I would be welcomed with open arms. That I would be encouraged. But that while they would scale things for me, they would also be pushing me.
I set up a date with him to give it a shot. I pulled up to the building and I watched as a State Trooper walked in, and then another very athletic man walked in. A woman who was absolutely ripped walked in. I sat in my car, physically shaking. After about 5 minutes, I worked up the courage to go in. And that was the very best decision that I’ve ever made.
When I first started CrossFit, I couldn’t run 200 meters. I couldn’t even JOG it. I couldn’t do a push-up. I could barely lift a barbell above my head. But that Trooper? The days that we ran, he would finish his run and then run with me, so that I would have someone to run with. That ripped woman? She cheered me on every time I lifted. For 6 months, I cried every night when I went to bed because I hurt. And I cried every morning when I woke up because I hurt. But every day I went back. Yes, the weight dropped off, but it became about so much more than what the scale said. It became about what I could DO. Every day, I was doing something new. Every day, I was lifting heavier.
Things That “Happen” Can’t Stop Me – They Make Me Stronger
In May, 2016, circumstances changed and I was forced to change Boxes. I joined a Box that I swore I would never drive to (15 minutes away instead of the 3 that the current drive was), that had athletes that absolutely terrified me. The trainers pushed me in ways that I hadn’t been pushed before. I started working on my gymnastics skills, another thing that I hadn’t really been exposed to at my first Box. My dreams started growing and I started looking for ways to make them become a reality.
I started dialing in my nutrition. I hired a food coach and started counting my macros. This time around, yes, it WAS still about losing weight, but not because of what the scale said. It was about losing weight because it’s difficult to pull 230 pounds up on a pull-up bar. And it’s difficult to handstand walk when there is 230 pounds over your hands. While working with my food coach, I was able to shift my body composition and lower my weight to the 195-200 range.
Coaching Others to Reach THEIR Goals
In the Fall of 2016, I became a CF-L1. I was 37 years old and had finally found my dream job. Coaching. Helping people achieve their goals. Believing in them more than they believe in themselves. Seeing the possibilities that they have in front of them, and helping them get there.
In the Spring of 2017, I became a Fitness Nutrition Coach. After seeing the effect that proper nutrition had on MY goals, I had to be able to offer it to the athletes that I was coaching. I had to know more about the whys and hows of what was working and how to make it better.
Becoming an Invictus Athlete
Also in the Spring of 2017, I started adding in the Invictus Competition workouts to my daily training. Single sessions weren’t enough, so I started double sessions. Things were going great, but I was still having issues with my lap band. I couldn’t fuel my body the way that it needed to be fueled to do the type of work that I wanted to do.
In September of 2017, with an amazing amount of support from my coaches, I had the lap band removed. While terrifying for me (I had worked out every day, twice a day, for a LONG time!), taking the time to have it removed was such a fantastic decision. My body responded immediately, and the quality of my training continued to improve.
As I was recovering from my surgery, my CrossFit coach at the time encouraged me to seek out some more info on the Invictus Athlete Program, and in December of 2017, I decided to give that a shot. My skills continued to develop, and there was so much more that I was able to do. So much more that I was able to lift. My dreams started to grow.
Putting it All Out There
In February of 2018, I decided to really put it all out there. To write it down, in black and white. My goal was to make it to the Master’s Online Qualifier in 2019. I was going to be 40. I needed a big goal and this was the biggest one that I felt I had the possibility of attaining. But I needed help.
Once again, I turned to Invictus, and started Remote Coaching. And Nichole has been a game changer for me. She has helped me not only with my skill work, but she’s helped me with my mental game plan. She’s helped me maintain my focus, and to not get sidetracked by things that happen that just don’t matter. She’s allowed me to complain, but then in the gentlest, most “Nichole” way possible, has told me to just put my big girl panties on and deal with it. The world isn’t ending. And most importantly, always reminding me to find joy in the journey.
Living the Dream
Because I didn’t already have enough going on, in March of 2018, God blessed me with the opportunity to purchase the Box I had been working out in. While it hasn’t always been easy, it has been one of the most rewarding adventures I’ve been on in my entire life. And while I’m STILL (after 11 months) struggling to find balance between my work and personal life, I’m living the dream! I have the honor of coaching a bunch of really amazing athletes while being able to focus on my OWN training and my own dreams and goals.
I still have a long road to go, but I can’t imagine a life without MY coaches. In September of 2018, I started Invictus Nutrition Coaching with Jenn Ryan, and she has sure done her best to keep me in line too! Between Nichole and Jenn, I’m not sure I could possibly be in better hands. And I’m pretty sure they’re stuck with me until they decide that they’ve had enough of me.
I Never Thought I’d Appreciate Burpees
Unexpected things are going to continue to come up. Plans are going to change. As I’m writing this, I’m icing my shoulder from a fall I took 16 days ago. I sprained my AC joint, and I can promise you that THAT was NOT in my plans. But it sure is making me appreciate the little things, like burpees and pull-ups. But I got to workout with a barbell today! A REAL BARBELL!!! It was enough to literally bring tears of joy to my eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever anticipated being able to do a burpee like I am right now. And that is something I never thought that I would ever say.
So, tonight I get to go to bed, knowing that I gave today all that I had. I worked out to the very best of my ability. I coached so many amazing athletes. And tomorrow, I get to do it all over again. Maybe this year isn’t my year. I still have a LOT of work to do. But I’m not letting go of the dream. This one doesn’t have an expiration date.
**Coaches Note: I asked Dawn to write about her experience because she had a very relatable perspective of CrossFit when she first started. She also has an incredible story to tell of triumph and determination. I am so proud of her as an athlete, but more importantly, as a person. She has worked so hard to be healthy, from the inside out, and continues to strive for improvement. Her story is one that I wanted people to hear about because we all have loved ones in our life that may be afraid to take that first step towards better health and wellbeing so maybe her story can be a source of inspiration for those who are so close to taking that first step.**