It’s a school night and I’ve already gone to bed when I hear my phone chime. A text from my mom, “I need your help.” I roll out of bed and walk down the hall where I eventually find my mom sitting on the floor. She’s tripped and fallen down the small flight of stairs leading to our garage. After making sure she is okay, I help her into the living room and grab some ice for her ankle. I listen as she lets out her frustration with her legs because she was, “just trying to grab something really quick and it should have been easy but it’s not.” Lots of things aren’t easy.
Imagine trying to walk down stairs after your legs have fallen asleep or trying to button a shirt wearing oven mitts. This is the reality of my mom’s life. This is the reality for those suffering with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
MS is different for each individual. For my mom it means numbness, balance problems, heat sensitivity, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. As her disease progresses, more symptoms will be presented. We never know when and we never know what. That’s why MS is so scary. Nerves get damaged and there’s no way of knowing what the effects will be when it happens. Blindness? More numbness? An inability to use her legs?
These symptoms created many limitations in my mom’s life before she started Crossfit. For example, she wasn’t able to walk a mile. Stairs were always a big challenge as she had little control of her right leg and was unable to get it up the step. This eventually led to pain in her hip for which she was having to take medication. She was also having to take sleeping pills most nights to fall asleep.
We would always walk arm in arm to keep her walking in a straight line because she couldn’t balance unless she was holding on to something (We’d joke that she walked like a drunk person and had to be drunk to walk like a normal person). And finally, most importantly, the first thing she said when I asked her previous limitations…She couldn’t wear heels.
What’s Crossfit Got to Do with It?
My sister and I were both die-hard soccer players growing up, much to the dismay of my softball-loving mom. After deciding not to play soccer in college, it was only a few short months before I found myself desperately needing to fill that competitive void. That’s when I found Crossfit.
I drank the Kool-Aid and dove in head first. I only spent about a year learning the movements before I became a certified trainer. It opened up an entirely new side of the sport and helped to ignite my passion even more. It was this increase in knowledge that turned my focus toward involving my mom in this world. (For those of you wondering what the heck Crossfit is, see pictures below)
Your first question should be “How in the world is a woman who can’t feel her legs going to do THAT?” Well, absolutely everything we do can be scaled to each individual’s ability. Pictures/examples continued.
I knew Crossfit could be great for my mom because of the progress I had seen with the other members at my gym, but she still had some reservations. As a once competitive softball player, she was very unsure about going and having to say “I can’t” because of her limitations. She was also worried about being a burden on the coaches because they would have to modify the workouts for her and she didn’t know how accommodating they would be.
It wasn’t until I went home to Washington for Christmas (after subtly/annoyingly bugging her for a couple months…) that I got her into a Crossfit gym. We had researched the gyms in the area online until we found one that looked like it would be a good match, Rainier Crossfit.
We went together, she may have been nervous but she acted excited, and by the end of the experience I was very impressed with the owners/coaches. They were patient, kind and willing to try multiple options to find the correct modification for my mom. I felt 100% comfortable leaving my mom in their hands… It was the second best option to being able to train her myself.
Even with this awesome staff my mom still had her fair share of struggles/difficulties, “The first weeks I went to Crossfit were more of a challenge emotionally than physically. I had to get past knowing working out was not going to be the same as it had been in the past… I was no longer the coordinated, physically-fit women I had been before. I had to accept ‘I look good’ but workouts revealed the truth; I am now uncoordinated, weak and unable to control my movements.
I was afraid people would judge and not be patient or supportive when repeatedly having to change workouts for me. I tried jumping rope during one of the workouts, easy enough right? Well, I paid the price for that one! The next morning I could barely bend my left knee. Reason being, my right leg has so much nerve damage I couldn’t easily get it to jump so I put the extra pressure on my left knee. I quickly learned my limitations and the coaches were great at hearing me and my needs.”
Proud Daughter Moments
Amazingly, in only 9 months and despite these challenges, my mom has seen incredible improvements. She is now able to walk two full miles, even after a tough workout at the gym. The increase in strength in her legs has my mom doing stairs (almost) no problem! She doesn’t have to swing her leg out and around which has also stopped the pain in her hip, which means no extra meds, yay! She is sleeping better at night, especially after days when she’s gone to the gym because her body is tired and has an easier time relaxing to fall asleep. She is and I quote “A LOT” stronger and in general a happier person. This may have to do with her new ability to finally wear chunky heels again!
I must say I am continually shocked at the new things she is able to do. Before Crossfit my mom could barely do an air squat and had to hold on to the wall to keep from falling over. Her new PR back squat is 113lbs! (without holding onto anything for balance I might add). She is able to do a yoke carry (walking with weight on her back) with 155lbs. Not bad for a lady who can’t feel her legs! Full burpees are also a newly conquered movement which is HUGE because it means she will be able to get up off the floor by herself if (or when) she falls down.
What has been the most rewarding for me is that my mom has been loving not only the results, but the process as well, “My favorite thing about Crossfit is the positive experience it has been for me. I have had to give up so many things because of my MS but now I have found Crossfit. The coaches are patient, informative and seem to enjoy the challenge of modifying the workouts for me. The other members are encouraging, friendly and supportive. And I get to share the love of Crossfit with my daughter :)”
The Proof is In the Pudding
Every so often my mom sees a neurologist who performs tests to see how her disease is progressing. Since starting Crossfit, my mom’s scores have continued to improved and the doctor has even begun writing, “Keep doing Crossfit” in her follow-up notes. This is extremely important because doctors previously debated if working out was safe for people with MS. A great majority suffer from heat sensitivity, meaning their symptoms worsen when hot. Working out obviously raises people’s body temperatures and it was unclear if this would negatively impact their bodies. I believe my mom’s success and progress has put a definite end to that question. We hope and expect to see even more improvements in the future. Next on the docket, real pull-ups and running!