I will remember 03.12.2016 as one of the most physically challenging and mentally draining days in my life to date. I will also remember that day as one of the most inspiring, humbling, and simply amazing days I will ever experience. It was my first time attending and participating in the Working Wounded Games – a Crossfit competition exclusively for Adaptive Athletes.
My journey to the Working Wounded Games in North Carolina (WWG) began the first time I stepped into Edmonds Crossfit in the Spring of 2015. Okay, technically my journey began at birth with a severe clubfoot and then throughout my life as my foot deteriorated up to my 20s when I had debilitating pain until receiving my ExoSym device… but for time sake I’ll start my journey in spring 2015. I was definitely hesitant to start Crossfit. I was worried that I may not be able to safely get through what seemed to be insane and intense workouts (p.s. my instincts were correct: they are insane and intense) with my limited range of motion while wearing the ExoSym and serious lack of balance due to my clubfoot. I found a Groupon for a 6-week class pass and felt comfortable knowing I could try it out for a few weeks and just see how it goes. The gym was two minutes away from my new job, had a class setting that appealed to the social side of me, and before making my purchase I spoke with the owner, Morgan, and felt comfortable that I could go at my own pace and adjust moves as I needed to.
As it turns out my own pace was much worse than I expected at my first workout! I don’t remember what the workout was except that it was three rounds, included a little bit of running, and I barely made it through two before calling it good for the day. It was awful – and I was totally hooked. I spent my first few months lifting very light, working on my range of motion, and honestly just trying to survive the WODs. Once I got comfortable I was able to push myself further, lift a little heavier, and even balance a little longer on my right foot. Somewhere along the way a fellow ExoSym-wearer posted about an event he participated in and won (amazing!) called the “Working Wounded Games”. I was excited about the thought of one day participating, but didn’t know that I’d be ready until a year or so in the future since I was so new to Crossfit.
I continued to make progress at the gym and decided my goal would be to participate in the WWG in November 2016, which I’ll note was 11 months away from the point I made this decision. Then it was announced that there would be a smaller regional WWG in North Carolina in March 2016 and a shift in my timeline happened. I spoke with a friend and another fellow ExoSym-wearer Beth Shaver who told me she was going to go to the WWG in North Carolina and that I should go too! She also told me about Project Athena Foundation, a non-profit she had worked with in the past whose mission is “to encourage women who’ve endured life-altering medical setbacks to unleash the Athlete and Adventurer within and complete the journey of a lifetime”. With an incredibly tight budget due to wedding season including my own wedding, they were my only hope to be able to attend the WWG so I submitted my application for their Athena/Survivor Grant and kept plugging away at the gym while I waited.
Approximately 6 weeks before the WWG I got a call from Louise at Project Athena Foundation (PAF) letting me know I was part of the Project Athena Family and they were going to cover my trip to North Carolina to participate in the Working Wounded Games. I was so grateful and honored to be a part of this incredible group of women who were giving me this opportunity to do something special. I saw this is a chance to spread some awareness for all of the adults living with chronic pain from clubfoot who struggle to be heard, to be taken seriously since it’s often seen as an issue that is “fixed” in early childhood, and for those who struggle to get the medical care they deserve. Many people with clubfoot do grow up to lead pain-free, normal lives but there are thousands that don’t have such a great outcome. I am fortunate to have found the ExoSym through a fantastic doctor and to have been able to fundraise the cost to get mine. I hoped that being a part of the WWG could teach at least one person about clubfoot or help at least one person with clubfoot learn about this device and they too could regain their mobility. While I believe I was able to achieve my objective, what I learned and took away from this event far outweighs it all.
The day consisted of 4 grueling workouts approximately 10-15 minutes each with about an hour rest in between. They were high intensity, high rep, and high weight workouts that would be challenging for any human in any way, shape, or form. Yet here we all were each with a different story, a different condition, from different places around the world with a sense of camaraderie and an incredible energy in the air that is hard to describe. Although I think every one of us at some point leading up to that day had a brief moment of “I don’t know about this…” there is no challenge we cannot face. Every athlete put their heart and soul into each workout, pushed to their limits and beyond, and with every rep left a lasting impression on every single person in that room. As someone who struggles with leg balance I couldn’t help but be completely awestruck as I watched people toss a 100lb plus barbell over their head with ease… with one arm, one leg, or in a chair. Seriously. That happened. Every second of that day was proof that we are truly capable of more than we can ever imagine.
I couldn’t have asked for a better group of women to compete with in my division either. Seven strong, positive, encouraging, and fun women that I am so thankful to now call friends. With them by my side, the volunteers that seriously took care of all of us, the words of encouragement from everyone at Project Athena Foundation that hit my inbox that day, and the spectators cheering for 8 hours straight I was able to get a split jerk PR, take 1st in one of the events, and 4th overall despite being a bit under the weather. I don’t know how it’s possible to spend just one day with a group of people and feel like they are family, but that’s exactly what happened. I am so proud of every athlete that competed. That was a seriously tough day, but we made it out together and I cannot wait to do it all over again at the WWG in November.
I cannot say thank you enough to everyone at Project Athena Foundation for the opportunity to take on this challenge and have the privilege to represent PAF and the Clubfoot Community. What they also gave me through this experience was an invaluable lesson on humanity, community, love, and strength. We all have our hurdles in this life; some of us are born with them and others face them somewhere along the way, but what we choose to do with them is our sole responsibility. As my mobility deteriorated it was really hard to imagine ever running again let alone being able to participate in an 8-hour Crossfit competition, but I never gave up hope that there would one day be a solution that would bring out the athlete in me again. Ryan and his amazing team at Hanger Clinic were the medical solution, everyone at ECF continues to be my fitness family, Project Athena Foundation has sparked a desire in me to continue to compete and share my story, and my friends and family keep me sane(ish), grounded, and so grateful for everything in my life. Now this Clubfoot Crossfit Bionic Athena is more of an athlete than ever thanks to the hundreds of people that made it all possible.
Here is a link to the event photographer’s album: https://vibrant-photography.smugmug.com/Working-Wounded-Games-2016/WWG-with-Logo/
There will also be a video (I think!) which I will post as soon as it comes around!