This blog post is part of a series through WanderFit Training: Real People, Real Health. Chelsea is a 27 year old newly-minted attorney, but you can probably find her hanging out on a pool deck or playing with her food. She enjoys trivia and fine guacamole.
My relationship with sports is complicated at best and damaged at worst.
I started swimming competitively at 9. I took to the sport almost immediately, much to the surprise of everyone who knew me as a younger child—refusing to get into a pool without an inner tube and only completely submerging myself about a year prior to my first practice. Swimming is a sport that demands completeness, and it swallowed my family and me whole. I started training and competing seriously around 12. Shortly after this, my family moved to Florida, and I was lucky enough to land at a club led by Olympic coach Peter Banks, swimming next to three-time Olympic gold medalist Brooke Bennett, and, one summer, the Dutch National Team.
Peter’s practices almost never varied: long-distance freestyle, all day, every day. Peter is very good at spotting Olympians, and almost as good at creating them. One day after practice, he pulled me into his office and asked if I wanted to go all the way in this sport. I stood there, slightly stunned, but oddly prepared. A small puddle of water was forming on the carpet beneath my feet. That tired, dripping-wet 13 year old said yes—so we made a plan. I started going to practice in the morning before middle school, and then again after school. Peter had noticed me, and if I wanted it, it was mine.
But something was wrong. Other people noticed before I did. I swam hard for months, but felt terrible. I had lost so much weight that my knee and elbow joints stuck out, and it was hard for me to wash my hair because my arms felt too heavy to hold up long enough for the suds to rinse. This was coupled with a few unfortunate encounters with another coach who should never have been allowed to be around teenage girls. After my older sister tested positive for mono, a light went on. It turned out I had had it for months, and was swimming through it the whole time. At this point in my career, I was too sick, too tired, and too damaged to continue with the sport. I quit.
Months went by. I slowly got better, gained more weight than I wanted, and eventually got back in the pool. But the coach was still there, and I didn’t last long. Fortunately, my family was moving to Minnesota, and I would be starting high school in the fall. As I slipped into the pool that first season, I decided it was time for a triumphant comeback. Nothing could stop me—Peter had told me, if I wanted it, it was mine. And I wanted it.
But something else was wrong. I started having debilitating pain in my right foot. While making me a master puller and impressive at one-legged flip turns, it pulled the newly vacuumed rug out from under me. A year of doctors finally revealed two small tumors in one of my metatarsals. Surgery followed, but unfortunately the pain continued. I was captain of my high school team my senior year, but never got to swim a single meet. My identity as an athlete was ripped away from me, and it took years to be comfortable being dry. It’s still a battle.
I was an athletic wanderer for years. As I crept into adulthood, I started to get good at Jillian Michaels DVDs, but an important part of me was still missing. I was craving the competition and measurability that swimming had given me for so long. Eventually, I stumbled upon an online fitness community called Bodyrock. A new workout was posted every day, and a friend of mine and I started to follow along. The workouts were generally pretty short, but very intense, and always had a score. My friend and I got matching notebooks and started to compete and share scores every day. We followed Bodyrock for well over a year and saw huge improvements in almost every aspect of our lives. I started to recognize myself again, and it felt good.
It turns out that Bodyrock was just a placeholder for CrossFit. CrossFit took the best parts of Bodyrock, added weight to it, and made me part of a team again. It is hard to explain everything that CrossFit has done for me, so I won’t even try. That’s another blog post. But it has been almost two and a half years since I was formally reacquainted with my inner athlete. Recently, I had a conversation with someone about what each of us did to stay in shape. For the first time in a long time, my answer was, “I’m a CrossFitter,” and not “I used to be a swimmer, but…”
I can definitively say that it is far better to be an I am than an I used to be.
I was good at swimming. I am mediocre at CrossFit. But it has filled in my holes and mended a few of the broken pieces. After years of being angry at my body and feeling robbed of my identity, I have started to let some of it go. Part of me will always be replaying that moment in Peter’s office. How could it not? That was my moment. However, I have since learned that I am not entirely made of one moment.
I am many moments. I am the moment I won the 100 IM at the Sockeye Sprints. I am the moment my name was announced in the finals heat of the 200 IM at the Pacific Rim Classic. I am the moment I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon. I am the moment I did my first unassisted pull-ups. I am also many moments that haven’t happened yet.
Chelsea, performing a front squat at her local Crossfit facility.