Changing Course: Journey to a Fit Fatherhood
RICH MLYNEK - MEMBER SINCE 2013
About 2 years before I started Crossfit, I thought I had hit rock bottom. Relationship issues and a combination of depression, stress eating, and lack of exercise led me to be overweight and very out of shape. I could barely kick a soccer ball with my 4 year old son in my back yard and it was embarrassing. I woke up one morning with a severe headache and realized that I had lost the eyesight in the top half of my field of vision in my left eye, like a shade had been pulled half way down over my eye. I thought I had suffered a minor stroke. The doctor said no stroke, but the diagnosis was optic neuritis. The bad news was that for 50% of people that suffer from optic neuritis, it is the first symptom on the road towards multiple sclerosis (MS) – a long lasting disease that can cause problems with vision, balance, and muscle control. What a disaster!
I vowed right then to take control of my health in a positive way. Did I start Crossfit right then? NO, I joined Lifetime Fitness and when my eyesight eventually returned after a few weeks, started playing recreational softball. Although I had worked out sporadically since high school football, my workouts consisted of the elliptical machine (while watching tv), bench press and weight machines. But I had no plan and no idea how to work different muscle groups. So I ordered a batch of P90X fitness CDs and figured Tony Horton would show me everything I needed. Next I talked to the nutritionist at Lifetime and asked for a sensible and sustainable meal plan. He was a 25 year old muscle bound 5’2”, 150 and didn’t listen to me AT ALL. He told me OATMEAL was the answer and I should eat it at almost every meal and carry bags of it around in my pockets. Well, at least the softball would be a fun way to be healthy!
I started practicing with a rec league team in early June, 2011. I hadn’t played organized ball since little league 35 years before, but I was always a good hitter and thought for sure this would be a fun way to be active. In literally my first at bat in my first game, I crushed a ball into the gap between center and left field to the wall – easy double - if I hadn’t crumpled to the ground in blinding pain on my first step out of the batter’s box. Completely severed Achilles tendon! My fitness renaissance was OVER before it even started. My P90X CDs came in the mail two days later and I never used them. As a bonus, I was in the middle of a toxic rebound relationship. Rock bottom was deeper than I thought!
For the next 18 months, I struggled with a cast, boot, crutches, infections, hyperbaric chamber therapy and lots of feeling sorry for myself. During one of my last rehab sessions, I met a guy who said he and his wife were doing Crossfit, (which I had never heard of) and it happened to be at a gym really close to where I worked - Crossfit 925. When I finally healed up a few months later, I decided to stop in and give it 60 days to see if it was a fit for me. That was January 22, 2013, and although I was probably in the worst shape of my life, that day changed my life in ways I could have never imagined.
The Crossfit 925 box was in a small strip center wedged between a Mexican restaurant and an insurance agency. It was kind of dark, jammed with a rig in the center, lots of free weights, barbells and med balls and no weight machines. I was completely intimidated! Ben Tyler, the owner, guided me through a fitness test where I showed him I could do about 10 sit-ups and a few pushups, but not much else. I hadn’t held a barbell in 30 years and had never done a squat with free weights. Ben was extremely patient and told me he could help, and that although everyone does the same workout, that anyone could do the workouts, they modify the workouts to each person’s particular skill level. Also, they focus on teaching movements with proper form and would not let me do certain lifts or exercises until I could demonstrate proficiency and safety performing each movement. PERFECT and exactly what I needed.
I started going 3 times a week and Ben and his wife Diana and the other coaches encouraged me every step of the way. The prescribed workout (RX) was usually far out of reach for me, but I managed to get a great workout every session and started to learn Olympic weight lifting and gymnastic moves that I had never included in any workout. I started gaining confidence and FEELING better. Some of the workouts absolutely destroyed me (Karen – 150 wall balls for time, Fran – 21-15-9 of thrusters and pullups) because I either couldn’t do the movements (pull-ups) or the time cap was just far beyond my endurance, speed, or both, but they gave me goals to shoot for and I modified so I could complete the workout with everyone else. Also, everyone else working out was also destroyed, we all encouraged each other and no-one seemed to brag, puff out their chests or demean anyone else. We all bonded over the intense workout and finishing together. I finally felt like I was part of something good and we were all doing it as a TEAM. I wasn’t alone in my struggle.
Another thing that was different was that it wasn’t just a bunch of muscle-bound dudes grunting and sweating. It was old and young, men and women, all different shapes and sizes, ALL grunting and sweating. Not posing and making it a social hour. Nevertheless, it felt like a community. At other gyms, I never met anyone and never cared to. Initially, at Crossfit 925, I just went in, did my workout and left, just like all my previous experiences. Over time, though, I found myself talking to the other athletes casually and easily, because we were all experiencing the same thing, a positive change in our health, fitness, attitudes and you could see those changes in the mirror!
Those initial 60 days have turned into 6 ½ years, and I’ve consistently worked out 3-5 times/week with an occasional short break for minor injuries or vacation. I’ve lost weight, but my body shape has changed in a way that I like and my confidence has improved in all areas of my life. The coaches have continued to encourage me and I’ve reached heights I never thought possible with weight lifting, gymnastics, balance and the ways that those things contribute to my every day life. Crossfit’s focus on nutrition and fun nutrition challenges keep me eating healthy and have changed the way I view food and eating. As a more practical matter, I am now a “do it yourselfer” with home projects and feel much more comfortable building things, repairing things, and moving things myself instead of paying someone else and that saves me money and that also makes me feel good. After my recent marriage, my step son started working out with me and my now 12 year old son has much more of an interest in working out and a healthy lifestyle. By the way, an MRI confirmed that I am not living with MS, but I am convinced that without Crossfit, my health would have continued to deteriorate and my life span would be significantly shortened in the direction I was going. In my mind, Crossfit 925 has given me a path to save and improve every aspect of my life.