Before you read this letter, think of the qualities of someone (real or imaginary) who you think would should consider doing CrossFit.
We all love CrossFit because we want to be healthier, stronger, more mobile, maybe even just to look good! CrossFit can do all those things for us as long as we trust the system and put in the effort! CrossFit shows the benefits in the mirror, and our bodies physically show the hard work we put in each week and we can see that with our own eyes. But what about the things we can’t see?
CrossFit can do more than we realize for people, in Olivia Vollmar’s case it saved her life.
In an article by Brittney Saline called “Snatches Over Suicide,” she discusses the life of Olivia and all the constant struggles she had to face, that lead her to believe the only way out was to take her own life.
Olivia lost her mother when she was 7 years old. Her mother was constantly in and out of the hospital with a condition that caused her organs to dry up and die. This lead her at a young age to reject any kinds of religion because she couldn’t understand how God could love her and take her mother away. Olivia also struggled with her weight as she was growing up, at the age of 13 she weighed 281 pounds. This was due to the lack of control when it came to the nutrition and the amount of food that was being served to her by her father. Providing food was his way of showing his children that he loved them, he did not think he was doing anything wrong.
When Olivia became a senior in high school she was taking medication for anxiety and depression and experienced anxiety attacks. In December of 2015, her dad had 3 heart attacks with 3 hours, leading Olivia to take on the task of caring for her father. Four months later she was put on bed rest for complications with her ankle. After physical therapy she was still experiencing pain in her ankle, but she noticed the pain was spreading to other places too.
Doctors ran autoimmune tests and everything was normal, but Olivia knew something was wrong. She was then diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which is a syndrome where the brain will mistake nonpainful sensations for painful ones and is widespread throughout the body. This condition is hard for some people to understand which in turn caused them to think Olivia was lying about the pain just for attention.
All these components took her into a vicious cycle of feeling anxious, which made her feel physical pain, which made her more anxious. She could not stand this constant anxiety, pain, and uncertainty of maybe never feeling normal again. Olivia had plans to take her own life.
Until one day, and friend brought up CrossFit. It took a little bit of convincing, but she decided to give it a try. After she stepped foot in CrossFit 1808, the community welcomed her with open arms and kept her in when she wanted to quit. After 3 months she noticed her life finally turn for good. Olivia was excited about going to the gym, she started doing better in school, her confidence and drive was back, and she felt great about herself.
Today Oliva lost 85 pounds and no longer has any symptoms of fibromyalgia. CrossFit had saved her life, but how did it do it? It makes sense to us that when we exercise and eat right, it makes our bodies healthier. Although we never think about what it is doing to our brains because we can’t see the results in the mirror.
Have you ever noticed after a workout that you actually have more energy throughout the day? Have you ever felt like you slept better at night on the days you worked out? Have you ever noticed that you manage everyday BS better? This is no coincidence.
Hearing Olivia’s story and this topic is very close to my own personal experiences. I have struggled with anxiety and attacks before, but I have never been diagnosed with a disorder. These attacks are something I would not even wish on my worst enemy. Very similar to how Olivia describes it in her article, it does feel like you are drowning and nobody – not even yourself – can save you. At 18, I had finally realized that my anxiety was an issue and that not everyone constantly felt the way I did. I could never relax, and I would constantly be tired but never could fall asleep.
There were times where I would need to be somewhere in the afternoon, and I would wake up at 8 in the morning and I would count the hours before I had to be there.
I would wake up, check my phone: “It’s 8:04, I have to be there in 7 hours”
I would make breakfast, and I would check my phone again: “8:28, I now have 6 and a half hours”
Watch TV for a while, and I would check my phone again, “9:20, 5 and a half hours left.”
This would get worse and worse as the time got closer to my time to leave the house, and my anxiety would build. “What if I forget to leave?” “What if I’m late” “Will traffic be bad?” “Do I know what to do when I get there?” All these thoughts rushed into my head and I think about them the entire time before I actually got up to go to wherever I needed to be. This took a toll on me.
I would get irritable and lethargic and it got to a point where I did not want to do anything with myself because I did not want to deal with the anxiety. I just wanted to sit at home all day and do nothing, but even that made me more anxious because I felt unproductive and I was scared that I wasn’t doing anything with my life while everyone else was. It seemed like I could never escape it.
This is when I found CrossFit, and it makes me a totally different person. After I do a WOD that really kicks my ass, I feel phenomenal. You know that feeling when you can finally breathe again, that feeling of euphoria. You feel this way because after you put all that stress on your body, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins that are a natural pain reliever. These endorphins do not only help you feel good after a workout, but the also can change your brain in the long run.
Studies with exercise and its effect on anxiety, depression, and even memory loss have shown to be an effective cure over months. In short, exercise promotes the development of neurons in our brain that improves cognitive functions, but all you feel are the endorphins. As a result, your brain over time physically changes to adapt to the constant stimulus of exercise. When you routinely come to the gym, you’re not only physically changing your body to be healthier, but your mind as well.
After years of CrossFit, I feel like I can actually breathe. I can actually relax, I get things done that I need to get done, and I feel better about myself! CrossFit not only changed Olivia and I physically, but it has changed us mentally.
Think again of the qualities of a person that should consider doing CrossFit. Did you think of someone who is bored of their daily gym routine, out of shape, someone who wants to look good and so on? You’re right, but we forget to consider those who lack motivation, those who are going through a lot in their life, and those who don’t see a point anymore. CrossFit is for them too.
CrossFit is not just working out. CrossFit is a cure.
Learn more about Olivia’s Journey: