Earlier this week, someone called me average, and it was the first time that being called “average” has made me really, really happy. The person calling me average was my lung doctor, and being told that I was “average” was the best news I’d gotten in weeks.

Some (brief!) back story. In college, my left lung collapsed. Twice. After the second time, I had surgery done that fixed the problem by removing part of the upper lobe of the lung. As a result of this surgery, my lung capacity was significantly reduced from normal levels. I would joke with people that I had the lung capacity of an asthmatic 70-year-old–but it wasn’t a joke: that’s where I rated on lung capacity tests my lung doctor performed, and it wasn’t an easy thing to deal with. Simple things were hard: walking up too many stairs made me light-headed, I couldn’t run without getting extremely winded, and more frustrating limitations appeared all the time. Because of these difficulties, I stopped trying to improve the situation. My lung doctor had said that a focus on cardio could improve the problem, but that it would be a long struggle. I felt defeated, and I didn’t notice any improvement, so I stopped trying.

I can’t remember how I first heard about CrossFit, but I remember thinking that it sounded interesting, so I did some research to learn more about it. This was about two years ago. I was still living outside of the city (Bucks County) at the time, and I had been trying to go to the local “regular” gym for almost a year. At the gym, I’d stick to weight machines, since cardio machines would leave me embarrassingly sweaty and out of breath after an embarrassingly short period of time. And I wasn’t making any progress. It was really easy to decide that I’d “done enough” for the day or that I didn’t really need to do cardio, but as a result, I’d still lose my breath doing simple things, like walking up stairs. I knew it wasn’t working, but I couldn’t push myself to change it. But I read about CrossFit, and I learned about the WODs and the intensity level and that it involved coaches who pushed you, and it seemed like something that I could never, ever do—but something that I might like to do at some point. I wasn’t ready. There were always reasons not to do it, and being fairly out of shape was a great one. 

Everything sort of reached the breaking point for me when I rode in the MS 150 City to Shore bike ride last September. Even after “training” with my cousins once a week for a couple months with 40-50 mile rides, I was completely and totally wiped out after the 80 or so miles to the shore. The pace was slow, the course was basically flat—but I could barely catch my breath, and as a result I had barely enough energy to keep my legs moving. I did the ride with my then 14- and 13-year-old cousins, neither of whom had any problems. I was embarrassed. I was disappointed. But I finally reached a point where I was ready to get things under control.

I already knew about CrossFit Center City at this point, since it came up in my initial search into CrossFit. When I first started researching CF gyms, and knowing I’d be moving back into the city in the not-so-distant future, I’d looked for gyms in and around the Center City area. Over and over again, I kept coming back to CFCC. Reviews mentioned coaching staff who seemed able to adapt to the needs of individual members rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, which I figured would work out well for someone whose athleticism and health peaked in 8th grade and fell off of a cliff after that. So I signed up for the January 2014 Elements cycle and dove in. My expectations for joining were simple: get healthier. I wanted to be more active, and I wanted reach a point where I wasn’t embarrassed to do things with friends and family. 

Elements was great for someone like me. It was a great way to learn the movements and start down the road of getting healthier. I did make the mistake of not telling the coaches about my history of lung problems on my first night, because I didn’t want to be babied or slowed down or anything like that. But I think we did burpees that night, and I remember having to stop after 10 or so, sit on the ground, and put my head between my knees to get the dizziness and extreme shortness of breath under control. I remember thinking how impossible this was going to be, how there was no way I could do it. But after class, I talked to Morgan and explained things, explained that I might just need to stop at times to get my breath back, and she was great about it.  She was understanding, supportive, and encouraging. I remember walking home that night and thinking that there had never been anything I’d done so poorly at that left me feeling so accomplished (and exhausted). I was drenched in sweat, tired beyond belief, but I felt like I’d taken the first step to getting better. 


“I remember walking home that night and thinking that there had never been anything I’d done so poorly at that left me feeling so accomplished (and exhausted). I was drenched in sweat, tired beyond belief, but I felt like I’d taken the first step to getting better. “

As Elements neared the end, I got nervous. I didn’t know that I’d be fit enough to fit into “normal” WODs; I wasn’t usually the last one done with WODs during Elements, but I was never one of the first. And if Elements WODs wiped me out so much, how could I ever complete “real” WODs? But I talked to the coaches again, this time Morgan and Record, and they reassured me and told me that they would push me—but within my own limits and at my own speed. They told me that the coaching staff would be there to support me along the way, and, figuring I had nothing to lose, I signed up. 

And they were right. I’ve been part of “real” WODs for half a year now, and the coaches have all been great at pushing me to the very top of what I thought I could do. They have all been understanding when I’ve had to take (another and another) break during MetCons or other parts of the WODs on days that demanded more cardio ability than other days (though they never let me get lazy and break longer than I needed to), and they’ve cheered me on on days when I’ve killed it during a workout I never would have thought I could have completed, let alone finished among the fastest in the class. They’ve pushed me and taught me to push myself. And, aside from the weight I’ve lost (3 pants sizes!) and the general feeling of fitness, I can BREATHE. I don’t always have to stop during MetCons/WODs anymore, and when I do absolutely have to stop, I try to keep it as short as I can. But I can breathe. Even if I finished last every time (and I’m usually somewhere comfortably in the middle, now, another “small” accomplishment), in my daily life, I can breathe. I can walk up to the third floor of the building where I teach and not get even the smallest bit winded, and I haven’t gotten light-headed during my daily activities for months.

“The [coaches] pushed me and taught me to push myself.”

When I went for my six-month checkup with my lung doctor just the other day, I was told that my breathing ability had gone from “significantly restricted” (where it had been at the beginning of the year) to “average.” It might not seem like much to be “average” in something that everyone does (breathing), but it means that I can finally run without getting instantly winded, make it all the way through a workout with getting lightheaded, and finish workouts without having to stop every 30 seconds to get my breathing under control–not to mention that I can make it up multiple flights of stairs without getting to the top and having to catch my breath. I still get winded faster than a “normal” person would when I run, and I’m still not always able to make it through a workout without having to stop to catch my breath–but I’m getting there. And I’m excited to see what seven months from now brings! 
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