Coach Ashley's Story of What CrossFit Means to Her.....
We've all got a story.. maybe two, maybe ten.
We've all got a story that no one knows, and quite frankly its likely that no one really cares about it. But that same story is usually the one that we care most about, because its the one that drives us the most. Drives why we get up in the morning, why we fight forward into another day, why we overcome challenges and obstacles and do our best to see the positive in situations rather than allow the negative to drag us backwards.
As a business owner, more specifically a CrossFit Affiliate owner, in my experience from other owners I've had the pleasure to meet, theres always a story behind why they started CrossFit and ultimately why they chose to venture down the path of entrepreneurship and open their own as well.
That leads to me to my story ... What life was like before CrossFit. How or why I started CrossFit, why I chose to open an affiliate and what it all means to me.
This is long, but if you choose to read and make it through, I hope it serves you. I hope it reaches you somehow. And, Thank you for reading.
Growing up, I was always an athletic kid and teen. Ranging from years of competitive hockey, soccer, volleyball, badminton and rugby. I loved sports. I loved being part of a team, learning what my weaknesses were, learning that I had strengths. Working with a team and learning to strategize. Feeling the exhaustion of hard work on my legs after a great hockey game, was one of my favourite things. Learning I was capable of pushing myself harder when things got tough on the ice - compared to nothing else.
In high school, I got sick. I was 14, on my way home from a hockey tournament in Chatham and all of a sudden hit the floor of our bus, completely unconscious. I woke up a couple hours later being put into an ambulance in Woodstock, not knowing anyone around me, or recognizing them anyway. I went unconscious again and woke up in a hospital the next day. The doctors weren't too sure what happened and assumed it was an anxiety attack. Sent me home with some medications and said to do a follow up in a week with my doctor.
For the next couple of years these episodes kept happening, but they would get worse and worse. Paralyzing feelings, numbness or complete loss of feeling in my limbs, sometimes everything going black and unable to see. The crushing and suffocating feelings I would get in my chest, leaving me unable to breathe or speak was terrifying. I spent my entire teenage years being told I was having mild strokes, heart attacks, panic and anxiety attacks or that they were investigating to see if I had a neurological disease or disorder. The medications I went on were debilitating and left me looking and feeling like a zombie, drooling at my desk during class - literally. One doctor made the diagnosis that I was giving myself mini heart attacks whenever I elevated my heart rate, so he felt it was best I no longer exercised or play sports. I put on 20 pounds of weight gain and developed depression. High-school was a hoot.
Fast forward to 22, and 8 years of dealing with a lot of unknown, I'd learned to deal with most of it on my own. Knowing that if and when something happened, I just needed to be calm. Let it run its course, whatever it was. I segregated myself from many people because it was embarrassing to deal with. I hated going to work, to school or out with friends because I was nervous this would happen. I was sick of hospitals, doctors and all the bullshit they would spew at me with "educational guesses" that lead to no answers at all.
The stress of it all had created some other issues including digestive diseases, acid reflux, severe gastritis and intestinal complications. For almost 4 years I would throw up almost every day, whether it was from the acid, the herniated stomach or the fact that I felt like a disgusting human being - I would make myself throw up from feeling so sick to make the feeling go away, even temporarily.
After years of going to my doctor, many many ECG's, EKGS, cat scans, neurological tests, sleep deprived tests, blood work etc... I went to a naturopathic doctor to see if maybe they might have any idea what was going on. It took her one month to figure me out.
First off, food was my biggest issue. I grew up on Mac and Cheese, cinnamon toast, pasta, and a bunch of other crappy foods - that seemed pretty normal to everyone right? Turns out I had severe stomach and intestinal blockages because my body couldn't breakdown and digest certain foods, that I'd been eating for years. These things that weren't able to pass through my system were essentially creating pockets of gas from fermentation in my stomach, intestines, colon etc. This was creating a plethora of issues for me internally. The added mess from the cocktails of medications I was given and the elevated stress levels - were really starting to literally kill me. I was exhausted mentally, emotionally and physically and felt less human every day.
In addition to the stress and anxiety that was caused by these health issues internally, there were far more health issues caused by exterior circumstances.
Many of you who have known me for some time, know that I was married before, at a very young (foolish) age, and that this marriage ended very poorly. It was full of anger, animosity, and abuse. I was told on a regular basis that it was not appealing for a female to have such a muscular body, that it was embarrassing for me to be 'flaunting' my body when I worked out or wore a bikini, and that attaching their family name was not allowed if thats how I was going to live my life. I was told to stay covered up a lot of the time, and wasn't even 'allowed' to sun tan in my own back yard as it was considered "flirting with nearby neighbours". The fact that I didn't fit the ideal female for my ex husband, was grounds enough for him, (and his family) to justify him looking elsewhere for what he wanted. Just to give you a glimpse. This heavily contributed to a severe lack of confidence and constant questioning of self worth.
However, the story always has two sides, right? I will admit my faults as well. This relationship brought out my absolute worst. It unravelled a nasty side of me that was ugly. Mean, hateful and malicious. I became a terrible person to certain people that caused me pain, because I felt justified. It wasn't right. It not only hurt others, but it hurt me during that time. To allow myself to become something so awful, never served me any purpose at all. Although now, today, I know exactly what I never ever want to be again, nor will I ever allow myself to be. So, lesson learned. So many lessons learned.
Moving on..... (this does serve a purpose... keep reading if you'd like)....
I found CrossFit at the age of 27...
At that point, my parents had gone through a nasty separation when I was 12, my mother had tried to kill herself at 13, I had moved out of my fathers house at the age of 15 and had then moved 19 times between the ages of 15 and 27. (I will always be forever grateful for those who helped me and gave me a warm place to stay over those years!)
During this time, I continuously dealt with that parent and siblings who had mental health issues and were suicidal.
I felt lost, kicked down, beat up and spit on by life. I had very little money in my pockets, and had even lived out of my car at points over those years. (And yes, with Nova - who since the age of 21, has never, ever left my side).
No, this is not a "woe is me" story, it's just the facts and the path that lead me to where I am today. Regardless of everything, I genuinely would not change a single thing.
For the first little bit, CrossFit didn't mean anything more than a workout. I felt good when I went. I felt like it was difficult and made me sweat, which was all I was looking for.
As with many people, even though all I was looking for was a workout, a place to put my head down and sweat... I was given so much more than that. More than I could have ever imagined.
I was given a fire. A fire that ignited inside me that I didn't even know existed.
I was given hope. Hope that opened my eyes to the fact that are in fact good people in this world.
I was given passion. A passion so great and so deep, it made me see the world and people in a different way.
I was given strength. The kind of strength that can't lift a barbell, but that can lift your spirits and fill your heart.
I was given a family. A family that doesn't let you down. That picks you up and actually believes in you.
I always knew that when I put my mind to something, I will push for it and I will push hard. But theres also a point in time where my drive and fire to push for something, became dulled. Dulled by opinions of others, judgement and nasty words that cut me down to make me think I couldn't do something. That I wouldn't succeed. Whether it was school, a job, a sport or a relationship. It just wouldn't work, I couldn't make it work.
I knew that I was strong physically. I always had been. I was always competitive with my older brother and knew that whatever he did, I would find a way to do it too, and somehow I'd try to be better. What I didn't know was that the little girl who had a fire inside her, the stubborn and fierce kid - could be broken. That other people would actually try to do whatever they could do piss on my fire, and take pride in watching it burn out. Growing up you want to think, "I've got this" ... "I can handle whatever is thrown at me" - you're taught to think and believe this as a child, but somewhere along the lines if you truly think and believe that, people think you are an asshole. Why is that? Why do people go out of their way to try to tear people down to create someone weak or feeling less than capable? If you're one of those people, I have two words for you - Fuck. You.
For years I was told or made to believe I was a terrible daughter, sister and wife. I needed to change who I was to fit any of the moulds these people wanted me to be, to fit their ideals. My decisions, my actions, my lifestyle, my path for career, my body, my hair, my clothes - nothing fit their ideals. Their opinions became my shadows. They followed me everywhere I went and got into my head. I tried so hard to fit what I thought would make me good enough to get that pat on the back, to get the "Im proud of you" comment. No matter what, those never came.
So, although I was out of or freed from most of those circumstance when I started CrossFit, the damage that was done, certainly stuck with me. I don't think that will ever change.
However, what CrossFit did for me was make me realize that I am strong enough. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally to change the way I think, the way I view and perceive a challenge and a difficult situation or person. Yes, there are a lot of challenges I face - situations, people, competitions. But by changing the way I view those challenges directly affects the way I can contribute to the outcome being positive or negative. Creating a positive mindset, as cheesy as it sounds - creates a positive outcome. Being in the middle of a gruelling workout where your body just wants to fail you, your legs want to give out, your hands are torn and your sweat is pouring... but then your mind says "NO, you're FINE! You just keep pushing". When you listen to that voice, you push through and realize that you did it - it's an incredible feeling. You want more. You want to know what else you can accomplish by believing that voice telling you, YOU CAN, instead of others voices telling you, you can't.
The mindset that "Yes, I fucking CAN", and you wont stop me is through my blood, because of CrossFit.
CrossFit made me realize that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of my career, my relationships, what clothes I wear, how I colour my hair, what music I like and how much money I make. What matters is that every choice I make to show up to work, to give love to those I am close to, the clothes make me feel comfortable, that the music I listen to warms my heart and makes me smile, and the money I make feeds me, puts a roof over my head and allows me to be generous and understanding to those who might be in a different situation. At the end of the day all of those things make ME happy. When I am happy, I can be the best Ashley possible for those around me. CrossFit made it possible for me to look at myself and see value, see worth and smile at who I was and who I was pushing myself to become.
CrossFit has allowed me to find a true path of passion in coaching and supporting everyone that comes into the gym on a daily basis. To see difficulties, challenges and vulnerability in others - makes me think of myself. My challenges, my vulnerabilities and how I wish I had someone there to say "Hey, its ok! Our door is open and we're not here to judge, were here to have fun and grow!" It's allowed me to use my abilities as a coach of sport to open the eyes of individuals to their true potentials in the gym, and ultimately those strengths push into their outside life to grow strength, motivation, determination and overcome obstacles in every day life. I could not ask for more of a "job" than the ability to do that for even one single person, let alone hundreds.
As I said above, I have never had a good strong family tie. For those who know me on a deeper level you know the extent. For the purpose of this post, I am a transparent person and believe we see true growth through openness and honesty. As I mentioned, I moved out at 15, I bumped around from house to house. I was never very close with either parent. My mother was suicidal on more than one occasion as were my older siblings. (I am thankful that they are all OK today, fyi). My father and step mother and myself have never had a good or healthy relationship for several reasons, which is continued even to today, unfortunately. Having family to fall back on, depend on or look to for a safe place to fall was never a readily available option for me. Other than my Grandma and Grandad, who have been my heart and soul since I was young, and continue to be to this day. They know they own my heart, and I'm thankful for them every day. I am who I am because of them.
But now, CrossFit has given me a family. Authentic friendships. I feel safe. I feel happy. I feel vulnerable. I feel proud. I feel open. I feel loved.
So when people ask why I opened an Affiliate, or what this all means to me.....
Through everything - the struggles, the challenges, the difficult times, the many locations, the many partners and the many thousands and thousands of dollars put into CrossFit St. Catharines - there is never a day that I am not thankful for what CrossFit has given me. There is never a day that I am not thankful that I can in anyway return the favour by giving CrossFit to others and hope that those people can find what I have found here. I do not do this because I have to. I do this because I want to, I feel grateful to have the opportunity, and quite frankly - I just love it.
So, I ask you, What does CrossFit mean to you?
I'd love to hear anyone's story that's willing to share :)
~ Coach Ashley