Cancer, Crossfit and my Demons
Olympic lifting has always been the bread and butter of my conditioning. At college I was lucky enough to have an ex England rugby prop and Olympic weightlifter coach me. We started off with wooden broom sticks instead of the much heavier barbell and naturally progressed. Always drilling technique, technique, technique. He was old school and it worked. Having scabby shins, red thighs and callused hands has always been the norm and proud signs of a lifter.
At college and university I was always surrounded by other athletes. My home gym was full of blokes in work site boots and lads wearing vests, jewellery and lifting gloves, where Monday is international chest day and every other day was arms. I have always been that strange guy in the corner hogging the squat rack, throwing weights above his head and rolling around on the floor in pain. Luckily there has always been one gym with Olympic bars, weights and a squat rack available when I was home. I first joined a gym at the age of 15 and it was a proper spit and saw dust gym. The gyms first owner had two huskies that would regularly take a shit next to you while you were on the ab mats, and you had to apply the tshirt over the mouth/nose technique while going for a piss, it smelt so bad. This place wasn’t passing any health and safety regulations but you couldn’t knock it’s character and it catered for what I needed to do.
Over the last 7 years I have used ‘Crossfit’ as a tool to thrash myself. It’s a perfect training method for rugby. It’s basically Olympic weightlifting, body weight exercises and some gymnastic movements thrown into different circuits, called WODs. And it’s acceptable to do all this topless and tell everyone you do it….a lot! I’ve always done it at the gym (with a top on) and used the internet and various apps for inspiration. The only difference was it now had a name, been franchised and you have to re-mortgage your house to pay for the privilege of doing it.
At the back end of 2014 I was so happy to hear about a new local Crossfit gym opening in 2015. Something I was really good at and could focus my energy on while I was having a break from rugby, perfect! I didn’t have to be that strange guy at the gym on my own anymore throwing weights above his head, rolling around on the floor!! My diagnosis was in January, treatment started in February and the new Crossfit gym opened around March….Fuck. To add to my frustration I had to watch all my mates, brother and girlfriend start it and progress at it while I stayed at home suffering with this illness and losing all my #gainz!! I was now a cancer patient and I hated this status, weak and bald. I felt ashamed, resentful and angry at life. I was happy for them but how was this fair!!? I don’t want to sound like a baby throwing his toys out the pram, and hope if you’re reading this you can understand.
My life took a massive U-turn! I haven’t trained since January when I was still recovering from my foot operation. Everyone around me was progressing and talking Crossfit, like Crossfitters do. This has been one of the hardest things and something I have really struggled with. Exercise has always been a way of life, a love and my therapy and it had been taken away from me. I was really struggling with depression, anger and frustration because of it and it wasn’t just affecting me, it was also affecting all those around me and the ones I love most. It’s just so frustrating knowing how good I was, and I had to get cancer just as Crossfit was becoming popular and available locally.
The competitive demon inside me is screaming out when I see very successful athletes I was better than doing well at top level competitions, and now I will never know how good I could have been. My life would never be the same and as much as I stay positive, sprinkle glitter on it and people say I will find other things, it doesn’t make it ok.
However finishing on a positive it’s not long now till I can start again. Its great to see the local Crossfit box doing really well and it has a fantastic atmosphere with some great coaches so I’m sure if I decide to carry on with it I will have no big issues adapting. I’m just going to have to come to terms with the fact I have limited mobility and strength in my right shoulder now and it will never be the same. I will be unable to do certain things, including rugby, and I’m told I wont be able to get my right arm above my head. But….it could have been a lot worse. At least I am here and some people are told they wont walk again but do! I’m looking forward to the challenge and who knows what doors it may open. There are loads of people who have lost limbs, loving life and smashing training.