“I want a story. I welcome the struggle.”
Carolyn discovered CrossFit in 2009 when she started working with a personal trainer in her home. She had been unhealthy and out of shape and decided to take charge of her health when she couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without being winded. It was difficult for her to adapt to a weight-loss regimen that included intense training routines and a new way of eating.
“I hated to exercise. Enter Jason.” Carolyn attributes her success in making the necessary lifestyle changes to her own determination to follow the program designed by her personal trainer and coach, Jason Schroeder.
“At the time, Jason would train me in the basement with a kettle bell, a metal plyo box, a rower, and a wall ball. Our target for wall balls was a tree, our “gym” was a grassy, sloped back yard, and our mats were the dingy basement carpet, but it was CrossFit and we did it without questioning him. I had anxiety every time I saw his car pull up and couldn’t wait until the end of our 6-week session.”
At the time, Carolyn’s mother had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She scheduled her training sessions with Jason around her mother’s chemo treatments. The physically intense workouts inspired her to push herself while thinking about what her mother was enduring. “That mindset is what helped me to get through those intense training sessions,” Carolyn said. “Six weeks turned into two years, and two years turned into my story.”
When Jason and Kristy Link opened up Brazen Athletics in 2011, he invited Carolyn to intern at the gym and eventually start coaching. She took the opportunity to help others change their path toward better health as she had done.
Now a full-time CrossFit coach and director of a ladies-only CrossFit program, which she started over two years ago, Carolyn has poured her soul into CrossFit. Her eldest daughter is a CrossFitter and hopes to compete at regionals in the next year or two.
As someone who was a life-long non-athlete and struggled with weight issues, Carolyn has a unique way to connect with newcomers who may find the intensity of CrossFit to be overwhelming. She adapts her coaching style to the needs of the members while sharing the power of functional fitness. Beyond the purely physical benefits, Carolyn believes “that empowering people by teaching them how to move a barbell correctly is one of the most powerful mental health tools in the world. It translates into better health and a better life outside the gym. I have a special place in my heart for the master’s athletes, because I am one myself, and the women (who sometimes need a little more TLC to get them to pick up a barbell). As a competitive CrossFitter with a non-competitive background, I always tell the athletes, ‘If I can do it, anyone can’, and I mean that from the very bottom of my heart.”
The 2015 Shoreline Masters Competition in Branford, CT, was extremely meaningful to her because ten Masters athletes from her box were competing, most of them for the very first time. It was Carolyn’s third year at Shoreline, and she was determined to make it onto the podium. To prepare for competing against regional-level athletes, she trained hard and was determined to place higher than last year’s fourth place finish.
“I got first place in the strength WOD and slid to third place going into the final WOD. This year Shoreline decided to have a final WOD for top five athletes, something they hadn’t done in the past. Going into the final WOD, I was in third and unfortunately my weakest movement surfaced, and I fell from third to fifth. But that’s CrossFit and that’s why I love it. After I Shoreline, I noticed that I was not recovering too well. I chalked it up to the intense training beforehand and the fact that I had to do that extra WOD at the competition. I continued to feel fatigue and have poor recovery for next few months, and then I started losing my voice.”
Initially she thought the voice loss was from teaching so many classes, but had some blood work done. The blood work, for the most part, was fine, but the doctor felt a lump in her throat. A biopsy revealed thyroid cancer. Carolyn underwent a complete thyroidectomy with central node dissection on July 23, 2015. Although the cancer had spread to nearby lymph nodes, the prognosis is good because of the type of cancer and her overall health. Carolyn knows her recent conversion to a healthy lifestyle gave her the best possible outcome for the six-hour surgery. Her CrossFit community stepped up in support immediately with fundraisers, special shirts, and community events to help pay the medical bills. She has a round of post-op radioactive iodine therapy scheduled, but she is confident she’ll be cancer-free within six months.
After the surgery, most of the box members stopped by to visit her at home. “The support has been incredible and I am focusing on rest and recovery at the moment,” Carolyn said. “I plan on easing back into my training routine and get back to where I was before the diagnosis. I am looking to use this fight the same way I did when I was caring for my mom with cancer. I believe I am going to come back stronger than before the diagnosis because mentally I just feel different. The coaches have started “PR’s for Carolyn” and every few days they are posting their PR lifts in honor of my fight. I cannot tell you how happy that has made me watching them do that. I know what it is like to dial in and feel an emotion from within to drive you to do things you never thought possible, whether it is with your workout or even outside the gym. I plan on dialing into that as soon as I get back to my training as well.”
For those who have recently been diagnosed with cancer, Carolyn has some advice: Don’t assume the worst, get facts from reputable doctors and survivors, and allow people to help. “It is important to go through all the stages of emotion, but it is equally important to continue to progress through the stages to get your mind to the most conducive levels for healing. Accept help. I am someone who has a hard time asking for help. I appreciated those who would not take no for an answer and helped anyway. You need help. People want to help. Let them. With everything. It will make a difference in your recovery and healing and allow you to put your energy into the battle.”
She is determined to remain strong as a coach and mother of three. CrossFit helped her be a better version of herself, someone with inner strength as well as physical strength, which is now a necessity for her survival. “The struggles are part of our story,” she said. “I want a story. I welcome the struggle.”