When I was 8 years old I wanted to try soccer. But in 1985 there were no teams for females, so I had to play with the boys. Athleticism ran in my family, so I was fast, agile, and had fleet feet, but the boys would never pass me the ball. My soccer career ended the following year and I decided to try softball. At try-outs the locally renown Mr. Ciofi hit me ground balls I couldn’t catch. I stepped and threw with the same hand and foot. My hand-eye coordination was a little lacking, but for some reason I fell in love with this sport. I was determined to practice the skills that would make me a better ball player. In my MIND, I knew I could do it!
The first season I was drafted to a team who wore all brown uniforms and went 0-16. I tried all of the positions on the field and quickly realized that a team could only be as good as its pitcher. I met with a pitching coach who helped me learn the all new wind-mill style and I spent hours every day throwing to a wall or to a volunteer coach who would sit on a bucket. In my MIND I knew I could learn how to throw strikes, and I pitched many games after that.
I continued playing softball in the Little League program until I was 18, and whenever I wanted to learn a new position, I put my MIND to it and spent morning, noon, and night trying to become the best I could be. I showed up to practice early and was the last one to leave. Although my skill was just average, my work ethic was impeccable. My hard work and dedication earned me a starting position on a team that was World Series bound. However, when I began struggling at the plate, I was replaced by a better (younger) player. In my MIND I knew it was in my team’s best interest for me to be on the bench, but my ego got the best of me. The bench was the last place I ever wanted to be during a playoff game. I did not handle the situation in a mature manner. Instead I portrayed a bad attitude that was clear to all of my teammates, coaches, and fans.
When I started to become a proverbial cancer to this tight knit team, one of my coaches decided to intervene. Bob Loudenslager was one of the best coaches I ever had. I respected his knowledge, skills, and ability to motivate a team. But one day he had had enough of my non-sense. He pulled me aside and said 10 words I will never forget: “I’m not asking you to leave, I’m just suggesting it.” I was appalled, angry, and hurt that he wanted me off the team. But in my MIND I knew I didn’t deserve to be on the field. I went home that night and cried, knowing I had to make a decision. Would I stay on the team and risk having to sit on the bench while my teammates played in the World Series or would I quit the team?
I went to practice the next day with a smile on my face and ready to work hard. I sat on the bench the next few games (knowing it was a test), but I stayed positive in the dugout. I cheered my teammates on and did not show any signs of resentment for the girl who had taken my spot. My coaches noticed this change in attitude and I soon found myself in the starting lineup. That year we went to the World Series and WON. It was the best sports moment of my life!
I also played softball for the competitive Williamsport Area High School Millionaires. I played mostly on the JV team when I was a freshman, but was pulled up to Varsity when they made the playoffs. As a sophomore I split time between JV and Varsity as well. While I was honored to be called up to the big leagues, I also found myself resenting my best friend Andi, who got some playing time on Varsity. I felt like I always lived in her shadow: in softball, academics, and popularity. In my MIND I knew she was a better ball player, smarter, and had more friends. This was a mental struggle I know she noticed, but we never really discussed it until we were much older.
I didn’t miss many games in high school. One time was for an Eric Clapton concert (well worth it), but I also had to sit out for a few games when I had a ruptured bursa sap and had fluid in my knee. I thought it was the end of the world because I couldn’t stand watching my teammates practice and play while I sat on the bench. I had to force my MIND to be smart about coming back slowly and being able to play again.
I decided I wanted to pursue a softball career at the collegiate level. When I pulled up to the campus of Elon University in January of my junior year I realized that this was where I wanted to spend the next four years of my life. I met with the head coach and she made it very clear that she had a full roster and that all scholarship money had been allocated. I was extremely disappointed, but in my MIND I knew I would have the opportunity to try out as a walk-on. I decided that if I didn’t make the team, or made the team and didn’t get any playing time, then I would transfer.
In the fall of 1995 I tried out and made the team. Coach Leonard made it clear again that she did not have any money to offer and that I most likely wouldn’t see a lot of playing time. I understood the monetary conundrum. Why would a coach put a player on the bench if she was paying her to play? However, I was willing to do whatever I had to do to earn that starting spot. I spent countless hours in the batting cage, taking fly balls, catching pitchers, and proving to coach I was the utility player she could put anywhere on the field. In our first fall ball game I had not made the starting lineup. I didn’t give up though. As a freshman, non-scholarship player, I knew I would have to persevere. But instead, I got lucky. The right fielder had to be taken out of the second game of our fall ball tournament. I got my chance, and I proved that I deserved to be in between the lines. I played in every game, except TWO, during my collegiate career.
The first time I sat the bench during my stint at Elon was when I had to go to the emergency room for stitches. I was warming up pitcher Gina Kruger and decided I didn’t need to put on all the gear. This was a bad decision as the first pitch took a bad hop off the corner of the raised plate, and my chin took the brunt of it. I was very reluctant to go to the hospital because we were playing a big time team: Georgia Tech. I begged and pleaded with the doctors to get me out of there ASAP so that I could get back to my team. My MIND was telling me that I was fine to play, but the doctor disagreed.
The second time I sat the bench for Elon was when we were playing at East Carolina University (my senior year). We had a new, inexperienced, coach whom no one respected. She made a lot of poor coaching decisions, many of which cost us wins. In the 4th inning of a 0-0 game we had a runner on first and no outs. I came to the plate and looked to her for the bunt sign, but she didn’t give me ANY signs. I took it upon myself to bunt and advance the runner. I successfully did both of those and came hustling back into the dugout with a smile on my face. Coach gave me a disgruntled look and said “have a seat.” She replaced me with another player. I was irate and began to handle the situation with a really bad attitude. Some of my teammates even told me that I should just suck it up and be quiet because I was just making it worse. While it pained me that we lost the game, I was secretly happy because I wanted to blame it all on her coaching. In retrospect this was a terrible attitude to have and I had to convince my MIND that I was in the wrong for behaving this way.
After college I continued being active by playing Co-Ed softball, women’s modified softball, and women’s fast-pitch softball. I ran 5Ks and 10Ks and took a job at the YMCA so that I could stay fit for free. While working there I met the head trainer, George Dobbins. When he decided to train at a bigger, better gym, I followed him, taking a front desk and sales position at Gold’s Gym. The irony of me working at a gym for the free membership was that I worked so many hours I couldn’t find the time to actually work out. I slowly gained 30 pounds.
One day in the fall of 2006 I was monitoring the front desk at Gold’s Gym and I noticed that the body builder/head trainer George was sprinting on the treadmill. No one at globo gyms SPRINTS on a treadmill! He would do a short interval, jump off and do some pushups and squats in the middle of the aisle, and then jump back on the treadmill for another sprint. After he did this a few times he was laid out on the ground. Everyone at the gym was watching and wondering what the hell he was doing. When he recovered he said he was trying out this thing called “CrossFit.” We googled it, tried it the next day, and became hooked!
The owner of Gold’s Gym did not think CrossFit was conducive with what he was trying to do at his facility. George made a risky decision to open his own box, and it has surely paid off. We started with a handful of people working out at Silver Lake park, moved to a small building shared with karate students, and then to an industrial center in Camden. As our community grew, George realized we needed more space and we moved into a larger building in the same industrial center. Two years later we continued to grow and had to move yet again, to the current location of CrossFit Dover (155 Commerce Drive).
CrossFit has become my passion and the people there have become my family. For the past few years I have trained about 5-6 days per week at the box, but never really focused on serious strength training and skill work. I relied on my engine to get me through most wods, but there were many times when I was completely humbled by a workout.
In 2010 I went to a team competition where the movements and the weights were pulled out of a hopper. One of the movements was a team 5k row that could be shared however we wanted. Christen Osika and I were not the most efficient rowers, but we had to contribute. Every time we would get below TWO, the guys would scream for us to get off! We knew their strategies were in the best interest of the TEAM, but it was a mental road block because we literally rowed as hard as we possibly could! Then, in the final wod the first movement was a squat clean at 135 pounds (more than our body weight) for five reps. My teammate, Christen, and I attempted the lift numerous times, while other teams passed us. Eventually, we had to take weight off the bar in order to complete the workout, albeit scaled with no chance to podium. We were humiliated and frustrated that we had left our male teammates (George Dobbins and Mike Georgules) down. My MIND was completely humbled. But I only let it keep me down until I walked into the gym the next day ready to work on those weaknesses.
Later in 2010 I went to the first CrossFit Sectionals (before they had THE OPEN). I came in 23rd out of 45 women and only the top 20 were invited to Regionals. I wasn’t upset about this because I knew that I still lacked a lot of strength to be able to hang with these ladies. However, a few days later I received an email stating that several women declined their invitation to Regionals, and that the invite was being extended to ME! I excitedly accepted and made the eight hour road trip to Ohio. The first wod started with muscle ups. Fortunately, for me, I was not the only one who couldn’t do that movement, so they decided to allow pull ups as a modification. The second wod was a strength of mine: 5k run with an 800 meter sandbag carry. This gave me a lot of confidence, but only lasted until the next workout, which was a strength effort (a one rep max deadlift). I loaded up my bar and was able to PR the lift. But, it was extremely humbling, as the girls next to me were warming up with my 1rm! The fourth wod that day was one I will never forget. It was a long chipper that included ten 40# dumbbell push presses. I hadn’t really thought anything of it when the workout was released, as I assumed the total weight was 40 pounds. But my judge, the popular Zach Miller, informed me that it was 40# for EACH dumb bell. My MIND had a mini war going on. I’ve never done this movement with this weight even once. How was I supposed to do it TEN times? As I was lined up next to Julie Foucher and Christy Phillips (now popular CrossFit Games athletes), the nerves ate away at my stomach. They passed me with blazing speed and I was left there to struggle with those damn dumbbells. Jud Dean was on the sidelines a few feet away from me and I remember the calm manner in which he coached me through those ten physically and mentally demanding reps. I did it and all of the girls who had finished were there cheering me on. This is one of the things I love most about the sport: the last person done gets the most cheers! I DNF’d (did not finish) the workout, but someone told me that it was much better than a DNS (did not start).
In 2011 I was partners with George again for the Delaware Affiliate Challenge held at CrossFit Middletown. The first workout required partner 1 to change the weights on the bar while partner 2 did burpees over said bar. My sweaty shaking hands tried to remove the clip but to no avail. I squeezed it as hard as I could, but it wouldn’t budge. George finished his reps and I was still struggling to get the damn clip off. I could see the frustration in his competitive eyes. I had disappointed the person I admired most; the person with whom I was honored to be partnered. I hated this feeling and spent the time between wods sulking in my lawn chair. Unfortunately, I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and everyone knew how upset I was. I didn’t know how I was going to do another wod with George, worrying that I would let him down yet again. I removed myself from the crowds and found a quiet place to clear my MIND. After I was able to get it together I met George on the floor for the second wod. He assured me that we were going to kick ass…and we did!
Later in 2011 CrossFit Dover had a team qualify for Regionals. I was so excited to compete with Christen Osika, Wendy Flannery, Matt Knight, Phil Vickery, and Alleem Humber (George and Mike had decided to go individual). My team wanted me to do the 21, 15, 9 wod with 185# deadlifts and box jumps. At that time, 185# was a pretty heavy weight for me to do high reps. I questioned my ability to even be on this team and had conversations with numerous people who assured me that I could handle it. Once I put it in my MIND that I could do it…I did it! Overall we came in 29th out of 30 teams there, but it sure was an experience of a lifetime.
Over the next few years I tried to balance running with CrossFit, as I loved both equally. I ran six full marathons, dozens of half marathons, and numerous obstacle course races. In the summer of 2014 I began training for the Richmond Marathon. I spent four months working on speed, distance, and mobility. I continued to CrossFit, but only a few times per week and it definitely showed when I tried to do anything heavy. I had lost a lot of strength by logging hundreds of miles, a dichotomy I had struggled with for years. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be good at both? Something always had to give.
On November 15, 2014 I set out on a gorgeous sunny day in Richmond to complete the 26.2 miles. My MIND and body were 100% ready to conquer this feat. I started slow and steady, as I always do when I run, conserving energy for the latter half of the race. I cruised through the first 13.1 miles with no music, enjoying the scenic views, and feeling really good. When I hit the 20 mile marker I looked at my Garmin and knew I was on pace to PR this race! However, I started to feel a slight pain in my IT Band. I stopped and stretched it out and was able to muster through it for the next mile. I stopped again at every mile marker after that, as the pain became excruciating. I all but hobbled through mile 25, as the tears ran down my face. When I crossed the finish line there was no elation, just pure disappointment that I had not met my goal. I sat in the medical tent for a while before meeting up with my friends, all of whom had either just completed their first full marathon, or had beat their previous times. I tried to put on a smiling face to congratulate them, but deep down inside I felt a huge sense of resentment. I had trained just as hard as all of these people. Why did this happen to ME? I swore from that moment on that I would never run another marathon. But, as I sit here typing, I realize that would mean I was defeated, that I gave up. I am not a quitter. I WILL run 26.2 miles again! MIND over matter.
After the marathon I had resolved to focus on a strength training program, and put running on the proverbial back burner. But, one evening I was helping some members of CrossFit Dover move equipment for an event we were hosting the following day. I slipped and fell into a large rack, injuring my right shoulder. It would take four months of mobility, chiropractor visits, Grastin treatments, deep tissue massages, and modifying workouts until I felt 100%. It was tough mentally because there were so many wods I could not complete as prescribed. I hated asking a coach to program a different movement because I couldn’t do a snatch or an overhead squat. I tried to do as much as I could on my own, but my MIND is not as competent as some of our coaches.
As I recovered from this injury and began doing movements I hadn’t done in months, I pulled my left lat. When it rains, it pours. I could not catch a break. I was keeping chiropractor Dr. Maday, and massage therapist, Margie Dirlam, in business. While I was extremely frustrated with this injury, I knew it was minor in comparison to what I just went through with my shoulder. I was patient and smart about this, knowing I would be 100% soon.
Over the next few months I trained for two competitions. I decided to start an Olympic Lifting program because I often struggle with these movements. I saw improvements in ALL of my lifts and this gave me a tremendous sense of confidence. I also started working on some gymnastic skills. As of the first week of May 2015 I had PRd all of my lifts and gotten strict handstand push ups. I had been working on the rings every day to get a feel for the false grip, work on hollow rocks, and pulling my body up in order to prepare for the elusive muscle up. On Wednesday, May 13th, I got my first muscle up. I was finally progressing in the CrossFit world, and feeling like I could officially call myself an RX athlete.
But then at 10am on Saturday, May 16th, it all came to an end. I was at CrossFit Equity competing in the Spring Fling. I was on a team with Karla Alexander and Leslie Pleasanton. We had 13 minutes to all find a one rep max on the clean, jerk, and snatch. I warmed up and the clean felt good, but when I squatted 135#, I had a hard time coming out of it. I decided then that I would power clean it. My MIND told me that I was fast enough to get under the bar, but not strong enough to stand out of it, so it told me to just skip the squat. When I got out on the floor I successfully power cleaned 145#, 155#, and then PRd at 160#. I was stoked, but not satisfied. I had 165# on my goal list for the past year and I wanted it badly. I had one minute left and with adrenaline my MIND said: Just do it.
I got under the bar, but landed so wide that my right leg could not take the weight and it caved in, the weight dropping on my left foot. I fell to the ground screaming and holding my knee in what was the worst athletic moment of my career and the worst pain I had ever known. George carried me out to a table while they called an ambulance. He offered to go to the hospital with me, but I begged him not to go. I knew how hard he had trained for this event and their team was up in five minutes. After I convinced him to stay, Michael Scharmach, my best friend, offered to ride with me in the ambulance. She stood by my hospital bed the entire time calming me down. Without her there I don’t know how I would have survived. Alejandra Rodriguez (Arod), one of my closest friends, followed the ambulance to the hospital and stayed with me for a while, giving up her spot on the team.
I went back to the gym to watch the last few events, not knowing exactly what was wrong with my knee, but in an immobilizer and on pain meds. We drove back to the gym that night and George had planned for Michael to pick up pizza and beer, in an attempt to make me feel better. It worked! That night Michael drove me home and helped me get situated. She stayed the night with me and then Arod and Brandon joined me on Sunday. It was not until Monday morning that I was alone and this was a really low point for me.
As soon as I woke up from a night of tossing and turning I called my primary care doctor to get an MRI scheduled. They said the earliest they could get me in would be SEPTEMBER. Plan B: I called my insurance company to see which orthopedic doctors were in my network. I then called Dr. Stephen Tooze’s office and they said they could get me in that day with one of his PA’s. I was relieved to have an appointment, despite having to figure out the logistics of actually getting there.
I made my way to the kitchen to get some breakfast and coffee. I leaned on the counter with one arm and tried stirring my oatmeal with the other. I laid out all of the things I would need: bowl, spoon, drink, paper towel, etc. I knew it would require some effort to get everything from the kitchen to the living room table. After several slow trips I settled on the couch, elevating and icing my knee. I picked up my bowl of oatmeal, only to realize that the spoon was still sitting on the kitchen counter. I lost it. And then I decided to just lick the oatmeal out of the bowl. That was when I knew I was going to need a lot of help.
I called my friend Kristin Trout to drive me to the doctor’s office. On the drive she told me how she can empathize because when she tore her rotator’s cuff she felt completely helpless too. She made me a yogi goodie bag and I was more than grateful! Seh dropped me off and my appointment with Dr. Tooze’s PA went well. She drained my knee and said that the fact that there was no blood in the fluid, meant it was most likely NOT an ACL tear. After a manual exam, she seemed to think it was a meniscus tear and a sprained MCL. This would not be a long recovery. I left with an appointment scheduled for the following week, simply to let the swelling go down before the MRI.
When I returned for the second visit the PA scheduled me for an MRI the following week. Now the waiting was starting to get to me. I took it upon myself to call MDI (Mid Delaware Imaging) to get the appointment pushed up to an earlier date, and I was successful. While I waited for that day, I also referred myself to Core Physical Therapy because I was getting worried that my mobility was not improving. Glen Brown, the head PT, took one look at my knee and said I tore my ACL. The tears flowed once again. My MIND had been set on a minor injury with a couple months of physical therapy. Now I was looking at 6-9 months.
I went to the gym that night to be surrounded by my CrossFit family. Michael listened to my rant as I hyper ventilated like a 5 year old kid who had just lost her teddy bear. George also knew how upset I was and assured me that he was would be here for me through the entire journey. He asked if I trusted him…and then more waterworks.
I didn’t eat dinner that night, couldn’t sleep for even a minute, and didn’t eat breakfast the next morning. I went to school, which only made matters worse because I was a physical and emotional mess. The severity of this injury was setting in. I was told it would be a year…one full year until I would be back to normal, and even then there could be long term effects that might prevent me from doing what I love.
Later that day, after experiencing anxiety about having my first MRI, I finally had the imaging done. The entire process only took 20 minutes and was nothing compared to what I had gone through on May 16th. I was a little relieved to have some official results, although I had to wait the entire weekend before a radiologist could read it and then send it to Dr. Lewullis, an orthopedic surgeon who was recommended to me.
My friends kept me busy throughout the weekend. I got to talk with my close friend Corinne Hoffmann about her experience with a torn ACL and meniscus. She eased my mind, while keeping it honest. I spent some time with Wendy at the CrossFit FrontLine competition. I loved seeing so many people I knew there, especially Shiret Singh, who can empathize because she recently dislocated her shoulder. However, it was hard for me to watch that first workout, because it involved power cleans. It gave me shivers down my spine and I actually had to turn away. I will never be able to do that movement again.
I also got to see some friends at a BBQ, and then on Sunday Michael came down to help me take out the garbage, put away the hoodies I had knocked over, and take me grocery shopping. I drove the motorized cart that usually sports morbidly obese humans who can’t walk around the store for a long period of time. It was demoralizing. But, we tried to make the best of the situation and we laughed about it while sharing a bloody-mary later.
My first appointment with Dr. Lewullis was both good and bad. He is very knowledgeable and able to articulate the medical jargon in layman’s terms so that I could understand. He gave me some options to consider and I left the office realizing that this was not a simple menisectomy, or an ACL reconstruction. This was a multi ligament injury that was going to require two surgeries, would prevent me from traveling to Spain and Portugal, and would lead me to be on crutches for the entire summer. Once again, I cried.
On Tuesday, June 2nd, my good friend Allison Houdek came to visit me. She has had an ACL reconstruction on BOTH knees and she is having a third surgery at the end of the summer. If anyone can empathize, she certainly can. She gave me some sage advice about surgery, physical therapy, and life. This made me feel better!
My mom came down the same day to help cook food. She started asking if I had chives, relish, mayo, garlic powder, etc., and the answer was no to every ingredient. I make simple meals, so my kitchen was not conducive to her cooking style. She went to the grocery store only to come back with a ton of food and now I am set for the week! While my mom has been here she has been my taxi driver, chef, cleaner, and shopper. This has helped a tremendous amount. But I am still struggling with the fact that I have lost my independence. I am trying to wrap my MIND around the fact that I NEED help.
On Wednesday, June 3rd, I met with Dr. Lewullis and made a decision to have a Scope done on 6/9. He will perform surgery to repair both meniscus and to see how severely sprained (or torn) the MCL is. He has tried to get a manual exam, but my entire body starts shaking when he attempts to move my knee. I have been traumatized.
Putting things into perspective…
These past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster. I have felt like this is the end of the world, that this is the end of my CrossFit career, and that I will never be able to repay the people who have helped me. I have felt sorry for myself…sad, angry, helpless, and depressed.
But then I get messages from my close friends asking what they can do for me. In addition to all of the aforementioned people who have gone out of their way for me, there is a list of others who have lent a hand. Heather Nemcic has gone grocery shopping for me. Dave Burris has driven me around and sent me uplifting messages. Wendy sent me flowers and checks in on me every day. Matt Parker and Tony Espinal picked me up so I could attend a Memorial Day BBQ. Carla Lawson has printed my lesson plans on days I missed school and brought me lunch on the days I was there. Brendan Butler picked me up for school several times. Laini Bernard and Melissa Rapp have made copies for me. I am sure I am missing someone…
When I start to think this is the worst thing in the world, I get messages like this:
I also think about people who have life threatening, incurable diseases, like a good friend of our family. I think about my college best friend, Shaunda Legg, who was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago. I think about my friend Nikki Dudley who lost her son in a child abuse case while she was deployed. These people are mentally strong and I need to be reminded that what I am going through pales in comparison.
I have a year long recovery ahead of me and I need to get my MIND in the right place or I am going to not only drive all of you crazy, but I will drive myself crazy. I am going to focus on the positive, such as the fact that 1.) I have a job that has great health care benefits and does not require working over the summer. 2.) This is an injury that is reparable. 3.) I have a huge support system. I love you all.
I decided to start this blog because writing is therapeutic for me. I will continue to post weekly, or maybe monthly, as I embark on this year long recovery. If you made it this far,…THANK YOU!
5 thoughts on “Let the Mind Run the Body”
Hey Holly! You’ve been dealt quite a hand. I admire your determination to try your best to see the glass half full. I found myself having a pity session with you reading your blog. I would be SO the same way! My heart aches for ya girl! Reminds me though of where I turn when I feel this way. Phillipians 4:13 I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.
Lean on him for that strength. We can’t do it all on our own. May quick healing come your way!
This made me smile. It takes a lot to be so honest and reflective. I hope you continue to use this blog as an outlet and that you continue to look for the positive. We are all here for you and will help you keep that MIND in check.
I enjoyed reading your blog post.. It is very therapeutic to share on blog.. it will also be great to look back upon when you have overcome all this! I hope you feel a bit better each day.
Holly, what a great story teller you are. I am sorry for your injury…I know you are such an active person that this has put a real glitch in your life, but I also know that you will survive with that great attitude of yours and come out even stronger! Thanks for the mention in the blog…I was glad that I wasn’t the “coach you did not respect”! You were a great addition to our team, and a surprising one who was MUCH better than I ever imagined you would be! You made our team SO MUCH better in so many ways…and I thank you for sticking it out at Elon and working hard to prove yourself to both me and your teammates! You were, and still are an inspiration to me!! Good luck with your recovery. I know you will work hard because that is what you have always done!
You need to be mindful that you have had and will continue to have a fabulous life whether it involves sport or not. It probably will still include sports of some kind, but maybe in a different form or forum. You have a strong will and a joy for life that cannot be beaten down. The short term goals may seem insurmountable, but the long term prognosis is glorious.