It was the first day of a 6-week women’s only crossfit challenge and we went around the room introducing ourselves. There were a lot of the same stories about wanting more structure and being bored with going through the same old exercise routines. And then there was Staci. She had lost a hundred pounds by herself and was there to take her fitness journey to the next level. Based on her reaction to the spontaneous applause from the rest of us, it was clear that she’s a woman who doesn’t give herself enough credit for her accomplishments. She struck me as a fighter right away and when she told me how she lost the hundred pounds I got the first taste of just how much fight was behind that bright smile.
One summer Staci decided to start walking the streets of Baltimore (where she worked at the time) for hours every day, rain or shine, armed with willpower, water, and a smile to hide the pain. She was determined to walk until the pounds would start dropping. Eventually, the pounds budged and they did so despite the PCOS Staci was dealing with. (PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome which comes with a slew of highly uncomfortable sounding symptoms and often makes it infinitely harder to lose or maintain weight than for a person without PCOS. Staci’s explanation made it sound incredibly frustrating, like an endless treadmill, both literal and metaphorical.)
So there she was, fighting her way through this crossfit challenge, motivating others and pushing herself with her positive attitude until… well, until we paired up for a partner workout and it was my turn to push her. I knew she understood my sense of humor so I went full pretend-psycho on her, channeling Jillian Michaels during her toughest days on the Biggest Loser. I distinctly remember yelling “You want me to get off your back, Staci?! Guess what, life isn’t to get off your back!!” Little did I know how right I was.
We failed to exchange our contact information when the challenge was over but I found Staci on social media a few months later. Scrolling through her posts, it quickly became clear to me that she had gone through some serious health issues but I didn’t want to ask what was going on until seeing her in person, which finally happened another few months later when we met for drinks. After the socially required minimum amount of superficial small talk, Staci told me that life had not gotten off her back at all. Well, technically it almost did. She had to be saved in an emergency surgery after the spontaneous free perforation of her intestine, meaning she suddenly had a hole in her colon for no apparent reason and it almost took her life. The doctors credited her survival to her good level of fitness at the time. The long and difficult recovery set that fitness level back to zero, along with her bank account and her independence. By the time we met for drinks Staci was just getting back on her feet, with the last medical bills paid, medically cleared to start working out again, and smiling brighter than ever.
There were many times throughout the evening when all I could say was “wow” or “holy shit” or “what the fuck”, or something equally articulate. But there was one particular part of Staci’s story that made my jaw drop and it was the part that she was most hesitant to tell. It was the part where she went to heaven (for lack of a better word) while doctors fought to save her life. Staci’s heaven was a classroom (she passionately works in education) where she saw her late cousin Vicki. Staci told her that she didn’t want to go back to being in excruciating pain and to a life full of fighting health problems. Vicki was having none of it and told Staci that it wasn’t her time yet and that she couldn’t stay. But Staci insisted that she was okay with not going back and that she had done everything she wanted to do in her life. “You can’t stay,” Vicki repeated. “You have to fall in love first.”
Thank you for sending her back, Vicki.