By Alex Helland
Growing up, I was always involved in some sort of athletics. Around the time I learned to walk and talk, my dad told me it was either sports or a job, so starting at a pretty young age I tried gymnastics, dance, soccer, tennis, and t-ball. I was eight years old when swimming stuck. From then on it was year-round two-a-day practices and several competitions a month all over the country and into Canada. I was on my high school’s varsity swim team, and then I swam on the Division 1 team at the University of Richmond. Training at the University of Richmond was a grueling seven-month season that required nine, 2-3 hour practices a week including weight lifting, and then several weekend-long competitions per month. Off-season required an ever bigger commitment.
After graduating in 2010 I tried my best to become a runner and signed up for a couple half marathons. After a while, like any other tattooed twenty-something Richmonder, I fell in love with my bike.
Being active is something that has always been a huge part of my life and I always thought it would stay that way.
Then in August 2011, I was riding my bike through the Fan when I was “doored” by a car. Basically, someone opened their car door right as I passed, and their door knocked me off my bike. I feel like this is something that would happen to Wile E. Coyote when he’s chasing the Road Runner, but unfortunately this was real life and the accident left me in an ambulance to the hospital only to find out I had torn the ACL and meniscus in my left knee.
After two reconstructive surgeries and a month on crutches, I was ready to get back to active life. First, I had to tackle physical therapy. I was excited to start it; it was the closest thing to a workout I had experienced since my accident five months prior. I was signed up for three, 1-hour long sessions per week, all before work hours. We started small, like trying to get a full pedal cycle on the stationary bike or sitting in a pike position and trying to lift my left leg off the floor. These were things that proved to be very difficult.
My excitement quickly turned to dread when I realized physical therapy also meant crying and sweating while I laid on my stomach as Helga the Bone Crusher tried to bend my leg, pushing my heel towards my butt.
Soon, things came a bit more easily and we added light weights and plyometric activities. I was happy to see results and the size of my leg slowly started to resemble a thigh muscle instead of a forearm. Eventually I could get a decent distance on the stationary bike and run a mile on the treadmill. I’d come pretty far since the surgeries but my knee still proved to have a lot of new limitations. My mobility and strength were nowhere near what they were before the accident. My knee would randomly lock up or give out and there was almost always a dull pain. Sure, I could run, but there was no way I could get to the bottom of a squat. I have always loved playing sports and lifting weights, but I thought that part of my life was over.
I struggled through a couple more half marathons and thought that was as good as it was going to get.
Then in November 2013 I found a Groupon for CrossFit Full Circle. I was so bored of running and ready to try something new. Weightlifting was my favorite part of training when I was a swimmer so this was particularly appealing. I had heard of CrossFit before but I’d always been too intimidated to try it. Before I bought the Groupon, I signed up for the free trial class and after 60 minutes, I was hooked. I went home and immediately signed up for the 90 Day Start Up Package.
I learned so much going through the fundamentals classes. One of the first things I noticed was how extremely knowledgeable the coaches are and how they genuinely care about the wellness of everyone in their program. CrossFit Full Circle immediately made me feel welcome; they really mean it when they say “Full Circle Family.”
I was worried about this much intensity on my knee but the fundamentals classes focused on proper weight lifting technique and the basics of CrossFit so I always felt safe and informed. I could feel my knee getting better and better by the day. The first few months of my CrossFit Full Circle membership went by in a blur, but I still remember the exact day I realized I was stronger than I was pre-accident. The WOD involved finding a new deadlift one rep max, and that day I deadlifted 50lbs heavier than I ever did in college.
Before I knew it, I was lifting heavier than I was as a Division 1 athlete, I had done a strict pull-up for the first time in my life, and I’d run the fastest mile I ever had.
I had started at CrossFit Full Circle just to try something new, and all of a sudden I was the fittest I had ever been.
When I signed up for that free trial class, I had never imagined CrossFit Full Circle would do for me what two surgeries and a year of physical therapy (and 14 years of competitive swimming) couldn’t.
I have been training at Crossfit Full Circle for two years now and I have loved every single minute of it. I recently trained for twelve weeks with the Endurance team for my fifth half marathon, and just before that I had competed on a team of four in my first CrossFit competition at the Gangs of the Mid-Atlantic in Williamsburg. In the next coming months, I hope to compete in another partner competition (I’m looking at you Andrew Saylor) and I’ve got my eye on the Barbell Strength & Power classes.
I’m so appreciative of the great coaches at CrossFit Full Circle and all the wonderful new friends I’ve made. After 14 years of competitive swimming and 5 a.m. practices, I swore I’d never workout before the sun came up, ever again. Two years later, I’m a frequenter of the pre-7am classes and I absolutely would not be there if I didn’t really love it.
I truly can’t thank CrossFit Full Circle enough for helping me get my groove back, and then some.
Need to get your groove back? Check out CrossFit Full Circle and let us help you find it!