My story of vision loss began before I can remember. My parents received my diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa when I was five years old and they were told that I would most likely be totally blind by the age of 18.
Without hesitation they started preparing me for life. I learned cane travel, took mobility and braille lessons and – because they knew that I would never be able to play most sports – I was signed up for dance lessons. Dance quickly became everything to me, and would shape the entire foundation of my future.
As the years passed, I became an anomaly to doctors in that my vision loss was not progressing typically. I lost my central vision first and was being left with scattered islands of peripheral vision. I made it through high school and still had vision. From then on, every day with sight was a gift to me.
I attended San Jose State University where I earned degrees in dance and kinesiology. I then went on to become a massage therapist and met my husband, who was the chiropractor at the office I was hired to work for.
Within this timeline, life punched me in the gut with a diagnosis of lupus carrying the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. For years I lived in daily agony and I lost dance forever. I endured crippling joint pain, medication side effects, liver failure and even internal bleeding. My husband, who I truly believed saved my life, put me on a strict diet and – to make a very long story short – I found myself back on a treadmill.
Unfortunately, my vision did not last through all of the stress put on my body through that time. I felt defeated. But once again, it was my husband who would give me back my life.
Coming to the Crossroad
Looking back now I can barely recognize the version of myself that my husband dragged kicking and screaming into CrossFit Myo at the beginning of 2017. At that point, I was positive that without any vision there was no way that I could do CrossFit.
Now, I am writing this as the fourth-fittest standing adaptive woman in the world, and I am positive that this is only the beginning of my journey.
At the beginning of 2019 I was introduced to WheelWOD, a platform dedicated to helping create adaptive competitive athletes. Instantly I was transformed. I was no longer disabled. I was adaptive – and with that single word, it would change all the shame I had into pride for being a blind athlete.
I signed up for the Adaptive CrossFit Open, a five-week worldwide qualifier which could earn me a spot to compete at the WheelWOD Games. The workouts and the stress of wanting something so badly made those five weeks mentally and physically exhausting, but when my invitation to the Games was presented to me, I felt unstoppable. I would be the first totally blind athlete to compete.
Becoming a CrossFit Champ
My family and I arrived in Collingwood, Ontario on July 2, and the surreal was suddenly very real.
Over the next four days, I competed in 13 grueling events. We were tested in long endurance, sprint couplets and triplets of endurance, gymnastics and strongman. We were in the water, on the pavement and in the fields. We were tested in skills like accuracy, speed, agility and coordination. We did powerlifting and Olympic lifting, testing our max weight and ability to cycle a barbell. We were introduced to new equipment moments before the workout began and had to figure it out in the moment. We jumped over walls, climbed ropes, lifted barbells, carried dumbbells, ran, swam, did pull-ups, burpees and so much more. It was hot, humid, sweaty and the most torturous fun that could ever be imagined.
My husband served as my guide and coach throughout the entire competition. We ran hand in hand – he guided me to my equipment and described the setting of each event to me.
I earned two event first-place finishes along with some personal firsts to be proud of. I did wall balls to a nine-foot target on a post – without being able to see the ball nor the post. I had to let go of caution and trust that I could navigate equipment and spaces that I had never experienced.
Most importantly, sighted or not, I learned that I have the grit within myself to complete such a remarkable challenge. I am also willing and wanting to go back for more.
Words alone cannot describe the vibrancy of the atmosphere during the WheelWOD Games. Every athlete is an inspiration and I am blessed to now call each and every one of them my friend.
I hope that my 11- and seven-year-old sons can someday look back on this competition and on any others to come and learn that life is hard – but that hard does not mean impossible.
The human spirit can push past boundaries that we thought were barriers, and if you are kind and believe in yourself then you will always be able to reach out and find a hand to hold that is happy to guide you toward your dreams.