Laura Howard on Love & CrossFit

For Laura Howard it was love at first sight. She remembers those puppy love days during her first Muncie CrossFit classes at The Arsenal.

“During the on-ramp classes, we would just mess around,” she told me.

No, she’s not talking about her CrossFit-coaching firefighting fiancé, Adam James; she’s talking about someone else. She’s talking about Adam’s dog, Scooby.

“I saw Scooby, and I was like who’s dog is that?”

It took Adam a bit longer than Scooby to win Laura’s affection.

Life’s Small Big Decisions

In high school at New Castle, Laura wasn’t into sports. She was into show choir.

“Show choir was my thing. We totally won state! No big deal.”

The state-winning performance was a medley that included Earth, Wind, & Fire’s Let’s Groove Tonight and an eight-piece band. Laura enjoyed the costume changes, the hair, and the makeup. During her senior year she was accepted at Purdue. High school to college. Her path seemed clear, but she questioned her motivations.

“I was going to go to Purdue for literally no other reason than because my best friend was going there.”

“We always do hair and makeup before a show, and I was talking to Andrea, a stylist I know.  I was telling her about my situation about Purdue. She was like, ‘That’s funny because I literally had the same scenario, even with going to Purdue.’ (She is a Christian lady. It is so cool how God planted this conversation.) I was like, ‘I’m a people person, I can do this.’ I told my friend who ended up going to Purdue, I was like, ‘Becky, I don’t think I’m going to Purdue. I think I want to do hair.’ She looked at my hair, and said, ‘Well, I think that suits you.’”

Laura visited a few schools in the area before deciding to study at Amber’s Beauty School, owned by Muncie CrossFit members Brooke and Brian Shrieve.

“Amber’s just felt right. That was the turning moment which changed the rest of my life.”

At the time, Laura had no idea the chain of events that would be set in motion by the decision. Even life’s seemingly smallest decisions, such as where to work out can alter the course of a life.

But I’m ahead of things. Laura went to school at Amber’s. Brooke recruited her for a position at her salon, Redhead Salon. Brooke had joined Muncie CrossFit early on and one day told the stylists at Redhead, “Guys, we should try this as a team.”

Adam coached the group.

It was love at first sight with Scooby, but with Adam…

“It was probably interest at first sight,” Laura said. And then she proceeded to comment on his hairstyle at the time. “Adam had extremely short hair. He used to cut it himself.”

But despite his hair, her interest in him grew.

“The first time he gave me his number was during the on-ramp class. He wanted to know if one of the girls was coming at a certain time and if he needed to be there. He was like, ‘Here’s my card. Text me if she is going to be there.’

I’ve not fully researched the emotions (emotion?) of Adam “stoic” James, but I’m guessing that by the gesture Adam was secretly thinking, “Boy, I need to eat something in order to supply my giant thighs of power with enough protein to survive. If this woman isn’t coming, I could go eat!”

But that’s not important. What’s important was what Laura thought after she left with the card.

“He gave me his card! That was how I started my day, and I was so happy going into work!”

“The first time he came into Redhead. We were like, ‘Who is going to give him the tour?’ My face was beet red. I was shampooing him. I’m sure the conversation was awkward. He was like, ‘What are you doing this weekend?’ I was going to King’s Island for Halloween.”


But within a few weeks they went on their first date.

Curls & Curls  

The other stylists at Redhead dropped off over time, but Laura stuck with CrossFit.

“I liked my new lifestyle. I get up early in the morning. I’m productive right away. I have to be a morning person because I get off work at a different time every day. It’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to work out,’ but I do it for longevity of my life.”

Laura has consistently attended classes at Muncie CrossFit for more than three years now.

“I see subtle changes. I can do double-unders, I can kip my toes-to-bar. My handstand push-ups are getting better. I feel like my arms look stronger when I flex really hard.”

To help her arms look stronger, on occasion, she can be found doing a very non-CrossFit movement after class–bicep curls. Her arms need to look good for her wedding dress.

Last year a firetruck pulled into Redhead, and her CrossFit coach, in full fireman gear, dropped to one knee and proposed to her.

“It was really easy for me to fall in love with him.”

Thank God she didn’t go to Purdue.

Runner / Bowflexer / Insane 6-Minute-Abber Christian Morgan finds CrossFit

One of the first times I worked out with Christian Morgan he ran so fast I thought he was joking. As if he were just trying to win the first round of the workout and there was no way he could run at the pace throughout.

I was wrong. He is fast.

Grandma & Grandpa, I have a confession . . . I’m a runner!

“I’d always lie to my grandparents, saying I was at a friends,” Christian told me when we sat down to talk. “I knew they wouldn’t want me to go to the track alone.”

Christian grew up in Marion just down the street from the track at Indiana Wesleyan University. He’d sneak over when he was in 6th grade.

“I was really chunky. I just decided if I’m going to feel good about myself, I need to take initiative and start doing something. I didn’t have any exercise equipment at my house, so instead of playing video games after school, I would go run a mile every day. I started to see a little change in myself.”

Christian’s mom had him when she was really young and gave up custody to his grandparents who raised him.

“After a few years, I was running two to three miles a day. I was losing weight, looking better and feeling better about myself. So in high school, my grandparents noticed and asked what I was doing. ‘Oh I kind of have been running.’ So my grandma started buying me exercise equipment. She bought me a Bowflex, stuff off the TV. She would watch infomercials and buy me random stuff like Six Second Abs. The Bowflex . . . I used a lot. Grandma bought me a weight bench. I cleared out the garage and we made that into a mini gym. I’d be out there for hours. But I always had to do my homework first.”

Imagine for a moment Christian’s grandma, sitting in the living room, seeing a commercial for an As Seen on TV exercise product, and ordering it for her grandson. She bought him a Bowflex! How sweet is that? No one in Christian’s family was into sports, but, by God, was she going to support her grandson.

“My grandparents never ran, but they always wanted me to,” Christian said.

With the support of his grandparents and his daily commitment to running, Christian was able to run a mile in five-and-a-half minutes when he was in high school.

“I couldn’t look at myself in a mirror.”

When he was 17, his grandma passed away and his grandpa was too sick to look after him, so he moved in with his mom for a bit. That didn’t go the best. They got along better when they weren’t living together. As classes got harder in high school, Christian stopped focusing on working out.

“I gained a lot of weight.”

At 19, he followed a relationship from Marion to Muncie.

“By the time I moved to Muncie, I was back to the 200’s. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to do something about this.’ I started working out again. I did Insanity when I was 21 for six months. I have pictures of my transformation. I got to the weight I wanted to be at and just stopped. Then I gained weight again.”

Christian has an uncanny ability to gain and lose weight. At his heaviest, he weighed 280. Then he yo-yoed through the years–215, 250, 195.

“I got to a point where I couldn’t even look in a mirror. When I was 21, I was so big, I didn’t want to leave the house. I would go to work, come home, and not want to do anything. I would sit on the couch all night and watch TV. I got really depressed. I was like, ‘I want more out of life than this.’ I was embarrassed to even be seen in public. I’ve always been a really outgoing, fun-to-hang-out-with person, but I just lost it because of the way I looked. That’s just how it was every time I gained weight. I lost a few friends over it because I just didn’t want to do anything. A lot of them moved on, started making other friends.”

With Applebuddies like this, who need Friendly’s?

Christian met Muncie CrossFit coach Sam Jones while they both were working at Applebee’s. Sam has converted a lot of her “Applebuddies” to CrossFit.

“Sam literally slapped fries out of my hand,” Christian said and I totally, 100% believed him. “She was a big motivational person for me from the beginning. We went grocery shopping together. Afterward she wrote out a meal plan. She was just like, ‘Follow this. If you need help, let me know.’ I was hardcore on that for about three months, and I was losing weight like crazy. From March until August, I lost like 30 lbs. I was at 220 when I started at The Arsenal in August. I weigh 175-185 now.”

Before Applebee’s, Christian had worked at the following places: McDonald’s, Mo’s, LifeTouch, and Walgreen’s. He supported himself. When he turned 24, he was finally able to apply for financial aid on his own without a parent co-signing. He immediately enrolled at Ivy Tech and now goes to Ball State. He has a student membership at Muncie CrossFit, but he still has to prioritize and sacrifice time and money to afford it. When I chatted with him his car had recently broken down, which meant he had to dip into his grocery budget. To compensate, he took advantage of the manager meals at Applebee’s.

I’ve been going to Muncie CrossFit for almost four years and I’ve known folks who’ve quit because they looked at their budget and CrossFit seemed like a luxury they couldn’t afford through tight times. But for Christian, it seems that CrossFit is something he can’t afford to lose.

“If I’m determined to do something, I do it. I have a lot more confidence. Before, I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere. I know what I want now. I’m more focused, and I know how I want to look, I want to be healthy. I just want to feel good about myself. I’m not perfect, I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m getting there.”

Emily Martin lifts barbell above her head

The Evolution of CrossFit Coach Emily Martin

Emily Martin lifts barbell above her head

First there was Athlete Emily Martin. Then there was Intern Emily Martin. Now there is Coach Emily Martin.

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a member of the Muncie CrossFit community over the past four years is seeing people change over time. People are stronger, more confident, connected, and supported. Emily Martin is all of these, but most of all she is louder.

“Come on Kelsey!”

I like to rest during workouts. It’s my way of preventing puking, passing out, and having a heart attack. But lately every time I bend over to catch my breath there she is–Emily–yelling at me.

“Get back on that bar, Kelsey!”

And she used to be so quiet.

“I could be loud”

Growing up, Emily’s life revolved around basketball.

“I always played basketball. In first or second grade we started a team. In second grade there weren’t many girls’ teams so we played on the boys’. I never really had a job. My parents basically paid for me to play basketball. I played all the time. I don’t play anymore.”

“I was a point guard, but I was always kind of a quiet person. But that wasn’t an issue on the floor. If I needed to be loud, I could be loud.”

“Freshman year, I was on the JV team. Sophomore year, I started JV and worked into varsity games. Junior year I was ready to kill it. I was ready to be a starter. But everything went to shit.”

Emily and the girls she had played with were overlooked by the coach for freshmen. All that she had worked for since grade school, a spot as the starting varsity point guard, a future playing college ball, was someone else’s. Freshmen started in the place of her and the girls she had played with for a decade.

Life off the court wasn’t much better for Emily.

“I didn’t really like high school that much. I didn’t have very many friends outside of school. It was mostly just people I played basketball with. It was kind of boring. Maybe I should have been more involved.That’s just me; I kind of keep to myself.”

A Competitor without a Competition

Emily was supposed to be playing basketball somewhere. She wasn’t supposed to be a freshman at Ball State just going to classes. She tried to look at her freshman year at Ball State as a time to rebuild, get to know people, and live a life after basketball.

“I don’t want to say ‘depressed’ because I wasn’t really depressed and I never got anything for it. But I felt unmotivated about everything. I was just kind of here. I kind of felt sorry for myself because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing. The whole freshman year, was just…blah.”

“I was making new friends, going out at night, it wasn’t good. It was not who I was.”

Emily was a competitor without a competition.

“Sophomore year, I started CrossFit at Ball State. I’d never heard of CrossFit. I thought, ‘Oh this is interesting.’ I like working out. I like doing intense things. And then Iooked into it and saw you could do competitions. I liked that and the whole aspect of recording things and getting better. I kind of saw it as a way to make friends, too.”

Emily signed up for a student membership and began attending classes at Muncie CrossFit at The Arsenal. Lifting heavy made her nervous because she is small and in the past had struggled to gain strength, but soon she was leaving the rest of us scratching our heads when we stared at the leaderboard, saying, “Emily dead-lifted how much? That can’t be right.”

“I’m smaller so people underestimate me more.”

Athlete Emily became Intern Emily and a gym rat was born. She graduated from Ball State in December with a degree in Exercise Science, got her CrossFit Level 1 coaching certification, and became Coach Emily.

“Now most of my friends are from CrossFit. Megan and Ahmed are super good friends of mine. I workout with Kylie nearly every day and have gotten closer to her. CrossFit has definitely helped me get stronger mentally. Just something to look forward to every day. I have more confidence in myself. ‘I can lift this much weight. I can do this workout this fast.  Look at all this stuff I did today.’”

Go your hardest

During college Emily joined the National Guard to help pay for school. She was recruited by Emeritus Muncie CrossFit member, Brooke (Bailey) Winger, and has worked at the Guard with Emeritus member, Josh Winger. (Note: There is no such thing as an Emeritus membership, but if there were, Brooke and Josh who met at Muncie CrossFit, coached, and got married, would be granted one.)

I felt bad that I didn’t know that Emily was in the service, but she reassured me by saying, “I’m really bad at telling people about myself.”

Where Emily fails to tell her story, her six tattoos do not. I asked her to explain their meaning.

“The heart says ‘Love Yourself.’ That one is kind of like, I guess everything I’ve went through with disappointments, not ending up where I thought I would. I’m really hard on myself. This one is for my grandpa, it’s a fishing rod. He passed away in 2015. That’s what he liked to do a lot. My grandpa was always there for every sport, basketball, softball, anything.  He was always the type of person that said if you are going to do it, do it your hardest. He was always like, ‘Whatever you are going to do, go for it!’”

I think Emily’s grandpa would approve of her efforts at CrossFit.

“CrossFit has definitely helped me get stronger mentally. Just something to look forward to every day. I have more confidence in myself. ‘I can lift this much weight. I can do this workout this fast.  Look at all this stuff I did today.’”

Emily pointed to another tattoo and said, “This one is an equal sign for equality.”

In college, Emily came out to her friends and family. Some accepted her right away, others did not, making it harder to accept herself.

It’s obvious, though, that she’s accepted at Muncie CrossFit at The Arsenal. She has graduated and is still here coaching classes. It’s obvious that Emily loves what she is doing and is loved in return. I see it in the way her friends interact with her, the way our community embraces her.

I see it in the way she yells at us to overcome difficult things.

“Come on Kelsey! You are almost there. Don’t quit!”

I never thought I was going to be one of those weird pregnant workout people, but maybe I am. - Shannon Dieringer

Tips for CrossFitting while pregnant from Dr. Shannon Dieringer

(Note: Shannon is not a medical doctor, but she does have her PhD in adapted physical education, and she’s CrossFitted through two pregnancies, so she’s kind of an expert all the same.)

It’s going to be hard

I never thought I was going to be one of those weird pregnant workout people, but maybe I am. - Shannon Dieringer

“I never thought I was going to be one of those weird pregnant workout people, but maybe I am.” – Shannon Dieringer

“The first trimester is hard because you don’t really look pregnant, and you can’t really tell anyone you are pregnant. I mean you can, but it’s awkward. You feel really tired. With Titus, I lost all my core strength immediately. With this one, I have not. I definitely have lost it, but not in the same way. Up until even like two or three weeks ago, I was doing everything minus burpees, rope climbs…  I didn’t bench last week. I was like, wouldn’t I kick myself if I did something stupid?”

About those weights

“Lower the weight.”

Do what works for you

“Everyone is different. I was talking to a friend a while ago, and she was saying she was doing sit ups and wall balls way up until the end of her pregnancy. One thing my doctor has said is about the laying down position, like if you are there for a long time (sit ups) you are not gaining anything from it, and it’s probably doing more harm than good. So I have refrained from that.”

Working out while pregnant vs. taking a break

“I honestly think working out while pregnant is easier than coming back. That’s really hard. You get so excited to come back. It’s ok at first because you are like, ‘Ok, I just took six weeks off, I just had a baby,’ but then you get frustrated because you are like, ‘Why is this stuff not coming back?’  Then your baby is growing and maturing and you are going through feeding changes, so then it gets tough. Months three through five are really rough.”

Check with your doctor

“My doctors has been awesome about it. As long as you are doing what you were doing prior. Which, I am. Then you are fine.”

Strong is what matters. - Courtney Sudac

CrossFit helps Ball State Student Overcome Eating Disorders

Courtney Sudac

“Strong is what matters.”

Courtney Sudac pointed her car down the alley and when the sun splashed across the ice-crusted windshield, she couldn’t see. That wasn’t going to stop her. She didn’t want to be late for the 7AM Muncie CrossFit class at The Arsenal.

“All of a sudden I hear a BANG!” Courtney told me. “I hit the cable guy. I drove right into him. Long story short…I still went to the gym…30 minutes late.”

On another day she got a speeding ticket trying to make it to the 7AM class on time. She doesn’t want to miss a workout. She can’t miss a workout. Courtney approaches CrossFit with a sense of fierce urgency and necessity. She must do CrossFit.

A Punch in the Gut

“Growing up, I was really fat. In middle school, I started noticing I was bigger than everyone else. I struggled with an eating disorder. I starved myself for a lot of middle school. I’d only let myself eat 500 calories. I would chew gum when I got hungry. When people noticed I was getting thin, they complimented me a lot, and I thought it was a good thing. I lost over 30 pounds.”

In high school, Courtney, a cross-country athlete, came to a realize that food was too good to miss out on, so she ate whatever she wanted and then would puke it back up.

“This sounds so dumb. I would punch myself in the stomach and make myself throw up. I was really starving myself at that point.”

That didn’t keep her from throwing herself into running.

“I was tired all the time. I was obsessed with running. I don’t know how I did it when I wasn’t eating anything. I’d run twice a day. I remember it being winter, and I was like, ‘I have to go run.’  One time I was walking down the stairs and passed out and fell down.”

Courtney’s mom noticed she had a problem and took her to see a dietitian. The dietitian helped her realize that her eating disorder was a problem, but it continued.

“I’m not small like my other friends. I wanted to look like them.”

Finding CrossFit

Courtney had heard about CrossFit from her cousins in California and decided to give Muncie CrossFit at The Arsenal a chance. Her first workout was Hotshots, A hero workout that involves a lot of squatting and running among other things. It’s not exactly easing into CrossFit.

“It was terrible. I was like, ‘I am never doing this again.’”

That was three years ago.

She was studying dietetics at Ball State, and her classes made her more aware of how she ate and how she performed in the gym. Slowly her bulimia stopped.

“Sometimes I feel like I am getting fat again and wonder if I should go back to that, but I know I couldn’t lift as much. Now when I look back, I know I was an idiot. Once I started CrossFit, I was like, ‘I can’t keep doing this to my body!’ I was so insecure and self conscious. I come off as a really tough person, and people think I’m a bitch, but I struggle with insecurity. The good thing about CrossFit is that I’m way more confident than I’ve ever been. I can be healthier than even the skinniest person. Strong is what matters.”

Everyone’s Daughter

“Having the community has been so great for me these past four years,” she told me.

Courtney is sort of everyone’s daughter. My wife Annie bakes her special cookies just for her (“Those aren’t for you. Those are for Courtney”). She babysits for so many families and so many kids that she already thinks about missing them when she moves on from Ball State and Muncie.

When Courtney’s mom moved to Arizona, she didn’t have a place for Thanksgiving. Former Muncie CrossFit coaches, Josh and Brooke Winger, invited her.

Brooke and Brian Shrieve have basically adopted Courtney. Brooke talks to her about eating healthy.

Courtney is in Bible study with Coach Adam and Muncie CrossFit member, Laura.

Courtney is applying to grad schools. She hopes to study eating disorders and help people that have struggled like her.

“I’m afraid to quit CrossFit because I’m afraid I might go back to that point. I am more confident with my appearance. I feel like I’m more ok with how I look. I’m not striving to look like someone else now. Being more confident makes you happier.”

Her class at Ball State prepared and served a meal on campus. Annie and I went. Courtney was in charge of the kitchen, rocking one of those funny chef hats. She oversaw the food preparation, running things. Surrounded by her peers. Surrounded by food. I felt something. Maybe it was just heartburn from the meatloaf, but I actually think it was a sort of a pride one friend feels for another for a job, and meatloaf, well done.

There is a lot to be proud of. Courtney faces her weaknesses head on with a fierce urgency that leads to the occasional fender bender and speeding ticket.

I never thought I was going to be one of those weird pregnant workout people, but maybe I am. - Shannon Dieringer

Shannon Dieringer CrossFits Pregnant

I pride myself on my lack of ego in the gym. I realize that sort of sounds like, “I’m awesome because I’m so humble.” But I’m not so ego-less that I’m going to let someone who is 8-months pregnant pass me.

I never thought I was going to be one of those weird pregnant workout people, but maybe I am. - Shannon Dieringer

“I never thought I was going to be one of those weird pregnant workout people, but maybe I am.” – Shannon Dieringer

But here comes Shannon Dieringer, running like a Gazelle, a few steps behind me. Shit! I run faster.

I look back pretending to check traffic to see if she’s still gaining on me. I barely make it in the door before she does.

“I never thought I was going to be one of those weird pregnant workout people, but maybe I am,” Shannon told me after our workout when we sat down to chat.

Of the three years Shannon has been CrossFitting at Muncie CrossFit at The Arsenal, she’s been pregnant half the time.

“It’s really funny the reactions you get from people when they find out you work out and are this pregnant. Everyone at work is really fascinated. They are like, ‘Did you work out today?’  I’m like, ‘Yeah, I did.’  ‘Are you still CrossFitting?’  ‘Yes, I am.’  I was CrossFitting the last time I was pregnant. I don’t know what is so weird about it. I have always identified as being active so it’s not weird to me.”  

On Running

Once I learned a little more about Shannon’s story, it made sense why at 8-months pregnant she is able to run down a lumbering heel-dragger, wounded wildebeest like me.

Shannon ran in college. After excelling in high school as a mid-distance runner, she was recruited by the track coach at University of Tennessee. When that coach left her senior year of high school, she changed plans and went to Ohio State University.

“I ran my first year of college and into my second year. I did cross-country in the fall, indoor track in the winter, and outdoor track in the spring. I ran the 2000, which was really weird because in high school I did 400, 800, 1500, 1600. I ran all summer. I was just shot.”  

“I sat down with my coach. He’s a great guy, I still really respect him. But he was a high-miler coach. I was logging 90-100 miles in a week. I don’t think I was cut out to do that. I don’t blame him. I don’t blame anyone other than my body not being able to handle it. I remember calling my dad crying. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is how I identify myself.’ I just decided it was not going to work.”

“I had trained all summer with the team, I lived with the girls, I was dating a guy on the team, I was a part of the team. So my when I decided I was done, I was not in a good place.”

Shannon went on to get her PhD in Adapted Physical Education after working as an ABA therapist with children with autism as a home therapist. She also met her husband Andy at OSU.

Finding Community in Muncie

“I started looking for jobs right after we got married in December 2011. I accepted the position at Ball State and Andy found a job almost immediately.”

Andy moved to Muncie for his job in April of 2012. That year they bought a house, Shannon began working as a professor at Ball State.

But Muncie wasn’t meant to be a long-term plan.

“All I knew was Ball State. When Andy and I moved here, we were on a seven-year plan until I got tenure and then maybe moving on after that. We are both pretty social so we had friends. We would do social things, but it was all Ball State. When I started CrossFit It was nice to find a group here that’s local. We have really enjoyed that. I met Dani Wasson through CrossFit early on. I remember her bringing Sonora in. We became friends. Andy and I were trying at that point to get pregnant. Sonora was young so there was a commonality there. It has been super nice coming into a community.”

Shannon loves her job at Ball State, publishing papers on autism and exercise (that’s my dumbed down understanding of her research), working with the Ernie Els Foundation, and teaching online courses. She thought about going up early for tenure, but pregnancy and tenure-prep didn’t seem like tasks to be tackled at the same time. At work, in her neighborhood, and at Muncie CrossFit she is planting roots that may keep her in Muncie longer than she first thought.

“Now we are building a house, so it’s not like we are going anywhere any time soon. We feel like we belong. I don’t know if this is going to be our forever place. We are an hour and a half from both sets of parents. I think if we had come in and not found a community to feel a part of, we definitely would not be happy. We are so social in the sense that we depend on friends for so much. If we didn’t feel included or a part of something, it would be hard for us to feel committed.”   

“If you would have taken away the CrossFit group in the beginning, I would have had one or two friends at Ball State. We’ve been in our neighborhood long enough now, so I’ve started to get friends outside of that, and that takes time, too. I think what CrossFit does do really well is that you get in there and you have to let down your guard. You are very vulnerable when you walk in there. You have a really bad day, and you can’t do something. You can bond over it. I think it was the right thing at the right time.”

CrossFit just hasn’t just helped Shannon plug into a community, it has helped her get back in touch with herself as an athlete, even while pregnant.

“It is one of the best things for me. It keeps me normal. It’s the one thing that I can still commit to and do. Not that pregnancy makes you not feel normal. Being able to work out is something I can control. So yeah, I don’t go as often as I was. Yeah, I modify things I used to not have to modify, but it’s the one place I feel like I can walk in, and no one is judging me that I’m working out. It’s nice feeling to feel like your old self.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing what normal CrossFitting is like for awhile.”  

Since I chatted with her, Shannon and Andy and their 2-year-old son, Titus, have welcomed another little boy, Wyatt, into their family. Shannon is now just getting back to CrossFitting normally, and by normally, I mean the former collegiate runner will in no time be running circles around me.

CrossFitter Anna Marie is Still the Same Her, Just 155-pounds Lighter

I feel like I've accomplished something. It makes me feel good. - Anna Marie Steinbarger

Everyone has their pre-workout routines. Some stretch. Some use the facilities (why lift more weight than you have to?). Some chat with their fellow CrossFitters. But there is only one person at Muncie CrossFit who reads calmly before a workout–Anna Marie Steinbarger.

I have no idea how she sits there and turns page after page while the rest of us prepare mentally and physically for a kick to our ego. Maybe after working for years as a nurse and then a nurse practitioner in clinics and ERs, not much phases her. She’s an island of calm in the CrossFit storm.

Growing up in a military family, Anna Marie moved around a lot. She wasn’t really into sports, but she was always into a good book. On the road, books are the best friends.

Shy girl becomes a Nurse Practitioner

“I wore glasses,” she told me. “I was kind of heavy.  I’d bring my book along and read in the corner.”

She still likes a good mystery and averages about a book per week.

“I don’t make friends well. My sister and I are total opposites – I’m very introverted and she’s very extroverted. I’ve gotten better at that. As a nurse practitioner you have to talk to people.”

Anna Marie came to Muncie to go to school at Ball State.

“I got married while I was in school and basically never left. We lived in New Castle when I first got out of college as an RN because I worked at Henry County for a little while.  And then I went to Ball, and we moved here, and I’ve been living in Muncie pretty much every since.”  

“In 1996 I decided to go back to school.  There was an overage of nurses, and they were actually laying off nurses in Indianapolis, so I thought if I got my Master’s, it would make me more marketable.  So I decided to go back. They told me about the nurse practitioner option, and I was like, ‘That is what I would like to do.’”

“I’ve been a NP for 16 years now.  We can see all but about 20% of patients, like people who need intubated or are coding, critically ill patients, I don’t do those.  We can evaluate, diagnose, prescribe medications.”

The decision to become even more engaged in the health of others, led to her evaluating her own.

“When I became an NP, I decided that if I had to tell people to quit smoking, I needed to quit myself. You can’t tell other people to quit smoking if you are sitting there smelling like smoke.”

But the long shifts and the irregular schedule of working as a nurse then as an NP didn’t make for the healthiest environment.  

“You have a high stress level, you are so busy, you don’t have time to eat.  You are picking up snacky stuff.  If you do eat a meal, you eat it in such a hurry.  When your work a twelve hour shift, it’s hard to work in exercise and take care of yourself.  It’s hard.”

This is going to kill me

“I was fat most of my life. I probably tried every diet in the world. Finally my turning point was when I walked up  a short flight of stairs, with an overnight bag on my shoulder, and it probably took me 5-10 minutes just to catch my breath.  ‘This is ridiculous,’ I thought.  At that point, I was 285 pounds.”

“I remember flying, being in those seats and having trouble with the buckles. I remember how hard it was to sit in those seats when I was heavy.  The seats are narrow, you feel cramped.  It’s awful.”

Anna Marie decided to get a lap-band. an inflatable device placed around the top portion of the stomach that slows food consumption.

“You have to have a psych eval to make sure you will be ok with losing the weight.  Food for most overweight people is a coping mechanism, and if it’s a strong coping mechanism, and you take that away from them, they don’t do well. They have depression, psychosomatic issues.  They get a lot of perceived illnesses that are not there.”  

“I finally said, ‘I have to do something, or this is going to kill me.’  I did really well with it. I lost 155 pounds.  That’s a whole other person!  I still have it.”

“Losing weight has made me feel better about myself.  It was hard to interact with people when you are that heavy.  You are just treated different.  People are not as friendly to you when you are heavy.  They don’t want to be your friend.  You’re treated like you are lazy.  They think that is why you are heavy, because you are lazy.  They think you don’t care what you look like.  That’s not the truth.  That’s not how you feel.  You try and do all that stuff.  When you try to exercise, it’s hard because you don’t have any energy, stamina. My whole life, I was treated different.  Now that I have lost the weight, the difference is amazing.”

We interrupt this story for a few thoughts on weight discrimination from Kelsey

Weight discrimination is real, and it’s almost accepted by our society.  Susie Orbach, author of “Fat is a Feminst Issue” wrote this in The Guardian.

Fat shaming is a new and vicious sport … Children and their parents are being shamed for looking different than the thousands of Photoshopped pictures we see weekly on our screens … No wonder society has a thing about fat.

The paradox of consumer culture is that we should and must consume — our economy depends on it — but we should at the same time do so discreetly and expensively. Fat challenges this idea. Fat dares to show. Fat is disdained because it is read as greed and an inability to choose or say no…We value holding back and then assign to fat people the contempt we can feel for our own longings.

Many medical students have an unconscious bias against overweight patients. Heavier workers earn $1.25/hour less than their peers.  

As a fitness community, I think it is our responsibility to not contribute to body size discrimination. One of my favorite parts of CrossFit is that our community is made up of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities.

Still the same me

“I feel like I am still the same me, and I, to be honest, still look at myself and think I am fat sometimes.  But that feeling is still there, you just feel like you are still fat.  I mean, people will say you have lost so much weight, and you are so skinny.  I’m like, ‘I’m not really skinny,’ but when I look in the mirror, I’m like, ‘Yes, you are skinny.’  I used to fixate on my weight.  I used to weigh myself every day, and if I gained a pound, I would hardly let myself eat that day because I would be worried.  That has been a struggle for me.”

Anna Marie was working out with a personal trainer, but when he left she struggled to workout consistently.

“I was looking for something that would make me commit to exercise, and I knew going to the gym randomly wasn’t going to work for me.  The personal trainer had been gone 6-9 months.  He had given me a list of exercises, and all I had to do was go in and do them, but I wouldn’t make myself do them.  So after someone told me about Muncie CrossFit, I went in and met Adam.  I really liked it.  I like the fact that they change it up all the time.  You might in one week do several squats, but you are doing them in different ways.  I love that it’s always changing.  They do accommodate people who have a lower fitness level.  The modifications that they do are wonderful. When I’m done exercising I feel like I have accomplished something. It makes me feel good.”  

“I still watch the scale like a hawk.  But with Muncie CrossFit, I’m like it’s alright, it’s alright.”

So that’s Anna Marie’s story. She’s not shouting, “I lost 155 pounds!” from the rooftops. She sits quietly in the corner reading a page-turning mystery until it’s time to workout. She has a remarkable story, but one that she’s not quick to share unless she feels like it can help a patient.

“I can kind of understand where they are coming from when they are struggling.  When someone asks me, I try to help where I can.”

At first CrossFit was only to lose weight. That was almost two years ago. - Sam Jones

Sam Jones doesn’t know she’s a role model

At first CrossFit was only to lose weight. That was almost two years ago. - Sam Jones

A guy named Kelsey (me) asked a gal named Sam Jones if she wanted to be his bench press partner.

During my heaviest set I struggled on the 10th and final rep. Sam, my spotter, hovered over me cheering me on.

“I’m not helping,” Sam shouted. “Get it or you’re dead!” (Or at least something like that. You get the idea.) I don’t think she meant it.

Sam is nothing if not intense, and I’m anything but. So I started to crack up laughing, which isn’t advisable when you are at your benching limit, but I still got it.

When it was Sam’s turn to go for her heaviest set, she entered this zone like a great white shark right before it goes for the kill–her focus on nothing but the goal, everything else merely an obstacle to that goal. Once when we were in the same class, Sam, sporting that look nearly ran me over on her way to get a barbell. Anyhow, back to the bench press. Her second rep looked as hard as my last one, but she still managed to do seven more. On the last rep she got halfway up and had nothing left to give. I nearly fell on top of her as I pulled the bar loaded with 135 lbs.

If I had half of Sam’s intensity, maybe I’d be a third as strong as her.

Once you get to know Sam, you appreciate her no bullshit attitude, deadpan sense of humor, and her relentless work ethic.

A tumor the size of a baseball

Sam has always been a fighter.

In third grade, she battled cancer.

“The tumor was the size of a baseball,” Sam said. “It was pushing up on my kidney, which was pushing up onto my intestines which was why I had been throwing up everything I was eating.”

Sam had surgery, removing her kidney, and then she went through chemo treatments. Her family was living in North Carolina and moved back home to Yorktown to be closer to family.

“My fourth grade class was super cool. I had this teacher named Mr. Hartley. He told the class, ‘Hey we have this kid who just had cancer, her hair is growing back. Be nice. She doesn’t know anyone.’ I remember everyone was super cool, super nice.”

That came to an end around 6th grade. Kids started picking on her for her weight and her hair.

“All I could eat was pasta. My hair was growing back, and I remember a guy came up to me and said, ‘Hey bro, when did you start growing out your fro?’”

When Sam tells me what the boy said, it’s obvious she still feels the words. When people mock your physical appearance, you stop seeing the world through your own eyes, but instead through theirs.

You’re just a kid and then someone calls you fat. You’re still just a kid, but now you suddenly see yourself as a fat kid. This was the case for Sam.

Softball, hard knocks

“The goal in high school was to lose weight to play softball. I was almost 200 pounds in high school. I was like, ‘If I want to perform well in college, I have to lose weight.’ So my dad was like, “If you want to lose weight, my friend is a boxer.’ I’d wear compression tights, compression shorts, a pair of regular shorts, two pairs of sweatpants, sports bra, tank top, Under Armour sleeves, like everything you would layer up, and he’d make me run up and down the stairs. I did boxed for three months to lose weight. I ended up getting down to about 171. It helped me, but it definitely was not healthy. But it got me in really good shape for the last season, probably the best one I had.”

In college Sam played softball at Purdue North Central for two years and then had to move back home for financial reasons. She enrolled at Ball State and walked on to the softball team.

“And by playing, I mean sat on the bench. I fit in with some of the people, but I never really felt like I was part of the team. We did this thing one day where you wrote something nice about every single person on the team. You folded it up and put it in the cup. Half of the notes to me were like, ‘I can’t believe you are sticking it out. You are working hard every day and not getting a chance.’ It’s like getting slapped in the face. It sucked. Made me hate softball.”

Sam had a heart-to-heart with one of the coaches.

“She said I was not up to speed skill wise, that I had a lot to work on. She said if I wanted to still play, I needed to lose twenty pounds over the summer,” Sam said, wiping away tears. “I still get sad. I was like, ‘I can do that. I can lose twenty pounds in three months. It wasn’t the first time. My sophomore year at PNC, my coach was like, ‘Well you put on the freshman fifteen, you are going to need to lose that weight.’”

You’re just a softball player and then your coach says you are overweight. You’re still just a softball player, but now you suddenly see yourself as an overweight softball player.

The mirror

Sam didn’t return to the team for her senior year of softball. Her softball career was over in May. In June she came to The Arsenal for the first time.

“I’d look through the magazines and think, ‘Wow I want to look like that. You know that lady is photoshopped as hell, but I want to look like that.’ But realistically, my dad played football in high school, my mom played softball and volleyball. They are both tall, my dad has broad shoulders.  I’m not going to look like that. That’s unrealistic. Like if I eat a donut, the next day I feel like stuffed sausage trying to fit in my spandex.”

“One of my friends was like, ‘If you really want to get in shape, there’s some gym downtown. It’s called The Arsenal. I was like, ‘I don’t know. CrossFit is stupid. It’s so lame, why would anyone want to do that?’ My first workout, there were only three of us there. It was blazing hot. I remember Adam was my coach. My first workout was burpees and pistol squats. I was sucking wind. I couldn’t do the pistol squat. I knew if it was that bad, I was going to lose weight. I was so desperate to do anything to lose weight at that point. At first CrossFit was only to lose weight. That was almost two years ago.”

Now Sam is working with Coach Roberson and reaching goals she thought were impossible. She works out two hours each day, 6-days per week. She won the first CrossFit competition she entered. Recently she returned to Riley’s Children’s hospital for her regular post-cancer check-up.

“They said, ‘You’re like the healthiest person we’ve ever met!’ They said I don’t ever have to come back unless I want to.”

Sam is fit and healthy. Yet…

“People say, ‘Wow you look great, but what I see is not what they see. I look in the mirror and still think ‘fat ass.’”

Sam doesn’t see what the rest of us see. She still sees herself through the eyes of that boy in 6th grade and her softball coaches.

She looks up to CrossFit athletes like Lauren Fisher and Andrea Ager. One day Sam was surprised to learn that someone looked up to her.

Arsenal Member, Mandy Miller pulled Sam aside at the gym and told her that her ten-year-old daughter, Addison, was watching Sam and said, “I want to be like her. I want to be as strong as she is. I want to look like that.’”

“I cried. I was like, ‘That’s cute.’  Now when I see Addison in the gym and see her staring at me, I make a point to talk to her instead of being a bitch.”

Sam looked at me through her own eyes. Sam cried.

CrossFitter Fights for Fire Fighters

Everything feels better doing CrossFit - Aaron Taylor

Arsenal member Aaron Taylor worked 15 years as a firefighter. When I sat down to chat with him he had just worked his last day.

“I just left a job that people don’t leave,” Aaron said.

Firefighters can retire with full benefits after 20 years, so this was no small decision.

“This is the first time since I was probably 15 that I haven’t had a paycheck come from somebody.”

To sit down with Aaron was to sit with a man in the middle of a monumental life shift. No doubt there are plenty of people scratching their heads wondering why he didn’t stick it out another five years. My mind went there too, until Aaron offered this:

“My daughter had a Snapchat story going called ‘Angry Dad’ and would post pictures of me being grumpy.”

Aaron was no longer happy being Angry Dad. His divorce, an injury working, and years of bottling up his emotions left him ready to make a change.

Putting out Fires

Aaron was a community of one. His problems were his to carry on his own. He’s the strong and silent type. The kind of guy that doesn’t talk about feelings. He worked out alone.

“I was one of the guys who went to the Y with my headphones in, my head down and didn’t talk to anybody. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be working out with other people.’”

CrossFit was popular with firefighters and police officers, but Muncie didn’t have a gym until The Arsenal. A few months after The Arsenal opened, Aaron came in for his first class.

“We did back squats and a 2000-meter row for time. I got off that rower and I thought, ‘This is the worst… but I’m coming back tomorrow!’ Coach Greg made it fun. So then I did the free week. The coaches always let me know if I could do more, but not enough that I was going to hurt myself. We have been very fortunate the entire time I’ve been at The Arsenal to have outstanding coaches. Over time, The Arsenal became my comfortable place to go. The whole community part of it for me was huge. A huge part of me stepping out of my comfort zone.”

“Slowly I got myself down to 240 from 300. Everything feels better doing CrossFit. I can’t imagine not doing the workouts. I’m in the best shape I have been in since I was 21.”

After Aaron started CrossFit, he didn’t work a fire for three months. When he did, he noticed a big difference.

“It was amazing how much easier it was after CrossFit. It was amazing how much easier it was to not go through air. I wasn’t sore. Normally I’d wake up the next morning after we’d have a big fire and everything hurt. I felt great. I remember going in, I think Greg was coaching, and I said, “Dude we had a fire last night. I was great. This stuff works.”

“I can see why Crossfit is popular with firefighters and police officers. The variation is so much like what we do. You go from nothing to super intense. There’s also the mental side of it. CrossFit allowed me to do my job better physically, and emotionally it’s a good hour to work frustrations out. You don’t think about anything but getting some work done. It’s a nice break to help clear your head. For me, I was so much more productive after I worked out.”

He was working out more and eating better, but something was still missing.

Helping Firefighters

“I didn’t have the tools to deal with the stress. I ate too much, drank too much. Anything self destructive. It added stress to family life. I felt terrible, physically. Knees hurt, back hurt. I was lonely, depressed. I just felt beat down. The weight was just the symptom of everything that was going on.”

“Going into the fire department, I never developed good coping tools. You see a lot. If you can shut it down and keep moving you are great, but eventually it’s going to come out sideways. It’s stressful being away from home, especially when you have kids. You get the stress of being gone from home, and then the stress coming home. And then the stress of the things that you see. You see terrible things.”

“I was good at seeing the good qualities in other people, but I was never that way with myself. I feel like the Arsenal has been good for me in that way. I learned I can’t compare myself to Adam, Skyler, or BJ. I get beat on a regular basis by most of the ladies in there, and that’s ok. It’s the whole concept of you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be trying.”

When he injured his wrist which kept him from working and from working out, he started doing something that he never thought he would do: journaling.

“Just doing a self check. Writing about what’s going on with me. I know for me, it wasn’t my problem, someone else was being an asshole. It wasn’t me, it was them. For a long time, I was like, ‘I just have bad luck, that’s just the way it is.’ My first couple weeks journaling I thought it was stupid. Then it gradually switched, I could check in, brain dump what I was thinking about and feeling. It got into a more organized system of journaling. Things that are weighing on me, things that I’m dreading. And then details of things, more desires. That was huge for me. Before I was not able to identify my own emotions.”

Aaron quit firefighting to fight for firefighters.

Firefighter Overhaul

“I think I can help a lot of firefighters, if I can just get out of my own way of trying to look like nothing’s wrong, like I’ve never screwed up.”

He’s in the beta stages of launching Firefighter Overhaul. It’s a six-week course to help firefighters deal with stress and be healthier. Here’s how his journey and new direction is described on the Firefighter Overhaul site:

After enjoying success as a high school athlete, Aaron slid into a sedentary lifestyle of booze and junk food. He was in “decent” shape when he joined the Muncie Fire Department but quickly picked up the common bad habits of drinking too much, eating too much and not exercising. On top of his poor health, Aaron became emotionally closed off, shut down and isolated.

For ten years, Aaron tried diets, detoxes, weight loss systems and workout programs to try to lose weight and get healthier. He would consistently lose ten pounds only to gain fifteen back. Aaron was the master of making himself the butt of fat jokes. After hitting a weight of 300 pounds, this big fella realized that the diet wasn’t the problem. Aaron found a workout program that helped and managed to lose forty pounds but gained it all back while recovering from an injury. It became very apparent that just working out wasn’t going to solve his weight loss struggles. Aaron needed to change the way he dealt with and (didn’t deal with) his stress.

Aaron sought stress management strategies and began to pick up different tools. He began creating a stress toolbox so that he could better handle exhaustion, temptation, and working in a stressful, unhealthy environment. Regularly using his stress toolbox, Aaron maintains his 60 pound weight loss and healthier lifestyle and to encourage others to do the same. On top of the weight loss, Aaron enjoys a better relationship with his family, friends and coworkers. He co-founded Firefighter Overhaul™ to help his fellow firefighters create their own stress toolbox and maintain a healthy lifestyle while on the job.

“My story is what’s going to make it relatable to people,” Aaron said. “That’s the goal anyway. There’s so much with fire departments with PTSD, suicides. I think if guys can develop the tools earlier, maybe they won’t have to go through that or can handle this stuff better.”

Angry Dad No More

It’s a brave new world for Aaron Taylor. He moved to an apartment in downtown Muncie. He’s visiting Arizona to see his girlfriend, Heather, who he has known since high school, taken an extended vacation to San Diego, wrapping up his certification as a health coach, and working on Firefighter Overhaul. Those close to him have notice how he has changed.

“I am happier. I think my daughter is starting to notice. She notices that I eat better. She and I have a much better relationship. That’s been huge for me.”

Angry Dad is gone. Recently Aaron’s daughter started a new story on SnapChat: Happy Dad.

CrossFit helps mother set example for daughter

I am in way better shape now than I was in college & high school. - Charity Voth

Charity is a virtue. In fact, theologian Thomas Aquinas (perhaps influenced by Bill and Ted) called charity, “the most excellent of the virtues.” The word charity is often synonymous with love.

Charity (Voth) is a member of The Arsenal.

And whether a virtue or a person, both are defined by love.

What I knew about Charity before I sat down with her to chat was that she loves her job, she loves her boyfriend Blaine (they are my vote for Arsenal prom king and queen!), and she loves her daugthers. She seems to love CrossFit. She seems to make friends easily. And she smiles a lot.

She loves and is loved, but her story is more than that. She has lost and been lost.

Loss & Lost

When Charity was nine, her dad killed himself.

“You didn’t talk about it,” Charity said.  “You didn’t bring it up. He was 28. I was a kid so I don’t know all the details, but what I can tell you is my mom and dad were going through a divorce, my mom was dating my step-dad, my dad was an alcoholic and battling depression. We just didn’t talk about it. Even to this day, I only have a couple pictures of my dad. I talk about some memories now. Not having my dad probably bothers me more now as an adult. My dad is not here to see my kids.”

Her dad wasn’t there to see her compete as a gymnast growing up, watch her in her roles as the Anderson Highland’s mascot and a cheerleader, compete on the basketball court in junior high, or in the pool as a swimmer in high school.

After she graduated high school, she enrolled at Ball State.

“Nobody in my family had ever gone to college. My parents and even my grandparents worked in factories. I had applied for IU and Ball State. I decided I was going to go to Ball State and major in nursing.”

Charity lasted three semesters.

“You know Ball State used to have the reputation of being the party school. That’s pretty much what I was majoring in! I got put on academic probation.”

She had a cousin who lived in Florida, so she moved down there and got a job on the beach at an ice cream shop. She met a guy. She followed him to a community in Illinois where she felt isolated and alone. They got married. Moved back to Anderson. They had a daughter. They moved back to Florida trying to recapture the life they had known there. They moved back to Anderson. They had another daughter. Charity went back to Ball State and got a degree in nursing 14 years after she first enrolled. She got a job at Ball Hospital.

There’s a lot of life in that paragraph. I’m sure there were plenty of happy moments along the way. But there was also something Charity couldn’t ignore: her husband had been cheating on her.

“But even through his many years of extracurricular activities, I made a vow, I cannot get divorced.”

Charity had made the vow when she saw her parents go through their own divorce and the terrible aftermath that resulted. She told herself that she would never be a person who would get divorced or put her own kids through that.

Deserving to be happy

A co-worker told her that everyone deserves to be happy.

“I decided I wanted a divorce, and that was it.”

Charity got divorced and she felt guilty about it. The kids had to be shuffled around. Then there were the holidays. They were kids of divorced parents.

Charity had been depressed before her divorce, but things got worse in the aftermath of guilt.

“I slept a lot. I’d work and have the girls. Honestly I know, looking back now, that my girls suffered from it. Depression runs in my family. I think it just compounded into guilt and embarrassment. I was drinking a lot and not making smart decisions. I gained a substantial amount of weight. I didn’t run with people who motivated me, who were family-oriented. My mom finally told me to get my shit together or I was going to lose my kids. My girls are my world so it was then I realized I was going down the wrong path. I started to pay more attention to who I was spending time with.”

Charity credits her mom for being there for her.

“Mom understood there was nothing she could physically do for me. My brother and my stepdad did not understand it, they couldn’t grasp it.  It was really hard coming off antidepressant medications. I cut the drinking and started paying more attention to the kids.”

Charity started running. Physical activity became her new antidepressant. She kicked the meds, lost weight, and reconnected with Blaine with whom she had graduated high school.

“I got to the point where I was getting bored of running, so I asked on Facebook if anyone knew of a CrossFit gym around Anderson, Muncie, or Pendleton. Megan White chimed in.  She had just recently started at The Arsenal. I’m in way better shape now than I was in college or high school.”

“I am very thankful for The Arsenal. It’s helped physically just being in better shape, but mentally I can probably better deal with things now.  I enjoy it.”

Strength in our struggles

Charity is now the Regional Supervisor for the Richmond Lifeline Base. She’s a flight nurse. She gets to ride in helicopters!

“It’s fun stuff. I’m on call 24/7 pretty much. If they would have any emergency issues or maintenance issues, they have to call me. I work for some very very wonderful people.  They realize that I have a family life as well.”

Charity’s eldest daughter, Bailey, recently started college. As Charity experienced and as many of us experience, it is tough being 18 years old and deciding what you are going to do the rest of your life. Bailey floundered a bit after a semester at art school at IUPUI. She moved back to Anderson and attended Ivy Tech before heading back to IUPUI.

Like Charity, Bailey also battled depression.

“The doctor wanted to put her on antidepressants, but I was like, ‘Let’s work through this.’ Bailey took a liking to running, and that was her out. We try to do a lot of stuff together. We take the dog to the park and run there. If we find a log down, we’ll do box jumps. It’s just kind of making fitness fun. She enjoys it.”

Charity had been there. Bailey had seen it. Bailey had seen the mental and physical changes that came with running and CrossFit. Bailey followed in her mom’s footsteps by turning to physical activity to combat her depression.

In the depths of our struggles, we may not see farther than our own problems. But pain can shape us and help us help those we love the most. We may feel alone, but we’re not. Someone is always watching.

Charity’s journey uniquely prepared her to help her daughter.