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.
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.