Ball State Student Proves Strong is Beautiful

The whole 'strong is beautiful' movement is so encouraging. - Erica Coulter

This morning Ball State student Erica Coulter was walking on her hands in downtown Muncie. She never expected to end up in Muncie or Ball State, nor did she ever think about attempting to walk on her hands before she tried CrossFit.

After walking a few yards, she fell back to her feet, stood, and roundhouse kicked the nearby rope. Of course she did all this with a smile, which is her default face-setting.

Erica the softball player

Erica grew up in southern Indiana playing softball. Softball was who she was.

“I’ve played softball basically my entire life,” Erica said.

So when she graduated from her small high school and tried to walk on at University of Southern Indiana, the coach’s news was devastating.

“The coach was like, ‘I really love your attitude . . . trying to soften the blow really. The coach asked, ‘Would you like to be our manager?’  I was like, ‘Uhhh, no,’ and then the next day, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’  I basically did everything the players were doing except for I just watched the games and took the scores. I didn’t get to play, and that kinda sucked.”

Often in high school, we define ourselves in these very narrow categories–she’s a softball player, he’s in band, he’s into Dungeons & Dragons. As if a person is simply an activity.

Erica was a softball player and then she wasn’t. That realization was a painful one.

“Ever since I was really little, that is all I wanted to do–softball, softball, softball.  So working really hard and then not achieving your dream . . .  like what am I working for?  I just was really confused, and it was definitely a difficult time.”

Erica needed a change, so she transferred from USI to Ball State.

Strong is beautiful

“When I switched to Ball State, I still tried to hang on to softball a little bit. I was like maybe I can try out, but deep down I knew that just isn’t going to happen, and as all this was going on, I was kind of losing my passion for the sport. That was really scaring me because I was like, what am I going to do? I don’t know anything else.”

“I came to Ball State and found the most incredible community ever.  From the second I walked onto campus, people were so nice, and it was just such a different experience.  I got really involved in the church I go to, and they have an incredible community there . . . Still I just didn’t have that one thing anymore. It was really a wake up call that helped me to develop my identity.  That’s when I really started pursuing the Lord, which has become so important to me.”

Erica also started to pursue CrossFit.

Becca Steele invited her to try a workout at the Arsenal.

“We all just had a regular 45-pound bar. Adam was coaching and he was like, ‘We’re going to do a power snatch.’ The very first try, I threw the bar up and it landed behind me. I fell straight on my butt. I had the biggest bruise ever. I was so embarrassed, I just kind of sat there and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

Despite all of this, she decided to take the Arsenal class at the Ball State rec center along with future Arsenal members Caroline Conley, Samantha Eckrich, Leah Fox, and Emily Martin. But she still had one major reservation about CrossFit.

“We lifted weights for softball conditioning, but I always didn’t want to lift very heavy because I already had ginormous shoulders. Every time during conditioning, I would be so uncomfortable because I’d see, ‘Oh, I’m getting bigger . . . I don’t like it.’  I was already bigger than a lot of girls because that’s just how my body is, and I was really self-conscious about my legs, so I didn’t want to do more than what I had to in order to stay strong but not look like I lift weights.”

“People will sometimes make remarks like, ‘Oh your legs are so big!’ that type of thing. That would really, really bother me, especially in high school when I couldn’t fit into the same things other girls could fit into.”

Erica started to see the amazing things she was capable of. At one point in our chat I asked her about her lift PRs. She once dreaded the question, and if a guy asked, she would lie about her weights, saying that she lifted less than she actually could.

Now she tells me proudly about her PRs: clean 205; jerk 220; snatch 160; deadlift 385; back squat 235.

(She knows her back squat should be more. She’s working on it. The next day after we chatted she hit a new record.)

“I stopped caring what people thought. I just enjoyed the things that my body was able to do. I just really appreciated myself. I think the whole ‘strong is beautiful’ movement is so encouraging.”

“I know everybody who does CrossFit wants to go to the games.  I would love to get there or at least to regionals so I’m working really hard at that. As for my body . . . I love it. I think it’s so cool now. I can find clothes to fit me. I think it’s used for good things.”  

Erica the CrossFit Coach & Athlete

Someday Erica hopes to have her own gym in which she teaches others to love their bodies and use scripture to encourage them.

“I want to be an inspiration for younger girls, so they don’t have to feel the way I did.”

To help prepare her for this future she is pursuing a degree in exercise science from Ball State. She teaches the Silver Sneakers at the Yorktown YMCA, and she’s worked her way into a role as a coach at the Arsenal.

“I like to get people really excited about fitness. Even if it’s going to be a terrible workout, I’m like, ‘It’s going to be so much fun you guys!’ I really, really love people, and I love helping people, and I just didn’t really know how I was going to do that. Just through my personal journey and just hearing everyone else’s journey through CrossFit, all the things it has done in their lives, it is just such an honor to be a part of that, to help people reach their goals. I can do something that I am super passionate about and still help people and reach them. It’s a win win.”

Both competing as an athlete and working as a coach have changed Erica.

“Pushing past my limits has given me confidence that I never had before. Like now I am able to approach people and talk to them, where I was really reserved before, and I just didn’t feel like people wanted to talk to me.”

“I feel like I’ve developed strong friendships at the Arsenal. You’re competing with these people all the time, you are in pain together, you’re lifting them up, you’re on a team. So I think that’s something that I was really, really wanting. Having people cheer for me and being able to cheer for them grew my confidence.”

“I love CrossFit, and if anybody approaches me and wants to talk about it, I am fine with that, but I don’t just ever go talk about it.  People at the Y ask me all the time what I do, why my arms are like “that.” I’m like, ‘Yeah I do CrossFit.’ Not like I’m downplaying it or anything, but I want my life to be more than just about CrossFit.”

Erica’s hashtag is #GigglezAndGainz. When she gets a big lift she’ll throw the bar down and start giggling and dancing.

She admits to despising gymnastic workouts and rope climbs. Each is an emotional experience that can bring her to tears.

But even when Erica’s crying, she faces her weaknesses with a smile.