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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.

Amanda Reninger Quote

Dead-lifting Opera Singer Grows Confidence Through CrossFit

Amanda Reninger: Through CrossFit I was able to find another part of me.
Amanda Reninger and I have sweat gallons together at the Arsenal in downtown Muncie.  We’ve seen each other fall and witnessed each others “Oh crap this is a lot of weight” faces. We’ve failed and we’ve high-fived, yet there is so much I didn’t know about Amanda.

For instance, she’s an opera singer. A dead-lifting, back-squatting, Opera singer.

Many of the relationships built at the Arsenal are built backwards. Usually conversation leads to shared experiences leading to connections and friendships. But at the Arsenal, shared experience (and sometimes suffering) comes first. There is not a lot of time to get to know someone’s life outside the box. People work out with, say, Matt Carder for the better part of a year and not know he’s a pastor.

So, to help us all get to know each other a bit better, I’m sitting down with members to learn about their journeys inside and outside the gym.

I’ve been envious of Amanda’s squat for awhile now. She can just sit down there at the bottom and hang out. Place her next to a lake with a fishing pole and she could probably fish for a few hours before standing up. Of course, she’s vegan, so she could only catch Swedish fish.  My point is that inside the box Amanda is pretty awesome, and it was great sitting down with her to discuss life outside the box and how CrossFit has impacted her.

Our Opera Singer Can Squat More Than Your Opera Singer

As a boy I remember arguing with other kids about whose dad was the strongest. I see this same thing happen at the Arsenal. It goes like this:

I bet our (insert job of Arsenal member) can (insert type of lift) more than your (insert job of Arsenal member).  

We claim to have Muncie’s strongest vets, professors, pianists, pediatric dentists, among other things. I’m not sure how many of these claims would hold up to scrutiny, but I’m pretty sure “I bet our opera singer, Amanda, can deadlift more than your opera singer!” would.

Amanda moved to Muncie with her husband, Kyle, to study opera at Ball State. She graduated with her masters and artist’s diploma in May of 2013.  She spent that summer singing in Italy and then began the costly and time consuming audition process.

“I have a big voice,” Amanda said. “I’ve been told I won’t peak until I’m in my mid-30s. I was told I wasn’t ‘ready’ a lot. That’s a physical thing.  Bigger voices take longer to develop.”

“We talked about going to Chicago where there are more opportunities. We’ve grown to love Muncie. We have church friends and a good community. It’s a quirky town. That’s what we love about it.  Muncie is what you make it. There is community here; you just have to look for it.”

Music still plays an important role in her life. She sings at the local Jewish Temple on Fridays at 7 PM, and teaches voice lessons.

The Opera people were telling her that she was as good as she could be at this time and that wasn’t good enough, yet. So she found herself with more time to focus on something else.

She never thought that something else would be CrossFit.

“Through CrossFit, I was able to find another part of me.”

And then everything changed

Amanda never considered herself an athlete, and she didn’t want to like CrossFit. In fact, she actively disliked it. CrossFit was that thing that her friends (Brit and Michelle Husman) were doing so they couldn’t hang out.

Kyle, who works at Redhead Salon (owned and operated by Arsenal members Brooke and Brian Shrieve), talked Amanda into trying it.

“Before that first WOD [lunges and squats], I hadn’t done anything physical since high school. I couldn’t walk for a week. Now that’s like a warm up. When we got home Kyle said, ‘I think we should do this.’”

“I was like, ‘What?!’”

“But the fact he connected to it, I was like, ‘We’re doing this!’”

“Initially you lose quite a bit of fat, but not necessarily weight because you are gaining muscle. But I’ve dropped 2 or 3 dress sizes, which is great . . . The idea of being thin was always overwhelming to me. It was an unattainable goal. But the idea of being strong is something I can connect with.  [The Arsenal] is a place where that is encouraged.”

“My confidence is much higher. I feel myself walking taller. I’m respecting myself more.”

“I feel much better. With the energy I get. I’m able to do much more. I’m tired after the workout, but the energy that it brings you through the rest of the day is really what keeps me going.”

“I’m totally happy with where I am and I’m content with my progress.  I’m proud of myself. I’m always pushing for more.”

“The coaches are wonderful. Most of them have been in good physical shape most of their lives. But as someone who never considered herself an athlete  . . I’m amazing! You don’t understand. This wasn’t on my radar for my life as something that would be important to me or something I could even do.”

Crossfit completely strips you of what you thought you were.  Vulnerability is hard for anyone, you have to practice it. So opening yourself up to not being good at something is a huge lesson in vulnerability and humility.”

Sea Salt & Cinnamon

Holding a barbell above your head for the first time can be scary at first, but not quite as scary as starting a business. In May of 2014, Amanda launched a Kickstarter campaign to get her vegan baking business off the ground.

“Having the confidence to push through the initial fear was part of starting my business.  And that’s a huge part of what we do in CrossFit.  I’ve worked to push through the fear. I’ll have workouts where I underestimate myself  and I’ll be like, ‘Oh I finished the whole thing!’”

“I can absolutely contribute this confidence and ability to face fear to CrossFit.”

The Arsenal community also played a key role in the launch of her business. Heck, Annie, my wife, and I helped fund the project. It was a no-brainer–help a friend out and get cupcakes. Score!

We weren’t alone. Even Arsenal members who Amanda barely knew chipped in.  She also got business advice from members Brooke and Brian Shrieve. Teresa Calvert, owner of  Westview Animal Clinic, took her to a business networking event, stood up and asked her group to support Amanda.

“I love the community. I love watching everyone get better. Even though we all started from different places we’re all on the same journey.  Men and women trying to make themselves better. So wherever you start doesn’t matter. People cheer with you even if you are last.  I love the fact that I get to workout with people who are better than me. It pushes me to get better. It shows me where I’m headed and I love celebrating those wins with them as well.”

Sea Salt & Cinnamon is more than a business, it’s Amanda’s mission to educate people on being more conscious consumers and that vegan and gluten-free baked goods can be delicious.

“I want to start a conversation about the way people eat. Most of the time we aren’t thinking about what we’re putting in our bodies. Not only how it affects our health, but our families and our communities. I think the best way to do that is hand them a cupcake.”

You are a Superhero

Amanda gets up at 4 AM, bakes cupcakes and other goodies and is at the gym ready to throw weights around at 8 AM.  Eighteen months ago she never thought this would be her life. It’s been amazing to watch her journey. I realized that she was getting stronger inside the box, but had no idea how much she was growing outside of the box.

Most people come into CrossFit stronger than they think they are. I want people who never considered themselves athletes, people who consider themselves overweight, to know that CrossFit works.  For whatever reason, it pulls you in. Maybe it’s the combination of the way things are structured, the community, the value that it truly has. It’s hard at first, but those are the things that are worth doing.”

“You don’t have to be a superhero [to CrossFit], but everybody is a little bit of a superhero because we do amazing things every day.

And after you do amazing things at the Arsenal, it’s only three blocks to the Caffeinery where you can reward yourself with a vegan, gluten-free cupcake.

Accountability: Get high with a little help from your friends

This is the WOD (workout of the day) that broke me:

Kelsey Rope

150 kettle bell swings
100 wall balls
50 burpees
25 inverted rows
12 back squats
6 Hand stand push ups
3 rope climbs

I had to divide it up into depressingly teenie sets: 10 kettle ball swings, 5 wall balls, 5 burpees. And even then, my brain would shut down mid-set and instead of completing rep four or five I would find myself staring at the floor.

I couldn’t see life beyond the next burpee. If the meaning of life was to suffer, I was living life to its fullest. There were only three ways out: finish the workout, hit the 40 minute time limit, or death.

Death felt more possible than finishing, but the time limit seemed the way to go.

Leaning against the squat rack, my arms were rubber, my legs were shot. I waited for the clock to hit 40, marking the end, and making this the first workout that I hadn’t completed.

But then I saw Dave hustling up the rope one last time to beat the clock. When his feet touched the ground an expression of sheer exhausted joy came across his face.

Push it to the end

Dave is a quiet dude. The first time I met him was at a noon workout. I tried to chat with him during the warmup, but he wasn’t really reciprocating, so I left him alone. Too often folks who aren’t quiet paint their own insecurities upon the silence of others. Dave didn’t want to talk; that was okay. Still, part of me was like, “I annoy this dude.”

The next workout, started and finished with a half-mile run. In between we had to do some squats, box jumps, and pullups. I had to modify the squats because my back was a little sore, so I set out on the last run before Dave. As I turned onto Jackson Street in Downtown Muncie, the homestretch of the run, I caught up with another runner.

“Come on, man, let’s push it to the end,” I encouraged him, as Dave came out of nowhere behind us. We all three sprinted across Walnut St. and into The Arsenal.

Neither of us could talk. Dave just nodded and gave me a fist bump.

Climbing together

Back to the WOD that broke me…

I was thrilled for Dave when he finished just before the 40-minute time limit expired.

“Nice job, Dave,” I said.

But I was also ashamed of myself. I, and how I was milking the last few minutes knowing the end was near. The less likely it became I would finish, the less I pushed.

I was going to leave the gym and not feel good about myself.

“I want to finish,” I said aloud. It’s as if I had to verbalize it to convince myself. I forgot about the clock.

I finished the squats. I finished the modified handstand push ups (I can’t do handstand push ups when I’m NOT exhausted, so I do them with my feet on a box). Then I was just three rope climbs away from being done.

I stared up at the rope. Fifteen feet never looked so high. Half way up my feet lost hold of the rope and I about slid down.

“Come on, Kelsey,” Coach Emily said. “You’ve got this.”

I redoubled my efforts and slapped the ceiling. One down.

Up again. Slapped the ceiling. The second one was made even more difficult by the knowledge that I had one more to go.

There’s a point when you run a marathon–or at least when I ran a marathon one time–where you get your second wind, but it’s the point after that where your joints feel like bone-on-bone and your muscles like Silly Putty where you really want to quit. Your mind searches for a thousand reasons to quit, but your soul for the one reason to continue.

“I’ll do the last one with you,” Dave said.

In three workouts with him, this may have been the longest sentence he had ever uttered to me.

Dave grabbed the rope next to mine.

“Reach high,” Dave said. “Let’s get it in three pulls.”

I climbed it for me. I climbed it for Dave.

We can only push ourselves so much, only hold ourselves accountable to a certain standard. If we want to climb to the next level, we need help to push us further and hold us accountable to a higher standard.

My time of 45:03 didn’t show on the Leaderboard, but I finished. I couldn’t have done it alone.

Want to see what accountability looks like? Stop in to watch or join a WOD.