Hillary Baker

Four years ago, I worked out at a local college athletic facility. It was beautiful and new, with dozens of TVs and sparkling Nautilus machines. One night, I caught a reflection of myself in the windows, one of eight sweaty humans running like hamsters on wheels, just putting in my time and distracting myself from the monotony with my iPod and ESPN. It was depressing.

At 31, I’d been struggling—and often obsessing—over my weight for more than a decade. After gaining 20 pounds my freshman year in college, I spent the summer carefully counting calories and doing cardio to negate them. While It worked in the short term, it left me walking an emotional tightrope. A pound up on the scale could ruin my day. I felt intense guilt if I skipped a workout or thought that I might have eaten too much. I got used to ignoring my hunger.

I’d always been envious of friends who were able to stay in shape by doing things they enjoyed like playing volleyball or basketball. I didn’t play sports in school and didn’t consider myself to be athletic. So I dragged myself to the gym to do workouts I didn’t enjoy so I wouldn’t get fat.

And then, in 2011, my husband started doing CrossFit workouts with a friend at a local gym. Every night I would come home from my hamster-wheel running and Dustin would tell me about these intense workouts that combined a variety of movements. They sounded interesting, fun, and a little awful. But after just two weeks, he looked good. He invited me to join him, but I declined. I was not athletic and would make a fool of myself. No thank you.

Weeks went by and Dustin just kept looking better. He seemed to enjoy his workouts and I was intrigued that every day brought something different. When he asked if I would join him at an open house for a new Crossfit box that was opening in Dubuque, I finally pushed my fears aside and said yes.

At first glance, Crossfit Dubuque was everything my fancy college gym was not. No treadmills, no TVs. Just a big, open space with minimal equipment and two very friendly and welcoming coaches. After they walked us through a short intro workout, I realized that my gym routine was not only depressing but also not especially effective—I could barely make it through the short series of sit-ups, squats and running without taking a break.

Seven of us signed up for Foundations that day, and I learned a lot about myself over the next few months. Some days, I would learn a new skill or PR a lift and I would be on top of the world. On other days, however, my frustration got the best of me. The story I told myself—that I wasn’t athletic and  didn’t belong here—was so strong that every little setback could easily throw me into a tailspin of self-doubt and emotion.

Those moments, however, taught me how much my perfectionism limited me and prevented me from experiencing life. CrossFit forced me to face my fears daily; it taught me to embrace failure, which freed and empowered me in so many other areas of my life.

I found out I was pregnant just three months after joining CFD. At first, I was worried that I would have to give it up and lose all the progress I made but after doing some research I realized that many women continue to CrossFit throughout their pregnancies. Mike and Phil were awesome at scaling the workouts based on my energy level and growing physical limitations, and the support and encouragement I received from my fellow CrossFitters was priceless. I truly believe that sticking with it made my pregnancy, delivery and recovery so much easier, and I think the mental strength and confidence I’ve gained from CrossFit have helped me in my journey as a parent as well.

It’s been over three years since I joined CFD and it is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life. I’m far from being the best athlete at our box, but for the first time in my life, I feel athletic. I love that every day is a new challenge. I’m not just putting my time in—I’m getting better. I don’t have to wonder what I’m going to do at the gym because someone who knows far more about fitness has already planned it out for me. I haven’t weighed myself in over a year because I know my clothes fit and I am doing everything I need to do to stay in shape, including eating the right foods. I’m healthier, stronger and more confident than I’ve ever been in my entire life. The constant fear that I carried around in my 20s is gone and it is an immense relief.

Perhaps most importantly, I look forward to working out, which is something I never thought I would be able to say. CFD people are the best people. They motivate me, make me laugh and give me confidence. I’ve made some of my best friends at this place and I would happily spend all my time with them if I could, but I’ll settle for an hour a day and a few get-togethers on the weekends.

Thank you, Phil and Mike and all the coaches and athletes at CFD for making this community so special. It has truly changed my life and I feel so blessed to be a part of it every day.

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