Steve Berlage

Steve was in our very first Foundations group (the original 7, if you will!) along with his son Josh, who is the 1-year old in the story Steve tells us below.  We have had the pleasure of knowing him since November 2011, and he is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  Both him and Josh are a pleasure to have in classes, and we take great pride in seeing how far they both have come in the short time they’ve spent with us.  The following is his story:

I started CrossFit in November of 2011 after seeing some CrossFit Dubuque business cards on the break room tables at work.  I had been running – or more accurately “jogging”, for quite a few years and was starting to get extremely bored with it.  I had several different routes I would take but I had been on them so many times that I’m pretty sure I could have run each of them blindfolded.  So CrossFit sounded like it just might be the change I was looking for.  However, to say that I was a bit apprehensive at first would be an understatement.  Other than my running I had no prior athletic experience, especially anything involving weightlifting.

It was quite obvious at the first foundations class that I was the oldest one there at 42.  I considered myself to be in pretty good shape from running but came to realize nothing could have prepared me for CrossFit except – well, CrossFit!  I figured I’d finish the workouts in about the middle of my class.  If we were graded on a curve I’d be perched nicely at the top of the bell – I figured wrong.  I realized this after just a few classes and my goal soon became to just not finish last.

During most skill and strength portions of the classes I was reminded of why I hated gym class during my school years – I was about as coordinated as a 5 year old girl.  Remember when the coach would pick two captains for dodge ball and they would pick the people they wanted on their teams?  There was always one kid – the same kid – who was chosen last.  Yep, that was me, “…I guess we’ll take him”.

It’s been just a short 6 months since that first class and I have since made some tremendous gains, both physically and mentally.  I only occasionally finish last now but more importantly, I don’t care when I do.  I’ve come to realize that, for me at least, CrossFit isn’t about beating everybody else’s time or reps.  Oh sure, if you’re competing at the CrossFit Games of course that’s the goal, but I’m a long way off from that type of competition.  That’s not to say I don’t care how I finish.  Every day, without fail, on my drive to the box I get that butterfly feeling in my stomach wondering if I’ll be able to complete the WOD that day.  Heck, I get nervous just thinking about the warm-up!  I’m still concerned with my performance, I just don’t compare myself to others (or at least try not to most days).

A few years back I had a brain tumor removed.  The following is from a piece I wrote about that experience…

“After getting registered and finding our way to the neurology department I had more tests – including another MRI.  After they had the results they called us (my parents and wife were along) into a small exam room.  The MRI scans were hung on the lightbox – it was quite evident something was not right.  What they had found was a grapefruit sized tumor.  At the time though, I didn’t realize it was spherical, I thought it was flat, like a pancake.  I said “I see how big around it is but how deep does it go”?  The Doctor looked a little puzzled and then said “Oh, it’s shaped like a ball, it’s this big all around”.  He pointed out that the human skull is about a half inch thick in most areas but mine had grown to 1 and a half inches in the area above the tumor.  He then talked about additional tests I would need and explained the surgery including risks etc.  He explained it was probably a benign Meningioma but they wouldn’t know for sure until after the surgery.  At some point I asked how large they can get and he said something like “Uh, they don’t get much bigger”.  The tone of his voice left no mistaking what his reply meant.  My wife asked how long the surgery would last, he said probably 10 to 12 hours.  At this point, I could no longer wrap my mind around the information I was hearing.  Just 24 hours earlier I was a normal 23 year old home for Christmas.  I’m sure more information was discussed but I don’t remember much else due to the information overload.  I was to be admitted and spend the night for more tests etc so he sent us back out to the waiting room.

We sat in a corner of the waiting room, my dad and I along one wall and my wife and mom along the other.  I remember seeing children and toddlers playing with toys on the floor.  My wife and I had our first child almost a year earlier – he was to turn 1 in about a month.  The thoughts came to me that there was a very real chance that I would not be able to see him grow up and be a part of his life.  It was then that I lost it for the first time; I put my face in my hands and started to sob.  I was grateful to have my wife and parents there to surround and comfort me.  That was the one and only time I allowed myself to feel sorry for myself though.”

During my recovery I cut out a quote that I found in Readers Digest.  It helped me through a lot of tough times and I still carry it with me today:


Keep Fighting

One of the most difficult things everyone has to learn is that for your entire life you must keep fighting and adjusting if you hope to survive. No matter who you are or what your position, you must keep fighting for whatever it is you desire to achieve.

If someone is not aware of this contest and expects otherwise, then constant disappointment occurs, People who fail sometimes do not realize that the simple answer to everyday achievement is to keep fighting.

Health, happiness and success depend upon the fighting spirit of each person. The big thing is not what happens to us in life – but what we do about what happens to us.

-Written by George H. Allen when he was chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports

I now have a plastic plate replacing a large area of skull they had to remove.  Because of that I was a bit apprehensive about some of the CrossFit moves taught to us – handstand pushups, wall walks, snatches, overhead squats, etc.  Well, come to find out they must have used some pretty tough plastic!  My wife and mom will probably cringe when they read this but I’ve had the opportunity to test just how strong it is twice now.  The first test came when I was trying to do a handstand on kettlebells.  Turns out that was a really dumb idea so don’t try it unless you know what you’re doing.  The other test came when we had a WOD with 75lb overhead squats.  I didn’t have my arms quite far enough forward when I dropped the barbell from overhead and it knocked me squarely on the noggin.

I watched a video recently which featured Jenny LaBaw, the 6th place finisher in the 2011 CrossFit Games.  In it she talked about having epilepsy, what it means to her, and how she doesn’t let it dictate what she can and cannot do.  As a result of the scar tissue from the removal of my tumor I also have epilepsy.  Thankfully it is kept under control with medication, but the memories I have from when it was not kept in check still haunt me.  One of the things I have learned as I’ve gotten older is that we ALL have issues – we just cannot let them define us.  I have epilepsy; it does not have me.  So no matter what your issue is you’ve got to find a way to deal with it.  Don’t just stuff it deep down inside, but rather, embrace it and use it to make you a better person.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say with all of this is that there really is no reason to not have an active lifestyle.  Do not let age, lack of coordination, medical issues (within reason of course), weight, or anything else stop you.  Step out of your comfort zone and try something new – you may just find something you love.   I strongly recommend CrossFit!  The high intensity workouts are short enough to easily fit within a busy schedule and the results are amazing.  I can’t wait to see what the next 6 month will bring.

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