Sally on CF & Exercise

Hi Sally, please tell us a little bit about yourself:

I’m 39 and work full time as a financial analyst for Transperth. I have a mortgage and a beautiful 3 year old Australian Kelpie named Belle. I was diagnosed with CF in late 2009 at 34 years of age. Since that time, my life has changed so much and a lot of it for the better, despite battling illness and infections. I struggle at times with working, maintaining a house and getting enough rest, but I have wonderful support from family and friends which makes things a little easier when I need it.

I like to keep fit and strong, so I train four times a week and walk Belle most days as well. I’ve completed two mud-racing obstacle courses in the last year, and at the time of writing this, I’m planning to run in Tough Mudder this year, but will have to see how I am leading up to the event and make a decision from there.

Sunday mornings are my ‘me’ time, which are spent at the dog beach in summer months, walking around the swan river on sunny winter Sundays, or just sitting quietly reading a book. I find these days, perhaps as I’m getting older now as well, I’m much more focussed on health and wellbeing as well as just enjoying life. We only get one shot at life, so I’m going to do everything I can to keep mine healthy, happy, fun and interesting. This includes good nutrition, challenging myself physically, maintaining a social life (even when I don’t feel like it) and not sweating the small stuff.

How did you come to being involved with crossfit? And how long have you been doing it for?

Daniel, the owner of Crossfit For Fitness also runs outdoor boot camp training which I joined in 2011, and in early 2013 he opened up the crossfit gym, so I transferred across. The timing was perfect as winter was approaching and with boot camp being outdoors, I would always miss so much over winter as I couldn’t train in the wet; it was hard enough just breathing in the cold air. So I jumped at the chance to be able to train indoors year-round.

A really great community has evolved amongst the trainers and members and we have people of all ages, fitness levels and abilities. I have met some fantastic people that have become personal friends and we also have social events throughout the year.

Can you tell us a bit about crossfit and how it all works?

Crossfit is high intensity strength and conditioning training. Each day has a different WOD (workout of the day) and every group in that day will do the same WOD. Crossfit is programmed around a 6-day training week and there are plenty of members who train this often, but I find 4 days is enough for me. Each WOD can be scaled to suit fitness and ability which is great as I was pretty scared before I started that it would just be too much for me to cope with. A typical crossfit session will start with a warm-up which will be a 400m run or row followed by other movements such as lunges, inchworm crawls, squats etc. Then we’ll mobilise/stretch, followed with strength/conditioning work such as back squats, pull-ups or bench press. After this is the WOD which will usually be somewhere around 10-15 minutes of intense exercise. For example, it could be three rounds of 200m row, 5 deadlifts, 10 wall balls, 15 sit-ups & 200m run and you record your time taken to complete it. Or the time could be capped at maybe 11 minutes and you have to complete rounds of 20 box jumps, 15 kettle bell swings & 10 pull-ups and your score is how many reps completed.

Every movement can be scaled up or down to suit an individual’s fitness or physical limitation, so if you can’t box jump you can do step ups, or you use different thickness bands to assist with pull-ups. Then as you get stronger, you increase your weights and decrease the resistance bands you use.

What changes have you noticed in your health from doing regular crossfit?

The last two years have been the hardest so far in terms of staying well. It seems sometimes I just get over an infection and within weeks I am back at clinic not well again. Crossfit has given me an ability to recover from these bouts quite quickly, which I attribute to my body being quite healthy and strong. Last year I broke my arm and was unable to do any exercise, and I had gone from being what I considered as at my peak physical fitness, to doing nothing all of a sudden. It was almost inevitable that not long after this I became quite unwell and was admitted to SCGH. I really missed crossfit during this time; mentally, not being able to train was the hardest thing to deal with. I went back to training only 3 weeks after getting my cast removed and started again albeit one-armed, slowly reintroducing my broken arm as my mobility returned.

Crossfit keeps my lungs working. Hard. It absolutely takes everything out of me, and I always need short rest periods during workouts to catch my breath. But I keep pushing and it honestly makes me feel fantastic. I also use it as a form of physio, because my breathing is so laboured it shakes my lungs up and helps with my airway clearance.  I’m in my late thirties and I have never felt so healthy, strong or fit and it’s all thanks to crossfit.

You have told the trainers at the gym that you have CF; what benefits has this had for you? (Have they been able to provide more support/been more understanding of your needs? etc.)

It’s really important for my trainers to know I essentially have a disability. I had talked to Daniel about it when I first started at bootcamp, so he knew I had breathing problems and allowed me to make my own decisions on whether I could participate at full capacity with the rest of the group or if I needed to shorten a run or similar. When I first returned to crossfit from my broken arm/illness, I lasted about 5-6 weeks, and then I had a relapse and had to go back onto IV antibiotics and couldn’t train again for another month or so. After so much time away I found then that I had completely lost all confidence in my ability to do crossfit. I would check the gym’s workouts online each day and think to myself ‘I can’t do that, that’s too much for me to cope with’. So, I organised a consultation with an exercise physiologist who specialises in helping people with chronic illness & injury and made a plan on how to get my fitness back, one step at a time. From there, I also sat down with Daniel and talked in detail about everything I’d been through, where my lung function was at, and how best to get me training again. This was a big turning point for me, as I not only had Daniel’s support, but support from the other trainers at the gym as Daniel filled them in on everything.

I know my limitations and the trainers trust me to stay within my capabilities, but also encourage me to push a little more, or to take a breath and pick the weight back up. The friends I have made there are also incredibly supportive. I’m not embarrassed by the fact that I can’t keep up with everyone else, and I have found that the more people that know about my condition, the more support I receive.


Article from RED Magazine, Summer 2015.

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