Valerie Parkes Backunowicz

When I was young, I was not what you would call an “active kid”. At school I hated competitive sports and physical education in general.  In my teens I loved reading, writing and the only physical activity I enjoyed (and was passionate about) was horseback riding; which I only did once a week.

Most of my adult life I have been lucky to have been blessed with a slim build so I never worried much about exercise.   That is, until I hit my mid-forties and was diagnosed with high cholesterol.  I played with diets for a while but it was not until my mid-fifties that I realized that exercise must play a key role if I wanted to maintain my health, long term.  I joined what I thought was a gym.   It was exclusively for ladies and the equipment was prettily organized in a sort of circle where ladies could exercise and still hold conversations with other members.  It was more of a social club.  Not much sweat was generated there.  All the equipment was calibrated to the same level so that a 20 year old was experiencing the same degree of difficulty as, say, an 80 year old member.  I reached a plateau and looked for something else.  I found Zumba.  Now that really increased my cardio, I thought.  Problem was, I tore the meniscus in my knee while at a three hour Zumbathon.  That meant six months of healing and rehab and, of course, I started gaining weight.

Change for the better began for me at the age of 64 while attending another three hour Zumbathon.  I won a prize in a draw….a one month free membership at Platinum Family Fitness/CourticeCrossfit 

Unannounced and armed with my gift certificate, I marched into Platinum Family Fitness one Saturday morning, full of trepidation, but ready to begin a life change.  Well, this Saturday morning, the owner (Jay Arteaga) was at a baseball tournament.   The staff did not know what to do with me.  They called Jay and he told them to put me into a Crossfit Introductory class.  Crossfit!  I had never heard of it. Good thing too.  I might have run out of the gym at that point.   They walked me into theCrossfit gym and I froze with fear.  It was such a masculine environment. Nothing at all like my other “gym”.   I was extremely intimidated.   What is Crossfit??  It was developed by a dude in California named Greg Glassman and is described as functional movement; constantly varied; performed at high intensity.  I thought, I might die but what the hell, let’s do it!  The coach on the day (Alex Villalta) got us warmed up with some simple exercises; making sure that we knew the correct techniques so that we did not injure ourselves.  And I, being the oldest person in the gym that day, got special attention.  Every movement was scaled to my level so that I did not overdo anything.

At the end of that, and just when I thought I was done for the day, a workout was posted on the white board.  It was not a long workout, of course, and it involved all of the movements that we had learned that morning, but it sure busted our butts and got our heart rates up.  At the end of it, we were all gasping for breath; making sweat angels on the gym floor and feeling fantastic!  It was euphoric! I was hooked!

Now after three-plus years of Crossfit, I am feeling strong and healthy.  My doctor tells me that she wishes all her patients were like me.  I no longer have back pain because the muscles in my back are now supporting my spine properly. I can run up a flight of stairs without running out of breath.  I can squat low to check out items on the bottom shelf at the grocery store.  I can carry four full grocery bags at a time.  All the equipment (dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells, med balls, slam balls, GHD), that so intimidated me on the first day, feel very familiar to me now.  My vocabulary has expanded.  WOD (workout of the day), AMRAP (as many rounds as possible), TABATA (a work-rest method), PR (personal Record) have all become part of conversation in the class and things like deadlifts, thrusters, front squats, back squats, cleans and snatches have all been added to the ever-growing list of functional movements performed.

Platinum Family Fitness / CourticeCrossfit is such a positive and welcoming place that our little Crossfit community feels like my family now.  My coach, Erik Ekelman, is wonderful.  He has worked with me from the start and I feel I have come a long way under his direction.  He knows all my weaknesses, watches my technique like a hawk, and is careful in making sure I don’t injure myself.  At the same time, the workouts that he posts are varied and challenging every time.  With his praise and positivity, he makes sure that I come out of that gym feeling proud of myself after every session.   Now, at the age of 68, I can proudly say that I am a Crossfit athlete.


Posted by Lorne Marr.
Lorne Marr is a Toronto-based fitness enthusiast and lifelong advocate of healthy living. He is on a journey to discover the best methods of training and nutrition for athletes and weekend warriors over 45. Connect with Lorne on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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