When did you join Crossfit Parabellum?

Casey February_April_May 2016

Casey in February, April, and May 2016

My first class was January 11, 2016.

Favorite WOD?

Filthy Fifty. 

Two days before this came up as our WOD I was looking through common WODs, and saw this one. I thought – Dude, I’ll never be able to do that. Then it came up. Admittedly, I didn’t make it through the whole thing…but I made it through the wall balls, and started the burpees. That was two months into Crossfit, and I walked away thinking: Two days ago I thought it was impossible for me to get that far.

That WOD made be believe I could do things I didn’t think were possible for me. I felt better after that than I had in years.

Next time I’ll finish. I can’t wait.

Least Favorite WOD?

It was like my 3rd CF Lite class. It wasn’t a named WOD, but it was:

20 rounds

5 WP Burpees

5 Medicine Ball Squat Jumps

5 DB Snatches each arm

10 second 1 Arm Handstand Hold (yeah right…)

I finished 9 rounds, texted my buddy: “I feel like I’m going to die.” He replied “That’s not a great recovery strategy.”

Starting Crossfit is awesome. And it is painful!

Favorite Lift?

Deadlift and Snatch.

Deadlift helps me believe that I’m actually strong – stronger than I thought I was or could be. From the beginning Deadlift has been a huge motivator. I’ve never lifted weights before, and I really didn’t think I could move a lot of weight. It has been exciting for me to progress here. I started with reps @ 235# on February 11. I just hit my 1 RM @ 345# on May 13.

I think Snatch is fun because for some insane reason I get to move a bunch of weight from the ground to over my head in one movement. How cool is that? Never thought I’d be able to do that. Started at 95#. Just moved to 1RM of 145 in May. Super fun to progress.

I know I’m not moving the most weight in the box. But it hasn’t mattered to me. And nobody cares about that stuff. That’s one reason I love this place so much: All support, no judgement. I’m doing more than I ever thought I could for myself. And I can’t tell you how good that feels to me!

Least Favorite Lift?

I think I could LOVE squats, because I think if my knee was healthy I could move a lot of weight. And I think it could be fun. But my knee doesn’t cooperate a whole lot with squats. Each time I do them I’m reminded that, even while I’ve done more than I thought I could, there may be things I just can’t do as well as I’d like. I’m getting older, my knee has been bad for a long time, and that might just be a reality for me.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m the Lead Pastor at Hilmar Covenant Church. I’ve been pastoring in one form or another for almost 20 years. I turn 40 in July.

From 2001 – 2014 I suffered with daily, extreme chronic pain. I had severe head pain for extended periods, several times a day. At the worst of it, there were less than 14 pain-free days/year. During that time I was given numerous medications, saw many doctors, and was given several different diagnoses. None of them were correct, it turns out, and none of the medications ever worked. 

The pain was severe. It is impossible to describe, but if I tried, I would have to say that it was as if someone had taken a screwdriver and stabbed it through my right eye, and an ice pick and stabbed it through my right temple, and was trying to touch the ends of them together somewhere inside my brain. This happened several times a day for anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours at a time. At my lowest points, when we lived in Scotland, I would go out into the city in the middle of the night looking for someone to fight, hoping that getting hit in the head would dislodge the pain, if only for a few minutes. I would bang my head on walls and floors. I rarely slept. I struggled with severe depression.

The upshot of it all was that I was determined to still do something with my life. Pastoring was a part of that, but school was my outlet for tension. The short of it is that Sarah and I traveled the world for me to go to school. In 2010 I graduated from the University of Toronto with a PhD in theology. All of my tension had to be channelled somewhere, and it got directed to my studies.

On the other hand, that was a lot of years of sitting at a desk and gaining a lot of weight. I was never into fitness, ever. Less so with an ice pick in my ear and a screwdriver in my eye. 

In 2014, after not going to a doctor for several years because I had lost interest in their general lack of help, I saw a neurologist who finally gave me the right diagnosis. A tumor that had grown out of my pituitary gland and completely decimated the gland’s ability to produce some important hormones, and was producing a ton of human growth hormone on its own. I’d had a tumor for more than a third of my life, causing severe chronic pain and a lot of other problems.

Long story short – less than a month later I was being operated on at UCSF where they removed the tumor. I woke up to a sensation I was not used to at all: no pain. I’ve had zero pain since May 20, 2014. It has been awesome, and it has also been really difficult. I’ve written about that difficulty elsewhere. But, here’s where the Crossfit journey begins.

Just because you have a tumor removed doesn’t solve all your problems. My hormones were simultaneously in some ways equivalent to a 70 year old man, and in others equivalent to a woman going through menopause. I’d be preaching on Sunday mornings and have hot flashes in the pulpit. At the time of surgery I was already overweight: about 270. Over the next year and a half my weight dropped, went up again, dropped again, went up again, as doctors regulated my hormones. 

In January this year I was sitting at home one morning watching Die Hard 3 for about the thousandth time, depressed about my physical health, and it was affecting mental and spiritual health as well. I’d dropped 10 pounds and then gained 20. I googled Crossfit, not even knowing what it was. Emailed Crossfit ParaBellum to inquire about the free class. Got a text 10 minutes later from Scott who invited me to the 10 am class. It was 9.20. I got my butt up and dragged it to the box. And I loved it immediately. Though, after I kind of wanted to die.

At that moment I’d hit my heaviest, 279#. Jumped in to CF Lite, and then regular Crossfit classes right away. I had a vague dream that it would be cool to lose 40# by my 40th birthday, but was pretty sure it would never happen. I’m 4 weeks from 40, and have lost 38#. I’m going to make it.

I’m healthier than I’ve ever been in my life. Before CF, I was drinking about 4 energy drinks/day, and still struggling through the day. I’ve cut out all soda, all energy drinks, all fast food, and am eating so much cleaner. I have more energy than I’ve ever had. I have pride in my fitness accomplishments; something I’ve never had in my life. My mood is better. I’m a better husband, a better dad, a better pastor. 

I feel like I’m on a journey to make my life what it was supposed to be before I got derailed with a golfball sized passenger in my head. I’m so glad Crossfit ParaBellum, and Renee and Scott especially, are my partners on the journey.

Casey and Sarah in September 2015, prior to starting CrossFit.

Casey and Sarah in September 2015, prior to starting CrossFit.

What were you doing before Crossfit?

Not a lot in terms of fitness. Nothing really. Exercise was always a punishment growing up, and I was in trouble a lot. So, I’d never loved it to begin with. Then, with severe pain, that part of life was never really a thought. I was trying to get by. I was working on a PhD. I was trying to be a husband and then a dad. It took all my effort to be those things. Other aspects of physical health faded away.

What were your thoughts after your first Crossfit class?

First: Wow. I just did weight plate burpees… I didn’t know that existed, let alone that I could do them. Cool.

Then: Man, I hurt. 

And then: I’m really sore.

That night: I’m having a hard time getting into bed. This sucks.

Next morning: Dude…

But the whole time: When can I do this again?

What were your goals when joining Crossfit?

My stated goal, at the beginning, was to lose weight. That’s what I said to Renee and Scott when I came in and shared my story. As I’ve moved along on this journey, the goals quickly piled up: 

To have my physical health more fully integrated with my mental and spiritual health. 

To be a better example to my children of what it means to care for yourself and to be a good steward of what God has given you. 

To be a better husband with more energy and with a better mood. 

To love myself enough to push myself with the body that God gave me, rather than letting it disintegrate.

To not let my tumor, now that it is gone, take any more of my life from me.

For mid-life to actually be the middle of my life, with at least 40 more years ahead of me.

The expansion of goals has come especially as I’ve reflected on the first conversation I had with Renee and Scott. Scott flat out asked me “Are you ready to change your whole life?” I answered, timidly really, “I want to be ready to do that…” And under it I think I was afraid to fail. But he was right. The goal of losing weight was what I thought I needed, and it was good because it finally got me out the door. I didn’t understand my weight was a symptom of a larger, more unhealthy reality: I was healing from years of pain in both mental and spiritual ways with the removal of my tumor. But that wouldn’t be complete without pulling myself together physically as well. 

I didn’t realize any of that at first. But, pushing myself – actually, let’s be honest here for a minute – Renee pushing me beyond my perception of myself, has brought so much of this into better perspective for me.

Have you achieved any of those goals? Has Crossfit affected your life outside the gym?

Yeah, for sure. I’ve been here for only 5 months, and I feel like a different person. I am actually 15% less of a person.

The weight has started to drop. I’ve lost 38#, and I know I’ve gained muscle. I think I’m probably stronger than I’ve ever been.

I think that overall, physically, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. I’ve never had this much energy. I’ve never eaten as well as I do now. I’ve never stuck with exercise this long since high school sports.

I’ve begun to connect my physical health to my spiritual journey in terms of creation, and being created in God’s image, and caring for what God has given to me. I have a healthier and happier attitude about life. It has made me a better pastor. And my congregation has seen it in me. Not simply in the weight loss, but in my attitude and energy as well. 

I’ve made a commitment to teach my boys that physical health is a necessary and important aspect of our lives. Caring for ourselves is one way that we can love God, loving his creation. We workout together. I’ve changed a lot of their diets.

I think my wife thinks I’m a better husband. The other day she said I was better looking than I have been since the day she met me (like, 20 years). But, she’s always loved fitness. Working out at the box together has changed our relationship.

I’m under ongoing doctor care to monitor my hormones (I’m on full hormone replacement and always will be), and my mental health. My doctors have been very happy with my changed body composition and the mental and physical health with it. 

I’m happier. I feel more confident. And I feel like that tumor is in the past and I have a life ahead of me.

What achievement are you most proud of inside the gym?

Has to be just being there. You don’t know how big a thing that is for me.

Do you have any other special memories / achievements during your time here? 

The Barton family. Memorial Day Murph 2016

The Barton family. Memorial Day Murph 2016

When I broke 300 on deadlift, that was exciting.

Also – when pushups got harder. One day I noticed my belly wasn’t hitting the ground, and I needed to drop farther. The same day, I was able to put my palms on the ground from standing during the buy in. Belly wasn’t in the way.

Doing Murph with my wife and my boys was an amazing thing. Sarah and I split the WOD. Eugene (my 8 year old) did all the running with Sarah. Theo (my 6 year old), decided to row the entire time. To be honest, Sarah pulled the majority of movements. But, she’s awesome, and I’m just proud of how fit, and hot, she is.

What advice would you give to a newbie just joining CrossFit ParaBellum? 

Keep going. And find something to keep you going. I’m 5 months in, and I still feel like I am constantly sore. Sometimes my arms are so sore that if I move in my sleep I wake up with some shocking pain. But it is awesome pain. Keep with it. Don’t stop. 

Don’t stress about not being able to do the movements. The other day I stood there with 3 other guys doing weighted ring dips. They were doing dips + 35#, 45#, like an infinite amount of pounds. I am still doing dips with bands. Can’t get hung up on it. No one is judging. Compete against yourself, and that’s it.

Listen to your coach. CFPB coaches are so awesome. They probably believe more about you than you do about yourself. They certainly will push you past where you’d push yourself. 

What is your favorite thing about CrossFit ParaBellum?

The community, the family, of it all. Hands down. I’ve gone to the gym in the past, and I’ve hated it. A ton of machines I don’t know what to do with, and a bunch of people I don’t know, and who don’t really want to know me. “Personal trainers” trying to play off your insecurities to see you personal training sessions. A feeling of embarrassment every time I walk in. 

But not Crossfit ParaBellum. From day one, workouts are carefully and strategically planned out. Movements are completely and simply explained. If any movement needs modification, your coach will help you modify it. Every person I’ve met at the box has been friendly and kind and welcoming and encouraging. Families with kids are more than welcome. I’ve never felt a competitive atmosphere, or that I was looked down upon because of a lower ability or capacity. I’ve only felt support and encouragement on my journey, and I’ve found wonderful people who want to walk it with me. Renee and Scott work hard to make this a family, and that is what I love the most about it.