I have always identified as an athlete. Being a member of a varsity team at The Ohio State University was an extremely surreal experience for me, and something I still wonder how I became lucky enough to have a part in. I was part of the team that earned the first ever NCAA Championship title for any women’s varsity team at Ohio State. That title translated into the team eventually becoming the first ever rowing team to 3peat NCAA and Big Ten titles. There was something extraordinarily special about the culture of the team that helped us become so successful. The training was absolutely brutal; it tested everyone’s mental and physical strength on a daily basis. However, we knew that the only way to get through the terrible times was to rely on one another. We had a saying on the team that ¨the gift is each other¨. The idea behind this saying was essentially that no matter what pain you are feeling halfway through a race or a 2k test on the erg, you keep going for the women surrounding you, because having one another to pull for is a honor and privilege. You suffer through training together in order to become successful. This culture was something that was ingrained in us from the first time we sat down in a boat until our very last race as a Buckeye, and by far the thing I loved most about being on the team.

Anxiety and depression are things I have continuously struggled with for the majority of my life. During the summer following my junior year at Ohio State, I began to fall into the deepest depression I had ever been in. This culminated into me having a very nearly successful suicide attempt on August 13, 2014. I spent the next week and a half in the hospital and then at an inpatient mental health facility while my family tried to figure out the next step that would be best for me. My time at the hospital led right up to the first day of the new school year and along with it, the first day of rowing practice.

Due to the impact my attempt had on my physical health, it was decided by doctors that I would not be able to participate until I had time to recover. This meant I missed the first month or so of practices, and I spent those mornings either too depressed to leave my bed, or sitting with the coaches while my teammates practiced and began forming relationships and bonds with the new team members. Only 1 or 2 of the 40ish members of the team knew about what I had gone through and I became extremely withdrawn due to my shame about the experience. Not only was I extremely depressed, but I also suddenly felt isolated from this community that had been a source of such love and support before. Once I was medically cleared to row, it was a daily struggle. Not only had I lost all my fitness by taking such a long time off from physical activity, but the toll my suicide attempt took on my body made it so that it likely would never be possible to get back to the NCAA champion-caliber rower I had been only months before. This feeling of failure fed into my negative thoughts about myself and caused me to have frequent panic attacks during practices during the month or so that followed. After talking with the coaching staff and some very long nights spent weighing my options, I came to the realization that the best decision for my mental health was to end my career competing as a Buckeye. It was by far the most difficult and painful decision I have ever had to make, but I am confident that it is one that saved my life.

I shifted my role from a rower on the team to being a team manager and spent my days helping our boatman, Joe, with the difficult task of maintaining our beautiful fleet of rowing shells. After spending anywhere from 20-30 hours on required rowing-related workouts, I was pretty content with not having a structured workout regimen for the first time since I was about 5 years old. I had no exercise routine and spent the next 2 years convincing myself that my daily walk with my dog was a sufficient amount of ¨exercise¨ to keep me healthy. While I finally felt that I was beginning to have a handle on my depression and anxiety, I noticed myself gaining weight and becoming more unhappy with my physical health. I felt weak and lethargic all the time and knew doing some sort of physical activity would help. However, I had begun my student teaching placement for my education degree and was putting so much effort into making sure I was successful in the months leading up to graduation that I continued to put off getting myself physically healthy again.

On Monday May 9, 2016, the day after I graduated from Ohio State, I decided that I was an adult with a college degree and it was time to make a change in my life. I began looking into various CrossFit gyms in the area, because I knew my background in rowing would give me a good base of knowing most of the movements used in CrossFit. For whatever reason, as I was researching, I kept finding myself returning to CFC’s website and feeling immediately drawn to the box. I saw that there was a 101 class taking place that evening and I made an impulse decision right then to go check it out. I’m pretty sure I signed up at about 6:30pm and the 101 class started at 7:30. I remember feeling very welcomed from that first day. I graduated 101 and I remember Pat continuously asking me if I was going to sign up for something called “Murph”. I could tell everybody at CFC was really excited about it, so I signed up for it and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Murph was only a week or so after I officially became a CFC member, but the way everybody treated each other during this amazing event was the first time since college rowing that I had gotten that sense of community and caring about one another that I loved so much. I began to realize that “the gift is each other” could apply to this place as well.

Nicole becks - before/after

It has been about 9 months since I began my CrossFit journey. I am a completely different person. I am extremely mentally healthy and stable. The number I see on the scale is almost the same but the difference in my physical appearance is startling. I began to shave off the fat I put on during my 2 year hiatus from athletics and rebuild the muscles I had allowed to atrophy after I quit rowing. Since about October, I have been really focusing my effort into improving my PRs, and working on my “goat” skills. I remember the first time another CFC member came up to me after a workout and said “You’ve been doing awesome lately; you’ve really made a ton of improvements!” It felt so amazing to know that there was this community full of people who support and are proud of my progress.

The perfect example of why I love this community can be characterized by the day I got my first muscle up. I was messing around with some chest-to-bar skills after the 9am Rx class one Saturday and some of the other members who were there noticed how close I was and encouraged me to keep at it. Suddenly, it just clicked and it was the most amazing feeling in the world. This all happened as the 10am community WOD class was warming up, so everybody in the gym saw it and started clapping and cheering for me. I was so overcome with feelings of love and support from everyone that day, and that kind of community can be seen every single day at CFC. Everyone always fiercely cheers their classmates on during WODs and congratulates others whenever they perform a skill they previously couldn’t or hit a PR they’ve been working towards. Some days, I find myself sticking around for an extra hour or two after I’ve finished the WOD because the gym just feels like home. CrossFit Clintonville has given me a sense of daily purpose and happiness that has helped my mental state to be more stable and healthy than I can ever remember it being. CFC is a place that I’ve always felt welcomed, accepted, and supported in every single endeavor I pursue in my life, and I am confident it will continue to do so for a long time to come.