THE SOULFUL LIFE PROJECT 002: KIM + BRENDAN
It’s the last week of the month, which means this week’s post is the second post of my new series, The Soulful Life Project. Remember, this will be a series of guest posts from different people in the community. Each will be sharing a little bit about their story & why they do what they do. These posts will be featured the last week of every month.
This month’s post is actually TWO stories. Two of my friends from CrossFit Hit and Run both have chronic illnesses. You would never know because they are both awesome people who lead very normal lives. Scratch that. They are both awesome people who lead fricken awesome lives. Neither one of them have let their illnesses hold them back in pursuing everything in life. And they each have found a way to give back by pursuing careers that help others with similar illnesses.
I am so excited to call Kim and Brendan my friends and to share each of their stories with y’all!
FUNCTIONAL FITNESS IN THE MIDST OF CHRONIC ILLNESS
BY: KIM KLAGES & BRENDAN SNYDER
Let’s start with a little introduction. Tell me who you are, where you’re from, what you do, a fun fact about you, when you started CrossFit and you’re favorite CrossFit workout:
BRENDAN: My name is Brendan Snyder and I am a Pediatric Emergency Department Nurse. I got my Bachelors of Science in Nursing at Keene State College in Keene, NH. I am originally from Saratoga Springs, NY. To most in the South "Canada." Fun Fact: I learned how to ski when I was 2 and half years old. I've been doing CrossFit for 3ish years. I had a broken ankle about 6 months into starting. My favorite workout is "King Kong."
KIM: My name is Kim Klages and I am a 4th year graduate student at the University of Memphis getting my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. I specialize in helping children and their families cope with chronic and terminal illness. I am originally from Chicago, IL and relocated to Memphis, TN in 2014 for my Ph.D. program. Fun fact: I once met Michael Jordan and he told me to stay in school- I am still following his advice 21 years later. I started Crossfit in 2013 (I think!) and my favorite workout is Filthy Fifty.
Alright, so what are you guys up to now and how did you meet?
BRENDAN: I am a pediatric emergency department nurse at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.
KIM: I am currently getting my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Memphis. Brendan and I met through Crossfit Hit and Run and quickly became friends over our shared chronic diseases and love for hipster coffee bars.
You both have chronic illnesses, which nobody would really ever know unless they know you. Let’s talk about that first. Share a little bit about your illness, when you were diagnosed, and some of your challenges.
BRENDAN: I have Type-1 Diabetes, which is very different than Type-2 Diabetes, especially in how each affect one’s life and how they are treated. Having Type-1 Diabetes is a full time job. I was diagnosed at 11 years old while I was on a family trip in Montreal, Canada. I had been losing weight and going to the bathroom close to 30 times a day. During this trip I had the honor of being a patient in a primarily French speaking emergency room. After I was stabilized, I was sent home to Albany Medical Center. The next 4 days involved speaking with educators and doctors about how I needed to care for myself. Although the education has pieces that I need and use everyday, the true challenge for me is how each and everyday there is no real predictor of how my body will react to my activities, especially my training.
KIM: I have Crohn’s Disease, which is a type of inflammatory bowel disease. I had my first flare when I was 10, but I had no idea what was happening. After countless misdiagnoses between the ages of 10 and 17, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s after developing toxic megacolon. Although I have been on biologic medication (really strong medication for moderate to severe Crohn’s), I often experience periods of intense abdominal and joint pain as well as… you guessed it, bloody diarrhea. Cool, right? Anyway, similarly to Brendan, taking care of my health is a forever, nonstop challenge of figuring out how to balance exercise, rest, and nutrition.
Next, let’s talk about CrossFit. Because CrossFitters love to talk about CrossFit! How did you get introduced to CrossFit and how has it played a role in managing your illness, especially in your everyday life?
BRENDAN: I originally started Crossfit to fill a competitive void from playing sports in college. As I increased my personal knowledge of health, I realized that I had a knack for functional fitness. I also came to the realization that Crossfit helped me better manage my Diabetes as it required me to eat a well balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, and develop an ability to check in with my own body. Building from this platform, I am able to perform at my best during each and every training session. Although monitoring my blood sugars and taking insulin is necessary to manage my disease, it also gives me a sense of how hard and when I need to push myself, not only in Crossfit, but also in my personal life. I know I have the ability to succeed in life, provide the best care for my patients, and advance myself as an athlete.
KIM: I started Crossfit as a way to stay healthy and active after getting injured too many times through long distance running. It was not really the running that did it, per say, but the way I went about it. Throughout high school and college, I was very self-conscious of my disease and never told my peers about it. Once my symptoms were under control after my freshman year of college, I convinced myself that I no longer had Crohn’s disease. Since I felt well, I started running as a way to lose the weight I had gained from all the prednisone I had to take over the years. Naïve, younger me decided that I could stay healthy without medication by adopting a vegan diet and running at least 5 miles a day. Wrong! My inability to adequately care for my disease led to years of increased disease activity and the need for more intensive therapies to calm my incredibly inflamed gut. After this flare, I was more interested in exploring other options that emphasized health. Since joining Crossfit and prioritizing my own health, I have developed a similar realization to what Brendan previously mentioned, with balance.
It seems CrossFit has encouraged both of you to really know your bodies and continue to work on finding balance in your day-to-day. Are there other areas you feel like CrossFit pushes you or challenges you in regards to your illness?
BRENDAN: Yeah, I think the balance is important and also adding in flexibility. I often experience high and low days with my blood sugar that don’t make sense. You just have to do your best and keep rolling those days. Most people who know me know that I tend to take on life running head first at full speed. There are times I need to slow myself down and make sure my body is primed for this bust down the walls approach. You have to gas up the bulldozer before you take the wall down.
KIM: Yes, totally. For me, I feel like being flexible is a constant challenge. Some days I will feel great and can totally crush RX workouts, but other days, it literally feels like I have never done Crossfit a day in my life. There are days where I need to scale and be patient with myself, and that is okay. It’s finding that sweet spot of knowing when to push the limits and when to scale back. Another big challenge for me is how to measure progress. Between constant waxing and waning of my symptoms, it has been difficult for me to see how I have improved over time. In the past, I avoided test weeks at the gym in fear of not performing as well I know I can when I am feeling good. I have been working on measuring progress in other ways, like noticing improvement in my attendance at the gym and in my energy levels to do the things I love to do.
BRENDAN: Progress can be measured in any way the athlete looks at it. I use my PRs, competitive finishes and general feel of my body to determine my progress. Some days, Diabetes tries to step in the way. If I am having a day where I just can’t get my blood sugar up, I know to hold back when it comes to high metabolic conditioning workouts. If I am passed out on the floor I am still not going to finish that workout.
That’s really interesting and makes total sense! I think the general question of ‘how do you measure progress or success’ is one that people don’t look at introspectively. Listening to each of your challenges and how you approach training, it’s admirable that you have both set your own standards.
Let’s talk a little more about why you do CrossFit, even when challenges arise.
KIM: I think the community plays a large part in why I do Crossfit as well. It’s really hard for me sometimes to push myself and get to the gym if I am not feeling it. I feel like I have made a lot of good friends at Crossfit Hit and Run who encourage me to keep going while also being understanding of my limits.
BRENDAN: Crossfit Hit and Run has definitely created a community for both of us, which has given us a support system and a sense of belonging that cannot be replaced. Members have very different lives outside of the gym, but when they walk into the gym, there is a common goal. If you can fight alongside everyone in a workout day in and day out, those friends will also create a lifeline when life throws a jab at you.
For sure. The community is one of the many things I love about CrossFit. So, tying it all together, how has functional fitness in midst of chronic illness pushed you to be your best self?
KIM: Overall, I think living with a chronic illness has given us a unique way of connecting with the patients and families we work with. As someone who specializes in behavior health, I feel that my own experiences have helped me be more aware of the struggles patients face in relation to their health. I gravitate implementing skills that teach mindfulness and cognitive flexibility to encourage my patients to find a similar balance.
BRENDAN: Without the maintenance and understanding of our diseases and how to manage them, there is no chance to advance in any other aspect of our life. In jobs where we influence individuals and their health we need to also lead by example because this can be the best way of educating.
KIM: I truly feel that Crossfit pushes us to be better versions of ourselves. It has taught me how to adapt, be patient with myself, and think outside of the box (literally).
BRENDAN: I think that all aspects of a person’s life can present challenges; it’s a matter of how are we able to adapt and conquer these challenges that shows who we really are. From small to large obstacles using resources and trusting your own body and monitoring its reactions is the key to advancing to the next chapter. This includes having to take steps back from time to time. Crossfit creates a difficult situation both mentally and physically, but training in those conditions can create a person that can tackle life and the diseases it throws at them.
Interested in sharing your story and being featured on the blog, I would love to chat with you! Shoot me an email: email@example.com