Member Story: Sarah Rives Gray

Sarag RG
My husband, Tyler, and I recently celebrated our 3-year wedding anniversary. We like to review our ‘bests and worsts’ during life transitions and decided to do the same for our preceding year of marriage (while drinking wine and eating oysters).   To my surprise, despite all of the camping trips and adventures we have had together this year Tyler mentioned that his ‘best’ has been my participation in Crossfit at Santa Rosa Strength and Conditioning. I come home a happier person. It feels good to have finally found a fitness home where I can slowly work on skills and see noticeable improvements. I can do double unders! I just learned how to snatch! A strict pullup![pullquote]”It feels good to have finally found a fitness home where I can slowly work on skills and see noticeable improvements. I can do double unders! I just learned how to snatch! A strict pullup!”[/pullquote]

Growing up I played soccer with rec leagues and co-ed teams. I played tennis with my mom, did basketball camps and joined a lacrosse team. I stood out on all of these teams because of my speed, so in high school I joined the cross country and track teams, participating in mostly long-distance events, but also the hurdles, and pole vault. An elective weightlifting class during high school gave me the taste of how exciting strength training could be. I didn’t spend much time with weights again until a summer in Mexico during grad school when I lived down the street from a tiny gym and started going every day. I wasn’t running, but at the end of that summer was able to complete my first half marathon. I was astounded that I felt and performed better than I had when regularly running.

Sarah RV and hubbyAfter grad school I joined the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. For two years I lived in a small town on the border of Haiti and had to find a way to exercise, mostly for my mental health. I would run along the road, the first 200 meters or so always followed by a pack of children. I learned how to use my bedframe to do dips and taught my host family’s kids how to plank. I stayed in the Dominican Republic after finding a very satisfying and challenging job in a public hospital and I continued to maintain the same workout routine of running 2-6 miles a few days a week.

It was towards the end of my five years in the Dominican Republic that I started having terrible bouts of abdominal pain. Assuming my symptoms were from some sort of parasite or tropical disease it took over a year to finally be diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune condition that affects the intestines.   At that time I was living in New York City studying nursing. The abdominal pain flared up frequently, which I tried to control with medications. It put a big damper on my social life and my energy level.   Around the same time I dislocated and fractured my knee playing soccer and essentially didn’t exercise for a year. Luckily, however, I had married a runner and he encouraged me to get back into it. I eventually signed up for races and completed a few more half marathons.

In 2012 Tyler matched at the Santa Rosa family medicine residency and we moved west. Neither of us have family in California, but it is like a playground for nature-lovers. We started running in a winter trail group, but my knee pain and difficulty motivating myself to run during the rest of the year made me want to get back into strength training.   A few fellow high school athletes were posting a lot about Crossfit on Facebook and I had always been intrigued by the idea of doing this type of workout.[pullquote]”I LOVE Foundations. I loved it even more when I started seeing certain movements repeated again and again. I could really start seeing myself progressing.”[/pullquote]

I signed up at Santa Rosa Strength and Conditioning and fell in love with the movements, endless learning potential and immediate changes I saw in my body. On my first day Joanna pulled me aside since I had noted my Crohn’s diagnosis on a new member form. She told me about the paleo diet and recommended a few books to learn more about the evidence. I’m an evidence kind of person. What I had been doing wasn’t working well and the least I could do was give paleo a shot for 30 days while logging everything I ate as well as my symptoms.   It was a tough shift, especially breakfast! No toast? No oatmeal? But I couldn’t deny the way I felt at the end of those 30 days. I hadn’t had any of the flares of pain that used to keep me laid up in bed for 24 hours. That was June 2013 and I’ve been trying to stick to the paleo diet since (it’s tough not to eat cheese).

I was two months into Crossfitting and I had recently started a new job as a fresh-out-of-school nurse practitioner at Petaluma Health Center, a busy community clinic. I became totally overwhelmed with my new job, having to stay late to finish my notes. It was becoming more stressful to think about my poor participation in Crossfit than it was beneficial on the days I was able to make it to class. I put my membership on hold and eventually cancelled it. I became consumed by my job. I often arrived home in tears, grumpy and exhausted. I heard over and over again from my colleagues that the 1st year out of school was the worst but I wasn’t prepared for it to take a toll on my body and my marriage.

Finally, after almost a year on the job I decided I had to return to Santa Rosa Strength and Conditioning. I started back slowly, having to prove to myself that I could make room in my schedule for exercise.

I LOVE Foundations. I loved it even more when I started seeing certain movements repeated again and again. I could really start seeing myself progressing. I was hooked and figured out a schedule that would allow me to increase to an unlimited membership. I sat down with Pasha and decided to add on Strength classes twice a week in addition to Foundations. On many days on my way home from work when deciding whether to get off at the exit to take me to SRSC or the exit to take me home I would hear Pasha’s voice asking me “What is your commitment to your fitness?” Once in the door and warming up I was always so glad I had chosen fitness. My initial goal was to run without knee pain. I’m not sure that will ever be possible, but my new goals are small and simple. Show up. Learn new skills. Keep getting better.