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Carrie Lehman

Mind Mending Body….. Body Mending Mind

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I’m Deb Warren, a Bootcamper since January. Coach Carrie has asked me to share my complex story about what brought me to CrossFit.

I loved my grandfather. He must have known I was going to be the proverbial “work-in progress.” From the time I was 12, he started giving me a collection of books. Genres ranged wildly. From feminism, ESP, memory techniques and the “Power of Positive Thinking” to advertising, business, self-help—and yes, body building, with none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, after I gained my freshman 20. deb

The book he didn’t give me, however, was the “How to Beat Incurable Cancer” book. So I’ve had to apply all those other lessons my Grampa taught me. But how on earth did he know that all of these other topics would touch my life?

I more than dabbled in every bit of it. (Except for the one where I use weights and sweat, until now.) For decades, I’ve worked in advertising, learned to trust my intuition, vacillated between thinking I was Wonder Woman and thinking I needed a shrink. I’ve studied yoga, the mind-body connection, “The Secret” and all things metaphysical.

And over and over, I’ve read about the timeless wisdom of the body and how it innately wants to heal itself. I’ve also come to believe that we can bring about what we think about—how FEAR invites NEGATIVITY and how LOVE, gratitude and compassion invite POSITIVITY.

May marks my 5-year “cancer-versary.” 

So I’m celebrating life and my cancer with gratitude! Yes, I have an incurable blood cancer called SLL/CLL—with a nasty mutation (17p deletion) that will not respond to conventional treatments like chemo. But cancer doesn’t HAVE me, OWN me or DEFINE me. In fact, it’s probably the best thing that could ever have happened to me at this juncture.

As trite as it sounds, cancer has bestowed upon me a deeper opportunity to practice mindfulness and gratitude. I appreciate every day, every moment and every person who touches my life.

But after diagnosis, I didn’t completely come out of the closet with my illness. I had a 7-year-old daughter I wanted to protect from the “C” word. I made my confidants promise not to ask or talk about it in front of ANY children. I was on “watch and wait” status, meaning no treatment. As long as that was the case, there was no need to alarm anyone. For several years, I just had regular blood work to monitor disease progression. Things seemed to be going well.

Here comes the cancer coaster.

Last summer, when Zoe was 11, we had a huge health scare that forced us to tell her what was going on. Jake and I went to a CLL expert at The James Cancer Center at OSU for what we thought was a just a consult to inform us of new treatment options, if needed. (I always say “if” not “when” because the word “when” implies a sort of inevitability I won’t buy into.)

Alarmed at the size and nature of some recently-developed neck nodes, the OSU expert asked if I could stay for a PET scan. “What?” Jake and I were shocked. The doctor was concerned that I might have developed a new lymphoma on top of the CLL, or even worse, the deadly Richter’s Transformation. That entire week was filled with sleepovers for Zoe as we made trips back and forth to Ohio for blood work, a PET scan and a lymph node biopsy.  A sleepless week later, we got GOOD news! It was just more aggressive CLL that still didn’t warrant treatment/clinical trial. A few months later, the FDA fast-tracked approval for a breakthrough therapy we had been waiting for, an oral drug that offers patients like me hope, should the need arise. We felt such relief!

My local oncologist is surprised that I haven’t needed that drug yet. Statistically speaking, people with 17p are gone within a year of diagnosis. Last September, my doc said, (and I quote) “Deb, you should be dead by now. But look at you! You are doing so well!”

That comment was a life-changer.

So…do you take the “you-should-be-dead-by-now” comment as a compliment or an omen? As I wondered whether to thank my doc or smack him (verbally, of course) for planting the death idea in my brain, I found myself doing some serious self-inquiry. I reduced my hours at work, giving myself time for other priorities, at the expense of my finances and my Anthropology fashion fix.

Although I’ve always been a positive person, I’ve kicked that attitude into higher gear by envisioning my future—a long one, with purpose and gratitude—as if it’s a forgone conclusion. I do visualizations and occasional Reiki, which my doctor and I believe has helped. But I felt I had to do more. I had to back up my BELIEF in my continued health with ACTION—to show my body and the Universe (believing in assistance from above) that I love myself enough to take more control of my life.

So, although I’m not a runner, I joined The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training for the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon. My big goals were to GET MY BUTT IN SHAPE and RAISE FUNDS for LLS, whose very mission it is to fund the clinical trials that develop new therapies for blood cancer patients like me.

Serendipitously, I saw a Facebook post about CrossFit’s new BootCamp, coached by Carrie. That was it! Cross training! I thought, “I’m in. I’m scared. I’m intimidated. But I’m in!” And while I found every excuse in the book not to run during the harsh winter temps, I showed up for BootCamp #1, then #2 and now #3.

And a funny thing happened on the way to the ½ Marathon!

I discovered that I LOVE working out! I love/hate the intense burn, but then it’s over! I’m hooked. I’m stronger, more toned and more confident. And magically, this intense exercise gives me more positivity and energy like I’ve never had before. It carries me throughout the day, allowing me to be more focused and productive. It’s like the 1-hour I invest in each BootCamp class gives me an extra 2-3 hours of daily physical and mental productivity.

I’m using some of that excess energy to drum up LLS donations and to pay it forward by helping family and friends in need. I’ve been on the receiving end of so much love and support through my journey that I feel…worthy, and therefore responsible for helping others feel worthy, too. Helping people fuels me like another form of alternative medicine. It feels like a beautiful spark of energy, begging to turn into a flame. I guess my cancer story is part of my path—which it was meant to be. It’s humbled me. It’s awakened me. It’s challenged me to become a better person.

So, I’m inspired to help people understand that…

Life isn’t what happens to you. It’s what you make of yourself, in spite of it.

When bad things happen, there is often a silver lining. I choose to focus on the good stuff, set goals, lean into the wind and let it carry me. I made it my goal to be the #1 fundraiser for Team in Training. And thanks to the generosity of so many people, I am doing my part to help save lives.

And thanks to CrossFit, I am boosting my immune system—while elevating my outlook even more. To say that it’s been a “transformational experience” is an understatement!

At my 3-month checkup last week, my doctor reported, “Deb, your blood work is better today than in January. And your lymph nodes have gone down since then, too.” (HA! The new thing I added to my positivity toolbox in January was CrossFit!) My doctor half-jokingly said, “Deb, you can’t keep this stuff secret. You should share your magic with others.” So that’s the plan.

But, full disclosure: I’m a cheater.

Last Saturday, after 3 months of avoiding the group runs with Team in Training, I decided it was now or never. Their plan was 10 miles. I put my fears aside and showed up. I introduced myself, saying, “I won’t be able to go all 10 miles with you. I’ve never done more than 6-7.”

They replied, “Oh! You’re Deb Warren. You are kicking fundraising butt. What’s your secret?” I emphatically said, “I CHEAT. I have blood cancer.” They realized it was ok to laugh with me. After chatting, it was time to run. Luckily, there was a Galloway runner in the group. I tried it and found this run-walk-run method quite manageable. I went the distance—all 10 miles. Holy cow! I was shocked. I was proud and so grateful. I wanted to show up at Carrie’s house and give her a big, sweaty hug.

I totally credit my months of BootCamp for this accomplishment! While I hadn’t been running regularly until a couple of weeks ago, my CrossFit training is what gave this former couch potato the strength and endurance to blow away my own preconceived notions about what I could and couldn’t do.

When the mind and body are aligned, amazing things can happen!

I believe that you are your own spark—your own light to share with the world. You can assist in your own healing. You can help create your own future by expecting good things—and allowing your mind to overcome the naysayers and your own self-doubt. By not dwelling on what’s already happened (since you can’t change it anyway) you can envision a new life.

Finally caring enough about myself to exercise is the metaphorical equivalent of putting the airplane oxygen mask on first, before assisting others. I need to be at my absolute healthiest in order to be there for others, especially our daughter, Zoe. By watching me reach my goals, I hope she will get a deeper sense for what it means take care of her own mind and body, have gratitude, a sense of purpose—and go for it!

So, on Sunday, May 3rd, with Team in Training, I am literally RUNNING FOR MY LIFE—and the lives of 1.1 million Americans (like me) with blood cancer. 

(P.S. Hey Grampa – I’m sweating now. But I’ll NEVER sweat the big stuff! XOXO)

Getting to Know: Teresa Albani

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tsmallWhat is your name?
Teresa Albani (soon to be Teresa Ashley)

Do you have a nickname?
No nickname

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Masontown, PA (Fayette County)  I moved to Pittsburgh in 1994.

What do you do for a living?
I work for Highmark as a Pharmacy Rebate Account Manager

What is your Athletic background?
I am the anti-Athlete!
I have run 4 half marathons (all Pittsburgh), several 5K’s and did the Dirty Girl Mud Run last year

How long have you been CrossFitting?
On 2/18 it was be 6 months

What is your favorite CrossFit movement?
This is easy! Deadlifts!!!  It is the one movement that I can lift over 100 lbs.  The Push Jerk because it reminds me of Superstar (LOL)

What is your least favorite CrossFit movement?
Without a doubt, ALL of the gymnastic movements!

What has surprised you the most about CrossFit?
So much has surprised me about CrossFit!  Since I do not consider myself athletic I wasn’t sure how I would do and how I would fit in.  It amazes me that everyone is so supportive.  I also like that all of the movements can be scaled so that no matter your skill level you can participate and feel like you fit in.

What were your CrossFit goals for 2014?
My goals were simple since I started mid-August.  I started CrossFit because I was looking for a new method of working out to help me on my quest to be healthier.  After that my main goal was to give it a fair shot. I was completely intimidated after Prep class and not so sure I would stick with CrossFit.  Lastly, regardless of how sore I was I vowed attend 3 days a week.

Did you accomplish them?

What is on your CrossFit to do list for 2015?
Right now, not much but I will likely add to my list as the year goes on
1. Attend 4-5 days a week
2. Not be intimidated to try a Saturday 11:00 WOD
4. Bodyweight Deadlift (this is an end of year goal)

What are you most proud of?
My sons! Anthony & Dominic

What is your favorite book?
Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia and any sappy romance Novel (big fan of Nicholas Sparks)

16666298995_db9de660e3_oWhat is your favorite quote?
Life’s too short to wake up with regrets. Love the people that treat you right, forget about those that don’t. Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a 2nd chance grab it with both hands. If it changes you, let it.

Why do you CrossFit?
I love the results!!!! I love the muscle definition I see.  It is a complete mood make-over on a bad day.  I look forward to the WOD’s no matter how brutal.  I love that I burn 400+ calories in 1 WOD.  Although running was my main mode of fitness I always considered it my necessary evil.  I didn’t hate it but I didn’t love it.  I can honestly say I LOVE CROSSFIT (I guess I drank the Kool-Aid)

3 words friends would use to describe you:
Dedicated, Independent & Crafty

Name 3 things on your bucket list:
My bucket list is mainly around travel.  The 3 places that I’d love to visit are: Australia/New Zealand, Italy and Barbados

Can you tell us something about yourself that would surprise us?
There are so many things about me that would surprise you!
In 1994 I won a Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo from B-94.  (No, I don’t have it any longer.)  It wasn’t completely free.  I had to pay the sales, State and Federal tax on it.  Essentially I paid $10,000 for a $35,000 vehicle.

Filling The VOID

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IMG_0984We all have bad habits and quirks. We all have qualities that would be politely classified as “spirited” or “eccentric”. We can all be neurotic or flawed. These days it seems acceptable to have a diagnosis or a label. Everyone has something; we are defined by letters…ADD, OCD, BDD, PMDD and we accept easy solutions. We throw our hands up in the air and decide that this is who we are because someone said so. Prescriptions are written, pills swallowed and band-aids are used to treat broken hearts and troubled thoughts. It’s like we would rather find excuses for our choices than take responsibility. It’s as if we seek permission to live half of a life because it’s easier than doing the work to feel whole. We gorge ourselves on excuses and crutches. We live with secrets and kill ourselves slowly rather than come clean and embrace life’s journey with all of it’s unpredictable twists and turns.

We all have baggage and demons and unresolved conflicts that we can’t purge from our lives. Something that happened in childhood, or adolescence, or maybe even last year. An injustice. Bullying. Abuse. Death of a loved one. No infraction against your soul is too small. I have walked around for twenty years with an emotional cancer that eats away at me and I have chosen many unhealthy ways to fill that black abyss. I have tried and failed to do the right thing as well. I am a habitual therapy drop out. I have been handed several diagnosis — all of which, or none of which may be true. And when I haven’t been in therapy, I have been on a mission to figure myself out and find a resolution to all of my issues. In some healthy ways, some not so healthy ways.

I struggle with what I call “filling the void”. At some point in my life I was made to believe that I wasn’t good enough and despite every moment before or since then that has been filled with love, support and success, my mind’s default setting is to dwell on this fear and insecurity. I wish that I could crumple up all of those negative words anIMG_0994d throw them away. I wish that I could stuff all of those restless feelings into a bottle and toss it out to sea. I wish that I could break the chains that bind me to this life sentence of self-sabotage, depression and unrealistic drive for perfection, but I know all too well that those words and feelings and chains are a part of who I am.  I walk around with them day in and day out and all of those days have added up to create the woman I am right now. I am the product of all that I have lived and have learned. Both good and bad.

I have chased the high that filling the void brings. I have filled my void with shoes. With clothing. With alcohol and with food. I have filled my void with make-up, plastic surgery, and expensive skin care. I have filled my void with many things and as a result, I have the most kick-ass wardrobe, perfectly proportioned   sized c breasts, collection of tweezers and many booze-filled black outs to show for it. After the birth of my three children, my void seemed to be filled briefly because it was the most vulnerable time of my life. I felt purposeful and lovely and cherished. Every piece of who I was, both physically and emotionally was primal and I was bound to nourish and love my babies. I was a mother. I was the warm fleshy body that my children depended on in every way, and as exhausted as I was, it was probably the happiest time of my life.

IMG_0991As the boys grew from toddlers to school age, and a bit more independent I felt my purpose slipping away and the gaping hole that already lived inside of me grew larger. For several years I was eager to reclaim my independence and now that it presented itself to me, I no longer knew who I was. I didn’t have a career and the novelty of emptying the dishwasher and folding tiny clothes was wearing off. I filled my void with projects and distractions and shoes, always shoes. I no longer had a child nursing or clinging to me and quite suddenly my boys were wanting the affection and attention of their father more so than me, and I was left with a deafening silence that allowed my thoughts to run wild. My restlessness creeped back in and I felt lost. On top of this, friendships forged through the convenience of our children and little else in common otherwise left me running in circles with women I felt I needed to keep up with, women I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable around. I was teetering on the brink of a mid-life crisis and this is when my bad behavior went into overdrive. Some people have sophisticated coping skills, I am not one of those people. The spending and the drinking and the disconnect from my family took off at an alarming pace. As my husband stood by helplessly, he didn’t dare rock the boat of a woman who was filled with excuses and imagined entitlement. Two years of hedonistic, selfish behavior and the void still was not filled — and I was wrecked.

Most often it takes consequences to make change. And yes, eventually it took something bad to happen for me to stop with the bullshit and become an accountable human being. I made decisions to improve my life — not change who I am, but enhance who I am. I wanted to become an improved version of Carrie. Finding a fitness program and community like CrossFit Mt. Lebanon was the beginning of a healthier version of me. I can’t explain how integral being a part of something outside of my home, in a structured setting among loving people, each with their own bag of shit helped bring me back to life. I was able for the first time in a long time to be raw and exposed and real. There was no room for ego and no room to be anything other than what I really was. I felt that I was stripped down and forced to bare all of myself.  I couldn’t hide behind make-up or cute clothes (although I will admit my workout clothes are still pretty darn cute) or mediocre workouts, and my strengths and weaknesses were exposed. What happened next was profound. I found that the beauty was not in the perfection of people, but in the struggle. It wasn’t how well someone presented an image, but how they lived their lives with integrity and truth. It was the overweight woman who has battled a food addiction and shows up every day to slay that dragon who gives me hope and strength. It’s the young man, a motherless child, who sees the world as a playground who drives me to appreciate the little things. It’s the countless others with eating disorders and suicide attempts and broken marriages and terminal illnesses that allow me to recognize that in order to rise, we must first fall. Life is messy – proper mental health begins once we are ready to own up to that and make the decision to carry on despite it. Inspiration and authenticity are contaIMG_1142gious. I found that by telling my own story and owning up to my own faults not only set me free of others expectations of me, but inspired people. Inspiration and authenticity are contagious. Spread that stuff around and you will find a higher purpose.

And let me be clear, I am not suggesting that mental illness is an excuse or a fable in someone’s mind. I am also not suggesting that exercise cures all. I suffer from depression and it has taken years for me to be able to admit that out loud. Despite logic and knowing that there will always be others who have endured far worse than me, it doesn’t change the very real feelings that I walk around with on a daily basis. And I know that telling someone with depression or anxiety to “just get over it” is like telling a quadriplegic to get up out of a wheel chair and walk. Putting one foot in front of the other is simply an impossibility for some. But what I havelearned about myself recently is that for whatever reason, I have a void that lives inside of me – a darkness, a rage, a fire. There are negative aspects to that, but it also is a gift. I will never be content with an average self-image, and rather than seeing that as a detriment, I now view it as a valuable quality. I will not settle. I will not back down. I will not quit. I am going to push hard. I more than likely will fail and fall down, but I have proven that I can get back up and try again. I will always be chasing the high. It’s what keeps my life interesting and has proven to be an invaluable teaching tool. My high however is now confined to a “box” and my drugs of choice are lifting heavy and going full throttle. CrossFit has not only made me a stronger more confident person in the gym, it has made me a stronger and more confident person in life.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has reasons why they behave the way they do. You don’t need some traumatic event or emotional novel to lead you to fitness and health, but interestingly enough, I have found that most people who choose this type of workout do have compelling reasons for doing so. If you have a void to fill, I beckon you to stop taking the easy way out. Stop with the excuses and get to work.

*Note: Not everyone who goes to our gym is crazy! It’s not a prerequisite. Some people just like the workouts! Ha! ☺

Getting to know: Ricardo Alvarez

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1. What is your name?
Ricardo Alvarez

2. Do you have a nickname?
Ricky, BIG RICK10426757_295230117313306_2302347087771197818_n

3. Where were you born and raised?
Tijuana, Mexico

4. What brought you to Pittsburgh?
I came here from Miami to train at CrossFit Mt. Lebanon and get better at the sport.

5. What is your athletic background?
I have played soccer since I was ten.

6. How long have you been CrossFitting?
Since July 2013.

7. Why do you CrossFit?
I first started because I wanted to look better and become fitter. After my first workout I got beat by this guy and it really pissed me off. I thought I was fit, but really wasn’t. After that workout, I was hooked and just wanted to get better and better.

8. What is your favorite CrossFit movement?

9. What is your least favorite CrossFit movement?
Power snatches

10. What has surprised you the most about CrossFit?
The community; the way people come together to push you and stay with you until you finish your workout is incredible. Community love; everyone in your box becomes your family.

11. What were your CrossFit goals for 2014?
To move from Miami and begin serious training in Pittsburgh. To get stronger.

12. Did you accomplish this?

13. What is on your CrossFit to-do list for 2015?
I want to be part of a team that makes it to Regionals.

14. What are you most proud of?
I am proud of myself for pursuing my dream. Not a lot of people would just pick up their life and do that. This doesn’t relate just to CrossFit, I plan on achieving my goals in all areas of my life. This move was a new beginning for me.

15. What is your favorite book?
The Alchemist

16. What is your favorite quote?
The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.
It’s a very mean and nasty place,
and I don’t care how tough you are,
it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.
You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.
But it ain’t about how hard you hit,
It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.
How much you can take and keep moving forward.
That’s how winning is done!
— Rocky Balboa

17. 3 words friends would use to describe you:
Funny. Hard-working. Driven.

18. What is something about you that would surprise people?
I’m a romantic.

19. If you had one superpower what would it be?
Super strength.*

*Editor’s note: I think he is well on his way…

photo cred to MetConPhotos

Getting to know: Matt Collier

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IMG_2861What is your name?

Matthew Collier

Do you have a nickname?

In high school my nickname was Lumpy. During my sophomore year my soccer coach started calling me that because he said I reminded him of Lumpy from Leave It To Beaver. I didn’t see it, but it stuck.

Where were you born and raised?

I grew up in Penn Hills. I moved to the South Hills about 15 years ago.

What do you do for a living?

I am a police officer for a South Hills community


What is your Athletic background?

I played soccer my whole life. I still play from time to time. Although whenever I play now I pay the price for it. I can’t stop playing like I’m still 18 years old, and that doesn’t mesh well with a 39 year old body. Over the last 10 years I’ve been involved in mountain biking, globo gym, running, jiu jitsu, MMA, and Crossfit.

How long have you been CrossFitting?

One year.

What is your favorite CrossFit movement?

I can’t say that I really have a favorite movement. Although, I really enjoy long, grinding WOD’s.

What is your least favorite CrossFit movement?

To be honest, I think they all suck in their own special way.

What has surprised you the most about CrossFit?

It’s effectiveness. When I started Crossfit a year ago I was in pretty decent shape. Even Brad will agree with this. I came into Crossfit a couple months after my team finished first at the 2013 Mogidishu Mile (not bad for a group of old donut eating cops) and I was immediately humbled by Crossfit. Over the last year I have continued to get stronger, my cardio has gotten better, I have gotten leaner, and the only change was doing crossfit.

The other thing that surprised me the most is the people. I have been blown away by the ego free atmosphere. I love the fact that effort, and not performance, is celebrated. Having one of the elite athletes finish their WOD ahead of you and come over and root you on is awesome and completely unique to Crossfit. The people genuinely care about you and want you to get better.

What were your CrossFit goals for 2014?

Since I started Crossfit in 2014 I really didn’t have any specific goals. I guess my goal was just to see if Crossfit could take my fitness to the next level without drinking the “ Crossfit koolaid”.. Let’s be honest, before you start Crossfit the people who do Crossfit seem pretty weird.

Did you accomplish them?

Yes and no. My fitness has definitely been taken to a whole new level. But I definitely drank the” koolaid”. Heck, now I am drinking it through a beer bong!

What is on your CrossFit to do list for 2015?

Obviously I want to get better at the movements, the skill exercises, and oly lifts. Most importantly, I want to get better at scaling. I find it’s so easy for my ego to get me caught up in the desire to put that RX next to my WOD stats on the board. I want to focus on putting out max effort in rep count or time as opposed to max effort on weight used.

What are you most proud of?

My faith, my time in the Marine Corps, my marriage, and my son.

What is your favorite book?

The Bible.

What is your favorite quote?

“A lion does not concern himself with the opinions of sheep.”

Why do you CrossFit?

Because I have found that Crossfit challenges the body as well as the mind. I am a firm believer that a strong body and a strong mind is essential for my line of work. Obviously being fit helps with the physical aspects of my job but I believe that it goes far beyond that. When you present a physically fit appearance and the confidence from being physically fit I have found that you end up in less physical confrontations. Also, Crossfit provides an outlet for the stress induced by the things we deal with.

3 words friends would use to describe you.

Honest, loyal, and blunt.

Name 3 things on your bucket list:

I don’t really have a bucket list.

If you had one superpower, what would it be?

To be able to understand the mind of woman. Especially my wife.

We All Have Fears

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We all have fears. It’s normal. They usually begin in childhood as our brains develop and we understand the consequences of life or learn of our mortality. Fears are usually quite simple but morph and change as we get older.

As a child I was afraid of having to perform on stage. I didn’t like adults looking and laughing at me. At four years old I broke my moms heart when I flat-out refused to do my ballet recital. Through the years I have had a fear of heights, a fear of flying and a fear of public speaking. I have worked through these fears with some success but I am not entirely comfortable with any of those things.

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