This is series of journal entries written by three-time CrossFit Games athlete Carleen Matthews.
Who am I? I’ve been a competitive CrossFit athlete for the past 8 years. I’ve gotten to a place where I don’t have that deep desire to compete.
But what do I do now?
Who am I without it?
Maybe it’s fear of failure because I don’t believe I’m as good as the other girls out there. But that’s OK. The reality is that I am not as good as some of these 21 year olds. I’ve peaked. I’m not peaking anymore. My numbers are not growing.
I love this sport. I love CrossFit. I walked into a box and it helped me stay sober. I made it my outlet. But it became my only outlet.
I’m in a transition phase in my life now where competitive CrossFit is not as important to me, starting a family and focusing on my health is. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
This change is hard. It’s uncomfortable.
All I’ve known for the past five years is to train hard. Destroy your body every day to be the best you can be in competition. For so long, I’ve been praised and looked up to for podiums, medals, and achievements. Without that, who am I?
I’m still Carleen. I’m a leader, a survivor, someone who can get through anything. This is what people look up to me for. I am not my medals or podium finishes. I am so much more.
It can be hard to convince myself of that.
Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing five years pursuing the Games. I wouldn’t change that for anything. But now I sit here realizing I am going through the same thing as when I first got sober seven years ago.
Who am I, really?
I’m having to discover again what I enjoy doing, who I am outside of the CrossFit Games. What are my other passions are? I keep telling myself, I am defined by who I am, not what my body can do.
Four months after I quit drinking, I found CrossFit and poured myself into it. I found out I was pretty good at this stuff and I craved it even more. Just like when I first started drinking, I found that I got attention or people liked hanging out with me when I drank. I was confident, with no cares in the world.
I had that same feeling from CrossFit, gaining confidence through my performance and every milestone I hit. Gaining acceptance because of what I could do.
But now I’m caught in this space of self discovery again. I know deep down that it wasn’t my performance it was ME, it was my character that people were attracted to. But when you associate performance or the way you look with attention for so long, it’s hard to see that people just really love you for who you are and not what you do. I’m in a state of the unknown and it’s scary.
People don’t always realize what it takes to be a Games athlete. All they see is the end results, the glory, the fame, the “show.”
For the past five years I’ve ate, slept, recovered, trained, and lived the CrossFit Games. It was what I thought about when I woke up and what I thought about when I went to sleep.
The shit people don’t see is what happens after the Games. The CrossFit Games is not health. I ate for performance, I trained through injury, I put my health on the back burner to meet my goals of competing at the highest level.
I was always living in a recovery debt. I would have the goal of finishing the day with nothing left, feeling crushed as I walked upstairs. If I wasn’t completely crushed, I would feel like I didn’t go hard enough. I worried someone was working harder than me.
When I went to my OBGYN a year ago and he thought I was on steroids because of my testosterone levels and lack of fertility levels, I was proud!
I thought, “I’m doing this all naturally through dialing in my nutrition!”
He told me that it was OK for now but that if I planned on getting pregnant I may need to tone down training and put on some body fat.
I smile and nodded, thinking I’ll be fine when I decide to get pregnant. Lots of women do it. I want to be the fittest so this is a sacrifice I’ll make.
Going into Regionals this year, I knew it was going to be hard. I had struggled mentally and physically all year. But I didn’t want to leave anything on the table. Didn’t want to have any regret. When I walked onto that floor I knew this was it. I’d be masters age next year.
I finished the weekend knowing I gave my full effort and, despite not making the Games was able to walk away with a smile on my face.
A few days later I told Keith. I’m ready, I’m really ready to start a family. I’ve been saying “one more year” for the past 3 years. So, he was so happy to finally hear it.
I didn’t know that I would ever be ready, but I felt excited about it. I made an appointment to get my IUD removed and started taking prenatals. I was so eager and hopeful.
We started trying that day.
This isn’t as easy as it seems.
I’ve now had my IUD out for four-plus months and have yet to have a period. Yes, I’ve toned down my training, but the reality is that my version of “toned down” is not really.
When your body has lived in this debt for so long, it takes time to get it back.
I continue to train “like a Games athlete” because that’s what I know. As weird as it sounds, not crushing myself on a daily basis is uncomfortable.
I fear I will lose my abs.
I fear I will get overweight.
I fear I will not be as fit.
I compare myself to who I was or what I could do, and think if I crush myself in a metcon I will not lose that.
That does not, that should not, define ME. The people in my life who I love and care about don’t give a shit about podium finishes or if I have a six-pack (after-all, six-packs don’t get you on the podium!)
I know I need to recover my body, and tone down my training, because having a family with my husband is very important to me.
So why is it so hard?
I’ve created such a platform in which I can share and reach so many people.
I feel like I’d be doing the community a disservice to not share my experiences and story. It continues to pull on me daily.
I am desperately seeking to find someone to relate with, someone who understands what I’m going through. The truth is, there is not a lot out there right now.
The sport is still young. But my hope is by being vulnerable and telling my story, others who relate will step forward and know they are not alone.
This is me.
This is Carleen, the survivor. I’m used to being uncomfortable in training, to embracing the challenge. This is a new set of challenges.
To connect with Carleen, follow her on Instagram.