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Impossible? Not anymore.

by Victor Pellegrino on September 27, 2023

CrossFit athletes have a certain type of profile—even right down to the fact that they typically think of and describe themselves first and foremost as athletes. To someone on the outside looking in, that perception can feel overwhelming. Daunting. It’s easy to feel like, “They’re so in shape…and I’m so…not.”

Put simply, it feels like a club that you don’t belong to, and maybe never will. Helen describes it well: 

"Funny enough, at one point I kind of felt inadequate because everybody else around me was like, fit, and they did CrossFit, and here I am 60 pounds overweight. So I felt like, okay, this is like a fitness company. They sell grips for CrossFit athletes. And I just didn't feel like I fit the mold at the time."

If that’s you, you’re not alone. Helen is right there with you—and more importantly, your story (and journey) matters too. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. 


Originally Salvadorian and Puerto Rican, Helen was raised in San Francisco. She joined the military in 2004, serving in active duty from 2004-2008, and then in the Georgia National Guard from 2008-2010. The next few years were the normal grind familiar to many of us: day after day spent working and caring for family. For Helen, that meant a string of warehousing and fulfillment roles, balanced with being a divorced mother to a (now) eleven-year-old son. 

Yet as many of us know, a single event can send us sprawling. For Helen, like many others, that event was COVID. 

“I got laid off from my job at the beginning of COVID. Thankfully, I got a notice of separation and they said it was due to lack of work. So I was able to use that to apply for unemployment and quickly was approved and received benefits. So financially, I was good because I was able to pay my bills, but mentally I went into depression and anxiety during that time because I couldn’t provide for my son. I had to depend on the government, and I wasn’t used to that. I was used to working and staying busy….my physical health went downhill.”

Outside events led to a mental struggle, which in turn led to physical decline—a progression that is all too common. 

“During COVID, my physical health went downhill. I went into depression and anxiety during that time because I couldn’t provide for my son…I gained like 60 pounds, was having trouble sleeping, and having acid reflux. Then through the VA, they did a sleep study and they told me I had mild sleep apnea. That was the diagnosis that made me decide I needed to change my habits and work toward getting my health back.”

Yet for Helen, the story didn’t stop there. It was an outside event that initially triggered her struggle, but another outside bit of fortune gave her a new opportunity.


Following that sleep study, Helen was in search of some answers—for herself, her work, and her health, and it was a single job posting that led to all three. And not a moment too soon, as Helen was living off savings and down to a month’s worth of expenses left in the bank. But walking through the door at Victory Grips turned out to be more than just a job—it was a picture of a different sort of future. 

When I started at Victory Grips, I was just starting to try to eat healthier and walk more and just the environment at Victory Grips. Like, everybody at Victory Grips is very health conscious, all into fitness and nutrition. So that kind of motivated me to step it up. I think just what prompted me to ask questions about health and fitness was just wanting to get it right this time around, because I've tried several times over losing weight, like I had lost weight, gotten down to 125, then gained it all over again, and then lost it and gained it. So this time I wanted to make sure whatever I was doing stuck for the long term.

For Helen, this time was more than just resolutions, diet plans, and willpower. She had role models to follow—ones that were willing to not just give platitudes, but to model a different set of habits and lifestyle. 

Just watching Vic and Wendy, how they eat and how they portion their food, I learned a lot, like by watching, instead of eating a whole donut, they cut it up to pieces and eat a piece instead of like the whole donut. Where seeing that was like, I would usually eat the whole donut, not just the corner piece of it or whatever. So just watching how they do things, my actions were prompted by just watching people in the office and how they ate healthy, how they portioned out their food, stuff like that. Talking about their exercise routines that they did that day or day before.

One piece at a time, day by day, things started to change. New role models paved the way for new diet habits, which in turn led to feeling different—more capable and able to step out and take new ground. Helen was changing, one literal baby step at a time.

The first physical action I took was getting on a treadmill at home that I never used, so I started just walking on the treadmill; and I have an Ifit membership, so I just started getting on the treadmill every day for like 20 minutes. And I chose walking because it's low impact. And with me carrying 60 pounds, it was easier to walk versus to run or jump or do any kind of plyometric movements at the time.

Small though those steps might have felt at the time, they were taking Helen somewhere new.


Working at a CrossFit company. 
Surrounded by CrossFit athletes. 
Talking every day about CrossFit products.

Unsurprisingly, it was only a matter of time before Helen signed up for a CrossFit class. Nervous voices in her head, butterflies in her stomach, she set foot inside, expecting judgment and criticism—yet nothing could be further from the reality she experienced. 

But yet I walk in and they're like, “It's Helen!” And I was received just with hugs and fist bumps and just, “Hey, good to see you!” and “Glad you're here!” I didn't know any of the movements or nothing. So I was just like in the back and just hoping for the best. Everybody was friendly in class my first day and very motivating to see them work out and the types of things that they could do and then look at them and be like, “Maybe that could be me someday.”

One class led to another, then another—eventually becoming that much-needed routine, structure, and solace that Helen needed to make genuine progress. Not only did she have a plan, but she had a community of Victory Gym teammates around her cheering her on:

"When I step into the gym now, it really feels like home. Like when you commit to a time slot, you basically see the same people every day, and you form a bond with the people you see every day. I feel that I have inspired others because other members will approach me and be like, “Hey, I wasn't going to come to class, but I saw your name on the roster and I decided to come in.” Which blew my mind. I was like, “Really?” Or they will say, “Hey, it's very motivating to see you coming in and you give your 100%.” So it's like my happy hour when I come in after work."


But that self-growth or the community has never been the driving factor for Helen. Her primary motivator is that little boy who’s been with her the whole way. 

"And my health is important because I do have an eleven-year-old son and I want to be around for him. I want to be able to do things with him. He's getting taller every year. He always brags that he's getting taller than me. And so I always said, I want to be able to get on roller coasters with him. And when you're overweight, that's kind of a challenge. So that's my motivation, to be able to do fun activities with my son and not have the extra weight slow me down." 

Those steps, taken together in a supportive, encouraging community…are working. Helen is seeing progress that she once thought was beyond her reach.

"The progress in the gym that I noticed the most is I remember at first not being able to do a squat, and I struggled to get up off the floor. So I always avoided like, sitting on the ground or whatever, kneeling, because I knew it would be a struggle to get back up. And now, as of today, I could squat 65 pounds. What keeps me going is I have noticed I am sleeping better. I have noticed that I'm waking up earlier than I normally would, which is odd, but I was told that's probably because you're getting better sleep, so you're better rested, so you're waking up earlier than you normally do. So I noticed that and just the fact that every week that I come in and I notice that I can add more weight to the bar, that's pretty cool."

So where does this leave Helen today? She’s lifting what would have been impossible even just a few months ago. She’s sleeping better. She’s healthier, more active, more rested, more energetic, and more encouraged than she’s been in years.

And she’s just getting started.


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