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I think CrossFit saved my life…

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By: Wes Winter

I recently had a good conversation with a couple of members about that uncomfortable high heart rate feeling we all have experienced during a workout. That feeling of 160+bpm, puky, heart pounding, gasping for air feeling. We’ve all felt it. And they wondered if that was normal/ healthy/ physically ok? My answer was yes, yes it is. I then shared a story about myself I haven’t shared with many people, and why that heart exploding feeling our badass members experience an hour a day might just be the best thing for them.

This time last year in late winter, a friend and I decided to take our kayaks up to Tahoe for an early morning winter paddle. We parked in Sand Harbor where, unlike summer time, there were zero cars in the parking lot and the beaches completely empty. Fully clothed and jackets on, we dropped our kayaks in and paddled out over the perfectly calm glass-like water. Not a single person was on the lake that day, it was the perfect time to get out and enjoy the peaceful waters. We paddled from Sand Harbor along the shoreline north up towards Kings Beach, weaving in and out of the postcard perfect rocks along the northeast shore of the lake. We had paddled pretty far north and spent most of the day hanging out on the deserted winter beaches. As it was getting later in the day, we decided to kayak back towards Sand Harbor. However, to make the return trip quicker we agreed on veering from the shoreline to make a straight cut across the lake. With zero boats on the water in the winter, we were about to have what I thought was going to be a quick and peaceful paddle back.

As we traveled down making good time, my friend’s dog, which was sitting in his kayak with him, started to get uncomfortable. With about a mile still left to shore, the dog jumped out of the kayak into the freezing cold water. As my friend was trying to pull him back in, the dog struggled capsizing the kayak throwing them both into the lake. At this time his kayak started to fill with water and flood, making it impossible to flip back over. In an effort to save the dog that was now starting to bob underwater, I tried to do the same thing and pull him into my kayak. But the dog panics again flipping me into the water as well and now we are all swimming in the 41 degree winter lake water over a mile off shore in the middle of the lake.

In shock, we started to swim fully clothed towards the closest shoreline, slow and steady, not yet able to truly feel the coldness of the water. My heart rate was through the roof and my body was pumped full of adrenaline. But as the time continued and my legs started getting harder to kick, my mind began to worry as my body realized that I was now in fight or flight mode. Over a mile off shore, we hadn’t come across any other person out on the water that day, literally no one. Miraculously, after swimming for what felt like hours, we ran into a guy kayaking and another on a paddleboard. My friend and his dog were able to climb onto the paddleboard and get out of the cold water while I was left to swim holding onto the kayak as our new friends dragged me to shore. The Kayaker started to notice my physical decline as I started to drift in and out of consciousness and called 911 when he got phone service. Search and Rescue arrived on jet skis, pulled me out of the water and took me to the closest shore where the ambulance was waiting.

I had been swimming for over an hour and twenty minutes in 41 degree water before I got pulled out and had a core body temperature of 84 degrees. I was rushed to Renown Regional Medical Center for severe hypothermia where I had a nice fun stay in the ER.

So how does this personal story relate to my first paragraph? First, always kayak with a friend haha. Well, when I was in the hospital the one thing that stuck out to me most was when the doctor came into my room and made the joke, “you’re lucky you got such a strong ticker!” He asked me what I did to stay so fit and healthy to have survived such a traumatic and potential life threatening event. During my time in the water I had sustained an incredibly high heart rate for an hour and was able to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. Weird, sounds like what we all do for an hour a day in group class here at Double Edge. I like to think a simple hour a day of CrossFit had taught me how to manage a high uncomfortable heart rate, made my heart physically stronger, able to think when that fight or flight kicks in just like mid-wod, and be comfortable with the uncomfortable when I needed it most.

Now this is on the extreme side of things, but just know that your hour a day commitment to coming to class is doing more than just changing your physical appearance or getting you PR’s. It’s giving you confidence when things are unexpectedly hard, physically making your “ticker” stronger, and making you comfortable with the uncomfortable. Next time you’re gasping for air mid AMRAP just think… but did you die? 🙂