Love Yourself: Getting Back to Being Fit After an Injury
I have a metal plate in my spine and four screws. It’s for a grade two break on L5 of my back.
Damary Toledo said this while grabbing a napkin and a stirrer from her morning coffee. She used them to provide me a visual perspective of what has now become a permanent part of her body. It’s the result of a nine-hour surgery, during which doctors used tweezers to pull bone fragments from her spinal nerves one at a time.
“I don’t know how it happened. The doctor said it could’ve happened at birth, from pregnancy, snowboarding,” she recalled, “It’s known as a pars defect. I’m just thankful I don’t set the metal detector off at the airport.”
It’s incredible to think that only two days before this interview, Damary competed in her second crossfit competition this year and deadlifted a weight of 275 pounds. That lift helped place her team in second for the event and 14th overall. She also celebrated her 43rd birthday the prior weekend and was the oldest member on her team.
“Before surgery, I had been boxing to relieve stress, but I wasn’t really healthy. I didn’t really exercise, and I wasn’t fit. My recovery … my healing, took longer. I wore a back brace for over three months. It was hard plastic and covered my boobs. It was my gladiator belt.” She laughed as she said this and shook her head to show the memory wasn’t a pretty one.
I lost 20 pounds after surgery. A few months after recovery, I started crossfit, and I was hooked. Now I feel strong, and I feel beautiful.
Like Damary Toledo, countless individuals suffer from injuries. Some of them are minor and heal with time. Others act like an occasional nuisance; they are tolerable but nagging at the most inopportune moments. Then there are life-changing ones, like hers. These injuries permanently alter us, and we sometimes feel the need to tiptoe cautiously, fearful of hurting ourselves again.
The thought of suffering through excruciating pain or worse, another surgery, is enough to keep most from attempting any sort of physical activity. But, believe it or not, activity just might be the remedy. Beginning an exercise regimen could be exactly what your body needs to heal itself and become more agile. If you approach it slowly and are realistic about your current abilities, the rewards can be great.
When Damary had surgery almost six years ago, she knew fitness would play an important role in keeping her mobility. She recalls, “My doctor, Josh Satterlee, was a huge resource for me. He told me I had to stay mobile because of my age and the fact that I now had foreign parts in my body. I’m aware of that every day. I don’t want to lose my mobility.”
Damary’s road to fitness was a slow one. She took time to learn her body and understand the new way it moved. Although her choice to start crossfit might seem like an aggressive approach, it was perfect for her. What many people don’t realize is that there are modifications and starting movements for almost every activity. The key is to begin your program with a trainer or coach who understands your injury, wants to keep you safe, but still hears your goals.
My coaches were very supportive. They were aware of my injury and left it up to me to decide what I would do and how much I would lift. When it didn’t feel right, I didn’t do it, and they didn’t push. I barely used any weight, and I focused on form. I had never even jumped rope until I started crossfit. Seriously. Not even as a kid. But I’m a hands-on learner. I want to learn from experience.
What truly helped Damary succeed was her patience with the process and the support she received from those around her. She brought a friend along to her first workout and, at work, would talk with a coworker who was part of the same gym. Damary’s husband of 19 years, Ray Toledo, was not only encouraging; he soon joined in on the journey and lost over 50 pounds from running and weight lifting. Now, the couple exercise together regularly.
Studies show that having workout partners can greatly impact success. It helps you stick to a routine and holds you accountable. Knowing you have someone to push you and ensure you are mindful of your limitations is a plus. It’s also a lot more rewarding to get healthy together. There is strength in numbers and everyone reaps the benefits.
My husband was supportive when I joined crossfit. My mother didn’t want me to do it, and my brother was on the fence. But now they understand it. They see how it has helped me. And I know the benefits. Fitness has changed my life. Even if I’m just stretching every day or taking a hot shower to soothe my body, it’s helping me stay limber.
Inspired by her successful recovery and newfound strength, Damary and her husband opened their own crossfit gym, This IS Crossfit, in October 2012. They now help adults of all abilities get fit. Damary also heads her gym’s crossfit youth program that allows kids in her community an opportunity to stay active and learn teamwork. As a former schoolteacher, she expects every student-athlete to finish their homework, maintain a good grade point average, and be respectful of one another in order to stay in the program.
People, like Damary Toledo, show us there is no such thing as a permanent limitation. You can recover. Progress is possible if you’re willing to believe it and put in work to get there.
It’s natural to fear what we’re uncertain of and put up limitations. What we forget is that there is no harm in trying. Making an attempt to regain what might seem lost can be worth it in the end. It can also lead to incredible things, like it did for her.
I’m a mother and a teacher, so naturally I want to see others succeed. I want people to know that anything is possible,” she said, “Just listen to your body first. Every workout can be scaled and staying mobile throughout life is important. You can do it. You can absolutely do anything you want to and don’t ever let someone say otherwise.
ThisIsCrossfit is located at 7575 W. Sunset Rd. Las Vegas, NV 89113 – 702.296.6263 For more information please visit: www.thisiscrossfit.com