For those whose only experience with CrossFit is what they’ve seen on TV or Netflix at the CrossFit Games, it may seem odd that one of MCF’s most inspirational athletes is 60 years old, has bad knees, and has difficulty performing some foundational movements. However, those of us that have had the privilege of coaching or sweating with Sharon Wendler have trouble thinking of someone more inspiring.
Her first memories of being at the gym were of being the only person in the morning classes during the hottest days of the year, when she couldn’t run more than 50 metres in the 400-metre warmup run. Many days she thought she would pass out from exertion.
But like so many stories we’ve told on this blog, every visit to the gym, she got stronger and fitter and more confident. By Labour Day, she was able to work her way through the gruelling Deck of Death workout, a combination of situps, pushups, box jumps and burpees done in the number and order according to how each of the 52 (plus jokers) are drawn.
“I had only been going three days a week for five weeks at this point. I managed to do the whole workout but it took a long time for me to recover and I think I made the coaches a little nervous,” she recalled.
Sharon said she would like to try the workout again to see how she’s improved. (We should be able to arrange that for you, Sharon.)
“There has seldom been a weekday that I have not wanted to go to the workout. I read the daily workout each morning when I get up and even if the workout is one I don’t particularly care for I go anyway,” Sharon said.
“I find I feel a lot better about myself. I have more energy to get through the day and my mobility has improved. I have lost a fair amount of weight in large part due to the clean-eating challenges,” she said. When she says “a fair amount of weight” she isn’t kidding. Since starting, she has lost 70lbs to date.
She had also hoped it would improve her knees. “However, a diagnosis of osteoarthritis in my knees means they won’t improve.” But CrossFit has increased mobility in her knees and the constant pain often subsides by the end of a workout.
Even with her consistent work, Sharon has her “goats”, those nagging weaknesses that you can’t quite conquer.
“I have many weaknesses such as pull-ups, push-ups, squats, lunges to name a few but I keep plugging away and eventually I will get there. But even if I don’t I will do as well as I am able and will always continue to try. As long as I continue to do the workouts I will continue to improve my mobility. The amount of weight I can lift is not nearly as important to me as having the ability to lift weight,” she said.
She is motivated by the variety of workouts and the variety of coaches, noting she wasn’t involved in sports in high school and although she had tried numerous gyms, there was never enough variety to hold her interest.
“Each coach has their own unique way of explaining or demonstrating things. There are a number of actions I need to modify and each coach demonstrates their creativity in coming up with a different movement I can do to get the results required for the workout. All of the coaches are encouraging and accommodating,” she said.
As well, she is encouraged by the other athletes at MCF.
“Everyone is friendly and encouraging. There is always a sense of camaraderie during the classes and you soon realize everyone else has good and bad days too,” she said.
The coaches at MCF are inspired by Sharon’s determination and willingness to grind out whatever is thrown her way.
“Sharon is consistent and relentless. Telling her she can’t do something is not an option. She is the model of determination,” said Coach Chris.
“She is so consistent attending the 7 a.m. class, you could set your watch by it. On the one, maybe two, occasions that she’s been late, we’ve been close to calling home to make sure everything is okay,” he said.
If you’ve made it this far into the story, you’ve already fallen in love with this incredible athlete. It’s this sort of consistent effort and constant improvement that provides our coaches with a sense of pride and her fellow athletes with a sense of awe. Thank-you, Sharon, for sharing your story and continuing to inspire us all with your hard work and determination!