Kristyn Englert– Horseback rider and trainer extraordinaire, guitarist, and super-inspiring CrossFitter of 4 months.
What does your day typically look like?
I run my own business, West Coast Equestrian, where I coach and train hunter/jumper, dressage, and eventing at several barns around the area (including Hands on Horses, a super-fun lesson barn in Goderich). Most weekends I spend at competitions, either my own or clients’, or I help run events with Lake Huron Pony Club, a local branch of the non-profit organization Canadian Pony Club. My typical day used to be non-stop action, as hard and as fast as possible from the moment I got up until I collapsed into bed. I loved it, but I was kind of like a runaway train: no brakes.
After ten years without a fall from a horse, I came off three times in June/July 2016 and sustained whiplash injuries. Instead of slowing down to heal, I continued on as usual and came off a fourth time on July 26th–it was a silly fall due to exhaustion from my previous injuries, and I lightly tapped the back of my helmet on the ground.
As it turns out, jarring your head when you already have neck or head injuries is a bad idea. I was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and my typical day has changed significantly since then.
By August 2016, I could stand for about thirty seconds before dizziness forced me back down. If I walked faster than a shuffle, I’d trigger a migraine. It hurt to use my eyes: I saw double unless I strained them to focus together. I spent most of the day in a fog, in bed. I couldn’t work, I had no interest in eating, and my thoughts and speech were painfully slow. Have you ever dropped your laptop, and maybe the screen went wonky, or the mouse pointer got jumpy, or your hard drive took f…o…r…e…v…e…r to grind away at the simplest request? When you drop your brain, it’s kind of like that. Except you can’t just get a replacement brain at Best Buy, or ask your computer-savvy brother to fix the wonky parts while he lectures you about not having updated your anti-virus software since he fixed your computer last Christmas.
In September I got the go-ahead to start short walks: at first, 400m would take a long ten minutes and exhaust me for the day (turns out 40m/min is also a great pace with which to seriously test the patience of drivers at a crosswalk who can’t see anything otherwise wrong with you). By October/November, I began some exercises sitting in a chair, then hanging onto a counter. Next I was allowed gentle bike rides, yoga for the frail, and I even got back on a horse and walked on a circle.
By the end of December, I’d conquered all of my physiotherapist’s exercises (I -owned- those 3 lb dumbbells) and she suggested I start at a gym. Since then, I’ve continued to make slow and steady gains, due in no small part to the conscientious coaches and thoughtful programming at MCF. Now I can gently jump, run short distances, and lift progressively heavier weights without getting dizzy and having to sit down halfway through my reps (usually!).
My typical day now starts at the 9:15 am MCF class, scaling each exercise to whatever is appropriate for the severity of my symptoms on that particular day.
On a good day, I can leave the gym and train up to five horses, or maybe teach lessons for a few hours. I’m able to drive a truck and trailer to competitions and coach 13-hour days, as long as I rest the day after. I still experience headaches and fatigue every day, and my working-til-midnight days are over, but with the increase of my baseline fitness I can work around symptoms more effectively.
When did you start working out, and why?
Because of my limitations recovering from the mTBI, I wanted to start a fitness program with which I had no prior experience. Working from a clean slate, I could be satisfied with each bit of progress I made without comparing myself to what I might have been able to accomplish before the injury. I also wanted to start something that would be interesting and challenging. And most importantly, I needed an activity that involved virtually no risk of hitting my head again. CrossFit seemed to fit the bill.
Why Menesetung CrossFit?
Very few coaches in my athletic life have understood as implicitly as the MCF coaches that I am the type of person who needs to be gently reminded to slow down. I will go as hard and as fast as possible all on my own without any prodding, so having a coach that pushes me invariably ends in my getting injured. The MCF coaches are encouraging without being scary or aggressive, and they have a knack for gently gearing me down without my feeling like they are holding me back.
I love coming in and being guided through the workout. Everything is written down on the whiteboard, and each workout has been carefully crafted to focus on particular muscle groups without over-doing it on any one area. The coaches are always there to guide us, answer questions, and keep a close eye on everyone’s form.
I’ve also found very few athletic activities where it was possible to work around -any,- nevermind -all- of the injuries I’ve accrued over the years. But it seems like no injury or limitation I can possibly come up with fazes any of the MCF coaches in the least. They have a work-around for -everything. There is always a way to scale down the exercise, modify it, or an alternate exercise entirely to do in its place.
At the beginning, I was coached on my form for all the lifts using a PVC pipe and plywood plates before I ever had to worry about being able to handle a metal bar. I couldn’t run or jump, so they put me on a rowing machine or a stationary bike instead. My heart-rate would spike and I’d have to sit down with my head between my legs to avoid passing out halfway through a set: the coaches gave me all the time I needed.
Just last week I tweaked an old ankle injury at the barn, and discovered 10m into a run at MCF that I couldn’t actually run on it, so coach Ben absconded to the other side of the gym and came back with a rowing machine for me instead. The ankle was too sore to strap into the rower, so Ben disappeared a second time and returned with a skateboard on which to rest my injured foot while I rowed. Had I then told him that my arms were incapable of holding onto the bar I have no doubt he would have appeared with a length of rope and whipped up some elaborate knot to lash my shoulders to it instead. The list of possible ways to accommodate each and every injury or combination of injuries might actually be endless.
The community of athletes at MCF is also incredibly supportive of everyone at every level. I’ve never felt as though I had to compare myself to anyone but me, and whenever I try, someone will invariably remind me of how far I’ve come compared to where I started, or confide how much they struggled with something in the beginning and how long it took to build to where they are now. And if it takes me five minutes longer than the group to complete (a heavily-modified version of) the workout? The group encourages me until I’m done, each and every time.
What’s your favourite thing about working out?
I am so grateful for the level of functionality the workouts are helping me regain. I am still early in my recovery, but every month my life becomes a bit more normal. In December I was deadlifting a piece of PVC pipe; this month I deadlifted over one-hundred pounds. Because of the coaches’ strong emphasis on form, I am learning the lifts properly and guarding myself against further injury. The supportive community of super-awesome people I get to connect with every day certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
What’s your favourite way to spend a Friday night?
I work weekends, but let me tell you about Monday nights May-September at Gables in Grand Bend: there’s this open mic jam that’s been running for twenty-two years and it is magical. The crowd is rarely smaller than one-hundred beyond midnight, the house band will blow you out of the water, and the regulars who come up to jam are pretty fun, too (fact: I’ve been told I play a mean Alanis Morissette on the guitar).
Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you.
I can recite the entire first half of Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back” audio-book from memory, including page-turn beeps. Fortunately, my eight-year-old self misplaced the cassette before I could commit the second half to memory. Or maybe my mother hid it (if so: good call, Mom).
And for our own selfish interest… any good recommendations for books or movies?
It’s not often that a sequel outshines the original movie, but 1988’s “Short Circuit 2” features an even more charismatic Johnny Five, who is a delightful robot caught up in the madcap escapades of two criminals attempting to steal him for nefarious purposes. Fun fact: it was filmed in Toronto.