Hi Coach Zach here, and I want to share with you how I dealt with grief and loss of my dad with the help of our health and fitness community at All Level. There is no right way or wrong way to experience losing someone close, but this is how our community at All Level helped me through one of the hardest times of my life.
We celebrated the closing of the CrossFit Open at a restaurant downtown. Everyone was having fun and enjoying drinks. Around 10 pm I received a text message from Arizona. My mom told me my dad was being administered morphine. It was late November 2019. My dad had been terminally ill since March that year with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. I had had time to prepare for his death, but I still felt in a state of perpetual shock for most of the year.
Two days later I got a phone call when I was at the gym. Cass and I were sitting by the pullup bars and she had just finished a workout. I felt my phone buzz and knew it was bad. My phone never properly rings. I field text messages and social media notifications daily; But it never rings. I knew my dad had died before I picked up the phone.
I went home that night after stopping by my brother's house. We made brief plans to travel back to Arizona to be with my mom. Flights were booked, but not for a few days. What does someone do upon hearing tragic news? My dad was my best friend and the closest person in my life. I began feeling waves of grief constantly that evening. As anyone knows who has lost a loved one, there are few moments when you can control ‘when’ and ‘how hard’ those waves of grief strike. My head was spinning and I couldn’t bear to be alone with my thoughts anymore. It was four in the morning and I was sitting on the edge of my bed crying. I decided to go to the gym.
I punched in the code to get in the front door of the gym. I wasn't yet a coach, but I cleaned the gym bathrooms and showers weekly, so I could sneak in super early past the lock. I found a space in the back corner of the gym and did a metcon (high heart rate workout) that had sets of heavy clean and jerks. I found comfort in the uncomfortable feeling of the explosive barbell dropping onto my shoulders. After internalizing my grief the night before, the heavy olympic weightlifting movement gave an expression to that sadness. I was briefly able to find comfort from the emotional stress I had been feeling. After I finished the last round of the workout I laid on the floor feeling satisfied. My mind was momentarily free of the stress and waves of grief. I snuck home that morning as the 5:30 am class was arriving, and I was finally able to sleep.
The next day I went back to the gym to pick up my gym bag. I didn’t want to make a scene or bring anyone down with the news of my dad passing. But on my way out I ran into Matt Seguin, who asked me how my dad was doing. No one except close family knew that he had died the day before, I thought about lying, but I told the truth and let Matt know he had died. Instead of shying away or being shocked, Matt met me with a look of understanding and compassion. He let me know that if I needed anything he would be there to help me out, and I knew he meant it. During the next few days I was met with kind words, gifts, food, and offerings of help by the community at All Level. Every single gesture struck me deeply, and made a painful time bearable and even heartwarming. I can’t thank the All Level community enough for that. Thanks guys.
I traveled back to Arizona within the following weeks. My brother, sister and I spread my dad's ashes throughout some of his favourite hiking spots along the Mexican border. The day was filled with emotions and tears. Again, physical activity was the only option for a positive relief. My brother and I laced up our running shoes and hit the single road that ran through the little border town. We dodged cactuses and uneven sandy sidewalks as we ran. The air was thin but the fast pace we pushed did the trick. We found relief in working out, and it helped clear the mind. I can only recommend what helps me mentally during times of grief, and it is intense physical activity. Also, my time on that run was faster than my brothers, which helped.
When I arrived back to Windsor and back to the community at All Level the reception was warm and understanding. The bonds made through early morning workouts, the coffees and smoothies afterwards, the chest bumps and high fives (pre-Covid) transcended into real connections and friendship. The community helped me go at my own pace while I grieved. The bonds with the other athletes only got stronger through hard times. It makes sense, because we do hard things within those walls, and it creates especially strong bonds (as well as quads). There are different ways to deal with grief and loss, but I can testify to the fact that immersing yourself in the All Level Fitness community will help by pushing yourself physically, and ultimately opening yourself up socially to a community that truly cares.