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When Weight Loss Doesn't Matter


CrossFit Journal: March 18th, 2017

When Nancy Worthley started CrossFit three years ago, she weighed 165 lb. Today, she still weighs 165 lb.

To interpret that as lack of improvement would be missing vitally important information. The 68-year-old is healthier than she’s ever been.

Worthley’s serious health problems began at 40, when she had a heart attack. The incident led her to cardiac rehabilitation and to giving up cigarettes, a vice she had fed for 26 years with two packs a day.

“I loved to smoke,” Worthley said with a laugh, recalling how both her parents lit up in the family car packed with her and her three siblings.

Her two sisters and brother smoked as well. While her brother has since quit, Worthley lost both sisters: one at 32 from a cerebral hemorrhage, the other at 51 from a massive heart attack.

Nancy Worthley's son William suggested she try CrossFit, and he said he's noticed positive changes since she started.

At 61, Worthley had heart failure herself.

Over the years, her weight had yo-yoed.

“Skinny, heavy, skinny, heavy, skinny, heavy,” she said.

By 62, Worthley was describing herself with two words she never dreamed she’d utter: “morbidly obese.” She weighted 311 lb. at 5 foot 7. Shortly thereafter, she made the decision to have gastric-bypass surgery.

“For me, it was the right thing to do,” she said.

The requirements for surgery were stringent. Worthley had to attend 12 behavior-counseling classes with a psychologist, as well as one-on-one sessions, and she had to lose 10 percent of her body weight. She started the process in May 2011. If at any point she could not maintain her weight loss, her doctor promised to cancel the surgery. Worthley lost more than 15 percent of her body weight and kept it off. She had surgery in September.

In the two years that followed, Worthley returned to the hospital for unexpected additional surgeries: one to remove her gallbladder, the other for a hysterectomy.

But for its intent, the gastric bypass was successful.

“The proof in the pudding is three or four years out,” Worthley said. “I know people who have not only gained back the weight that they lost but gained a lot more.” She added: “The failure rate is huge.”

Worthley had been able to maintain her weight loss but was un-motivated by her workouts at Planet Fitness.

“I just found it terribly isolating,” she said. “I’m a social person and I’m also pretty competitive.”

That’s when her son William suggested she try his workout routine: CrossFit.

Today, Worthley can deadlift 180 lb.

“I drove up to the gym, and as I’m driving into the parking lot, the class is coming out and they’re doing what they call a ‘pond run’ … with plates in their hands. And I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness, how am I going to do this?’” Worthley recounted.

She added with a laugh: “I thought about turning around.”

But she didn’t. She walked inside and began her first Foundations class at CrossFit KGB with owner Ben Vernon. After six classes, she joined the “regular class.” That’s where she began working with coach Allyson Strout.

“From the moment she came in here, she wanted to work and learn,” Strout remembered.

Over the course of three years, Worthley has improved significantly, the coach said.

“Her range of motion is so much better. She’s so much more confident. She can get in and out of chairs.”

Today Worthley can deadlift 180 lb. and back squat 135. She also completed a 5K this year.

“It’s not the highest or the best, but for 68 years of age I think it’s pretty good,” Worthley said happily.

The retired Macy’s executive went from injecting herself with 33 units of insulin a day to none, from nine prescription medications to zero.

“Diabetes is such a horrible disease,” she said.

Since becoming fitter, Worthley has been able to come off nine different prescription medications. (William Worthley)

While she still has neuropathy in her feet, she said it doesn’t stop her from being active.

CrossFit, she noted, has allowed her to recapture her health.

Since becoming fitter, Worthley has been able to come off nine different prescription medications.

“Right now there’s no second do-overs for me. I either have to maintain this now for the rest of my life or I’m going (back to being obese).”

Not only is she no longer metabolically ill but Worthley now also considers herself an athlete, evidenced by the musculature she gleefully notes in her body—all while remaining the same weight.

“I used to be stuck to the scale,” Worthley said. “I used to get on there every day. I don’t do that anymore because when I put my clothes on, I can tell.”

But the changes are not only in her person.

Worthley added: “The mental wellness that you feel, as well as the physical, is just amazing.”

William, Worthley’s son, has noted how his mother looks and feels happier.

“Her posture’s a lot better, she definitely looks physically stronger, and the aches and pains of everyday life have more or less disappeared with her,” he said. “It’s really nice to see her take her energy and put it toward something so positive.”

Before Worthley does anything, she makes time for CrossFit.

“I said to my son … had I not done what I did, I probably would not be alive.”

Worthley is defining her journey as reclaiming power.

“It has nothing to do with beauty. It has to do with empowerment. At different times in your life, you lose power—whether it’s food, a guy, drugs, alcohol—(and it’s about) being able to pull that back,” she explained. “If you lose your power, you get it back, and then you hold onto it.”

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