“I’ll never be like them,” Karen Hand thought miserably to herself, watching a pair of joggers zoom by as she shuffled along a trail near her home in Kansas City, Missouri.

Several weeks earlier, in August 2013, doctors had discovered five malignant tumors spanning a total of 8 cm in her left breast, enough to warrant a Stage 3 breast-cancer diagnosis. Though Hand was only 42 years old at the time and loved to bike and hike, the chemotherapy—six rounds every three weeks—left her feeling weak and exhausted.

“It gets in your head that ‘I’m so weak. My life is never gonna be normal again,’” said Hand, now 46. “It just beats you down.”

After Hand underwent chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, surgeons scooped out flesh from her abdomen to reconstruct her breasts. The hip-to-hip scar seared with pain whenever she tried to lift her 4-year-old son or simply lie flat.

In June, after about nine months of training at CrossFit Memorial Hill in the special BUILDclass designed for cancer survivors, she was carrying the groceries in unassisted and hoisting her son with ease—and not only can she lie down, but she can also do unbroken sit-ups in sets of 10.

“I don't feel like those things limit me anymore,” she said. “I feel like I can lead a full, normal life again.”   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

“You are worthless. You don’t deserve to be here.”

Ron, stepfather to Katie Smith—who was around 6 or 7 at the time—spat the words at her, his eyes filled with hate and rage. Smith, her younger sister, their mother and Ron were packing for yet another move, and one of the dogs had gotten in the house and defecated on the floor.

“Eat it,” Ron commanded her.

She didn’t scream. Didn’t cry. Hardly dared to breathe. She gingerly gathered the foul turds and placed them in her mouth.

“It was terrible,” she recalled. “But you didn't question, at all. You just did what he said.”

Smith, now 32 and a happily married mother of four, is a survivor of more than a decade of child abuse—first at the hands of her biological father until age 3 or 4, and then by her stepfather until she turned 15. Her sister and mother were also victims.

Though she was raised to believe she had no value, Katie today draws from her experience as she spends her days helping women—and men—build physical and mental strength as a coach at CrossFit Barbell Republic in Denison, Texas, which she operates with husband Christofer (Chris) Smith.

“It doesn’t matter where (you) come from. You can have an incredible life,” she said. “I grew up feeling worthless but came to realize how big of (a) lie that was. I think that’s why I love what we do so much: helping people become better versions of themselves.”   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

The surgeons had been working for more than seven hours by the time they excavated their patient’s diseased liver.

Mottled with dark patches of scar tissue, the organ looked like that of a 40-year-old alcoholic. Instead, it belonged to 17-year-old Sydney Sullivan, the champion of the Teenage Girls 14-15 Division at the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games.

Her 23-year-old brother Tommy lay in a recovery room nearby, recuperating from his own procedure. Doctors had removed his liver’s right lobe—about 60 percent of the organ—and transplanted it into Sydney. A later biopsy of Sydney’s liver revealed she had been living with Stage 4 liver cirrhosis.

“We asked 'how long would she have lived with that liver?' and they said maybe a year,” said Judith Sullivan, Sydney’s mother.   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

The walls are painted and the rig is in. A new class of recruits is learning the air squat in the corner. You built it, they came—but will they stay? You’re passionate and knowledgeable, but that’s not enough “because there’s a lot of great gyms out there,” said Dhani Oks, owner of Academy of Lions CrossFit in Toronto, Ontario. “There was a point when we entered the CrossFit world that just by having an affiliate people would flock to you because there weren’t too many around. Now the regular market forces are upon us.” It’s not so hard to get people in the door, he continued. The world is sick, and many people are eager to make a change in their lives. It’s keeping them in the gym—retention—that’s the tough part. The fitness industry has long been known for poor retention rates and fickle clients whose initial flash-in-the-pan enthusiasm fizzles after a few months, at which point they sink back into the couch. To turn these trends around, affiliate owners need to provide training excellence, but backing that up with excellent retention strategies will help keep members around for the long haul.

The walls are painted and the rig is in. A new class of recruits is learning the air squat in the corner.

You built it, they came—but will they stay?

You’re passionate and knowledgeable, but that’s not enough “because there’s a lot of great gyms out there,” said Dhani Oks, owner of Academy of Lions CrossFit in Toronto, Ontario.

“There was a point when we entered the CrossFit world that just by having an affiliate people would flock to you because there weren’t too many around. Now the regular market forces are upon us.”

It’s not so hard to get people in the door, he continued. The world is sick, and many people are eager to make a change in their lives. It’s keeping them in the gym—retention—that’s the tough part.

The fitness industry has long been known for poor retention rates and fickle clients whose initial flash-in-the-pan enthusiasm fizzles after a few months, at which point they sink back into the couch. To turn these trends around, affiliate owners need to provide training excellence, but backing that up with excellent retention strategies will help keep members around for the long haul.

It’s the beauty of the affiliate model: CrossFit gyms can be run in many ways.

But as new affiliate owners quickly learn, running a CrossFit gym requires tough decisions beyond how many burpees pay for a spilled chalk bucket—decisions such as whether to hold your athletes to a membership contract.

When deciding, affiliate owners must consider a litany of issues. Is the gym financially viable enough to operate without guaranteed income? If a client breaks a contract, to what lengths will they go to recover the promised funds? Will contracts scare away potential new members?

“My gut tells me that (having membership contracts) certainly has a positive impact on our bottom line and our fixed revenue stream,” said Tucker Jones, owner of Ballston CrossFit in Arlington, Virginia. “There may be a couple people that don't join along the way because of it, and that's something I'm willing to accept based on the benefits I think it brings to the gym.”

David Rowe, owner of CrossFit Lewisburg in Pennsylvania, cautions against using contracts, which he says affiliate owners might come to rely on more than excellence for retaining business.

“Personally, I would never choose to use them,” he said. “I believe resisting contracts keeps us accountable to the athletes to whom we owe our livelihood.”

But for others, the issue isn’t black and white. Some affiliates offer discounted long-term membership options with no contractual obligations; they’re sealed with a handshake and settled with payments of the difference between the discounted and full-price rates if a member leaves. Others use contracts but create easy outs with cancelation fees and clauses for injury, relocation or pregnancy. Still others offer both contracted and month-to-month memberships, providing discounts for choosing longer-term, contracted options.

Here, affiliate owners from around the world share the approaches that work best for them.   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

Dr. Stephen Schimpff calls it the paradox of American medicine.

“We have really well-trained, well-educated providers. We are the world’s envy for biomedical research. We’ve got excellent pharmaceutical (and) biotechnology companies and diagnostics (tools). But the paradox is on the other hand we have a terribly dysfunctional health-care delivery system,” said the retired CEO of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

Despite our technology, education and wealth—in 2014, total national health-care expenditures hit US$3 trillion—chronic disease remains the nation’s top killer, with seven of the top 10 causes of death in 2010 stemming from chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. In 2010, 86 percent of all health-care spending was attributed to chronic disease—conditions labeled preventable by the Centers for Disease Control.

So why are we still so sick?

“America does not have a healthcare system; we have a ‘disease industry,’” Schimpff wrote in a 2010 article. “We focus on disease and pestilence and do a good job of caring for those with acute illnesses and trauma. But we certainly do not address health well and we are not good at caring for chronic illnesses.”

It’s an industry based on one fundamental problem, Schimpff said.

“We don’t put our money where we could have a huge impact, which would be prevention and wellness.”   CONTINUE TO FULL ARTICLE

A 45-lb. plate can be a great doorstop.

Of course, it’s a better fitness tool, but what else can you do with a broken bumper?

The business of fitness is tough work, and CrossFit athletes are tough on implements. As eager as affiliate owners are for their clients’ PRs, progress inevitably comes with broken weights, snapped skipping ropes and busted rowers.

“Things are gonna break,” said Justin Riley, owner of CrossFit East Sacramento in California. “It’s part of being a business owner that you’re going to have to fix things and replace things and do maintenance.”

Equipment shelf life isn’t always the first thing affiliate owners think of after they open their gyms, but according to Jeremy Thiel, owner of CrossFit Central in Austin, Texas, it’s something they should consider from the start.

“It’s very hard to know exactly when equipment’s gonna go out,” he said.   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

Lindsey Barber gripped the wheel. Most of the 30-mile drive between Unity and Cut Knife, Saskatchewan, is open road, nothing but 360-degree field and sky, and she tried to enjoy her morning commute to a job she disliked.

She pulled into the small lot outside the chemical-and-seed supply company where she worked as a sales agronomist. Some days were spent loading pallets of seed and chemicals onto trucks; others found her visiting surrounding farms and meeting with growers. Mostly, she had to sell—fertilizer, pesticide and seed.

“(My) job was basically to get the farmers on our program to buy as much product as they can, telling people what they need to hear just to make the sale,” Barber said.

But Barber hated selling. She felt dishonest pushing products farmers didn’t really need and felt “like I was serving no purpose in the world,” she said.

She cut the ignition and sat in her car, fighting tears and unable to will herself to go inside. She never thought work would be like this.

“My parents always said if you really like what you’re doing, then work won’t be so bad,” she said. “And I knew that this was not something I wanted to be doing forever, that there had to be something more for me to do. But I just could not come up with something that I would love to do enough to do it for the rest of my life.”

In 2011, a year into Barber’s agronomy position, she noticed an unusual picture on her boyfriend’s Facebook feed. It featured a woman doing a one-armed handstand—“and she had abs,” Barber added.

Barber messaged the woman, asking what she was doing in the photo.

CrossFit, she replied.  CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

Nearly 5,000 miles and an ocean apart, two classes of CrossFit athletes are doing work.

Their lungs are searing, but all that matters is the last few reps— and getting them in before the minute turns over.

As the last barbell settles at CrossFit Fifty, an open-air garage gym in Honolulu, Hawaii, the athletes lie on the sun-stricken pavement, heaving as they stare up into the electric-blue sky. At CrossFit Below Zero/I.C.E. NYC, tucked inside a luxury condominium in Manhattan, an athlete rests against a marble column, chalk dust trickling from the brass-coated pull-up bar above.

Once they can breathe again, CrossFit Fifty athletes report to the whiteboard one by one to scrawl their scores next to a list of mantras—“don’t panic” among them. CrossFit Below Zero athletes sign on to Wodify, broadcasting their efforts on bright flatscreens mounted in a neat line on the wall.

One group leaves sweaty and sun-kissed, hiking the 400 meters to their cars down the block. The other crew stops for a shower in a gleaming spa-like bathroom where high-end shampoos, hair spray and body towels big enough to camp under return the New Yorkers to normal before they step back into the Manhattan streets. Both leave a little fitter than they were before.   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

On Sunday, June 12, Omar Mateen opened fire in Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and injuring three others in what theNew York Times has described as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Though the sudden devastation came as a shock to the world, many in the lesbian/gay/transsexual/bisexual/queer (LGTBQ) community saw it as a terrifyingly real expression of the challenges they face each day.

“It’s a daily reality for so many of us,” said Adam Gonzales, a 27-year-old gay man living in Amarillo, Texas.

Months before the shooting, Gonzales lay on the floor at CrossFit Amarillo, his chest heaving and head spinning in the aftermath of Open Workout 16.5. His boyfriend looked on from the sideline, pride etched on his face as high fives and fist bumps were passed all around. The final workout of Gonzales’ third CrossFit Games Open was cause for celebration. But first, Gonzales required a costume change.

Taking care that he didn’t match his boyfriend’s outfit too closely, Gonzales swapped his bright-purple plastic-rimmed glasses for a more conservative pair in black. At the restaurant, the couple took care to leave several inches between them. In Texas, there are no statewide protections against employer discrimination based on sexual orientation, and as a teacher in a school district that has allegedly fired employees for their homosexuality, Gonzales’ partner needs to stay under the radar.

“If word got back to his employer, he’d lose his job,” Gonzales said.   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY 

Thomas Seyfried, Dr. Eugene Fine explain how cancer is affected by sugar, insulin and inflammation.

Accounts of deadly tumors date as far back as 3,000 B.C. in ancient Egypt.

Yet despite centuries of study, cancer is—after cardiovascular disease—the world’s second-leading cause of death, claiming more than 8 million lives in 2012 alone, a number that’s expected to nearly double over the next 20 years.

Prevailing theories on the origin of cancer held by most researchers and oncologists today dictate that cancer is thought of predominantly as a genetic disease, whereby damage to a cell’s nuclear DNA turns the healthy cell into a cancerous one.

But what if we’ve only been studying a piece of the puzzle for all these years? What if cancer is just as much about what we put into our bodies as the genes we were born with?

Thomas Seyfried, a Boston College biology professor with a doctorate in genetics and biochemistry, disagrees with the idea that cancer is primarily a genetic disease.

“That’s all misinformation,” said the author of the 2012 book “Cancer as a Metabolic Disease.”   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

For a shorter read on the same topic, check out "Cancer Loves Cookies?"

The rain sounded like gunfire as it pelted John Franklin’s home in Hoboken, New Jersey, one night in June 2013. Though it was already past 10 p.m., he pulled on his boots and drove the seven blocks to Hudson River CrossFit, the affiliate he was in the process of opening after months of leading free park workouts. He was just weeks from the grand opening date, and with the gym sitting right at the city’s lowest point, he feared the heavy rain might seep inside.

He heaved the garage door open and flicked on the lights.

“The floor looked kind of like an infinity pool,” Franklin recalled, unable to tell where the water ended and dry cement began.

He ventured to the far side of the gym, where a long concrete slab—a storage area in the space’s past life as a refrigerator warehouse—was elevated a few inches above the floor. Gray sludge oozed from the hairline crack beneath.

“It looked as if the concrete was sweating profusely,” he said.

Before he had the chance to reach for a mop, he heard a low gurgle from the direction of the bathroom. In a few seconds, the gurgle became an explosive sputter as the drains in the gym’s two sinks, showers and toilets began spewing sewage in succession “almost like a fountain show,” Franklin said.

As Franklin stood ankle deep in sewer refuse, he thought of the three friends who had showed up to his park workouts.

“Am I just making like really bad life choices?” he asked himself. “Because we had no idea how this would actually work—or would anybody actually sign up for this CrossFit thing?”

Today, Hudson River CrossFit boasts around 250 members, one of two affiliates that make up Flipside Performance (the other is Bowery CrossFit in Manhattan, New York, which Franklin opened at the end of 2013). With heavy rain flooding Hudson River CrossFit about once a month, Franklin and his staff have become pros at keeping their heads above water, loading all their equipment into an elevated storage room every time the weather report predicts a storm.

“We’re very handy with a Shop-Vac these days,” he said. “That’s how you get all the water out, and then you have to go through the whole process of disinfecting it.”

To disinfect the 2,800-square-foot space, Franklin shells out about US$600 each time for a professional sewage-cleaning service. Adding backflow preventers to the drains would cost nearly $30,000 and require a total bathroom tear-up, and with real estate at a premium in the area adjacent to New York City, moving is out of the question. So what keeps Franklin going?

“The community,” he said. “Our mission has always been to build a strong urban community ... and we’ve probably trained 1-2 percent of the entire town. That means any time I walk the dog, any time I go to a restaurant, statistical probability says that I’m gonna run into somebody that I’ve worked with before. So you have a lot of accidental community that happens, and it’s much stronger than anything I’ve felt.”

Challenges are par for the course, Franklin explained: “It’s all part of the game. There are certain points ... where I get a little beat down, but in perspective, my life is fantastic. I have a staff that I love, I have members that I love, ... I get to share something that I’m very passionate about with other people, and I’m making a living doing it. It’s just a team effort, and having that good staff in place is something that has saved my ass more times than I can count.”   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

“High knees, lunges and PVC pass-throughs!”

While lunging her way across the room for what feels like the millionth time, an athlete steals a jealous glance at the wildly giggling CrossFit Kids who are playing a tic-tac-toe racing game in the next room.

At CrossFit Leverage, warm-up games aren’t just for kids.

“All of our members have got real jobs and real lives outside of this place,” said affiliate owner Dave Fecht, “and if they’ve had a long, stressful week, it’s silly games like this that kind of give them a chance to play and have fun.”

Besides ending the monotony and helping athletes crack a smile, the occasional warm-up game can also break the ice for new members or athletes from different class times.

“It’s a good way for people to overcome that standoffishness or nerves coming into their first main group class,” said Aaron McIlwee, co-owner of CrossFit East Auckland.

“And it’ll still get the heart rate going,” said James McDermott, head coach at Albany CrossFit. “It will still prepare them for the WOD, they’ll still break a light sweat, but they’re gonna have fun, too. And if you have people laughing and smiling, then you already know it’s going to be a good day.”   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY 

The “energy balance” is a myth. You can’t outwork a bad diet.

Jason Mathews almost lost his pull-up.

Though Mathews has trained at CrossFit Armoury for the past three years, a desk job in sales convenience trumped cleanliness when it came to nutrition, and his 30 unbroken pull-ups soon dwindled to less than a handful.

“Now to get one or two (pull-ups) in a row is tough,” he said.

Despite his commitment to training, a diet dotted with pastries and ice cream—a Dairy Queen is just down the road from the gym—has held him steady at nearly 30 percent body fat.

“I know it’s horrible for me,” he said. “I’ll always (plan to) start eating healthy again tomorrow … but there’s not enough tomorrows to make up for the amount of bad I’m doing to myself.”

Though Mathews reports that 75 percent of his diet is clean, “Just one or two (sugary) meals seems to sabotage me,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how many times I work out. It seems like those calories are a lot harder to push out.”

The soda industry would have you believe otherwise.   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY 

With treatment of chronic disease eating up health-care budgets, elected officials consider excise taxes to reduce consumption of harmful sugary beverages.

On Nov. 4, 2014, 76 percent of voters made Berkeley, California, the first U.S. city to pass a soda tax. After its implementation in March, the tax generated just shy of US$700,000 in revenue in its first six months.

Berkeley City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli helped spearhead the measure. At first, he saw the tax as little more than a revenue source. Then he saw a YouTube presentation on the toxicity of sugar by Dr. Robert Lustig, pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California-San Francisco.

In his 2013 book, “Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food and Obesity,” Lustig discussed findings from his 2013 study on the relationship between sugar and diabetes prevalence across 154 countries over a 10-year period, during which worldwide diabetes prevalence rose from 5.5 to 7 percent.

“Every additional 150 calories per person per day barely raised diabetes prevalence,” Lustig wrote. “But if those 150 calories were instead from a can of soda, increase in diabetes prevalence rose sevenfold.”

Soda, energy drinks and sports drinks account for 36 percent of added-sugar intake in Americans, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

“The science is in, I believe, and so I pivoted from looking for sources of revenue to looking for ways to, in fact, reduce consumption of what I consider to be a toxic substance,” Capitelli said.

As Americans get sicker—rates of both obesity and metabolic syndrome are pushing 35 percent in adults—Berkeley’s landmark legislation leaves the rest of the country wondering: Could taxes turn the trend around?   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

The walls crumbled around Melinda Metten. A deep orange glow beckoned from the end of the hall, black dust swirling in a doorway like a gaping mouth to hell. The thick air sizzled and snapped, embers flicking her way like a serpent’s tongue. She pressed forward.

Drawing from the 30-minute supply of oxygen filtering from a small tank on her back through her face mask, Metten inhaled the oppressive heat. She picked up her tool, a long spear-like baton with two curved prongs at the end, and heaved it over her shoulder into the ceiling. Sparks flew as she wrenched the hook down, sending fragments of glowing plaster and sheetrock cascading to the floor.

“We call it overhaul,” Metten, a firefighter of 14 years, explained. “We’re pulling the ceiling down to see if there’s any extension, if there’s any fire in there, so we can put it out.”

The work is grueling.

“Think of the worst possible thruster that you could do, with a pack on your back and helmet,” she said. “And maybe you’re wet a little bit from the hose, and you’re working. Doing work pulling ceilings.”

It’s a good thing she’s fit. When the 35-year-old isn’t fighting fires — or refueling planes tens of thousands of feet in the air as a boom operator for the United States Air National Guard — she trains and coaches at CrossFit Bangor, the affiliate she opened in 2011 in Bangor, Maine. And over the next five weeks, she will fight to reprise her 2015 role as the Fittest Woman in Maine in the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games Open.

“Now that I’ve done it, I’d kind of like to defend that title,” she said.   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

More than champions

MADRID—It was the first week of December, days before the USA Team would earn its second consecutive CrossFit Invitational victory, defeating the Canada Team by a 6-point margin after five events at the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Invitational.

Team members from the United States, Europe, Canada and the Pacific arrived one week prior to the competition, splitting their time between training, recovery and seeing the sights of Spain—most of them, anyway. While her teammates rested, snug in their beds, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet studied by the cold blue light of her computer screen before the sun rose each day.

“After (practice) I would be being pulled left and right to do some photo shoot, and then instead of (visiting) Spain after like everyone else, I was just going back to try to finish my schoolwork,” she said.

In her final semester at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada, Leblanc-Bazinet was just months from finishing her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. In the days before the Invitational, she worked on her final project, designing a method to convert recycled plastics into carbon nanotubes.

She’s also the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games champion, a CrossFit Level 1 Seminar Staff member, founder of CLB Fitness, ambassador for numerous sponsors and the newly minted director of programming for ICE NYC, a New York fitness center.

Fans, accustomed to the champ’s buoyant charisma, don’t always see the effort behind her winning smile.

“Most of the time I just feel really, really overwhelmed,” Leblanc-Bazinet said. “You need to be always happy and excited, and truly inside you just want to yell and punch walls because you need to finish your fucking project.”

There is life before and after the CrossFit Games, even for champions. Champions like Leblanc-Bazinet, Annie Thorisdottir and Katrin Davidsdottir, women renowned for moving large loads long distances, quickly, and less known for the years they spent studying chemistry, engineering and law. Each found CrossFit while pursuing other careers; each whose CrossFit career shaped her professional path forever.

CONTINUE TO FULL STORY 

SF State groups beat back pouring-rights contract worth millions.

On Nov. 19, a group of about 20 college students in San Francisco, California, managed to do what countless community leaders and health advocates have failed to do: beat Big Soda.

After a five-month campaign protesting San Francisco State University’s pursuit of a 10-year pouring-rights contract with The Coca-Cola Co. or PepsiCo Inc., the student-run SF State chapter of Real Food Challenge (RFC) convinced SF State President Leslie Wong to stop the contract process. Sixteen other student organizations, two grassroots community-health collaborations, several SF State faculty members, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and more than 10 percent of the student body assisted the RFC.

Commonplace since the 1990s, pouring-rights contracts grant corporations exclusive sales and marketing opportunities on school campuses in exchange for funds, the use of which is often restricted to purposes designed to funnel money back to the provider. The SF State deal was poised to bring in a one-time minimum contribution of US$2 million and annual contributions of at least $125,000, according to a May SF State request for proposals obtained by the CrossFit Journal.

Though Big Soda dollars promise relief in the face of budget deficits and a lack of government funding for higher education, critics argue that ubiquitous on-campus marketing of sugar-sweetened beverages does more harm than good. Added sugar has been shown to increase risk for diabetes, tooth decay, obesity and a host of other health problems.

“The most questionable aspect of these contracts is that they link returns to the companies and to the schools to amounts that students drink,” Marion Nestle wrote in “Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health.”   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

“Open happiness.” —The Coca-Cola Co.
America has a happiness problem, and Coca-Cola’s got the answer.

On the multi-billion-dollar beverage company’s website, the brand juxtaposes the words of Aristotle, Mahatma Gandhi, Buddha and others with the prose of its marketing team: “Open an ice cold Coca-Cola and choose happiness!”

It didn’t work so well for Roxanne Melillo. A survivor of childhood domestic violence and sexual abuse, the 39-year-old has spent her life sugarcoating her pain.

“I ate to heal myself,” Melillo said. “I would get into a bad mood and the first thing I would turn to is a soda and a candy bar.” Snickers bars were her feel-good food, a glistening can of Coke her elixir.

“It was a quick fix,” she said. “Pop the can open, drink it.”

It made sense. After all, sugar mediates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates reward signals in the brain. Despite her self-medication, Melillo grew heavier, not happier. By 36, she was pushing 300 lb. at an even 5 feet and had stopped socializing.

“I didn’t care; (sugar) kept me in a cloud of no reality,” she said.

She’s not the only one with a sugar problem. In 2013, the average American consumed approximately 22 teaspoons of caloric sweeteners per day, according to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. Meanwhile, an estimated 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, which dubs depression the world’s “leading cause of disability.” It’s not for lack of drugs. One in 10 Americans 12 and older takes antidepressant medication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), spending more than US$11 billion on antidepressants in 2010 alone.

“The rate of antidepressant use has more than tripled in the past 25 years, and yet, if anything, the overall rate of depression is higher now than it was back then,” said Stephen Ilardi, a Kansas University psychology professor who holds a doctorate in clinical neuroscience. “Everything that we’re throwing at this epidemic is really barely making a dent.”

So why are we so unhappy?   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

It was well past 1 a.m., and darkness blanketed the city of Derry, Northern Ireland. The streets were barren save for two teenage boys and their paint. Neither boy noticed the car’s approach until four masked men erupted from within. The vehicle was unmarked.

“That’s when we realized we couldn’t really run,” Porter recalled.

The men were members of one of Northern Ireland’s paramilitary organizations, vigilante enforcers of order on the hunt for two gunmen in dark-colored sweatshirts. Presumably nationalist, they would settle for catching unionists defiling their territory with political graffiti.

Thankfully, Porter was just tagging the wall with his graffiti name, Easi. Because Porter’s art neither defaced any political murals nor posed political threat, the men left the “graffers” to their painting unscathed. It wasn’t the pair’s first encounter with masked men in the night, but it was “the scariest one we’ve had,” Porter said.

More than a decade after the end of The Troubles, the 30-year period of Irish civil unrest responsible for the deaths of more than 3,600 people and thousands more injuries, wounds still run deep in Northern Ireland. Bomb scares, shootings and threats of paramilitary violence are still commonplace between the western Cityside and eastern Waterside communities of Derry (officially Londonderry), a city divided by the River Foyle and social malaise.

“There’s a lot of fear,” said Porter, who attended Catholic school in his youth but describes himself today as an apolitical and non-religious free thinker. “People live in fear and they don’t realize it.”    CONTINUE TO FULL STORY                                            

 

The ice cubes clinking against the glass. The bright beads of condensation promising relief from the Ohio humidity. The refreshing zing. Sean Buchan loved sweet tea.

“The sweeter, the better,” the 40-year-old said.

He was open to alternatives. Mountain Dew or root beer—four to five cans each day—hit the spot just as well.

“I figured my options were to drink that or drink water, and I’m not much of a water drinker,” Buchan said.

That changed May 28, 2014, the day Buchan, a nurse and retired U.S. Army specialist, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Lab results from an unrelated hemoglobin A1C test revealed 9.2 percent, which indicated Buchan’s blood sugar had been inappropriately elevated over recent months. Normal levels are within 4.5 to 6 percent, according to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Buchan’s doctor prescribed daily doses of metformin, saxagliptin and glipizide—medications designed to decrease the amount of glucose the body absorbs from food and increase the body’s production of and response to insulin.

For Buchan—who weighed 262 lb. at 5 feet 11 inches and hadn’t regularly exercised since his Army days in 2005—the diagnosis was a wake-up call. As a nurse, he administered care for diabetics fighting blindness, amputation and death each day, but he never gave his sugar habit a second thought.

“I had the mentality of, ‘It could never happen to me.’”

Buchan added: “It was kind of my coming-to-Jesus moment. When I got home, I said to my wife, ‘I have got to change the way I eat.’"  CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

 

Dueling the Devil  

Thomas Moore loses a fight with a river but gets a rematch in rehab.

Thomas Moore couldn’t move. More importantly, he couldn’t breathe.

The rapids he had so deftly navigated just seconds before engulfed him with no warning, wedging his kayak between two boulders and trapping him nearly 4 feet beneath the surface of the San Joaquin River, deep within California’s Eastern Sierra.

The speeding currents pummeled his back like a jackhammer, folding him at the waist toward the bow of his boat. After he shook his hips in a vain attempt to free his boat from the boulders’ vice, he knew he had to abandon his kayak.

He gripped the side of the boat, thrust his feet down and popped his hips, pushing himself out partway. But the raging current immobilized him just below the knee. His legs were forced against the cockpit rim, crushing his knees and causing agonizing pain.

Submerged for more than a minute already, Moore was lightheaded from lack of oxygen. Hearing only the dampened scream of the currents enveloping him, he thought he was going to drown.

“I tried like hell to get free, but it felt hopeless,” he wrote in a blog post after the accident. “It was at this moment that I thought it was over.”    CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

 

It’s in our homes; it’s in our universities. It lurks in the corners of our children’s schools, and it won our loyalty with its pocketbook and a mountain of sugar.

It’s Big Soda, and it’s got us right where it wants us: addicted.

Recently, San Francisco decided to do something about it.

On June 9, 2015, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors became the first in the U.S. to pass legislation requiring warning labels on posted ads for sugar-sweetened beverages. The legislation also banned ads for sugary beverages on city property and the use of city funds to purchase sugary beverages. The ban includes sweetened coffee drinks as well as sports drinks such as Gatorade.

“This is a public-health crisis in the making,” San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener said in a phone interview.

Warning labels will occupy 20 percent of ad space and read as follows: “Warning: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.”

Less than a month before the legislation was passed, San Francisco State University announced it was looking for a deal with Big Soda, issuing its first Request for Proposals for exclusive campus pouring rights.   CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

 

Isis Brantley began African braiding as a child, practicing skills learned from her mother on neighbors in a small, impoverished community in southern Dallas, Texas. She has made her living braiding since 25, and in 1995, at 36, she opened her own salon.

Then she got arrested.

The date was Oct. 13, 1997, a Monday. Two women entered her store, inquiring about a consultation. After a few moments, one of them reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a badge, telling Brantley she was under arrest for braiding hair without a license.

At the time, braiding hair in Texas without a state-issued cosmetology license constituted a criminal offense. Though braiders use only their hands and no chemicals or dyes, becoming a legal braider required 1,500 hours of cosmetology training, which doesn’t include braiding instruction. Regulation continues to this day, with 24 states requiring braiders to become licensed as cosmetologists or hairstylists as of July 2014.

Imagine a world in which CrossFit affiliate owners could be arrested or fined a hefty sum for teaching the air squat without government permission. The concept is not too far-removed from reality.

On March 26, 2014, legislation requiring licensing of personal fitness trainers went into effect in Washington, D.C., with the Omnibus Health Regulation Amendment Act. Among nine occupations addressed in the law, the legislation holds personal and athletic trainers accountable to a to-be-determined set of government-mandated licensing fees and standards of practice, potentially overseen by the D.C. Department of Health’s Physical Therapy Board. Enforcement of the law is currently on hold as officials rework many of the details.

Though similar legislation introduced in nine other states failed to pass, longstanding efforts by lobbying organizations, including the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association, indicate that the fight is yet in its first rounds.    CONTINUE TO FULL STORY

Coach, Counselor or Both? 

CrossFit trainers find they’re building athletes and relationships at the same time.

 

It was a rare warm November evening in Fort Wayne, Indiana, when Maureen Randall quit the workout.

Beats were dropping from the speakers at CrossFit Praus, but for once, the self-described class jokester wasn’t dancing. The date marked 22 years since the night she was raped. She had been just 14 years old. Usually, she spent the anniversary locked indoors. Tonight, she tried to do an overhead squat, but the bar crashed to the floor.

“I broke,” Randall recalled. After the clock had gone dark, Randall still sat, her head buried in her hands. Affiliate owner Amanda Burge had a choice: Walk away or dive in. She dove.

The conversation was the beginning of a mentorship between coach and athlete that extends beyond class to texts, phone calls and post-workout discussions about how Randall can use CrossFit to help overcome her past.

“Anytime I need her, she’s there—no questions asked,” Randall said. “A lot of people coach and then they leave. With Amanda, that’s not how it is.”

As athletes struggle with everything from poor mobility to poor self-image, coaches are faced daily with the challenge of walking the line between coach and counselor. For Burge, it’s a no-brainer.

“We’re not just puppet masters who program hellacious WODs,” she said. “We’re people, and we want them to know we’re here for them. They trust us with their lives during a WOD, so why would they not trust us with their lives outside of CrossFit?”    CONTINUE TO FULL STORY