Four years ago, at more than 20 pounds overweight, 30-year-old Melissa Panzer started CrossFit. “Walking in the door was the hardest part. I felt embarrassed and nervous. There were people of all ages. Everyone was strong. I was intimidated.”
Melissa pushed through her initial reservations and was soon going to CrossFit six days a week. Her initial reason for joining the program was simply to lose weight, but she soon discovered that there was a benefit she hadn’t expected. She was getting stronger. “I became obsessed with real weight lifting. I was hooked. To me, the six Olympic lifts were the best exercises because you could clearly see when you were progressing,” Melissa told StrongPath.
Melissa’s CrossFit Success Story
In September of 2016, after two years of strength training, she joined the “200 Club”—she could deadlift 200 pounds—and could skull-crunch 20-pound dumbbells. When she married Jon Barenboim—her business partner at Don’t Panic Productions—she weighed 137 pounds, 40 pounds down from her starting weight. She was in the best shape of her life. “I felt so strong. I felt so powerful. I felt like I could conquer the world.”
An Unexpected Surgery
About a month later, her body started changing in an unexpected way; Melissa started getting severe pains in her back and pelvic area. It made working out difficult. Her doctor eventually diagnosed her with two medical conditions—high-tone pelvic floor dysfunction, which is caused by inflexible, overly tense muscles, and provoked vestibulodynia, which is pain in the vulva nerve endings and caused by contact. Melissa needed surgery.
“This was in October 2016. The pelvic muscles were already too tight, and the exercise was making them tighter. My doctor told me I had to stop going to the gym immediately,” said Melissa. She had the surgery five months later, in March of last year. The lack of exercise was starting to show. “By this point, I had already gained ten real pounds of fat.”
Although the surgery itself is quick, the recovery time is extensive. Melissa was told she could put very little pressure on her pelvic area as it healed. “For six weeks you are not allowed to do anything except lie down, take a bath, and walk to the kitchen. I was told ‘no more gym’ until the doctor says it is okay. I couldn’t move, and I was eating crappy.” After the six weeks were up, Melissa was still not allowed to resume her strength training routine.
And there was another hurdle: To make the situation even more difficult, she started travelling for work. That meant keeping her eating on track was going to be even more challenging.
Staying on Track Can Be Challenging
“I was going all over the country with five guys who were eating whatever they wanted—pizzas, cheeseburgers,” Melissa said. “There was a lot of things setting me on a bad path. The cycle had started—you feel shitty, you can’t go to the gym, you feel bad.”
In December 2017, Melissa and her husband finally took time off from their busy work schedule to take their honeymoon, which had been delayed by the medical issues. She weighed 186 pounds. “Jon and I walked ten miles a day. Finally, my physical therapist and doctor said it was okay to start training again, which I started at the first of the year.”
Making Training a Priority
Her routine is nowhere near as intense as it was before her back and pelvis pain interrupted her progress 18 months ago. “I am working with a private trainer, doing a lot of stretching to start with. Stretching all the back muscles for 15 minutes. The strength training workout is simple,” said Melissa. “Five rounds of back squats to a bench. Ten reps. Lifted 50 pounds. When I stopped lifting 18 months, I was squatting 160 pounds. Mentally, it is very challenging. I feel like I lost everything I had.”
Melissa continues to travel extensively for her job, but she makes training on the road a priority. “Just body weight while I am away because there is no one to watch me. Thirty air squats to a bench. Ten push-ups, 10 rounds. Walk for one mile.” Is what she now considers success.
She told StrongPath that she is excited to finally able to get back to strength training. She urged everyone thinking of picking up weights to do so. “Not everyone has a pelvic floor problem, but everyone has a ‘something’ problem. You feel like the world is stopping, it’s awful, said Melissa. “It’s just a hurdle.”
Melissa has invited StrongPath to follow her path to regaining her strength and share her story. We’ll bring you updates on her progress as she continues her journey.