“The Flower that Blooms in Adversity is the most Rare and Beautiful of all…”

One year ago 5 writers decided to speak out.

Their goal wasn’t any radical message. It wasn’t spiteful or full of venom. It wasn’t a fight they were looking to pick. It was simple a statement, “No more, This is our line in the sand.”
They weren’t going to hide anymore. They weren’t going to pretend anymore. They weren’t going to be told what they needed to be or how they needed to look. This was their line, and against what society thought they weren’t going to move.

Last year Roo came to me with a question, “Can I write an article for Old Country…”

That article was the line. And she stood on it. I decided to stand on that line with her. One by one our friends stood on that line with us. We were gonna let everyone know it was ok to be strong. It was ok to not fit some mold we were all told from childhood we needed to fit in.

We wanted everyone to know what we all so deeply believed in, that Strong was Beautiful.

We keep referencing these 5 writers from last year. Marissa, Joey, Carrie and John…
Thats right, we had one former Division 1 college wrestler speak out about his battle with body imagine. Yes we are Strong but even the Strongest are effected by this.

When I started to choose the writers for this years series I knew I wanted to have another male writer. And honestly one named popped into my head. A Club supporter who I actually became close with through this series last year. We live on opposite sides of the border but through this message I found a life long friend in Chris Schaalo.

Chris is a Coach for Crossfit Games Power House Crossfit Taranis and his article today is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read. Z

When Z asked me to guest post for the annual “Strong is Beautiful” week on OCS I was a little stunned, I’m not exactly a talkative or outspoken person, what makes him think I have great things to say?  However the minute I agreed to take part I knew exactly what I was going to do for the post.  I have a story to share, and I’m probably going to tear up more than a few times writing about it as it is very close to my heart; however, it is one that gives me strength everyday inside and outside the gym.  You see, I have witnessed the quest to be strong save a life and I believe it can save many more.

Now this wasn’t in a physical feat of superhuman strength type way.  There was no mom lifting a car off her child, or boy pulling his younger brother up from a cliff after a slip.  This was far more miraculous.  I was approaching a 23rd birthday, and enjoying the final days of an amazing first Christmas holidays I was able to share with my girlfriend of about 6 months.  Everything was better than I could have expected, I was falling head over heels, spending day after day laughing and learning with her until we had coffee one Saturday night.  She blindsided me, things weren’t working – it was her not me… the usual break up story you hear about.  4 days later I’m pulled aside by a mutual friend at the gym, Alicia is in the hospital – don’t worry she is ok “but she has a long road ahead of her” he says.  He won’t tell me what happened.  Nobody will answer the house phone.  After what was by far the longest 5 hours of my life, most of it spent wondering and worrying on her doorstep, a family friend of hers arrives at the house to collect some things and informs me that Alicia had attempted suicide.  Excuse me?  Suicide?  How in the world does a gorgeous, ambitious, passionate and loving person like this be driven to such an aggressive last resort?

Alicia at 105# (20# heavier than her worst)

It turns out I didn’t know a lot about this girl.  A 5 year period of body image issues, severely disordered eating including bouts of anorexia and bulimia, battles with anxiety, and waves of depression had slowly and brutally beat her down mentally and physically.  Hiding behind an addiction to exercise and an uncanny dedication to seemingly “healthy eating” had enabled her to mask her problems from those who didn’t know her well enough to see through it.  99% of young girls are never able to break free from this demonic struggle – but Alicia has something that most people don’t.  She has the barbell.

The beautiful thing about the barbell is that it doesn’t care.  It doesn’t care whether you’ve had a good day, or whether you’ve eaten the right things.  It doesn’t care whether you’re fighting with your girlfriend, or whether you’re sore from those squats the other day.  The barbell cares about one thing, and one thing only: performance.  The only thing that matters is whether you are stronger than the bar or not, whether you are willing to claw tooth and nail to move it – and if you don’t, are you committed to improving and addressing that load again?  These are traits that can be applied to all areas of life, especially in this case.

For the last 4 years Alicia has dedicated herself to the barbell, she has made a commitment to performance and put her trust in the idea that improving her performance would help her pull herself out of that deep, dark hole.  She has leaned on the barbell during tough times, she has laughed and had fun with the barbell during the lighter times – and each and every day she’s made herself stronger.  Yes, she squats more, presses more, and snatches more than she did 4 years ago; however, her real strength gains have come in mind.  The barbell has taught Alicia a lot about herself, she has learned to be confident, to be proud of herself, and most importantly the barbell has taught her that failing is nothing to be ashamed about, that quitting is not an option, and that success is a product of determination.  Though the demons are still persistent in her mind today, they are much quieter now – more of whisper originating over her shoulder than the every second of every day consuming inner voice of control she used to fight.  Her ability to take the lessons she has learned under the barbell and apply them to herself in her life is truly amazing.

Every moment I catch myself ashamed, disappointed, or down about life – Alicia wanders into my mind. The girl she was before reminds me that I am a lucky person, that things could be much much worse, and that there is always hope.  The young woman she is now show’s me her tattoos, the daily reminders to herself that the fight is worth it, that one day she will break free from it all. The tattoo on her left forearm says “Above All Love Yourself” and the tattoo on her front right trap reads “Beauty in Strength.”  She reminds me that, in the barbell, I have a weapon that most people don’t have.  She tells me to use it, to lean on it when I need to, and to have a little fun with it from time to time.

These past 4 years really have been a long road, along the way Alicia has done nothing but get stronger each and every day, and in doing so (though she probably doesn’t realize it) she has made those of us close to her stronger.  That my friends is truly beautiful.

Article by: Chris Schaalo

I want to thank Chris and Alicia for standing on the line this week. We have celebrated the triumphs and power that come from what we do. But please don’t let it end with this week. There will always be someone who needs some one on that line with them. Please don’t turn off the beacon. Everyone who had read one on these articles. Everyone who has identified with one of these writers please continue to stand on that line. Be that Strength for those who haven’t found it yet. We all can find the strength in each other to stand on this line, our line, and let every close minded person know the truth.

That Strong is truly Beautiful…

Posted by: Z

24 Responses to ““The Flower that Blooms in Adversity is the most Rare and Beautiful of all…””

  1. For our non crossfitters that may not be familiar with who Alicia is… Badass is a pretty good way to sum her up.

    A quick highlight reel of her accomplishments would read 1st place 2010 Canada Regional Champ, 2nd place 2011 Canada West Regionals, and she placed 35th at this years CrossFit Games.

    I don’t personally know Alicia but her involvement with Chris in writing this article shows me that she is not only a champion but has the heart of one as well.

    Thank you to both of you again for taking part in the week.

  2. Thank you Chris for agreeing to write and sharing something that is so close to your heart, in means more than the world to me.

    and THANK YOU Alicia for allowing Chris to share your story with us!

    Honestly, I am at a loss for words right now. I keep typing and erasing and typing and erasing. I am for some reason shocked at what my little article has become. I’ve admired all of the ladies that have contributed because I have grown to know them and create relationships with, I can’t say however that I’ve actually ever met Alicia, I can’t say I watch what she does in the gym everyday I can’t say that I know much about her at all. But what I did know was that she was inspiration for me to be a competitor, the way she’d approach the bar at competitions and the way she’d move weight was nothing less than impressive.

    I’ve known Chris for quite sometime and when Z said he agreed to write I was so excited because I knew the Caliber of athletes Chris is surrounded with. When Z told me what Chris was writing about it brought me back to why I wanted to write an article in the first place. I knew what the barbell had done for me not only physically but most importantly mentally and how much it redirected my path from one I would never want to see anyone go down.

    I can’t thank you enough for sharing your story with us. It is hard to reveal parts of our lives to others when they weren’t the best and you have a great message to spread and I am forever grateful for you sharing it! Your story will change the lives of many and finding beauty through strength is a message that NEEDS to be spread!

  3. Wow! Amazing! Great ending to an amazing week of inspirational stories. I know many, including myself, that have an inner demon and these posts are reassurance that its okay to be you but push yourself and be the best you that you know you can be! Be Strong as it is beautiful!

  4. Flashback to 1990. After several years of dirtbag climbing, and seeing the then pretty rare girls who climb hard, I returned to the Midwest for medical school. Stirrup pants and baggy sweaters. Big Hair. Arms that are shapeless tubes of flesh. Just couldn’t do it. I wanted a peer, a buddy, a fellow traveler, someone who could hang. A Strong Woman. They were in short supply.

    Found one amongst the 100 in our class. Or at least one like that who had an interest in me.

    At one point in the courting and sparking phase, I tried to explain to her why I thought she was so beautiful by saying she was “stocky”. I meant it as the ultimate compliment.

    OK…Didn’t work that well then, but it was and is true and I stand by it.

    you all know how strong Karen is. I actually think that she doesn’t know yet

    Over the years, through situations that were mundane and the worst thing ever, she’s on it.


    Those who don’t are weenies.

  5. Alicia Connors Says:

    Zach and Roo,

    Thank you so much for allowing Chris and I to share my story. Words can`t describe how much that means to me.

    What you guys have started here is absolutely amazing, each and every article brought tears to my eyes and warmed my heart. Hearing people struggle with body image and overcoming them is a beautiful thing and should be celebrated.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    I look forward to officially meeting both of you!

    And to Chris, Thank you for telling my story better than I ever could have. And thank you for being my rock during the good and the bad.

  6. Thank you Chris and Alicia for this article. I know personally how much courage it takes to share how far you’ve come. Beauty in strength– there is so much truth in your message.

    Strong is beautiful– ladies and gentlemen reading, it’s not just a manta for this one week of the year. It’s one to *cultivate* and *protect* every week of the year. Loving yourself is not always easy: it takes work, and practice, and doggedness. Be that role model.

    Own it!

    Together we can convert this message into a movement.

  7. Caragh Camera Says:

    Fabulous article. I stand on that line with you all and always have in my own little way, but usually alone. It feels really nice to know there are others out there who won’t back down.
    Thanks for having the courage, strength and heart to let your story to be told Alicia. It will no doubt inspire many.

  8. To Chris & Alicia, thank you very much for sharing this personal story of inner and outer strength & beauty. Opening yourselves up to a community unfamiliar to you exemplifies trust and courage in and of itself. Alicia’s journey really resignates with me while providing trust in the journey of getting stronger physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s truly amazing what happens when you open yourself up to testing your limits….and succeeding!

    To Z & Roo, thank you for bringing this topic to our gym. This has been a re-energizing week for sure. One that will be remembered and reflected on till next year!

  9. What an amazing and inspiring story. Thank you for sharing and thank you to all the writers who open up their lives to support the strong is beautiful movement.

  10. Incredible story, thanks for sharing. I know you both, really only by sight, but really appreciate the inside look into your lives that truly demonstrates how human you both really are, just like the rest of us. – Although your performances on the floor say otherwise.

    I particularly appreciate the willingness to share such a private and sensitive subject, both my wife and I are struggling with mental illness and it really is a silent killer. I’m inspired to keep sharing our own stories to hopefully encourage someone who really needs it.

    Thanks again!

  11. Alicia, you are graced with both inner strength and beauty and outer strength and beauty. Don’t let anyone take that away from you. Ever.

  12. Incredible and such an honest story to share to many of us who are strangers to you guys, I thank you (Alicia and Chris) for being open through your writing.

    I think everyone above me has said it well, and that this week has made such a positive impact and created this great energy at the gym that will continue to carry on through the year again. It’s amazing to think that it was only a year ago that I was on my ledge of wanting to quit crossfit because of my fear of “bulking up” and essentially not being proud of the strength that I was building. For those who know me personally, you know I’m far removed from who that person was a year ago, but it was a testament to the first week of “Strong is Beautiful” that enabled me to embrace the beauty of being strong.

    Thanks to everyone who contributed to the articles, and for Roo and Z for making this happen. You guys have impacted so many of our lives, and you have no idea how much this and our gym has changed my life and mentality. I am forever grateful. Thank you

  13. “There are but two paths through this life- One gentle and well traveled. Worn wide with the wondering of the weak. Washed clean with the tears of their regret. Silent, of the cries of their failure.
    The other overgrown and unforgiving. …Steep with the steps of burden. Soaked in the sweat of the disciplined. Stained with the blood of the fallen. Echoing with the glory of the victorious…” – JSW

    I think we all stand on that line, and we will hear the echos of glory and victory.

  14. Thank you, Alicia and Chris, for sharing this story with us. When Chris writes at the end that in growing stronger each day, Alicia has made those around her stronger, too, I know it is true.

    I don’t even know you, Alicia, but today you made me stronger.

    This is what happens when we speak the truth about who we are, where we have been, what we have learned, and what we can do. This is what happens when we fight and grow stronger. Those around us hear us and see us and know that they are not alone.

    This stuff matters, folks. How many girls and women are out there, getting the message that they should be skinny, weak, and meek in order to be loved? How many boys and men are out there learning to repeat that message? We can be better and we can do better. It starts with us.

  15. Study strategy over the years and achieve the spirit of the warrior.
    Today is victory over yourself of yesterday.
    Tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.

    -Miyamoto Musashi

    Thank you Margaux, Laura, Destiny, Michelle, Alicia, Chris, Z, and OCIC.

  16. I want to thank Roo and Z for giving myself the opportunity the link arms with them and stand on the line. The response this article has generated more feedback than I could have possibly imagined – however I know that this is just one small step in showing the world that strong is beautiful. I know that if we can help just one girl who finds herself in Alicia’s position it is worth our efforts 100,000 times over.
    Thank you Alicia for allowing me to tell your story – I am forever proud of you.

  17. Truly, moving.
    Inspirational. Motivational. Spiritual. Victorious.

    I feel ever-powerful after reading this story.

    Thank you for giving myself and all who read it, strength.

  18. Each article has been amazing this week. Thanks to all who have shared, and to you Chris and Alicia. It really is in words and stories that we can all become stronger. This series is just what I needed to keep coming in to the gym, day after day.

  19. […] Take a read of this article that Chris Schaalo wrote for Old Country Strong […]

  20. Very well said, I was that family friend that answered the door when Chris knocked. Alicia you are an amazing, strong, beautiful woman and I am so glad you have shared your story.
    Love you girl, strong is beautiful! xo

  21. This is such an inspiring story. I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for the past 4 years and have been hospitalized twice. I fell in love with Crossfit in august and my friends there have been the most supportive people i’ve ever met. My weight dropped again though so I am not being permitted to crossfit till it comes back up but some days even the thought of being able to do it again is all that keeps me going. I can’t wait to get back to the gym. Thank you for highlighting this story. We can all learn from this.

  22. Great story. I have recently opened my own affiliate – CrossFit GEO – and I am constantly looking for stories that inspire and motivate; that drive people on to be their best; that help with the demons. This is one of them. Thank you.

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