Posted on June 01 2016
Photo by: Hannah Hayworth @hannahhayworth
If you’ve been “into” CrossFit for a few years, chances are you know very well who Lauren Brooks is, or maybe I should say, you know who she was. If not, I’ll give you the short version. Lauren Brooks, found CrossFit in 2010 and rose to “fame” starting in 2012 when she started to find competitive success. In 2014 she qualified for the CrossFit Games. While she didn’t podium at the Games, she performed well. She’s probably most notorious for the Clean Speed Ladder in which she managed to catch a clean on a dropped knee, tootsie roll that leg back into a squatting position and finish the lift.
After her performance at the Games, Lauren was signed to the Miami Surge, a team in the GRID league. During this time, you couldn’t sign into Facebook or peruse your Instagram feed without seeing pictures and videos of Lauren everywhere. She was the face (and bootie) of several big name companies that market to CrossFitters. She was brash. She was goofy. She was in your face. Personally my opinion of her vacillated back and forth between love (“Look at that strong, athletic woman showing us all that strong and thick is beautiful.”) and annoyance (“Ok. We get it. You’re real sexy AND goofy. Do we have to see a flexed quad or glute shot in every single picture?”). Turns out, some of that image wasn’t really Lauren’s idea. And now, looking back, there were hints that not all was well during this time.
I remember seeing posts about her daughter and how her behavior was becoming an issue and a video of Lauren chowing down on doughnuts in the car, in what was an attempt at self-deprecation and humor but what read as a quiet cry for help to someone who has also had her share of binge eating issues. Then, in 2015, things started to go sideways. Lauren pulled an adductor (see below) and as a result, made an appearance in a live-streamed Open workout a little less conditioned than normal. She did, however, make it to Regionals but ultimately pulled out after the injury became too much to overcome. Since then, we saw less and less of her. I still saw her Facebook posts since we live in the same area and have a lot of mutual friends but there was gradually less and less product pushing FB or Instagram posts. No bootietastic swimsuit shots. (Ok, less of those shots but we DO live in Florida so really freaking hot down here and bikinis are akin to wearing shorts. People go into the grocery store in them!) But from what I could tell, it seemed for that most part, she was continuing to train and I assumed she’d strive to make a comeback in the the Open this year.
But, as we all know now, Lauren didn’t compete in the Open. I thought maybe she’d chosen to sit a season out perhaps. However, it wasn’t until I saw Lauren post on Facebook recently that I realized, Lauren may not ever want to compete on an elite level again.
As you can see, her post hinted (or screamed?) that her time spent at the “top” of the CrossFit pyramid might not have been as much fun as it seemed on the surface. In the post, she was also very open and honest about how she felt she behaved as a mother and wife during that time even going so far as to call herself selfish. She hinted that she had been doing quite a bit of soul searching, yoga and meditation. All of this really struck a chord with me. First: how incredibly badass of her to call herself out. How many times have you watched someone via social media and wanted to just scream at them to cut the BS and just admit that they’re struggling or putting up a front. She was brave enough to just say (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I was kind of an asshole. I’m owning up to that and I’m going to try to do better now.”
"I was kind of an asshole. I’m owning up to that and I’m going to try to do better now."
So, bravo to you, Lauren! Secondly, she mentioned that she hadn’t trained in several months and was doing more yoga and meditation, which also piqued my interest. Having been in the CrossFit world since 2008, I have recently found myself really searching for some balance in my training and my life. I think many of us may be struggling with this issue. We find ourselves still loving what CrossFit gives us; strength, confidence, a sense of community and even competition. But also yearning for something less mentally taxing. Something to balance the constant pressure to improve and to keep up. Something to help our bodies feel agile and mobile and, let’s face it, not so dang beat up all the time. And something to calm the Type-A, hyper-competitive, perfectionist tendencies that are attracted to CrossFit. Sound familiar, anyone?
So, I thought, why don’t I just ask her to chat. I messaged her on Facebook and low and behold, she responded. We arranged to chat on the phone and before you know it I was texting back and forth with THE Lauren Brooks. I was a little impressed with myself! However, I was more impressed with how completely down to earth and sweet she is. The day came and Lauren called me while she was on her way to support her gym’s team at a competition a few hours away from home. I’ll admit I was a little nervous. I prepared a list of questions, did some research and was ready to do my little interview. Well, let me just tell you, Mrs. Lauren Brooks had a lot to say. It was honestly a relief. I really didn’t ask too many questions she just started talking and I let her vent. It really seemed as if she had been thinking about most of this for a long time and needed to just get it out there. And I was happy to listen.
We jumped right in to what happened leading into competitive CrossFit season in 2015. There was a lot of hype, and I would anticipate a lot of pressure on her to perform well, leading into the Open. Lauren had done well at the Games the preceding year and had been a media darling ever since. She even went head to head with Julie Foucher in one of the Open Workout announcements. However, as I mentioned previously, it was obvious to most in that Open workout announcement video, Lauren didn’t look quite like herself. While performing far better than I’d ever hope to, she was just a little more winded, a little slower than what we had come to expect from her. We all know now, that she had injured herself but I never was clear on what happened. Ironically, it wasn’t CrossFit that caused the injury. Lauren was actually at a hot yoga class, doing a standing boat pose when she heard an audible snap and knew something wasn’t right. She, of course, finished the class, but struggled for days, weeks, even months after that class to get back the full use of her leg. Lauren visited specialists, nursed the adductor, and saved herself for the Open WODs and ONLY the Open WODs through the entire Open season and up until Regionals, fearing any extra training would be too much for the leg to handle and take her out of competition. “In hindsight, that probably wasn’t the best decision but I just wasn’t ready to let it go,” recounted Lauren.
Photo by: Hannah Hayworth @hannahhayworth
Lauren managed to qualify for Regionals (she clean and jerked 240lb on a injured adductor!) but struggled through the workouts. It was in Event 3 of the Regional, while on the TrueForm treadmill when she felt her left side “lock up” and she knew she wouldn’t be able to continue. After that workout, Lauren withdrew from competition.
Ever the strong-willed athlete, Lauren was hell-bent on healing and getting back into the game. She hired a new coach, a new nutritionist, and someone to program gymnastics. All the while, she was battling feeling frustrated and depressed. Who wouldn’t, right? Can you imagine going from being in the center of everyone’s attention to completely out of the “loop” so quickly? Lauren trained diligently throughout the off-season, but she said after 6 months of intense gymnastics work “I was literally no better. I hadn’t improved at all.” She also admitted she just couldn’t commit to a clean diet. “I struggled to eat clean. I just didn’t have the motivation to do it.”
Not only did Lauren notice a lack of intrinsic motivation, she also noticed a shift with the companies that had been so supportive when she was competing and doing well. She had been able to earn a modest living via sponsorship and product endorsements. However, after not making it to the Games in 2015, she started to notice a dramatic change in the way she was treated by these companies that were all too happy to have her on board just a year earlier. “People I would banter back and forth with via text on a daily basis wouldn’t even answer or return phone calls.”
Photo by: Hannah Hayworth @hannahhayworth
She also discovered that there was a far less glamorous and chummy side to the industry that isn’t portrayed publicly. While Instagram and Facebooks posts lead you to believe that all of the popular CrossFit media starlets are great friends and enjoy a life filled with training, sponsor-supported travel, lucrative endorsement deals, photo-shoots and fun, in reality things are much different. While some companies do offer financial support and payment for the use of images and the athletes’ names, others use these athletes’ images and influence for their own benefit and then refuse to compensate the athletes after profiting financially. Lauren also saw a lot of two-faced, artificial relationships.
“One moment, these girls would be complaining about being stood up at the airport and having to pay for their hotels and food when traveling to promote a product or brand and the next they are gushing about how much they respect and love the company….And when I placed well or competed, these girls I only did one photo-shoot with would post pics of us and tag me and act like we were best buds when I barely knew them.”
Overall, Lauren felt like many, but certainly not all, of the relationships she formed and people she met while endorsing many of these brands were superficial and the people with which she found herself interacting with lacked “substance”. “I found myself coming to the conclusion that these were not the kinds of people I wanted to associate myself with,”Lauren reflected.
As time has gone by, It’s become a bit easier for her to take a step back and see the CrossFit social media game for what it’s worth. There are some sponsors out there that are only interested in “how hot you are…how good are you…and how often you can be exploited”. And there are lots of female CrossFit athletes that are all too eager to have the attention. Lauren and I both discussed that its almost painful to watch some of these women jump into the social media game knowing how fickle the industry can be and if you aren’t winning or you don’t look the part of wear what they want, you won’t be “needed” anymore. Even though Lauren has parted ways with a few of her sponsors she has also maintained and even gained some new sponsors. She is currently working with Strange Bikinisand Barbella Boxand just joined with Born Primitiveto design a line of clothing. She has also retained relationships with Unbroken Designs, and ExoSleeve.
When asked when she made the decision to not compete this year, Lauren started openly considering not competing a month out from the start of the Open. “I started telling my friends and family about it and asking what they thought. I guess I was looking for validation.”At that point, “I hated CrossFit. I hated training. I hated the diet… and I remember I was in a yoga class and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Why was I doing this to myself?”
"I hated CrossFit. I hated training. I hated the diet… and I remember I was in a yoga class and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Why was I doing this to myself?"
Lauren, admitted, she’s always been a people pleaser and she thinks that she was really afraid she was going to let people down if she didn’t compete or didn’t live up to everyone’s expectations. Which, as anyone could imagine, would be absolutely exhausting over time. And ultimately, she decided she just didn’t want to compete. In fact, she decided that she “wasn’t going to do anything that didn’t feed my soul. I wasn’t going to do anything that didn’t make me happy.”She didn’t set out with any plan or timeline in mind. But, in the end Lauren didn’t touch a barbell, didn’t do a pull-up, didn’t do a single CrossFit workout for several months. She spent those months, instead, doing yoga, mediating, spending time with her kids and husband, and figuring out what really made her happy. You know… All the things we wish we had time for. The things we scold ourselves for not making the time to take care of but find it impossible to work in because we’re so overloaded with other tasks not the least of is our workouts. Or is that just me?
There has been more than just a mental shift with Lauren. I’ll admit, I had to do a double take a few weeks ago when Lauren posted some new pics and videos on social media. She looks so much different! And I’ll admit it, she looks better. Healthier, happier, and smaller. A good bit smaller in fact. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a very big supporter of girls looking exactly as they want or should look given their chosen sport, lifestyle, etc. and I often applaud the bigger, more muscular girl who’s confident in her body. But Lauren looks noticeably more radiant lately. When I asked her about this she said she’s now down to 155lbs. At one point, when competing, she was weighing in at around 180 lbs. and “I didn’t really like the way I looked. I wasn’t obese or anything. But I was bigger than I felt comfortable being.”
"I didn’t really like the way I looked. I wasn’t obese or anything. But I was bigger than I felt comfortable being."
Of course, I also wanted to know what had changed to bring her weight down. Of course, doing yoga regularly and not lifting as much would feed into that. Lauren also said she’s been doing some alternative therapies like colonics and even trying out some new nutrition strategies. Someone suggested she read “The Grape Cure” and she’s been implementing some of the diet strategies and noticing improvements in how she feels physically. Her ultimate goal is get “organically healthy” and admits that even though she was extremely fit when she was competing she wasn’t “healthy”. “There were times when I didn’t get my cycle regularly. And we would really like to have more kids!” she shared.
Overall, Lauren seems like she is really seeking balance and health in her life and its very evident from the outside looking in that its working for her. I asked if she is coaching more now since she’s not working out 24/7 and she says honestly she’s not ready to coach a lot at the moment. She’s handling some morning classes and open gym and really giving that her full attention when she’s there and then the rest of her day is focused on her children, her husband and her home. She’s also meditating and reading books and watching videos by Gabrielle Bernstein and Abraham Hicks that are helping her to focus and gain clarity on what is important to her at this point in her life.
In all honesty, I found hearing all of this refreshing to hear. I mentioned this to her and I’ll say it here as well. I think there are many women, mothers, and athletes out there who are struggling with the same things she struggled with (albeit on a smaller scale). We want to make everyone happy. We want to be the best athlete, the fittest in the gym and we want to hang out with the “cool kids club”. We want everyone to tell us how pretty, strong, amazing we are. We also want to be the best mom, the best wife, the best girlfriend. Oh and we also want to make enough money and succeed at work. Holy crap is that a lot of effing work! And we really can’t do ALL of those things at the same time, can we? We might get away with it for a little while, but it doesn’t take long before the stress takes a toll. And it’s hard to admit, this isn’t making any of us happy. It’s making us miserable. But, that’s what Lauren did. And someone has to go first. Someone has to admit, “I can’t keep doing this. I won’t keep doing this, anymore. I need to be happy and this isn’t making me happy.”So, Lauren, from me and I suspect a heap of other women, thank you for going first. Thank you for making it “ok” to admit that the constant battle to be the best at everything all at once is not possible and it certainly isn’t maintainable. Thank you for also coming out and saying that all those glamorous marketing images and social media feeds aren't always what they seem to be.
"Thank you for also coming out and saying that all those glamorous marketing images and social media feeds aren't always what they seem to be."
You've inspired me, and I'm betting quite a few women, to pause, take an inventory of our lives and decide what really makes us and our families happy and healthy. I'm hoping by doing this, we can all to find the right balance so we can participate in the activities that we love (CrossFit, Yoga, knitting, kissing pigs, etc.) without getting lost in them.