“When I have a barbell in my hand, I’m not looking at any flaws. I’m looking at how… I’m seeing how strong I am, and all my focus is [on] putting that bar over my head or getting that bar to my shoulders…And I think that that’s the cool part about CrossFit. It just allows you to be empowered by what your body can do, as opposed to what it looks like.” – Carleen Mathews
Three-time Games athlete and owner of CrossFit St. Helens, Carleen Mathews isn’t your typical CrossFit Games competitor. A former collegiate softball player, when Carleen’s athletic career came to a close she found herself struggling first with an eating disorder and then with alcohol and substance abuse.
With the help of therapy, her family, and CrossFit, Carleen overcame her addictions and self-destructive habits to return to competition, this time in a new sport. Since 2012, she has steadily risen amongst the ranks, progressing from a Regionals athlete to a multi-year CrossFit Games competitor. In 2017, she won the West Regional, but suffered an injury that forced her to withdrawal from the CrossFit Games on the first day of competition. For 2018, she is back on track, with her sights set on a top finish at Regionals and another trip to Madison.
I caught up with Carleen to learn about her journey from athlete to addiction and back, how her body image has changed since starting CrossFit, and her advice for helping others who may be suffering from an eating disorder or substance abuse.
In this episode we discuss:
- How Carleen got into softball as a child, and her recent induction into the Longview Girls Softball Association Hall of Fame
- The identity crisis she went through at the end of her softball career and how that led to disordered eating, and later drug and alcohol abuse
- Carleen’s experience using fitness to facilitate recovery for youth in an alcohol and drug treatment facility, while abusing alcohol herself
- How, after her softball career ended, Carleen turned her competitive focus to the scale and her appearance
- What her days and thoughts were like while her eating disorder was at its peak
- The best way to help a loved one dealing with an eating disorder
- How Carleen swapped her eating disorder for substance abuse
- How treatment and a nutrition coach provide the support she needs to stay on the right track
- What made Carleen realize she had an alcohol problem
- How CrossFit helped Carleen mend an unhealthy relationship with exercise and food
- Her path to becoming a CrossFit competitor, her evolution as an athlete, and how progress motivates her
- How CrossFit has changed Carleen’s body image and relationship with food
- How a bulging disc impacted her 2017 Games performance and what her recovery process has been like
- What a typical day looks like for Carleen
- Three things she does on a regular basis that have the biggest positive impact on her health
- One thing she struggles to implement that could have a big impact on her health
- What a healthy life looks like to her
Ep 14 – Camille Leblanc-Bazinet on moving forward, engineering, and body image
Ep 30 – Nadia Johnston on how CrossFit helped her to overcome eating disorders and depression
Ep 67 – Sobriety Through CrossFit: Brian Reap’s Story
Ep 71 – The Sugar Free Revolution with Karen Thomson
If you like this episode, please subscribe to Pursuing Health on iTunes and give it a rating. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below and on social media using the hashtag #PursuingHealth. I look forward to bringing you future episodes with inspiring individuals and ideas about health every other Tuesday.
This episode is brought to you by MobilityWOD. Do you struggle to get into good positions in your training and workouts? Are your movement compensations causing you undue pain and grief? M|Wod’s belief is that every human being should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. Join hundreds of Olympic and World Class athletes, College and Professional Teams in the NFL, MLB, Basketball, Hockey, Rugby and Soccer by using MobilityWOD to train and compete at your best. Visit www.mobilitywod.com to receive 20% off your annual membership with code JULIEFOUCHER.
This episode is also brought to you by Siete Foods. When Veronica Garza was facing a series of major health challenges as a teenager, her entire family of seven jumped on board to help. Together, they adopted a low-inflammation, grain free diet. As a Mexican-American family living in south Texas, they couldn’t imagine life without tortillas and it wasn’t long before Veronica came up with a delicious solution and Siete Foods was born. Visit www.sietefoods.com to try some of their delicious grain free and paleo-friendly tortillas or tortilla chips yourself and use code Julie for 10% off your order.
Disclaimer: This podcast is meant to share the experiences of various individuals. It does not provide medical advice, and it is not a substitute for advice from your physician or health care professional.