When Haley Morrone was 10 years old, her mother noticed something was off.
She was right: Morrone had been sexually abused by someone close to the family for as long as she could remember.
“I don’t even know how long, but some of my earliest memories are of the abuse,” said Morrone, now 38.
“I never really asked her what changes she saw in me, but I think I was just going inward a bit more. I had been a dancer and a gymnast and I didn’t want to do those things anymore. I think because of the trauma, it was hard for me to trust anybody,” she said.
When Morrone’s mother confronted her 10-year-old daughter, Morrone sensed it was an opportunity to end the abuse.
“At 10, I honestly didn’t really understand it, but I think I was kind of waiting for someone to reach out to me,” she said.
Trying to Cope
While telling her mother stopped the abuse, it didn’t stop the emotional toll that would continue to plague Morrone. And by the time she became a teenager, she started to pursue some unhealthy habits in order to deal with her emotions.
“I was always home on time and didn’t let my grades suffer too much, but I definitely coped with drinking and drugs and smoking at a very young age, and fell into the wrong crowd,” she said.
At the same time, she had quit dance and gymnastics and didn’t follow a very healthy diet.
“I ate a lot of fast food, and other junk food and soda. I would stuff myself full and eat for every emotion I was having,” she said. By the time she graduated from high school, the 5-foot-5 Morrone was 215 pounds and continued to be overweight through her 20s, eventually hitting 250 pounds at 32.
Over the years, she tried going to the gym and boot camp fitness programs, and she tried diet pills and Slim Fast — and various other diets that promised quick results — but nothing ever stuck.
From Hesitant CrossFitter…
Then seven years ago, while living in Germany, Morrone’s husband Joe Morrone got into CrossFit. For two years, he tried to convince his wife to try, but to no avail.
Finally, five-and-a-half years ago, when Morrone reached her highest weight, she agreed to sign up with a few friends.
“It’s kind of funny, because there was a bet going on about who would quit first and everyone bet on me. I don’t blame them, though, because I always said I quit everything that I started,” she said.
She was even kind of relieved when nobody believed in her, as it took the pressure off.
“It kind of gave me a way out if I wanted it. And to be honest, I didn’t even think I would last,” she said.
On the day of the initial consultation at CrossFit Ansbach in Germany, the friends Morrone was starting with happened to be out of town. So Morrone had a choice to make: Suck it up and go alone, even though she was terrified, or chicken out like she normally did.
Something told her to go, she explained.
“And it was terrifying, and the hardest workout of my life,” said Morrone, who could run just 60 feet without stopping at that time.
But then something happened that surprised her. People were so friendly and encouraging and all of them started giving her high fives. She could tell this was a welcoming community she wanted to become a part of.
“And then, I just never really stopped going,” Morrone said.
…To Affiliate Owner
Today, Morrone and her husband own their own affiliate, Converse CrossFit in Converse, Texas, which they opened in 2017. She is also a Precision Nutrition Level 1 coach.
At 38, Morrone is 97 pounds lighter than when she started CrossFit, and she’s in the best shape of her life. Morrone can do pull-ups and toes-to-bar and double-unders and is a strong weightlifter.
“I can do all these things I never thought I’d be able to do. When I started, I was OK to just get in a good workout and be healthier, but now I want to see how far I can take this thing,” she said.
Morrone’s Ultimate Goal: A Muscle-Up
Morrone’s message to others is to embrace the long-term path to change. Though we’re constantly being marketed to about the next great diet, cleanse or six-week fitness challenge, real change — lasting change — takes time.
She didn’t get her first pull-up in one month. In fact, it took Morrone an entire year until she could do a push-up. And she didn’t change her diet overnight. Her journey to get where she is today has been a long five-and-a-half year pursuit.
“For me, it has been all about making those small changes slowly. Like at the start, I was a huge sugar nut, and put sugar in my coffee every morning, so at first I just switched to putting honey, and then put a bit less honey,” she explained.
“You have to find a lot of small things that you can stick with.”
Is Morrone perfect all the time? No, she admits. But the habits she has built are solid.
She added: “And then you can’t get frustrated when you hit a plateau. Make slow changes over time and then when you hit a plateau, it’s just a chance to re-evaluate. Instead of seeing it as a failure, think about what else you can do. When I do that, it always kick-starts progress again.”
But before all that, it comes down to “finding the courage” to take the first step, she explained.
When Morrone did that, she just happened to stumble across a community that “helped save my life.”
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