Frontline Worker Spotlight: Gym Buddies “Made all the Difference,” for NYC Nurse

July 7, 2020 by
Courtesy of Caryn Nienstadt

April was “the hardest month of my life,” said 26-year-old Caryn Nienstadt, a nurse in Westchester, NY, and a CrossFit athlete at Downstate CrossFit in Briarcliff Manor.

  • “I cried every single day. I would get into my car after work, take a deep breath, and then cry the whole way home,” said Nienstadt.

One big thing: Nienstadt’s Downstate CrossFit community proved once again what it means to be part of the broader CrossFit community and stepped up in a major way. From reaching out to make sure Nienstadt was OK, to dropping off baked goods, to buying gift cards for her entire unit, Nienstadt’s CrossFit family “made all the difference” during the peak of the pandemic, she said.

  • “One friend had her kids draw me cards that thanked me for being a healthcare hero, (and)…a few of the girls also sent me dinner and drinks after a particularly hard day,” said Nienstadt.
  • “I felt so supported through my gym and I am so grateful for all of the members,” she added.

Prioritizing her fitness even after 12 to 13-hour shifts also helped, she added.

  • “I always knew fitness was an outlet, but it really became an outlet…I used to be a morning workout person, but during COVID I would do fitness after work to decompress from the horrible day,” she said.

Her long days meant showing up an hour early for work each morning, as she had to wait in line to have her temperature checked.

  • “Then another line to get my N95 mask. And then wait again to get my scrubs. There was a cleaning service for scrubs, so they’d give you new ones each day,” Nienstadt said.
Courtesy of Caryn Nienstadt

After that, it was time to care for the “sickest patients I have ever cared for,” said Nienstadt, whose floor at the hospital added 200 extra beds, which were entirely full of COVID patients.

The no visitors rule made it even harder: “I feel that we as nurses became their outlets. It made me take my job even more seriously because now I had to be their emotional support, too, and make them feel like they weren’t alone,” she said.

  • “We became so emotionally connected to those patients. It was unlike any other experience I have ever had,” Nienstadt said, adding that it wasn’t something any of them were prepared for.
  • “We learned about a pandemic in school maybe for one day. Like it was literally one slide in one class. Maybe I should have paid a little more attention,” she added with a laugh.
Courtesy of Caryn Nienstadt

As of mid-June, her floor at the hospital was clean of COVID patients. Though Nienstadt is relieved, she admits she’s worried about a second wave.

  • “I just hope we never have to go through that again,” she said.

But if she does, she also knows she has a great healthcare team, and a great CrossFit community, to help her get through it.

  • “Everyone in the hospital, we just have the bond now, like we have been through a war together,” she said.