Innovative In-Hospital Spanish Affiliate Prepares Cancer Patients for Treatment

November 1, 2020 by
Photo Credit: CrossFit Front Garden (instagram.com/crossfit_frontgarden/)
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Two years ago, Carlo Brugiotti, a member at FreeMove CrossFit in Illes Balears, Spain approached Coach Nat Diez about the idea of using CrossFit to help cancer patients gain strength and fitness before undergoing surgery and chemotherapy. As the Director of Oncology at a nearby hospital, Brugiotti saw “the value of constantly varied, functional movements done at a relatively high intensity and how it can help people with cancer,” Diez said.

  • “We realized we have a real opportunity to help people in one of the hardest moments in their life,” said Diez, a CrossFit Level 2 coach, a member of CrossFit’s Seminar Staff and the Country Manager of Spain. 

As a result, what started out as a conversation between a member and a coach quickly led to a first-of-its-kind project: an affiliate located within a hospital. 

The details: After raising money through private donations from a handful of affiliates in Spain, as well as through selling velcro badges for backpacks, Diez and Brugiotti were able to raise enough funds to purchase the equipment needed to open CrossFit Front Garden, a not-for-profit affiliate based at Comarcal d’Inca Hospital in Illes Balears. The affiliate is designed specifically for patients with cancer in “the trunk of their body,” such as colon, stomach or intestinal cancer, Diez explained.

  • The first contact with a patient is done in a one-on-one environment. They undergo 11 different “small tests” to help Diez assess exactly where each person is at. From there, patients begin doing CrossFit a minimum of two days a week, often including various CrossFit benchmark workouts, scaled to meet the person’s abilities. 
  • Patients continue the program for two months, the ultimate goal being to “make them stronger before surgery,” Diez explained. Their progress is monitored every step of the way, both in the gym and via health marker tests administered by doctors. 
  • Though their sample size is admittedly small — just 20 patients so far — the results are significant, Diez explained. “When you have cancer in the trunk (region of the body), it can be difficult to even do something like a sit-up when they start. And then in two months, you see them start to regain that capacity and you watch them learn new skills every day,” Diez said. “This is data. Science. It’s so obvious the health markers improve when people do CrossFit.

One big thing: As important as the physical improvements have been, the emotional ones she has witnessed are even more significant, Diez said. 

  • “For many of them, they spend hours, days, weeks inside the hospital, so for them being in that CrossFit room is just what they need emotionally. It feels almost like they have left the hospital,” she said. 
  • And as their fitness and emotional state improves, so does their confidence. “They start to realize that they can do a lot, even if they’re ill, they can still be active,” Diez said. This makes the chances of success during surgery, and during their recovery, that much more likely, she added. 

The big picture: Diez is confident the “real data” they’re collecting through cancer patients at CrossFit Front Garden will help shed more light on the importance of using fitness, not just in healthy people and for rehabilitation, but also for providing cancer patients — and people with various other diseases — the best possible chance to recover. As a coach, nothing could be more rewarding.

  • “I love to help people…I’m learning every day,” Diez said. “It’s a completely different side of CrossFit. You really need to go back to the basics, but that’s where the magic is.

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