Six Chagrin Falls CrossFit Nurses Lean on Each Other through the Pandemic, Will Tackle the Open Together

February 10, 2021 by
Credit: @LexArtis:
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Melissa Bowdren isn’t sure how she caught COVID-19 at the end of December 2020. The 45-year-old nurse manager at a hospital in Cleveland, OH diligently wears her PPE on every shift and always feels protected.

Luckily, the single mother to a teenage daughter didn’t have a bad case, quarantined herself for two weeks and then was right back at work and training at Chagrin Falls CrossFit, a place that has been her lifeline during the last twelve months. 

  • “CrossFit has been a source of sanity for me during this time,” said Bowdren, who usually attends 5 AM classes before her 12-hour shifts in a COVID ward. “When everything else is uncertain and stressful, it helps me focus on something good and healthy for myself.”

The big picture:  Bowdren is just one of six nurses committed to their fitness at Chagrin Falls CrossFit, all of whom say their gym, and each other, have been their saving grace in recent months. 

  • Manon Desjardins, 43, is a nurse in the prenatal ICU cardiac department. The mother of two small children is also currently taking her masters degree to become a nurse practitioner. 
  • Mae Loporo, 38 is a third. She’s also a mother of two and a nurse practitioner in the emergency department in a downtown Cleveland hospital. 
  • Rounding out the crew are Ashley Longano, 38, mother of two and a nurse in endoscopy, nurse Katie Bitzer, and physician’s assistant Kara Ford, both in their twenties. 
  • “I think we all have the same mentality of working so hard and getting through this together…My husband sometimes is like, ‘We have a gym in the basement. Why don’t you just workout there and save some money?’ And I’m like, ‘I can’t. I need my women,’” Desjardins said. Because her whole family lives in Canada — her mother is yet to meet her 15-month-year-old baby — this group of ladies has been extra important to her, she explained. “I don’t know what I would do without my ladies,” Desjardins added. 
  • For Loporo, having other women around who understand what she’s going through at work has provided a ton of comfort. “We have bonded a lot. We’re all in the thick of things at work in our respective jobs. So it helps a lot to do these workouts and feel a sense of socialization and togetherness with others who have the same risks that you do….It’s like being in a little family during this most stressful time,” she said. 
  • And for Bowdren, who is currently in the same nurse practitioner program as Desjardins, being part of the group at Chagrin Falls CrossFit has helped her gain the confidence that she can “do much more than I think I can,” she explained. For her, this means working a full-time job as a nurse, while simultaneously being a student and single parent, and still making time to prioritize her fitness. This confidence “definitely crosses over to other areas of my life,” she added. 
Credit: @LexArts:

One big thing: Even for those who don’t work directly in a COVID ward, like Desjardins, this year has still been particularly stressful, because they have to deal with the burden various COVID protocols places on families. Once again, their reprieve is the gym.

  • “There have been newborns with a heart defect, and then mom tests positive (for COVID) even though she was asymptomatic, and now mom and dad are beside themselves because they can’t see their baby, and their baby might not make it,” Desjardins said of what she has been dealing with. Going to the gym at 5:30 a.m. is what has allowed her to deal with situations like the latter. “I hate waking up at 5:30 a.m., but afterward I’m ready to conquer anything,” she said. 
  • Loporo agrees: “Just getting some of that stress out at the gym means when you come into work you’re a happy person, and you can take care of people on their worst day and be positive.”

Next up: The CrossFit Games Open. All six Chagrin Falls CrossFit nurses have signed up to compete in the upcoming Open. Although competing in a competition might seem trivial to all that’s going on in the world right, it’s just another opportunity to celebrate how fitness and their gym community has helped them, not just be healthy and fit, but also to be better mothers and nurses. 

  • Fitness, even more this year than any other year, has been a mental thing that helps “fight the rut you might fall into from just being at home all the time and going to work,” Loporo said.  “It has given me that other piece in my life, an escape…This does volumes for your mental health and gives you routine. I think every person really needs that for their sanity.”
  • Bowdren added: “CrossFit has helped me emotionally and physically be a better mom and nurse. I would recommend it to anyone.”

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