Velma Cavazos Loses Husband to COVID-19, Newfound Health Helps her Tackle the Grief

March 15, 2021 by
Courtesy of Velma Cavazos
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Velma Cavazos’s 17-year-old son was practically in tears as he and his father drove her to an Anytime Fitness in 2016.

  • “You’re not going to see me graduate from High School if you stay on this path,” her son Jacob told Velma, who weighed 400 pounds at the time and could barely walk.
  • Velma had just spent a week in the hospital because of heart complications. “As soon as I got out of the hospital, my son and husband (Pablo)  drove me straight to the gym, and I’m like, ‘Why are we here? I’m never going to use this gym membership. I’m not a gym person,’” she remembered.

What happened next: Velma, now 50, reluctantly began working with a personal trainer and managed to lose 80 pounds in the following months through working out and changing her nutrition. But she wasn’t particularly inspired by the fitness she was pursuing.

  • Then, in 2019, Velma came across a live stream online for a 24-hour workout fundraiser at CrossFit Chicago Heights in IL. She was immediately drawn in by these women lifting such heavy weights and doing such “crazy things,” she said. “I literally watched them workout for 24 hours…My husband was like, ‘You just need to go to bed,’” she said laughing. 
  • The next day, Pablo asked her: “Why don’t you go check it out?” So she did. Velma marched down to CrossFit Chicago Heights “not knowing what a barbell was,” she explained, and signed up for an entire year. 

Enter COVID-19: Just a few months into her CrossFit journey, the pandemic hit and her husband caught the virus. After battling the illness for two weeks, and spending five days In the ICU, he tragically passed away. 

  • Devastated, Velma’s instinct was to quit working out. It just didn’t seem that important anymore, she explained. 
  • But her coach Zach McGathey wouldn’t let her. “He’s such a great coach. He was like, ‘I’m not going to let you quit. Your hurting wants you to quit, but you don’t want to quit. Your son doesn’t want you to quit. I’m not going to let you quit,” she said of Jacob’s encouragement. 
  • So, through her grief, Velma continued to participate in Zoom classes, and when the gym reopened in June 2020, she rejoined the community in-person. 
  • She couldn’t be happier she listened to her coach. “Like literally, for that whole hour I’m there, I can kind of forget about the pain for a minute. People kept telling me to take medication, but I never did. Sure, it would cover up the pain for a little bit, but what’s that going to do in the long run? Not that I’m knocking people who take medication, but I didn’t want to depend on a pill to make me feel OK,” said Velma, who now weighs 220 at 5-foot-6; 180 pounds less than her heaviest in 2016.
  • She added: “CrossFit has brought me so much joy and has filled a lot of voids and has made me confident. I used to be this shy person and now I can walk around and feel good about myself.”
Courtesy of Velma Cavazos

One big thing: Most recently, Velma’s father also got COVID-19 (he has since recovered), which sent her to Texas to help look after her mother, something she never would have been able to do before getting as fit as she is today. 

  • “It was right when Texas lost power and water, and they didn’t even have a generator and you couldn’t go to the store because the stores were closed…There’s a lake close by, so I went and filled up buckets of water and carried them a good mile-and-a-half back to my parents place so we could go to the bathroom and flush the toilet,” she said.
  • “When I was 400 pounds, there was no way I could have been able to carry that water. I don’t even think I would have thought about doing it. I wouldn’t have been any good to my parents,” she added;

The big picture: Losing her husband 11 months ago has been an unthinkable experience for Velma and Jacob, but thanks to CrossFit, she is in a much better position to handle the grief than she ever would have been just two years ago. And it has helped her realize she still has a lot to live for, including her son’s wedding this May.

  • “I feel 100 percent, probably even more, better than I used to. I can walk without losing my breath. Before, I was like, ‘No way am I walking the dog.’ I have so much more energy and confidence. I’m a totally different person,” she said.
  • Through tears, Velma added: “I hate to say I’m so much happier, because I lost my husband and I miss him so much, but I am. I am in a good place.”

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