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Colleen Grote: From Chemotherapy to Quarterfinals

March 29, 2022 by
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Colleen Grote
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Like many Quarterfinals competitors who completed five grueling workouts last weekend, 35-year-old Colleen Grote will rest, recover and get some treatment done on her body this week. The difference for Grote is that her treatment is for cancer.

Last year, just a week after the CrossFit Open wrapped up, Grote, who noticed a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with Stage 2A breast cancer which rocked her to the core.

Just a week before, the member of CrossFit 151 in Marion, IA and mother of two children had narrowly missed making the Quarterfinals cut and was more motivated than ever to train for 2022. 

Now, her priority was just staying alive. 

“I had two tumors, one was two centimeters and the other was 1.8 centimeters, and I was what they call triple positive. I needed to have 12 rounds of chemotherapy,” said Grote, who underwent a double mastectomy last August.

Today, Grote is cancer-free, but she continues to go for drug infusions once every three weeks to help reduce the chances of reoccurrence, and to kill “anything microscopic” that might still be there.

Grote’s Journey to Quarterfinals

When Grote was first diagnosed with cancer, she admitted fitness, let alone training to qualify for Quarterfinals this year, was the furthest thing from her mind. 

She was forced to take six weeks off of any kind of fitness after her double mastectomy last August, as well as after another six weeks after another surgery she had more recently in January. 

“And I had to take another three weeks off last April because I had a port put in (to administer an IV). I was doing the math the other day, and I realized there were 15 weeks last year where I wasn’t able to train,” Grote said.

That being said, in the other 37 of the last 52 weeks, Grote showed up to the gym as normal, even as she was going through chemotherapy. 

“I would leave chemo and go straight to the gym and do whatever I could do that day,” she said. “My body wasn’t always super happy and there were a lot of side effects from the chemo, but I also found that the more I moved my body the better I felt, even on days where I didn’t mentally feel like it. And I’m convinced working out also helped reduce the side effects.”

Grote credits finding Barbells for Boobs—the non-profit founded by CrossFit athlete Zionna Hanson in 2009 that has raised more than $20 million for women affected by breast cancer—with helping her realize she could keep training at all through breast cancer.

“My body wasn’t always super happy and there were a lot of side effects from the chemo, but I also found that the more I moved my body the better I felt, even on days where I didn’t mentally feel like it. And I’m convinced working out also helped reduce the side effects.”

Colleen Grote

“I was scrolling through Facebook and immersing myself in the world of breast cancer and found this woman who was completely bald lifting weights at a CrossFit gym, and I was able to connect with Barbells for Boobs and meet the coaches and this whole world of women who were doing what they loved despite their diagnosis and treatment,” Grote said.

“It was reassuring. I realized I didn’t have to lose myself. I didn’t have to lose the progress I was making at the gym.”

That’s when Grote decided that her 2022 Quarterfinals goal was still a possibility, a possibility she made reality during this year’s Open.

Photo Credit: Colleen Grote

The Quarterfinals Experience and Beyond

Grote called the last fews weeks leading up to Quarterfinals an “emotional whirlwind.”

“It was the anniversary of when I was diagnosed, and the whole thing was surreal. It was like, ‘Okay, I’m still here and I’m still doing these workouts with the people I love,’” she explained. 

This feeling of gratitude allowed Grote to surprise herself on nearly every single Quarterfinal workout last weekend, including hitting PRs on all of her lifts in Workout 4.

“Cancer doesn’t have to take away everything that’s important to you. It changes things. My workouts looked different for a while, but there are ways to keep chasing your goals.”

Colleen Grote

With one goal checked off the list, Grote’s next goal is to raise as much money as she can for Barbells for Boobs.

“These fundraising efforts are so important, because they won’t take on a woman unless they know they can give her the right one-on-one attention, so they have a waitlist,” Grote said, adding that Barbells for Boobs is a big part of the reason she feels as empowered as she does today. 

“They helped me see that cancer doesn’t have to take away everything that’s important to you. It changes things. My workouts looked different for a while, but there are ways to keep chasing your goals,” she said. 

“I don’t know what tomorrow is going to look like. I can’t control that, but I can control how prepared I am to take that on, and CrossFit is helping me set myself up to take anything on.” 

Grote’s Big Picture Message

Grote’s message to women is to trust themselves when it comes to their bodies. 

When she noticed a lump in her breast at the age of 34, she tried to book a mammogram, but was turned away a number of times.

“I called six times before they let me book a mammogram. And when I finally convinced them to let me come in I was diagnosed three days later,” she said. 

“So speak out and don’t back down if something feels wrong.”

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