Meet CrossFit Games Bound, Neuromuscular Semifinals Winner Alyssa Kobela
One day in 2018, Alyssa Kobela woke up and could barely see.
“I was like, ‘Hmmm, I can’t really read anything. And the next day, it was even worse. I couldn’t even make out my husband’s face,” said Kobela, the winner of the women’s neuromuscular division who is heading to compete at the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games this summer.
Shortly after experiencing sudden vision problems, Kobela was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a central nervous system condition without a cure that attacks the protective layer around the nerves and leads to symptoms such as muscle spasticity, fatigue, coordination and balance challenges, vision and mobility problems, and chronic pain.
Four years after being diagnosed with MS, Kobela explained what it’s like living with a disease that causes both inflammation and lesions that make it hard for her brain to send signals to her body: “Every day is different. I really never know how I’ll feel waking up,” Kobela said.
“My vision is controllable (now), but my eyes get tired really easily. And MS fatigue is real. I would equate it to if you tried to stay up for 24 or 48 hours straight, and how you would feel after that,” Kobela explained of her Relapsing-Remitting MS, meaning she goes through relapse periods, as well as periods where things are under control.
She added: “It can sometimes be crippling, but I use exercise and healthy eating to combat that. Even if I’m tired, I try to get a workout in almost everyday.”
From Grief to the CrossFit Games
Kobela, who started CrossFit six years prior to being diagnosed with MS, admitted the diagnosis was a shock that sent her life upside down.
“I went through that grief process for a long time: anger, bargaining, depression,” she said.
“It was really hard for me to go to the gym and see people getting their ring muscle-up and be like, ‘I used to be able to do that.’ I can’t lift a 205 pound jerk anymore, and that was a really hard pill to swallow for a really long time,” she continued.
“I struggled until recently with that grief process.”
Then last summer, after giving birth to her first child earlier in the year, Kobela was watching the CrossFit Games and realized CrossFit LLC had introduced adaptive divisions at the Games.
“I was like, ‘Hey, here’s somewhere I can fit in, where I can feel like I can reach for something again,” she explained.
In that moment, Kobela created a new goal for herself: “I wanted to make the CrossFit Games.”
Fast-forward nine months and Kobela punched her ticket to Madison, WI this summer by winning the women’s neuromuscular division at the online Semifinals.
And since reaching her goal of qualifying to the Games, she immediately set a new goal for herself: “I want to win the Games,” she said.
As much as Kobela has her sights set on the podium in Madison, WI, getting the chance to compete on the biggest stage of the sport is about so much more than her competition goals.
“I really just want to be able to spread the news that (even if you) get a chronic illness diagnosis, there are tons of things you can do to combat it,” Kobela said.
Ultimately, Kobela wants to enlighten others who experience a similar diagnosis as she did about the importance of fitness and healthy living, so they can avoid staying in the “grief cave” for long, she explained.
Your life doesn’t need to stop, and you don’t need to be totally dependent on medication, she urged.
“I definitely believe fitness and taking care of yourself is the best thing for you. Because I could have just stopped moving. I could have just moved to physical therapy and been like, ‘My legs hurt. I don’t feel like pushing through the pain today. I don’t feel like squatting today,’” Kobela said.
“But I didn’t. And now I’m better off for it. I mean, I can still walk. Do I still have issues? Yeah. I get the (muscle) spasticity. I have coordination and balance issues, but if I didn’t do the stuff I do I would be way worse.”