To Exit the Dark: An Ode to Life, CrossFit and Second Chances

November 17, 2022 by
Photo Credit: Teaganne Finn
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Anyone who’s done CrossFit knows that feeling. 

The one you get in the pit of your stomach, right before you know you’re about to go to a dark place. CrossFit has that unique ability to make you feel like all is lost, and in that very moment, nothing else matters. No workout characterizes this better than Fran: one of, if not the most well known workout, and it is the one we all dread to do. 

A 21-15-9 rep scheme of thrusters and pull-ups. Simple enough, maybe, but if you’ve been doing CrossFit long enough, you know it’s the simple ones that hurt the most. I remember my first Fran, at my very first gym–Canandaigua CrossFit in Upstate New York. I distinctly recall being nervous, anxious and a little bit unsure about what all the hype was around this one workout. 

Until I did it. 

The burning in the chest started on the second set of thrusters, lingering the entire rest of the workout. It hits you little by little, making you want to break and make the pain go away. But you’re in it, you’ve committed, and now you have to finish it. 

I know for certain I was doing kipping pull ups, the method where you use a kip swing on the rig to propel your chin over the bar, and needed to break them up–a lot. On that final pull-up I collapsed into a puddle on the ground, simply trying to catch my breath and regain consciousness.

There is a place you go when you’re in a CrossFit workout that is almost indescribable yet addictive. Once you’ve met the dark side and gone to the pain cave there’s something there that makes you want to go back for more. 

Writing gives me a similar feeling and a sense of freedom that I had never felt. I hail from a small town in upstate New York called Geneva and got into the craft when I was in undergraduate school at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. 

I started out thinking I wanted to pursue medicine, but something about writing always pulled me back. I loved the idea of telling a story and putting together something I could share with others. I slowly became acclimated with the journalism world and found reporting to be rewarding and it felt natural to me. I was a waitress in high school, and in college, and talking to all sorts of people was just something I became accustomed to and enjoyed. 

The moment I knew journalism was what I wanted to pursue was in my senior year. A project focused on immigrant farm workers in the Finger Lakes region and how those families navigated living in a place they didn’t know and a language many didn’t speak. I spoke to children and parents and talked to them about their struggles. My whole passion and goal was to give a voice to people who didn’t have one and to be able to share their stories. 

But my life took a much different path when I moved to Washington, DC in 2016 to pursue my master’s in journalism at American University. I went into it thinking I’d still want to do these human interest type stories and perhaps become a features writer at some publication. But little did I know the totality of political journalism in D.C. and the path that would follow. The American University graduate program was one full calendar year and coming out of school I took the first job offer I was given and it was an agriculture reporter at Bloomberg Government, the subscription and policy arm to the bigger Bloomberg LP. 

I didn’t have a clue about farm policy or agriculture or political reporting. But I knew I wanted to keep giving this path a try and to continue living in DC, so I went for it and in no time I was a regular Capitol Hill reporter. There is really nothing like walking into the US Capitol and running into a senator and being able to freely ask any question you want. It was exhilarating and a life changing experience for me; chasing lawmakers, staying late for votes, witnessing the State of the Union from the House balcony. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it still. 

While I was knowingly getting further and further from those human interest stories and one-on-one interviews I initially fell in love with, I became more intrigued by the pace of breaking news. I was asked by Bloomberg LP to assist on some breaking news items in 2019 and I had developed a skill set where I could synthesize information quickly: write a headline, a couple lines, and file (or submit) the story within maybe twenty minutes. 

If you didn’t know, much of the breaking news world depends on press releases, wire stories (for example the Associated Press), and notes from reporters in the field. Typically, you take those resources and formalize them into a headline and a few sentences and build the story throughout the day. I didn’t recognize the high value of this skill until Bloomberg LP asked me to join their breaking news desk in 2019. I jumped at the chance to be at the “mothership” of the operation and be able to continue with a company I loved. 

Before I knew it I was sending headlines and very short stories out and for lack of a better term— breaking the news. I was enthralled by this role and loved the pace and work that went into it. I covered State of the Unions, Senate hearings, White House press conferences. I covered the 2020 presidential election from my bedroom (thanks to the coronavirus). Not long after that I was recruited to join NBC News. It was a dream come true and truly a shock that they were coming to me. 

I grew up in a single-parent home with one younger sister. We struggled at times, but my mom always made sure we had food on the table and a roof over our head. I can recall watching the Today Show every morning before school. I watched those anchors and really admired them for their talent and beauty and poise and ability to deliver the news, even from a young age. My mom always used to tell me I belonged on that screen and that I should be a news anchor (maybe she predicted it all along?). The main reason I worked so hard and continue to is to make my mom proud and try to repay her for all that she has done for my sister and I. 

Making it to NBC was the icing on the cake. I joined the company in 2021 as a breaking news reporter on the politics team— filing stories on tight deadlines and monitoring hearings. I was ecstatic to be brought on and while I didn’t plan on being a breaking news reporter, it just somehow happened and I was just going with it. I worked with editors on a daily basis and filed my work directly to them to be sent out to the biggest audience I had ever written for before. 

That is until I lost it all. 

Much like that moment in a workout where there seems like there’s no end to the tunnel, it felt like that, however a million times worse. I was accused of plagiarism in 11 of my stories; I had to resign from my position short of a year after I was brought on. The shock of this event, the disgrace I felt from the public scrutiny, the uncertainty of when or even if I could get work writing again, it was a heavy load.  

Much of the role of a breaking news reporter is to aggregate work and attributing those sources you’re pulling from properly. For instance, if a reporter sends in quotes from the field you add them as a byline, if you reference a quote from an interview done by Politico, you cite Politico for having the quote. I failed to do this in 11 stories out of the 267 I had written and as NBC noted, none of the misattributed parts were central to the story. I admit failure and I sincerely apologize to the outlets that I did not properly cite, and the coworkers and editors I let down. 

I had worked my way up and felt like I did all of the right things only to have it completely torn away from me. I can recall walking into the gym the day after it happened and feeling numb. I had no job, so I thought I might as well go to the one place I find the most joy— the gym. 

I remember my good friend coming to my side, consoling me, as I burst into tears. My whole life came crashing down in a matter of minutes and I was at a loss for where to go from here. I was raised to be strong and my mother instilled in me the value of hard work and to fight back when you’re faced with a hard time. 

So I turned my energy to figuring out my next move and that was to get my L-1 online certification. I started CrossFit in 2014 and was dedicated to the sport throughout college, graduate school, and beyond. If you know me, you know I am a very routine based person and I train steadily. Obviously work or life gets in the way, but I made it a point to keep my workouts in check and slowly got better and more competitive. I was dedicated to the sport in more ways than one. 

I had always wanted to be a coach and emulated them for their ability to execute cues and to be a leader in a community, along with having very distinct personalities. But I just kept kicking the can down the road and telling myself I didn’t need it. Until I finally did it. 

I was lucky enough to have my gym in DC, CrossFit Balance, bring me on as a coach soon after my certification. I shadowed, took notes on how to handle a class, learned how to push certain cues and demand attention. It felt like a new world to me and a challenge that I needed after feeling like a sunken ship. 

Before I knew it I was leading my own classes and directing members on how to snatch, clean, prepare for a Metcon. I was leading and felt like I had a purpose once more. Over the summer I transitioned north: first to New Jersey and, eventually, to New York City, where I write this. In New Jersey I coached at CrossFit 201, a phenomenal gym with some of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Now in New York I have the pleasure of coaching at CrossFit Union Square and Dutch Kills Fitness. I’ve found a true passion for coaching and immersing myself into a community where I feel at home. 

Crossfit has been a refuge from difficulties for me before, but the perspective I have gained by coaching others has helped heal me, both personally and professionally. You walk into the gym and all judgment is thrown out the window. No one cares what you do, how much money you make, or what car you drive. Instead, we all show up and do the same workout, and the only thing that matters is that you showed up, and you threw down. This ethic has sustained me as I have worked to reclaim my reputation, and refocused me away from rumination and pointless wondering, about how I could have and should have done things differently.

I am ashamed of what happened and I take responsibility for the mistakes that were made. While I do take full responsibility, the errors that occurred were a genuine mistake and oversight. I learned a hard lesson in the importance of slowing down and taking a breath. 

I sit in that dark place a lot of my days and struggle to get this event out of my mind on a daily basis and to be fair it probably should never leave my mind. But such is a workout and in life we have to keep moving because if we don’t we languish in the “all is lost” part and no one wants that. 

We all want to come out on the other side of Fran with a PR or at least finish the damn thing. Blood, sweat, tears, a burning in your esophagus that is unmatched, we all want to exit the dark place. I know that I do and I want a second chance to prove that I deserve to be a journalist once more.

As I rebuild my life, I reflect on all that has happened in this short amount of time and can say I’m a different person, a stronger person, thanks to CrossFit. I go into workouts now and want to enter the pain cave, only because I know that there is an exit in sight and not all is lost.

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