Stroke Survivor Takes Up CrossFit While Shedding Anxiety from Health Scare

February 12, 2023 by
Photo courtesy of Jill Weinreb
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Everything changed for Jill Weinreb on Thanksgiving in 2013. 

“I woke up in the middle of the night with an intense, thunderclap headache. It was painful, but I managed to fall back asleep,” said the 49-year-old Newark, New Jersey teacher. “I felt off the

the following day, not quite like myself. But I could not identify the problem.” 

Weinreb said instead of her symptoms normalizing, they got progressively worse, and she found that after a few days, completing basic tasks was difficult.  

“This feeling did not dissipate, and over the next few days I experienced a loss of motor skills, a loss of balance and coordination, and I found it hard to walk in a straight line. I would pick up a pen and immediately drop it. While driving, I would make extremely wide turns, feeling out of control. None of these behaviors made sense to me. I did not feel sick, but something was wrong.”

Weinreb had a doctor’s appointment for the end of the week already scheduled and decided to wait until then to inquire about what could have possibly happened to her. Her doctor suggested she go for an MRI scan and the results showed that she had an ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the brain. The blockage reduces the blood flow and oxygen to the brain, leading to damage or death of brain cells. If circulation isn’t restored quickly, brain damage can be permanent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 40 seconds in the US, someone has a stroke and one in six deaths from cardiovascular disease were due to stroke. Every year, more than 795,000 people in the US have a stroke.

Shocked at first, Weinreb, who has made fitness and working out part of her life since she was young, was determined to try a new workout regime she had thought about before her stroke – CrossFit. Although she never found the cause of her stroke, Weinreb did get clearance about five months later to resume normal physical activity. 

Having done everything from step aerobics, spin class and kickboxing to Zumba, Weinreb admits she found CrossFit a bit intimidating at first, but finally got out to her first class in 2012 at a now defunct gym in the New Jersey area. Weinreb remembers doing a chipper workout with a large number of lunges and box jumps, and like most who try the sport, was instantly hooked.

“What I remember the most is that I would be back the next day and the day after that, I

was in love. I came back the next day and a consistent five to six days a week from that time forward.”

Of course, Weinreb was still dealing with the after effects of having a stroke and the mental side of worrying that she might have another one, but she was able to press forward.  

“For at least the first year following my stroke, I had many instances during a workout when I experienced a headache and immediately thought I was having a stroke again. It took an immense amount of self-talk and support from coaches and members who became like family to me to help me realize that those thoughts were conjured up in my head and I was going to be alright.”

Now a L2 coach for both CrossFit Bacon in Matawan, NJ and CrossFit Barbending in East Brunswick, NJ, Weinreb has some sage advice for those who are hesitant to try the sport given they have an outstanding health issue. 

“I will say that a health scare can definitely cause anxiety,” she continued. “There have been moments when my heart is racing or I feel a little headache and I get scared. But when I complete a workout, stand up, get in my car, drive home and am alive, I know that I caused the anxiety. The mind is powerful and can make you think things that are not true.”

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