Almost Five Years Sober, Madeline Smith Hopes to Tell Her Story Through Fitness Competition

June 8, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Lynn Turonis, @ldtphotodesign
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There are many reasons people join CrossFit: some are looking to gain strength and get fit—others, like Madeline Smith, are in search of community. 

Smith, heading into her fifth year of sobriety, landed at CrossFit Baile in Carthage, NC after reaching her one-year milestone in recovery. Now, she’s hoping to dispel society’s impression of what an alcoholic can look like and reach others who may be struggling by competing for the title of Ms. Health & Fitness. 

Her story: Smith started drinking when she turned 21. Quickly, she realized the difference between her and her friends. 

  • “[My friends] could have a few drinks and be content and move on with their day. I wasn’t someone who was like that. I was either someone who didn’t drink, or I would drink until I black out,” she said. 

As she moved on from college, Smith settled down, got married, and started a family. After her first pregnancy—she said it was no problem for her to stay sober while she was pregnant and nursing—Smith went through severe postpartum depression. After her second pregnancy, it was even worse. 

This triggered a switch. Before her pregnancies, Smith says she was a “fun, jovial, silly drunk”. 

Afterwards, she says “I just was… a really horrible person.”

  • “It really scared me. When that happened my drinking was like a horse of a different color.”

Eventually, Smith’s drinking got to the point where she needed help. “Normally, I can figure things out and fix things. I would say, ‘I am just not going to drink before 5 PM, I’m only going to drink wine, not going to drink liquor, or I’m only going to drink at barbeques. If you know anything about alcoholism, this doesn’t work.”

  • “I kept getting worse and worse, and it got to a point where my husband was like, you need to make a decision: you either continue drinking and lose us, or you make a decision,” Smith said. 
  • “It wasn’t something I could do instantly. I knew what the right decision was, but the fear of having to make that decision and lose my coping mechanism… I had to outweigh the fears. ‘Do I lose everything I care about or do I stick with this thing that is destroying my life that feels comfortable?’”

After going through an extensive outpatient program and relapsing, Smith eventually found and completed a 30-day program in Georgia. She found a therapist and became comfortable with going to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, noting that the “stigma of AA started to dissipate.”

But after the first year of sobriety, she said, AA started to feel like the wrong fit.

Finding CrossFit: “Before I started drinking, [sports] were how I was social, how I made friends, how I developed a sense of community. I wanted to go back to my roots.”

  • “I was very intimidated by [CrossFit],” Smith said. “I remember thinking that CrossFit was where everyone worked out really hard, and then they partied really hard, which was one of the main reasons I was afraid to go.”
  • “But then I thought, ‘Well, if people thought that stigma about me, then no one would ever want to be my friend.’ I’m just going to go and see what it’s all about. It was nothing like that at all.”
  • “I met Jordi, the head coach, and she was kind enough to make me want to come back… but also scary enough to make me want to come back,” she laughed.

Since then, Smith says she’s been back to CrossFit Baile every day.

  • “CrossFit Baile offered me that community that I needed that I couldn’t find in AA,” she said, noting that she was working out with people who “got her”: military moms who were going through similar struggles as her.
  • “CrossFit just in general provided me with different types of challenges. It helped me be accountable and kept me consistent. If you go to AA, those are the things that they preach. I just found I needed it in a different aspect of my life.”
  • “AA wasn’t what was meant for me. Being physically fit and devoting my time to CrossFit was what I needed to do,” she said.

Smith is clear: She didn’t stop drinking because of CrossFit; medical attention and professional help were incredibly important in her recovery. She stays sober by having CrossFit as the cornerstone of her sobriety. 

  • “I’ve cultivated great relationships with wonderful, strong women. I could call anyone at the gym at any movement, say I’m struggling, and they would be there in a minute,” she said. 

Ms. Health & Fitness:  Smith hopes that by being a part of the Ms. Health & Fitness competition, her story will help dispel society’s stigma of what an alcoholic can look like and reach others who may be struggling.

  • “I want people to read my profile and realize, I am a recovering alcoholic, I am a mom, and I have a small business. I’m just like everyone else. This is just one more thing that is a part of me. 
  • “Everyone talks about how you fall down. The best way to get them to stop talking about your fall down is to get back up. I want people to see… where I fell down, but look at me, this is where I stood up, and I’m so much more confident than before, so much more well-rounded, far more compassionate, and my quality of life — once you embrace sobriety and take ownership of it — it becomes extremely enjoyable.”
  • “The first year [of sobriety], no matter how you slice it, it stinks. But once you build that toolset, deal with your emotions, you gain confidence, and the shame cloud starts shrinking, [sobriety] is this fantastic lifestyle of appreciating the tiniest of things, the smallest moments.”

If Smith wins the competition, she will be featured on the cover of Muscle and Fitness HERS Magazine and win $20,000. She plans to donate a portion of her winnings to Shields & Stripes, an organization supporting first responders and veterans. The competition is voting-based and ongoing. Vote for Smith here.

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