Battling Childhood Cancer Through Theo’s WOD

October 27, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Leah Huff
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One of the best things about CrossFit is the ability to get strong so you can fight for others who cannot fight for themselves. 

Theo was born in March 2015 to Ricky and Leah Huff, two members of CrossFit Rebels, the affiliate that Sam and her husband Ed owned at the time. 

When Theo was born, he was quickly diagnosed with a rare form of pediatric cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. It is a form of cancer that forms in soft tissue — specifically skeletal muscle tissue or hollow organs such as the bladder or uterus.

The family started treatment immediately. 

  • Farina explained: “The treatment at that age, when you’re still developing, is so aggressive that the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation’s mission is not to cure pediatric cancer; it’s to find treatments that aren’t so toxic.” 
  • “Of kids that go through chemotherapy at Theo’s age, 95% of them will have serious health effects from the treatment–they are going to have some kind of disease as a result of the treatment to try to save their life.”

To try to save Theo’s life, treatments were breaking down one thing to fix something else. As he progressed, he lost his eyesight, and Farina remembers how he handled it.

  • “The great thing about little kids who have cancer is they don’t have those social idiosyncrasies that we have as adults. Theo didn’t know he was blind; he didn’t know he was bald; he didn’t know he was sick. He was a happy little boy.”

As Theo got more and more sick, even while undergoing treatment, Coach Nicole Turley from the affiliate created a workout for Theo and for the kids at the gym to take part in to raise everyone’s spirits.

Theo lived for 19 months and passed away in October 2016.

  • The following year, the affiliate started doing a fundraiser for Theo on his birthday. The kid’s workout was changed into an adult version so everyone could do it together.

When selling CrossFit Rebels, there was a non-compete clause in the contract (a very common occurrence), so when the Farinas opened another affiliate, it catered to an entirely different population–only Masters athletes age 55 and up are allowed membership at GrandMastersRX, Farinas’ current affiliate. It is a smaller space with a membership of around 100, but the non-compete clause is up this month, and that pushed the idea of an even bigger fundraiser for Theo this year.

Farina and her husband wanted to connect with what they called the OG Rebels, members who were at the affiliate with Theo and his family during the time of his sickness.

This potential mini-reunion has skyrocketed the donations.

  • “We set out to raise $10,000. And within two weeks, we’re at $14,000, which is crazy because we are an old-person gym of only 100 or so people!”

Farina and her husband are still close with the Rebels community, the people who were there for each other when Theo was sick.

Farina reflects on how Theo brought together a community.

  • “There have been terrible, tragic things that have happened, but you have never seen a group of people take care of each other like they did.”
  • “You always have babies, weddings, PRs, and promotions; you’re always celebrating the good. That’s what CrossFit does. We celebrate everybody’s great health and all of the good things that happen as a result of having this strong mental capacity to get through anything. But at the same time, it is just as strong during tragedy.”
  • “That community is what has come to this fundraiser this year. In the past, we raised $1000 or $2,000, but this year, we are at $14,000 by connecting to the greater OG Rebels community.” 

Farina has already seen firsthand the impact Theo has had.

  • “We actually had another boy at the Rebels gym who had the same cancer. His name was Vincent, and he survived. We always say that Vincent made it because Theo paved the way.  Because the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation and the research they do, and them having exposure to Theo–Theo’s suffering helped Vincent make it.”

Farina and her crew have already raised over $14,000 for the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, and Saturday, October 28, will be the culmination of all the effort. Athletes will donate $50 to participate, and workouts are happening for 12 hours straight. 

In addition, there will be family, festivities, and fellowship, and Farina encourages everyone to drop in, even if they cannot donate or work out, just to show support.

Theo’s family will be there, too, as well as Coach Nicole, who created the workout years ago. Vincent, the other boy who had the same cancer as Theo, will also be at the fundraiser. He is six years old, healthy, and will participate in the workout.

All because of Theo.

  • “The outpouring of support is crazy for a little boy who never CrossFitted. But his family did, and that community is still there. They’re always gonna be there. It’s just really freaking cool.”

Want to support Farina and their fundraiser for Theo? Learn more and or donate now.

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