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“My Hiller Challenge”: Part 1, Endings and Beginnings

January 22, 2024 by
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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a multiple-part series written by Athena Perez, chronicling the year-long challenge that she’s dubbed her “Hiller Challenge.” Throughout the year, Andrew Hiller, a prominent CrossFit YouTuber whose videos have inspired both die-hard followers and dissenters, will serve as Perez’s coach and they will both document the journey across social media (and in Athena’s words here). In the first part below, Perez explains the origins of her “Hiller Challenge.”   

My health journey began at close to 500 pounds, a number that was merely an estimate, as the scales couldn’t measure that high. The exact figure will forever remain a mystery. 

My first steps into a CrossFit gym in March of 2017 were taken with the aid of two canes, my sole ambition being to regain the ability to walk unassisted. The thought of achieving anything beyond that seemed unfathomable.

There was a time, a few years into my CrossFit journey, when I had shed over 200 pounds, but my progress abruptly halted. Life, with its myriad complexities, intervened. I found myself facing double knee replacements, necessitating relearning to walk and mastering every CrossFit movement again. As if that wasn’t enough, a tumor was discovered on my pancreas, requiring immediate removal. It felt like I was being hit by one setback after another, casting a shadow over my previous accomplishments.

The past three years have been a constant struggle, and I’ve seen some of the weight I had lost creep back on. I found comfort in my own little bubble–an echo chamber always telling me what I wanted to hear. “It’s okay, Athena, you’re doing all the right things,” I would hear, even when I wasn’t.

Every December, I dedicate most of the month to setting my goals for the upcoming year; it’s a ritual I’ve come to cherish. It’s a time for introspection, and this year, the word consistency emerged as my mantra. I was already aware that inconsistency was my Achilles’ heel. I suspect this realization was lurking in my subconscious as my journey began anew.


Andrew Hiller was a stranger to me. 

Our interactions had been limited to a few words we exchanged a year prior when I greeted him at an event. But, that was it.

My perception of him was solely based on the YouTube videos I had watched. I must admit, I found his content somewhat hard to swallow at times.

One afternoon, a direct message caught my attention. “Have you seen the latest Hiller video?” it read. With a sigh of resignation, I clicked on the link titled “This is Why You Are Fat.”

As I had done countless times before, I watched until he said the phrase, “calories in, calories out.” My reaction was the same as always; I gritted my teeth and shook my head.

I can’t recall all the thoughts that raced through my mind at that moment, but I began drafting a post.

My finger trembled as I hovered over the send button. I thought I might hyperventilate. “Athena, what are YOU DOING?! You just asked him to be your coach???” I exclaimed aloud.

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A post shared by Athena Perez (@athenamariebt)

In retrospect, there were numerous reasons for my actions, many of which only became apparent later.

Within five minutes, as the comment section began to explode, I realized this could be the most foolish thing I had ever done. Even the most respectful bear-poking carries a certain degree of risk.

Despite my initial skepticism that he would accept the challenge, deep down, I yearned for him to say yes.

Andrew responded on the very first day, suggesting a meeting. Our initial conversation lasted a few hours, and he agreed to coach me.

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A post shared by Athena Perez (@athenamariebt)

The moment I ended that first call, I found myself revisiting the same video. It wasn’t the incessant repetition of “calories” that had irked me. It was a point he was making about aligning your actions with your goals:

  • Hiller: “The people that I do have huge issues with are the people who have a goal for themselves, say they want to lose weight, they want to build muscle, they want to make it to the frickin Semifinals, or they want to make it to the Games and then they’re not really doing things to align with their goals.”

This wasn’t about Hiller; it was about me, and I knew it.

Despite my initial intention to playfully put HIM on the spot, it was my own feet that I needed to hold to the fire. 

I was the one desperate for help.

It took a day or two to truly sink in, but the impact was profound. Essentially, I had called myself out. Perhaps, deep down, I knew it was necessary. Little did I know all the things I was about to learn.

“The degree to which a person can grow is directly proportional to the amount of truth they can accept about themselves without running away.” – Leland Val Van De Wall.

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A post shared by Athena Perez (@athenamariebt)

—–Athena Perez is a Morning Chalk Up guest contributor, the owner of Scaled Nation CrossFit based in St. Paul, MN, and the founder of the Working with Larger Bodies seminar. Her book, Lifting the Wait, tells the story of her journey through life.

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