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How an Observant CrossFit Coach Saved Ella Combs’ Life

February 8, 2024 by
Courtesy of Ella Combs
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After failing to find a reason behind the chest pain that had been plaguing her for 18 months, Ella Combs’ doctor told her she would simply have to learn to tolerate the pain.

  • “I was taking anti-inflammatories and antibiotics for four or five months and nothing improved the pain. It would come and go when I was working out and stop when I wasn’t working out,” said Combs, now 64 years old, who started CrossFit at the age of 58 at Sweat Factory CrossFit in Clermont, FL.

After several months, her doctor “threw her hands in the air and told me I was just going to have to live with the pain,” she added.

Combs obliged and carried on living her life despite the chest pain that caused her to rest a lot more during workouts than she used to. 

Then one day, Sweat Factory CrossFit owner Clint Lowery saw Combs struggling and stopped her to ask what was going on. 

  • “I told him what the doctors told me and he looked at me and said, ‘No, that’s not good enough. You need to go back and you need to keep going back until you get an answer,’” Combs said of Lowery’s advice.

She didn’t know it at the time, but those words saved her life. 

What happened next: There was something about the way Lowery spoke to her—with concern but with care—that told Combs to listen to him.

  • “Before that, I never realized there was another answer out there, that maybe the diagnosis wasn’t correct,” she said.

Needless to say, Combs took her coach’s words to heart, went back for a third opinion and was sent for X-rays, as doctors believed she had a fractured sternum. She did not. After that came a CT scan and finally an answer: Combs had a tear in her artery that would require immediate surgery.

So in November 2019, Combs underwent open heart surgery–surgery that saved her life.

  • “The cardiologist told me that if I had kept going, I would have had an episode at some point and I wouldn’t have survived,” she said.

The surgery was a success, and four months later Combs was cleared to return to Sweat Factory CrossFit and was surprised by the support she immediately received.

On her first day back, her plan was just to walk a mile, “but then a bunch of people from the box showed up to walk the mile with me,” Combs said.

Today, Combs is back to training four days a week, and the gym has become a family affair, as her husband, his sister, and her 80-year-old stepmother are all members of the gym, as well.

The big picture: Combs is convinced she’s still here today all because her coach “cared enough to find out what was going on with me.”

  • “He saved my life, without a doubt,” she said. “Without CrossFit and the support from the people there, I’m not sure not sure I would have recovered from all this…They have given me so much encouragement and support. Without them I don’t know if I would have had the mental fortitude to keep going.”

And although Combs is now dealing with another health issue—kidney stones and a damaged kidney—in most ways she’s way more fit at 64 than she was when she first walked through the doors at 58 and couldn’t do a sit-up.

  • “Now it’s almost my favorite thing to do,” she said. “And I just know I probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Clint (Lowery) and the other people at the gym…They have become my second family.”

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