I joined Catalyst in March 2016 during the worst period of my life. In October 2015, two weeks after my second wedding anniversary, my husband left. I woke up one day in my normal life and hours later everything crashed around me. For months I had no explanation, my life was in a constant state of chaos. Over time the truth came out, like it always tends to – he was having an affair. The information catapulted me into survival mode; enough trying to salvage my marriage, it was time to salvage myself.
With the clarity that came from being alone, it slowly began to dawn on me just how much of myself I had lost in that relationship. I had gotten away from things that made me happy. I had gotten away from my physical health. I was so weak in every facet of life – mentally, emotionally and physically. I was embarrassed by what had happened, despite it being no fault of my own. I was tired of people looking at me, feeling sorry for me, judging me. I needed a safe place. I needed a refuge to heal where no one knew my story. I needed to fight the weakness with strength.
The answer was Catalyst. The healing was immediate.
I was able to come in each night and shut everything off. It was so freeing to be surrounded by people who weren’t constantly worried about me. I was just “Rileigh” again. I was back in control of my life, even for just an hour. The emotional and mental improvements began to transition into physical improvements; I was happier than I had ever been, drinking the “crossfit kool-aid” by the jug. I soaked in every ounce of knowledge the coaches had to offer, I learned as much as I could from the other athletes, above all I formed an intimate relationship with the barbell. There is a lot to learn from the barbell if you’re willing to listen. I quickly learned that it wasn’t going to give me anything that I didn’t work for, that it might be the only relationship in life that will give you back exactly what you put into it. At that point in time, it was exactly what I needed.
What I didn’t anticipate when I joined Catalyst were the friendships that I would form. Surrounding yourself with a group of strong and uplifting people is one of the best ways to stay encouraged and rebuild confidence. These people have become some of my closest friends in a short amount of time; struggling together through long workouts and stressful PR attempts will do that. These are people who have seen me at my weakest, pushed me to become my strongest and surrounded me with love through it all. When the weight of the world was already so heavy, without even knowing it they helped lighten my load.
My happiest moments happen at Catalyst each time I take a second after a WOD to sit back and marvel at the fact that I am exactly where I need to be. In my struggle, I found my strength.
I competed as an individual at the Catalys
t Games in September 2016. I could never have adequately prepared myself for the mental toughness that competition would require and as a result, I struggled. I stood in the gym and listened to event requirements that included a 95lb clean and jerk. I calmly and quietly walked out of the room, sat in a stairwell by myself and cried. I had never done it before. I told myself it could not be done. The competitor in me forced myself to walk back into the room and do it. I did it. It was hard but it was not impossible. I still believe that the only reason it went up that day was because of the support of my “family” surrounding me. The Games highlighted my weaknesses, I knew what I needed to focus on and I set to work. In January 2017 I took the opportunity to meet up with our resident photographer, Andreane Fraser for some pictures. I walked into the same room that I had competed in for the Games, loaded up my barbell without even really thinking of the weight, that day in September or the emotions I had experienced alone in the stairwell. I cleaned the bar countless times that day with Andie without even thinking. I still respected the weight, but we joked and laughed and took pictures. It was nothing like that day in September. When I got my pictures back from her I looked at the weight on the bar. 95lbs. That’s when it came back to me. The tears, the stairwell, the struggle.
I had grown so much in the last 5 months but had never given myself the credit. I was always focussing on how far I had to go instead of how far I had come. I still find myself getting caught up focussing on my weaknesses, over-thinking my lifts, writing love letters to the barbell. Getting so wrapped up in the numbers and underestimating my ability. Now, when I catch myself standing over the bar I remind myself: don’t think about the numbers; always respect the weight but load the damn bar and go. The barbell doesn’t write you back, it just breaks your heart every time you think too much about it. I’ve learned to attack it, take what I need from it and move on. My proudest Catalyst moment thus far didn’t happen in the gym, It happened between my ears. I learned to trust the process.
As much as I’ve learned about mental toughness I’ve also learned about accepting my body for what it is. I used to be in a constant battle with the scale, now I embrace my thick thighs. The thickness allows me to power out of the bottom of a squat, to push for more calories on the rower, to jump up onto the box. As women we often feel that our sense of worth is directly related to how the world approves of our physical attractiveness. This often results in women competing with and comparing themselves to other women. At Catalyst, we lift and uplift. It would be completely pointless to see each other as competition – we have different genetics, different weights, different life experiences that underlie our motivations. Catalyst has a supportive, judgement-free female community that encourages each other to be great, that loves you on the days when loving yourself is sometimes hard.
I used to view the day my husband left as my “worst day ever” but now I know it was my best. I have been broken, I lost myself but I endured. I’m stronger today than I was yesterday and I’ll be even stronger tomorrow. I am not what happened to me, I’m what I chose to become because of it.