Carlee Acevedo-Fuller claims CrossFit as her cure.
After facing years of addiction, she found triumph in a sport that could take the place of the unhealthy habits that had plagued her since her teen years. But it took her more than a decade to get there.
“When I was a teenager, I was a good athlete. I held the bench press and box squat school record. I think I benched 135 lb., which was a big deal for a girl,” the now 33-year-old said. “But I gave up sports in high school for (alcohol). This is when the bad habits started.”
What began as drinking in high school turned into alcohol abuse and occasional hard substance use throughout Acevedo-Fuller’s 20s, the only exceptions being when she became pregnant with her son (now 12) and daughter (now 7).
“When I would drink, it wasn’t like I’d have one, two or even three drinks. I’d have about 14 and pass out,” she recounted. “It was terrible.”
Even when Acevedo-Fuller was abusing substances, she still worked out at the local globo gym and ran.
“I didn’t see results though, so I was always frustrated,” she said.
Eventually, a friend at the gym suggested she try CrossFit.
“I liked the idea of CrossFit workouts, but I didn’t really know what it was yet,” Acevedo-Fuller said. “When a friend saw me doing (CrossFit) workouts on my own … she invited me to go watch the 2012 SoCal Regional with her.”
Standing on the sidelines, she started to understand what CrossFit was all about. That weekend, she realized she wanted to be a part of it all.
“When I was there, I saw amazing women competing and I was inspired,” she said. “But I also saw other women there who I could compete with, so I was motivated. I thought to myself, ‘I can do this.’”
That day, she set a goal: Qualify for the 2013 Southern California Regional.
To get started, Acevedo-Fuller asked Andrea Ager to be her coach; the only problem was that Ager was at Mean Streets in Los Angeles, Calif., two hours away from Bakersfield.
“At first I was driving from Bakersfield to Los Angeles to train twice a week, two or three hours a day,” she said.
Over the next few months, she cut back on her drinking and substance use.
“After I quit the depression meds, my world opened up. I could feel emotions again. It is hard to explain, but I had felt numb for a long time. Now in my 30s, life felt new,” she said.
Since she was training for performance, she got immediate feedback from training sessions. If she drank too much, she saw it in her workout the next day.
“Drinking at night would hurt my training in the morning, so it made sense to cut back,” she said.
The changes Acevedo-Fuller made in her life had a ripple effect that extended to her family.
“When Carlee stopped taking medication, it was amazing,” her husband Eric Fuller said. “But seeing her become so dedicated to CrossFit was even more exciting.”
Soon her family joined in.
“(Her dedication) made me want to do it,” Eric said. “It made her father give up bad habits to participate, and even her brother, who used to play pro baseball, started doing CrossFit.”
Within the first nine months of doing CrossFit, she saw huge gains in performance. She started in spring of 2012 with a 75-lb. snatch and a 115-lb. clean and jerk, but by winter the same year she could snatch 125 lb., and clean and jerk 155 lb.
That same winter, she decided to give up the two-hour drive to CrossFit Mean Streets. She hired Bryan Boorstein of CrossFit Pacific Beach to coach her remotely.
“I was working out at 3 a.m. by myself, but was 100 percent dedicated to making my dream come true, so training alone was fine,” she said.
Less than a year after she started CrossFit, Acevedo-Fuller qualified for the 2013 Southern California Regional in 44th place in the Open. She also stopped drinking alcohol heavily.
“I was so happy,” she said. “It seems like I had only been training for about a year, but the struggles I faced throughout my life had made me strong enough to achieve my goal; all of those struggles were part of training, too. CrossFit filled some space that was empty. It has become my new obsession.”
At the SoCal Regional, Acevedo-Fuller was beyond satisfied. She ended in 33rd in SoCal, despite having to withdraw on the final event due to a strained tibialis anterior.
“It was an amazing experience,” she recalled. “I tried my best to appreciate each moment. I had worked so hard to get there, given up so much, that when I walked out on to the floor and I saw my friends’ and family’s smiling faces, and my name up on the rig, I knew it was all worth it.”
After regionals, Acevedo-Fuller focused on Olympic lifts. In February, she qualified in the 63-kg weight class for USA Weightlifting Nationals, which will be held in July. At her qualification meet, she snatched 160 lb., and clean and jerked 190 lb. Just a week later she set PRs at her gym in both the snatch (170 lb.) and clean and jerk (195 lb.)
Though her focus has been Olympic lifting since the regional, she has recently added conditioning and skills sessions to her training to get ready for the 2014 Open.
“I love Olympic lifting, and will continue to work on it going into the Open, but I will also add some (metabolic conditioning) and skill work to my sessions,” she said. “Finding balance between everything—training, family and work—is the key this year though, so we will see how my new approach works out.”
She will juggle training for USAW Nationals while competing in the Open. This time, her family will compete alongside her.
“My dad, brother and son will all do the Open,” she said. “My son is just 12, so he is too young to participate officially, but he’ll do the workouts with us for fun.”
“For my family to all be doing the sport is amazing. Our lives have totally changed for the better because of CrossFit … I was lost and decided to follow my dreams. CrossFit saved my life. Period.”