"CrossFit has just brought us so close and there's nothing like getting to cheer her on or when I get to see that smile and I hear, 'Go at it Mom, don't give up Mom, keep it up, Mom.'"
On Thursday, March 1, Bretta “Lulu” Curlee chalked up her hands and gripped the bar for Workout 12.2. As she sighed with anticipation, she found comfort in the voice of her daughter (and CrossFit coach) Melissa Nunn, cheering her on in the background.
As her muscles tightened, engaging themselves in anticipation of the first pull, a sense of calm put her at ease. The fight of the next 10 minutes, no matter how difficult, can hardly compare to the battle she already fought, and won, over the last two years.
“In early 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” says Curlee. “I was in between stage 2 and 3, and it was classified as the most aggressive form. I had planned on going on vacation, getting into the gym and instead I ended up in treatment.”
Over the coming months, opposing forces would continue to mount. Relentlessly, though, she would continue to press on. A lumpectomy procedure, chemotherapy and radiation all failed to disturb her faith and commitment to standing strong for her family.
As Curlee fought for her life, her daughter and confidant Nunn, struggled to hold her own. “Just around the same time, I had become a new member at CrossFit El Paso and finally convinced my mom to come give it a try. Then the diagnosis hit. I couldn't handle it, so I dove into the gym,” she says. “All of my anger, frustration and worry just made me more devoted and I put all of that energy into CrossFitting. My CrossFit family, the camaraderie of this sport and watching everyone, including myself, improve, helped me push through that hard time.”
With CrossFit as her solace, Nunn became immersed in helping others and patiently awaiting news of her mother’s progress. She wouldn’t have to wait long, as in late 2010 her mother would be declared in remission. After one more year of recovery, her doctors gave her the OK to begin working out. Her family quickly stepped in with an idea to rediscover her inner and outer strength.
“My daughter Zoey, who’s 10, was actually the one who convinced my mom to get into CrossFit,” Nunn says. “She gathered up all of the paperwork and told her Grandma, ‘You need to go sign up for On Ramp,’”
Weeks later, Curlee was registered for the Sport of Fitness, health, and life.
“All of my life I was always involved in athletics. I played third base in college softball at Lubbock Christian University and I’ve coached just about everything,” Curlee says. “But when it came to starting CrossFit, I was nervous. I didn’t know if I could handle it or if it would be hard, but it turned out to be so great. It has taken me at my level without being critical of me, and I was encouraged to improve in little steps. I never felt bad because I couldn’t do something. To me, CrossFit is the best training routine. It’s made for the whole person from the inside out.”
Through it all, her daughter would be right back at her side coaching her through movements as they formed a new and stronger bond.
“When my mom started CrossFitting, it was a combination of apprehension and excitement for me. I was worried about being her coach and either pushing her too hard, or not hard enough, because I care about her so much,” Nunn admits. “It’s been awesome though. It’s neat to see her improve and make friends at the gym and now that she's part of the family, you know, she gets it. She feels the camaraderie and the drive to get better.”
With teary eyes, Curlee adds, “Having Melissa as coach is just wonderful. She’s really protective, but also very encouraging and she’s pushed me not to give up. She’s just marvelous. She’s all that a mother would want from a loving daughter.”
As Nunn and Curlee continue to bond over their CrossFit experience, they’ve taken their drive all the way to the CrossFit Games Open. Only 2 weeks after finishing her On Ramp session, Curlee registered as a way to support her daughter.
“I signed up for the Open just to see where I was at and what progression I could make. I did it to support the gym, but also for Melissa,” Curlee explains. “CrossFit has just brought us so close and there’s nothing like getting to cheer her on or when I get to see that smile and I hear, ‘Go at it Mom, don't give up Mom, keep it up Mom.’”
Nunn agrees. “I think it’s frickin’ awesome that my mom is competing in the Open. She gets to see how strong she really is and … I get teary eyed. She already knows how strong she is because of what she’s had to battle, but I know she felt so weak after it, and to put herself out there just weeks after On Ramp, shows a true measure of her heart and desire to overcome obstacles and anything that is thrown in her way.”
As the pair moves along in life, knowing everything they’ve faced, one thing becomes clear – neither of these women intend on letting a little thing like cancer overshadow their connection and love for each other, both as mother and daughter, and coach and athlete.