February 26, 2014
Using CrossFit as Therapy
By Megan Drapalski
David Miller talks about training with Crohn's disease.
David Miller talks about training with Crohn's disease.

"I could easily stay in bed all day and live pain free, but I'd be doped up to my eyeballs and have no comprehension of life, but CrossFit makes it easier in a way. When my body's fighting something else, my mind takes itself off the Crohn's."


A year after discovering CrossFit, David Miller was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease: a chronic and incurable illness that causes the body’s internal organs to be inflamed.

“I started CrossFit in 2008 as a means to be fit for the fire brigade, and in 2009 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s,” Miller said.

At the time Miller was just 22 years old and the diagnosis was a huge setback in his athletic career. Despite the debilitating disease, Miller stuck with CrossFit and continues to break new PRs every year.

That Miller is able to deadlift 270 kg and has a 3:20 Fran time would be impressive for any healthy person. For an athlete with Crohn’s, it is even more substantial. 
This year, Miller has signed up for the CrossFit Games Open once again, and is looking forward to seeing how far he has progressed over the past 12 months.
“There’s definitely an aspiration to compete and do these kinds of workouts and say I gave it my best,” he said.
“It’s great to rank yourself against yourself or against your mates, but to go up against someone that looks really fit that you’ve never met before but you think you could do as well as them or the person next to them is kind of why we do CrossFit,” Miller said. 
However, regardless of how well he performs, Miller will not be able to progress beyond the Open due to the medication he takes to combat Crohn’s.
“I have to take Corticosteroids which are massive anti-inflammatories in the body,” Miller said. “It’s not for my muscles to become anti-inflamed, it’s to stop my organs from being inflamed.”
Under the drug policies made public by CrossFit, anti-inflammatories like Corticosteroids are regarded as banned substances. 
“In someone who’s a fully-functioning athlete who doesn’t have the disease I have, it would be a performance enhancing drug and therefore it’s classified as one, so if I was to take a pee test I wouldn’t pass,” Miller said.
“(But) it’s by no means performance enhancing in my body,” he added.
Despite all this, Miller will still participate in the Open in 2014, purely for the enjoyment of the competition, and the ability to work out with his mates in his box.
“I still do the workouts and keep my scores in my back pocket and compare myself to everyone else to see how far I’ve come,” he said.
While Miller will participate in the Open, he won’t submit any of his scores beyond the first workout.
“Because I know medically that I can’t go forward from any position, I’ll put my first Open score in and see how I rank, then I won’t follow up with any scores after that,” he said.
Miller doesn’t refrain from entering all his scores because he believes he’d finish in the top 60 in the Australia Region, but out of fairness to the other competitors.
“It’s everyone’s goal to get to regionals, to work themselves that far, but I know my position on the Leaderboard is completely unfair,” he said. “Even if I made top 400, the person who comes in 401 is going to look at my score and go, ‘Oh well, he beat me,’ and I don’t want that.”
“Even if I was in second (to) last place, I don’t want the person in last place to think they’re last,” he continued. “It might as well be me because I’m not able to get the chance to go to regionals because of the reasons in my medical condition.”
Brad Moore is an athlete coached by Miller at his box CrossFit Southern Highlands and has witnessed Miller’s dedication to training over the past few years.
“He’s a terrifying beast,” Moore said. “He’s ludicrously fit and mildly terrifying to (work out) with because he just doesn’t stop.”
“I went through that period when you first start CrossFit and you get leaps and bounds fitter but I didn’t seem to get any closer to Dave’s level of fitness.”
Moore admires Miller for participating in the Open despite his situation.
“He can put scores up that could qualify him for regionals and it must be a little heart breaking,” he said.
“We were talking one day about the fact that as an adult you just have to realize there are things you can’t do,” Moore said. “Life isn’t there to be fair. It’s just something you’ve got to deal with.”
While Miller loves the Open and will enjoy throwing down with his mates he doesn’t want the rules changed for him. 
“I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want the rules changed, I don’t want anything like that,” he said.
“I just think it needs to be out there that there are disabilities you can’t see and there’s a lot of people going through very similar things to what I’m going through,” he said. “CrossFit has been a lifesaver for me.”
For Miller, CrossFit provides a kind of therapy he can’t get anywhere else. 
“I could very easily stay in bed all day and live pain free, but I’d be doped up to my eyeballs and have no comprehension of life, but CrossFit makes it better in a way,” he said.
“When my body’s fighting something else, my mind takes itself off the Crohn’s. I’m already in an immense amount of pain before I go into a workout and when I’m in the workout, the pain shifts from one type to another. I’m not just focused on my organ pain, I’m focused on muscle pain and heavy breathing and it’s nice to feel a different type of pain.”
Because of this, Miller prefers the longer workouts.
“I’d much rather a 40-minute workout than a four-minute workout any day of the week because I can stay in that state longer,” he said. “And that’s what I really look for in CrossFit—that state where I can switch my mind onto something else.”
“You don’t get that with any other workout. Doing bicep curls or deadlifts in a normal gym doesn’t make the pain go away but doing deadlifts and running? Yeah that sucks,” he added.  
So with the Open about to get underway, Miller will be hoping for some long, chipper-style workouts during the five weeks. He also won’t be complaining if some heavy bar work is announced.
“I have a body weight of just over 100 kg so a heavy bar, for me, is not such a bad thing.”