March 23, 2014
"This is for you, Mom"
By Ivory Carr

"CrossFit helped me to remember how to be happy again. I go to the gym because it makes me feel great ..." 

Photos courtesy of Jamie Hubbs

This past January, Ramona Banjac’s entire world changed when she unexpectedly lost her mom Alexandra Chirila to a heart attack.

A tragedy like this would have shattered some. But Banjac, still reeling from emotional pain, chose to sign up for the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Open and dedicate her performance to her mother.

“This year has been like the year from hell,” said the athlete from CrossFit South Boise. “When my mom died, I felt like I had completely lost myself and nothing was helping. CrossFit brought me back. I immediately knew, ready or not, I needed to do the Open.”

Banjac said she found her happiness, motivation and a renewed sense of strength by throwing everything she has into the Open workouts.

A Pillar of Strength

When news came of her mother’s passing, Banjac, a 38-year-old wife of fellow CrossFit athlete Bratza Banjac and mother of three daughters, made the trek back to Romania to mourn with her family.

As a teenager, Banjac moved from her native country to Idaho to join her father who escaped Romania during the communist regime. Even though Banjac and her mom lived apart for 23 years, they maintained a very close relationship. She attributed her mom as being her pillar of emotional strength throughout her life.

The loss left her heartbroken and devastated.

“Such an event is hard no matter what,” she said. “I had to fly back to my native country and say my last goodbyes to the one person who had always gave me strength even from so far away. I came back from Romania heartbroken, but I was at the box the same week. The workouts helped and continue to help me tremendously as I learn how to deal with the loss of my mom.” 

Healing Process

With just more than one year of CrossFit, Banjac didn’t think she was ready for the Open.

“I simply stumbled upon CrossFit, and once I tried it I became addicted to it,” said Banjac, who also has a full-time job and attends grad school. “Initially, I was debating whether or not I wanted to do the Open this year, or perhaps wait one more year.”

That changed when she returned from Romania.

“Eventually, thinking of my mom, I signed up for the Open,” Banjac said. “I decided that each workout was going to be dedicated to her.”

With Open Workout 14.1, Banjac faced an uphill battle.

“I wanted to stop during the double-unders, but I knew my mom wanted me to be strong and keep moving forward in all aspects of life,” Banjac explained. “Every time I was out of breath and wanted to stop, I thought of my mom watching me and I thought of all the encouraging words she always gave me.”

With this approach, Banjac said she developed a renewed sense of empowerment to be a better parent and wife, a more dedicated CrossFit athlete and a better person.

Though she had to skip Open Workout 14.2 due to a shoulder injury, Banjac completed 14.3 with her father and one of her daughters cheering her on.

“I finished 14.3 and got 97 reps,” she said. “I’m very proud of my score!”

The Rock

Josh Knerr, coach at CrossFit South Boise, said Banjac’s attitude and commitment has become inspirational at their box.

“As a coach, sometimes you see progress in your athletes before they do, not just physically but mentally, as well,” he said. “Watching the changes in Ramona has been a great motivational experience for me and for the rest of our CrossFit community.”

Banjac’s husband and children are some of her biggest fans.

“My wife is strong-willed and very determined in everything she does,” Bratza said. “She is the rock of our family just as her mom was for her. She truly is an inspiration to me and our children, and I have no doubt she inspires everyone she comes in contact with in all aspects of life.”

CrossFit helped Banjac through her sorrow to find a place of peace and joy.

“CrossFit helped me to remember how to be happy again,” she said. “I go to the gym because it makes me feel great. I know my mom would want me to do this for me and to never give up. It was only a year ago that my mom and I had laughed and joked together. Now all I can think about is, ‘This is for you, mom.’”