Cancer Survivor Vs. Bone-Building Wife in 2018 Open

By Emily Beers – March 14th, 2018

In December 2014, Barb Brady was diagnosed with osteoporosis. In 2015, she suffered a spinal fracture of the eighth thoracic vertebra (T8).

“There was no acute injury. I didn’t fall or anything, but I ended up with a spontaneous fracture,” said Brady, now 67. “It took nearly a year to get through the pain.”

At the start of 2017, her husband Mike was diagnosed with Stage 3 prostate cancer. He had surgery on March 30, 2017, to remove the cancerous tissue.

Cancer wasn’t his only health problem. At 6 feet and 225 lb., Mike had some weight to lose, and doctors worried about his rising blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

“I wasn’t that overweight but I had pounds to lose, and I was definitely very out of shape, there’s no doubt about it,” the 65-year-old said. “I had been retired for 11 years and hadn’t been very active. The whole thing with cancer was a wake-up call.”

ALT TEXTSince starting CrossFit, Barb Brady has significantly increased her bone density. (Courtesy of Mike Brady)

Instead of accepting osteoporosis and cancer as just parts of the aging process, the couple, who have been married for nearly 44 years, decided it wasn’t too late to make a lifestyle change and get healthier. So they joined CrossFit Flagstaff in Arizona.

Today, after 10 months of CrossFit, Mike has lost 20 lb. and two inches off his waist, and his blood pressure is now a normal 120/80 mmHg.

“I just had a physical a month ago and got the best result I’ve ever had, and I put that all on CrossFit,” he said. “It’s incredible what I can do now, too.”

When Mike started CrossFit, he couldn’t do a single sit-up. In Open Workout 18.1 in late February, he did 56.

“Life is easier now, too,” he added. “Before, if I got down on the floor, it was a pain to get up again, but now I just bounce up. A year ago, I was always huffing and puffing and complaining—ask Barb. But I don’t complain anymore.”

Barb, too, has seen significant progress, including dramatic improvement in her bone density since she started lifting weights.

In a bone mineral-density test, a T-score between -1 and -2.5 indicates osteopenia, or low bone density. A score of -2.5 or lower means osteoporosis. Before CrossFit, Barb’s T-score was -2.4; today, it’s -1.6, just six-tenths below normal.

“That’s a pretty big improvement in a two-year period,” said Barb, who weighs 115 lb. at 5 foot 3. “I never want to experience another fracture again.”

ALT TEXTMike Brady is down 20 lb., and his blood pressure is no longer concerning. (Courtesy of Tara Ross)

Plus, she’s gotten stronger. When she started CrossFit, Barb could barely put 15 lb. overhead. Now she can push-jerk 54 lb.

“That’s a pretty big accomplishment, I think,” she said.

The two have also cleaned up their diets, increasing protein intake and cutting the junk.

“I was raised in a Southern household, so it was always ‘eat until you’re stuffed,’” Mike said. “But now … I don’t overeat anymore. It’s a pride thing now. I want to be healthy. I don’t want potato chips and I don’t want Dunkin’ Donuts.”

Accountability, Mike said, is the key to their success—“we always go to the gym together, which makes motivation easier”—but a little competition doesn’t hurt, either.

The first time they went to class together, Barb deadlifted more than Mike.

ALT TEXTBarb competes in CrossFit Open workout 18.2. She went on to clean 59 lb. in 18.2a. (Courtesy of Tara Ross)

“I tried to add weight and my coach told me to stop, that I wasn’t ready to lift that much … ,” he said. “I wanted to lift what Barb was lifting. I didn’t want to be left in the dust.”

It’s a loving rivalry that continues today. Mike recalled performing Open Workout 18.1 alongside his wife.

“I kept glancing out of the corner of my eye and could see that she was ahead of me, so I picked it up,” he said.

After the 20-minute AMRAP of sit-ups, dumbbell hang clean and jerks and rowing was over, both husband and wife had earned the same score: 240 scaled reps in their respective halves of the 60+ Division.

In 18.2, Mike performed 96 reps, while Barb completed 18.2 in 9:41 and cleaned 59 lb. in 18.2a. In 18.3, Mike scored 337 reps to Barb’s 565.

While there’s no doubt that Barb and Mike are healthier now in their mid-60s than they were five years ago, they said the biggest benefit of CrossFit has been psychological.

ALT TEXTAthlete, indeed! (Courtesy of Tara Ross)

“I used to ask people if the gym ever gets enjoyable, but I’m at a point now where I walk in with a smile on my face,” Mike said. “I used to only smile when I walked out when I was finished, but now I look forward to going.”

Being around younger folks also keeps them feeling young, Barb added.

“We’re kind of like the grandparents, to be honest,” she said. “We’re in there with college kids, but that’s what makes it fun. I can pretty much keep up with them. I mean, I’m not lifting the same weight, but I’m doing the same reps.”

Mike added: “I used to think, ‘I’m getting old,’ but now I don’t feel like that anymore. I just feel younger, and I feel like I can do this for a lot of years still.”

About the Author: Emily Beers is a CrossFit Journal contributor and coach at CrossFit Vancouver. She finished 37th at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games.

Cover image: Courtesy of Mike Brady

This article was originally published on the CrossFit Journal. You can find it here.

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About The Author

Neil Scholtz

Neil Scholtz is a certified Personal Trainer turned CrossFit coach. He has competed at the CrossFit Games and coached athletes that have competed at the CrossFit Games, but that's not his main focus. Most of his time is spent consulting or coaching individuals to improve their lives through fitness. He has worked with over 1000 individuals from various walks of life. Tailoring solutions to their lifestyle needs.