From Couch to Community

By Emily Beers – May 21st, 2018

Four years ago, at 34, Courtney Marino rarely left the house.

At 5 foot 7, she weighed more than 300 lb. and was on various medications for high blood pressure, high blood sugar and anxiety.

“I don’t even know the exact amount that I weighed, to be honest. I stopped weighing myself,” Marino said. “My doctor kept telling me, ‘You need bariatric surgery. You need bariatric surgery.’ But I refused to do it. I always said I’d figure it out somehow, but I never did anything to figure it out.”

Instead, she became a recluse.

“I didn’t even want to go out with friends, and I always used my dogs as an excuse,” she said. “I’d say I couldn’t go out because my dogs had been alone all day when I was at work.”

The truth was her anxiety and physical and emotional discomfort stopped her from going out with friends and actively participating in life.

“It was just such a big effort for me to even get ready to go anywhere,” she said, “and I was so uncomfortable with myself and had been single for a while, and all my friends were meeting people. … I didn’t want to be the third or fifth wheel all the time, so it was easier just to sit on the couch and watch movies.”

So she did. Marino would plant herself on the couch and order food. It wasn’t uncommon for her to devour an entire pizza, cheesy bread and chicken wings in one sitting.

“Eventually it got to the point where I was sleeping on my couch all the time because I didn’t even want to walk up the stairs to get to bed,” she said.

She added: “That’s when it hit me. I realized I’m 34 years old, I’m on all these medications, and I didn’t even want to walk up the stairs to go to bed.”

ALT TEXTOnce more than 300 lb., Courtney Marino lost weight without the bariatric surgery her doctor recommended.

ALT TEXT(Both: Courtesy of Courtney Marino)

Shortly after that realization, Marino visited her local pet store. The store’s owner recommended she contact Robert VanNewkirk, the owner of CrossFit Discovery Daniel Island in Charleston, South Carolina.

Though scared and skeptical, Marino agreed to email VanNewkirk.

“I was half hoping he’d tell me I needed to lose weight before I come in, but he didn’t,” she said. Instead, VanNewkirk set up a time for Marino to meet him the next day.

“At the time, the gym was on the third floor of a building without an elevator, and I stood at the bottom of the stairs and almost didn’t go up,” Marino said, laughing at the memory.

She eventually made it up the stairs and sat down with VanNewkirk, who gave her a book to read: “It Starts With Food: Discover the Whole30 and Change Your Life in Unexpected Ways,” by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig. It had an immediate effect on Marino, who finished it in one night.

“I threw away eight gigantic garbage bags of junk food, cleaned out my freezer and everything,” she said.

That night, Marino committed to changing her diet. Instead of eating an entire pizza or three pieces of cake for dinner, she resolved to follow a Paleo-style diet of whole foods. She also committed to starting CrossFit.

At the time, Marino couldn’t run, squat below parallel or even do a burpee, but she started private training sessions at CrossFit Discovery Daniel Island anyway. And she experienced surprisingly fast results, she said.

In 12 months, Marino lost 100 lb., and she has kept the weight off for nearly three years. Today, Marino is 38 years old and 210 lb., and her life looks a lot different.

ALT TEXTMarino with her dogs—one of whom she can now carry up and down the stairs when needed. (Courtesy of Courtney Marino)

She goes to the gym five days per week. She can do burpees and run, and she can back-squat 200 lb. to depth. Her blood-sugar and blood-pressure levels are healthy and she no longer requires medication. Her anxiety has all but disappeared.

“I used to not even want to go out to eat with friends because I thought people would be thinking, ‘There’s the fat friend,’ but now I invite people to my house,” she said. “Before, I wouldn’t even clean up enough for someone to come over.”

And instead of saying no to everything and everyone all the time, now Marino happily says yes.

“Now, a friend will say, ‘Let’s go for a walk,’ and I’ll say, ‘Let’s go.’ I have a 14-year-old dog who has trouble walking, and I can carry him up and down the stairs now. I travel a lot more, and I’m not clouded by my meds and constantly berating myself anymore,” she said.

Marino also signed up for a Spartan Race this summer and has discovered passions for paddle boarding and hip-hop dancing.

“I’m obsessed with (dance),” she said. “Hip-hop was so outside of my comfort zone the first time I went, but I can keep up in the class, and I can look at myself in the mirror and not hate myself, so yeah, I’m loving it.”

Despite her successes, Marino admitted the journey hasn’t been easy. Having people to talk to about her struggle with food has helped a lot, she explained.

“I am very clear with friends and family about my struggles, so they help a lot,” Marino said. Reminding herself of what will happen if she falls back into bad habits also helps keep her on track, she added.

ALT TEXT“It’s not about the gym, but about what you do in the gym that will change everything else in your life.” —Courtney Marino (Courtesy of Robert VanNewkirk)

“I always ask myself if a piece of pizza or chocolate cake is worth going back on blood-sugar meds, and 99 percent of the time it’s not,” she said.

Physical changes aside, the biggest shift VanNewkirk said he has seen in Marino is her mindset.

“At the very beginning, it was a giant struggle for her to literally get in the door. … By the time she got up (the stairs), she was a sweaty, nervous, exhausted mess,” he said. “The Courtney of today would run up those steps with a smile on her face, practicing dance moves on the way.”

VanNewkirk credits the power of CrossFit with Marino’s transformation.

“Such amazing changes are a natural occurrence when the basic principles of CrossFit are applied consistently over time. … Courtney is a prime example of that philosophy working,” he said.

Marino said she hopes others will see how CrossFit has transformed her life and be inspired to do the same.

“It’s not about the gym, but about what you do in the gym that will change everything else in your life for you,” she said. “The first step is scary, but it’s worth it.”

She added: “I’m so much happier and look forward to my future, instead of just sitting on the couch taking my medicine. That’s what I want people to know from my story.”

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and does not constitute medical or other professional advice.

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 Robert VanNewkirk

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.