Stephen Berry

In continuing our theme about why we train and why we want everyone to experience the community through the CrossFit Open, we wanted to post a piece composed by our friend Christina Lion. Christina writes about her friend Stephen who, despite being diagnosed with cancer, continues to inspire so many people through his quest for fitness.

In 2010, bored of my usual gym routine, I tried a week of CrossFit at a local affliate. It was an absolutely amazing experience, but I was unemployed and couldn’t afford to join at that time. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it so much that I found CrossFit’s main site online and did my best to replicate the wods on my own.

I loved the workouts and soon asked my gym buddy, Stephen, to join me. We did CrossFit style workouts together for almost a year and a half, and finally, in May of 2012, I joined a local affiliate, CrossFit Hillsboro. It was around that time that my friend Stephen underwent a biopsy on his right lung, and I received a text from him that read, “I am woosay for menewd (medicine)…looks like stage 3 cancel (cancer)”. Although he had never smoked a day in his life, he had been diagnosed with Stage 3b inoperable lung cancer that had metastasized to his throat. He was given a 5% chance of surviving  5 years, with a median survival duration of 13 months.

Stephen insisted we continue our CrossFit workouts, and at the end of his second or third round of radiation and chemotherapy, he too joined CrossFit Hillsboro. When Stephen described CrossFit to his doctors, they all advised against it. However, after seeing how much it kept his spirits up and added to his quality of life, they told him he could continue, as long as he “took it easy”. In the meantime, the radiation and chemotherapy did little to affect the tumor but succeeded in destroying most of the function of his right lung.

Regardless, Stephen continued our wods, pushing himself to the limits each time. He insisted that CrossFit was the only thing keeping him alive, and thanked me every time we finished a wod. The doctors started him on a new trial form of chemo that caused his skin to break out in blisters and made it difficult for his body to absorb any form of nutrition. Again, his doctor questioned the CrossFit workouts, but Stephen kept going.

More accurately stated, he keeps going, and he keeps surprising his doctors. In fact, Stephen told me that his doctor once accused him of not taking his chemo drugs because tests showed that his red blood count levels increased whereas chemo is supposed to have the effect of inhibiting the growth of new blood cells. His hematocrit, white blood cell count, and almost all other levels also inexplicably remained in the normal range.

Despite having only one functioning lung, blisters all over his body,  and being sick from the side effects of chemo, Stephen participated in the open this year, and in April, he competed in his first face-to-face CrossFit competition. In the final event, as he struggled to finish, spectators, judges, and even fellow competitors turned to cheer him on (without even knowing his story). As I watched my friend and listened to the crowd counting down his final reps, tears came to my eyes, and I thought to myself, “This is crossfit.”

I truly believe that the workouts and the CrossFit community have prolonged the life of one of my best friends. Crossfit is more than a workout, it is a community, and I am privileged to be a member. 

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