At 29 years old, Rebecca Guess found herself overweight and desperate for a new workout routine.
A former golfer for Purdue University, she longed for the days of being fit and active.
“Someone suggested CrossFit, so I tried it and ended up getting really into it,” Guess explains.
She got so into it that she lost 40 pounds and gained the courage to run her first 5K.
But then: “Shortly after the run, my legs got a numb feeling, some of my left fingers were numb too, and I started getting vertigo and dizzy all the time,” she recalls.
Suddenly, she went from running races and lifting 175 pounds to not being strong enough to lift 80.
“I knew something wasn’t right. I took a break from working out, but still nothing changed, so I went to a doctor,” says Guess.
About two weeks later, on March 15, 2011, Guess received a diagnosis of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS).
“It really was a shock to me,” she says. “Nowhere in my realm did I even think of that as a possibility. No one in my family has MS. It wasn’t even on my radar.”
With diagnosis came depression
Guess immediately began using Avonex, but continued to experience flare-ups. Her MS progressed. After about three years on the medication, her doctor switched her to Gilenya, which she’s been using for the past four years.
“I felt worthless. I went into a deep, dark depression. Every night before bed, I’d pray to die because I just didn’t feel like I could do this physically.”
— Rebecca Guess
“It’s stabilized me, and I’ve been in remission for about 3 1/2 years with a few flare-ups here and there,” Guess says. “Besides the physical benefits, Gilenya really helped so I could mentally get myself going.”
About four years after receiving her diagnosis with MS, Guess experienced two herniated discs and had surgery to remove one of them. During this time, she gained back the weight she had lost before the diagnosis and used a walker regularly. Her health deteriorated to the point where she couldn’t work at her family’s trucking business anymore.
“I felt worthless. I went into a deep, dark depression. Every night before bed, I’d pray to die because I just didn’t feel like I could do this physically. I didn’t want to deal with MS deteriorating my body and debilitating my life,” she says. “My thoughts just kept getting worse and darker.”
In an attempt to help, a friend who Guess had met years earlier — on the first day she tried CrossFit — suggested that she get back into it. After contemplating the idea for months, and doubting herself, Guess tapped into her inner athlete.
“The golf team I was on was a top 15 team in the U.S., and I shouldn’t have been on it. I didn’t have the scores and ability, but I made the team because I worked hard and I had a lot of other things behind me,” Guess recalls.
“I realized I wanted to be that person again, who beats the odds, and I remembered what my college coach said to me once when we were working on my putting. He said, ‘Sometimes you got to fake it until you make it.’ I knew I had to do that with MS. I had to keep thinking ‘I’ll be OK’ until one day I am,” she says.
Guess also used her family as inspiration. Her father has battled non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for several years. “He stays positive and keeps focused on what he has to do to stay as healthy as possible,” Guess explains. “Watching him, I know you can manage even when things are really unpleasant and tough.”
Her two nephews also gave her the most motivation to push through. “They were 12 and 14 at the time I was really depressed, and I wanted them to be proud of me, not disappointed that I had let MS take over my life,” she remembers.
With all of this weighing on her mind, she says one day she woke up and had an aha moment: “I thought: ‘This is supposed to be the best time in my life and this is not who I am. I’m not going to let MS kick me! I’m done feeling sorry for myself and throwing myself a pity party. I’m going to go back to the strong person I am.’”
Starting small, getting stronger
About seven months ago, Guess went back to CrossFit. At first, she took it slow.
“I walked in there with my walker. I wanted to throw up because I was so nervous,” she says.
While it took a month to get comfortable, she was committed to sticking it out. Her trainer worked with her to adjust workouts to her abilities. Today, she goes five to six days a week.
“I went from being only able to do the push press of 2 1/2 pounds to about 15 pounds pretty regularly now. I couldn’t do many squats, and now I easily do 100 to 115 every night without touching my walker,” she says.
Guess also squats with a bench behind her so she can sit, if needed. All her work has paid off. Her body weight is down 40 pounds, her strength has increased, and she’s no longer reliant on her walker. Instead, she uses her cane more often.
The mental benefits are just as positive, she notes.
“I listen to my body, and if it’s tired, I’ll take a day off. But if I’m not at CrossFit, my friends will text me and ask if everything is OK.”
— Rebecca Guess
“After I started CrossFit again, I wanted to show my doctor how much progress I had made, because the last time I had seen him I was deep into my depression,” she recalls. “When I walked in with my cane he said, ‘You look happy,’ and that said more than anything else.”
Guess says CrossFit also motivates her to eat healthier. “I have changed my diet, too, limiting foods that don’t make me feel good. I want to feel my best, so when I go in for a workout, I can do my best,” she says.
The friendships she’s made and the support she gets at CrossFit keep her going.
“I listen to my body, and if it’s tired, I’ll take a day off. But if I’m not at CrossFit, my friends will text me and ask if everything is OK. The people there are always looking out for me and encouraging me and pushing me,” she says.
Her latest challenges are working out with a 20-pound weighted vest and walking slowly on a treadmill.
“Next week we’re planning on doing some testing. Because it’s my seventh anniversary since I’ve been diagnosed, I want to see if I’m able to do a handstand pushup and free-standing squat with no bench behind me,” she says.
The biggest obstacle she’d like to conquer, though, is getting back on the golf course.
“I dream about playing golf on a nightly basis,” Guess says. “I tried to when I was first diagnosed, before things got really bad, and I couldn’t because of balance and strength issues. My goal is that this summer, I will learn to play golf again!”