Guest Blog by Tracy Briggs Jensen
You wouldn’t know it seeing her at the coffee shop today. She’s a petite woman with a smile as warm as the cup of coffee she sips. She nestles into an oversized couch by the window as she stirs the cream into her cup. Her smile doesn’t fade a bit even as she talks about her incredible life of ups and downs and how she’s managed not just to survive, but thrive
Whatever you do, don’t tell Lois Aldrich of Fargo, North Dakota she can’t do something. From doing ‘boys’ work on the farm, to beating a deadly cancer to competing in CrossFit with people half her age, this 70 year old grandmother is a force of nature.
Her journey toward health and fitness through CrossFit is inspiring others, whether the modest former North Dakota farm girl cars to admit it or not.
Lois was born and raised in Denbigh, North Dakota, a whisper away from the Canadian border. She was one of seven children, smack dab in the middle of the pack. Back in those days, she stayed active the way all the farm kids did.
She eventually left the farm to go to college in Wahpeton, North Dakota where she earned degrees in secretarial work. After working in medical transcription, as a legal secretary and with handicapped adults in a public school system, she eventually took a job with the postal service.
A world turned upside down
By the age of 37, she was a married mom of three children when her life would be turned upside down. She found a lump under her arm. She thought it was just a sore muscle, because she used her arms a lot in her job with the postal service. But it wasn’t a sore muscle. It was cancer and it was aggressive.
“After I had the mastectomy, the surgeon told me the prognosis. He said I had about a 30 percent chance of surviving for one year,” she said.
Devastating statistics she chose not to share with her husband, Tom or her son Ryan, who was 12, and daughters Cora and Krista who were 4 and 2.
“I was in denial. I just thought ‘this can’t be true.’ I have my babies, my children to raise. And I have these milestones I want to see them reach. And this just can’t be true. So I just continued to live life as I would have,” she said.
But she said they also threw every weapon they had at the cancer including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. After a year or so of treatment the news was good. And after five years, she was considered cancer-free. Lois had beaten the odds.
Through the years from her days as a young secretary to her days as a busy working mom, Lois exercised a little. Her job with the handicapped adults and with the post office kept her active. She would also occasionally go to the gym to workout or just stay home and plug in a Jane Fonda workout into the VCR.
“I dabbled in exercise, but nothing serious,” she said.
But soon, what she perceived to be almost a dare from her son, put her in the path of one of the world’s most challenging and popular forms of exercise– CrossFit.
By 2018, her now grown son, Ryan had come for a visit and couldn’t stop talking about the new gym he was going to, Sheyenne River CrossFit in West Fargo, North Dakota.
“He was just really excited about this new place and he said ‘Mom, you should join.’ And I said, ‘Oh, yeah, right,’ because of what I had heard about CrossFit. I just didn’t think that I could do it,” she said.
But then something shifted with when they said goodbye.
“Before he left that day, I said, ‘Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow at CrossFit!’ Then he said, “Right mom, you’re not doing that.’ So I guess when he was teasing me and telling me I couldn’t do it, it became a challenge,” she said.
Lois showed up the next day and when Anna, the owner of the gym at the time, asked her if she wanted to try a
class, she replied, “No, I’ll just join right now.”
Ryan was shocked, but pleased.
“He was very surprised when he saw me there. He didn’t think I would do that,” Lois said with a laugh.
Even though she was bold enough to take the plunge into CrossFit, she was still intimidated.
“And I still am. You still have doubts, because it’s hard not to compare yourself to others,” she said.
But Lois said she still does it.
“I just know it’s so healthy for me. And I especially at this age. You need to really work to keep your muscles built up, to keep your flexibility. That’s what it is for me,” Lois said. “That’s what keeps me going along with encouragement from others. It’s just such a supportive environment.”
‘They meet you where you’re at’
Lois said as intimidating as CrossFit can seem to older people, it’s important to remember that all of the exercises can be scaled to your fitness level with no judgement – so no one is expecting a 70 year old grandmother of three, like Lois, to compete head to head with a 23-year-old former college athlete.
“They meet you where you’re at,” Lois said. “For example, the first time I was there the workout included burpees. I knew I couldn’t do them. So they told me to just lower myself to the floor and then get up. So that’s how they scale it to your ability. You just learn to do what you can and improve when you can..”
And even her scaled workouts have led to big results. In the five years she’s been doing CrossFit she said she’s lost 40 to 50 pounds all while building muscle. Before joining the gym she had been diagnosed with osteopenia a precursor to osteoporosis in which you lose bone mass and the bones get weaker. Through CrossFit strength-training her diagnosis has been reversed.
She said she’d love to have more people her age workout with her, not just because it’s fun, but because CrossFit training could help prevent further accidents and injuries that come with aging, like falling. . .
“I’ve noticed that people my age can lose flexibility and the CrossFit classes have a warm up. They’re very mindful of functional fitness. A couple of times when I’ve stumbled over something I have the strength to catch myself and recover before I even fall. That’s pretty valuable,” she said.
Of course, people over 65 might be intimidated by CrossFit, and Lois, said ‘that’s okay.’ Her advice is just to give it a try. Her gym has even added a “Legends” class specifically geared towards the “Aging Athlete”.
Now Lois, the farmgirl, cancer survivor and grandma who joined CrossFit on a whim, even has favorite moves including deadlifts, clean and jerks and bench pressing. She competes only against herself and the person she was yesterday. And in true Lois fashion, she’s getting better every day.
Heck, she can now even do burpees.
Photos by Hillary Ehlen Photo