Ep 127 – Fighting Breast Cancer with Barbells: Barbells for Boobs Founder Zionna Hanson

Ep 127 – Fighting Breast Cancer with Barbells: Barbells for Boobs Founder Zionna Hanson

“She said when she went in with the lump they basically denied her mammogram and said, “You’re too young for breast cancer,” and they wrote on her medical documentation “mammography recommended at age 40.”  And, once I heard that, I knew that her story needed to be heard.  And that, number one, I wanted to make sure that that never happened to another woman again.  And for me, it was more about advocating, I think that’s what CrossFit has really taught me, is how to advocate for my own health, how to advocate for my body, how to be aware of my own health, and how to take ownership in that, right?  And so, while I was teaching that to people everyday, my friend, and the healthcare system we have, kind of failed her in a sense.  And she failed herself.  You ask Cecy today, and you ask her what does she want to tell people from her story of breast cancer, and she’s like, ‘advocate for yourself!’ - Zionna Hanson

Five years ago, our family first gathered around the living room on Christmas, put on our favorite holiday movies, and took turns rowing until we reached a marathon – 42,195 meters.  Over the years, what started as a small way to stay active and spend time together during the holidays has grown into a worldwide fundraising event.  Last year, we had teams from across the globe competing in support of a charity run by Dani’s family, Educar es Avanzar.

This year, we’re choosing to raise money for Barbells for Boobs – an incredible organization that works hard to improve the quality of life of those diagnosed with breast cancer.  Breast cancer has hit our family in a big way over the past couple of years, with my Aunt Nancy currently in remission and Dani’s mom, Barbara, just recently diagnosed and beginning her treatment.  We know personally how difficult it can be to navigate this process, and want to give back to an organization that is working hard to make it easier for so many.

As a part of this initiative, I was excited to speak with Zionna Hanson, the founder of Barbells for Boobs.  Zionna’s life has also been greatly impacted by breast cancer:  in 2009, her best friend was diagnosed at the age of 26. Zionna rallied the CrossFit community to support her friend, and from that small event, Barbells for Boobs was born.  Over the past 10 years Zionna has guided Barbells for Boobs as it has grown into a global movement.   What started as a nonprofit with a focus on funding mammograms has evolved into an organization dedicated to providing community and resources after diagnosis through fitness.

Zionna and I caught up to chat about the challenges breast cancer patients face, what donors should look for in a nonprofit they’re choosing to support, and the importance of being open to opportunities for evolution, change and growth.

If you’d like to join in the 6th annual Christmas Marathon Row in support of Barbells for Boobs, please sign up here!

In this episode we discuss:

  • My experiences with Barbells for Boobs
  • How Zionna came to have a passion for CrossFit
  • The origin story for Barbells for Boobs
  • How CrossFit helped catapult Barbells for Boobs to success
  • What is was like for Zionna to begin a nonprofit, and the lessons she learned along the way
  • Things donors should look for when selecting a nonprofit to support
  • How Barbells for Boobs has evolved to its new focus of supporting women in getting back to the gym after treatment
  • What prompted Zionna to step down from her position as CEO and how that’s changed her day-to-day routine
  • 3 things Zionna does on a regular basis that have the biggest positive impact on her health
  • One thing she struggles to implement that could have a big impact on her health
  • What a healthy life looks like to Zionna

You can follow Zionna on Instagram, and you can follow Barbells for Boobs on their websiteFacebook, and Instagram.


Related episodes:


Ep 35 – Coach Greg Glassman on CrossFit, Chronic Disease, and the “5 Buckets of Death”

Ep 97 – Challenging Conventional Cancer Care with Dr. Thomas Seyfried

Ep 118 – The State of CrossFit with Coach Greg Glassman

Ep 124 – Breaking Barriers with Adaptive Athlete and Coach Kevin Ogar


If you like this episode, please subscribe to Pursuing Health on iTunes and give it a rating. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below and on social media using the hashtag #PursuingHealth. I look forward to bringing you future episodes with inspiring individuals and ideas about health every other Tuesday.

Disclaimer: This podcast is meant to share the experiences of various individuals. It does not provide medical advice, and it is not a substitute for advice from your physician or health care professional.

This post was originally published on December 10, 2019.

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