“When I walked in, I was immediately taken back to those old gym class feelings. My anxiety and fear were on full throttle. I stood around watching these people do things that were far beyond my abilities. I was pretty sure I didn’t need 3 classes to tell me this wasn’t right for me.”
Obesity, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Shawn Pettit has struggled with these conditions for most of his 45 years.
Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Shawn began putting on weight around 3rd or 4th grade. “I never played sports. I never wanted to participate in gym class. I would regularly “forget” my gym clothes. I failed out of gym my freshman year and did not take it again until the last semester of my senior year.” Shawn became caught in a vicious cycle: the more weight he gained, the more other children teased him, and the more he turned to food for comfort. As he entered his late teens and early twenties, he found drugs and alcohol, and thus began another unhealthy relationship.
For over 20 years, the overeating, drug and alcohol abuse continued. And then Shawn had a wake-up call: “I took a trip to Dallas, Texas to visit a lifelong friend of mine. We had a great visit.
While we were out, his wife was taking pictures of us. When I returned home, all of the photos were waiting for me in email. What I saw floored me. I could not believe how big I had gotten. I was 42 years old, 5’9” tall and weighed 260 pounds.” Still, Shawn fell back on his long-ingrained unhealthy coping habits. “That night, I sat at my computer, drinking my beer, hopeless. I wanted to change, but I had tried so many times in the past and always failed or given up.”
Shawn started looking for a local gym, in hopes that a trainer would help him stay motivated. He came across a website for Smoky Mountain CrossFit. Before that moment, he had never heard of CrossFit, and at first, he was intimidated. The gym and the pictures looked intense, and Shawn was no elite athlete. Then he stumbled onto the member transformations page. “Those before pictures were not of elite athletes. Those were real people, just like me. Some even looked to be close to my age.” The next day, Shawn made the first step towards a healthier lifestyle: he called the box owner and set-up an evaluation appointment.
Taking the next step wasn’t quite as easy. Shawn says, “When I walked in, I was immediately taken back to those old gym class feelings. My anxiety and fear were on full throttle. I stood around watching these people do things that were far beyond my abilities. I was pretty sure I didn’t need 3 classes to tell me this wasn’t right for me.” But something in his resolve had changed. He fought past his anxiety and stayed for his appointment. His coaches led him through warm-up, and then started teaching foundational skills. “We started working on squatting and would continue to work on squatting for the remainder of the hour. I got home that night and honestly did not know if I was going to be able to stand when I got out of my truck. I should add that all of the squatting we did was bodyweight only. I never touched a barbell.”
Four days elapsed before his second session. During that time, Shawn’s self-doubt and anxiety crept back in. It was only seven miles to the gym, and yet he almost turned around several times on the way there. “I was full of thoughts like, ‘You’ve tried this before, it never works. Why do you think this will be any different?’ I was in tears most of the way. Yet something kept pulling me in that direction, and next thing I knew, I was walking in the front door again. I was immediately met with, ‘Hey Shawn, welcome back!’ from several people. It was overwhelming. I immediately signed up for a 3-month membership.”
Of course, the transformation wasn’t quite that simple. Shawn says it was incredibly hard in the beginning, and his couch would often have him sit rounds of workouts out, for fear of him passing out. He did his best to be a coachable athlete. He listened and followed instruction. He completed barbell work with PVC. He focused on being a little better every day. Before long, Shawn was attending class 5 days per week and looking forward each session. But he still had old demons to overcome.
“Every night, after class, I would go home and drink,” says Shawn. He knew he was destroying his fitness progress, but he didn’t know how to quit. After about three months of working hard in the gym, only to fall apart at home, Shawn reached out to a friend for help. He was finally ready to make a change and walk away from his drug and alcohol addiction, and his workouts had given him the confidence that if he could change one unhealthy part of his lifestyle, he could change other unhealthy parts, too.
The road to sobriety hasn’t been easy, but over the past two and a half years, Shawn has made lasting changes. Today he weighs 200 pounds, and he’s been sober since February 6th, 2015. He lives one day at a time, always trying to be a little better today than yesterday. Says Shawn, “I’m a different person today, mentally, physically, and spiritually.” Shawn’s one-day-at-a-time approach continues to take him far on his journey from a self-professed “overweight, insecure alcoholic” to a “humble, sober, spiritual, but still imperfect human being.”