Athlete Profile: Alessandra Wall

When I began my CrossFit journey three years ago in San Diego, there were two woman who stood out to me. Not only are they incredibly strong and agile, but they are also moms. Knowing I wanted to stand in their oly shoes someday, I watched them closely to see how they balanced fitness and family.

Today, I am excited to feature one of those women – Dr. Alessandra Wall, owner of Life in Focus Coaching. A wife of a successful anesthesiologist and co-owner of CrossFit Elysium, mother of two wildly energetic boys, small business owner, champion of Empower Charter School, CrossFitter, gardener, friend … yes, like most of us, Alessandra wears many hats. Yet, in the insanity of it all, Alessandra finds balance. It’s what she preaches and provides her clients. I know because I benefitted from her coaching after I delivered FG.

Chang Family  credit: Lot116 photography

Chang Family
credit: Lot116 photography

Alessandra finds balance in her CrossFit pursuits by managing what she eats, how much she sleeps and the time she devotes in the box. She acknowledges the recipe is more than just what happens during a WOD. It’s ultimately everything else.

While Alessandra isn’t currently CrossFitting pregnant, she is one of those women who paved the way for me to feel confident and comfortable maintaining my regime when I got pregnant. Here’s her story:

Muscle Up during a competition Credit: Karen Gallagher

Muscle Up during a competition
Credit: Karen Gallagher

A seasoned CrossFitter, Alessandra began her journey more than six years ago when a personal trainer friend invited her to participate in a Saturday community WOD conducted by a box he recently collaborated with in a neighborhood park. Alessandra was impressed with the group setting and found that it pushed her to work harder. Her competitive and enthusiastic spirit convinced her husband, Leon Chang, to join her.

Leon & Alessandra credit: CrossFit Elysium

Leon & Alessandra
Credit: CrossFit Elysium

Fast forward to 2010. Leon partnered with highly respected trainer Paul Estrada to open CrossFit Elysium. This opening happened a year after Alessandra and Leon welcomed their first son.

During her first pregnancy courtesy of Alessandra Wall

During her first pregnancy
Courtesy: Alessandra Wall

“During my first pregnancy I didn’t CrossFit at all,” Alessandra reflected. “I had been CrossFitting for three to four months at the time and was just too worried about the impact on my growing child. Forty pounds later, I realized avoiding CrossFit was a huge mistake.”

Starting them young in the Chang/Wall family Credit: CrossFit Elysium

Starting them young in the Chang/Wall family
Credit: CrossFit Elysium

A mistake Alessandra didn’t make twice.

Pregnancy two Courtesy: Alessandra Wall

Pregnancy two
Courtesy: Alessandra Wall

Three years later, she was pregnant with their second son. “I was better versed in CrossFit, but I also had a better understanding of my body and what it was capable of,” said Alessandra. “My plan was to move along, to keep on working out hard until my body let me know I needed to slow down.”

Early in the pregnancy, she was told her son’s umbilical cord only had one artery. An umbilical cord normally has two arteries that remove waste from the uterus and a vein that brings in clean blood. “With only one artery, I had to do stress tests twice a week and my son was just not thriving in the womb,” Alessandra said. “Uncertain of how best to approach this, I chose to keep moving, and working out, but replaced heavy and dynamic workouts with light explosive weight lifting and reduced the intensity of my metcons.”

This was effective for Alessandra and her son. They welcomed their full-spirited boy in an uneventful delivery in August 2011.

Alessandra and Stacie with their first borns. Courtesy: Stacie Beal

Alessandra and Stacie with their first born.
Courtesy: Stacie Beal

Alessandra credits the community at CrossFit Elysium for remaining active during her pregnancy, but admits she and Coach Stacie Beal were the gym’s guinea pigs. Now Elysium has coached a number of women through successful pregnancies. “Since 2011, we have had a lot of members CrossFit while pregnant,” Alessandra said. “Our advice is always the same: CrossFitting while pregnant is safe, but it is also your body, no one can tell you what you can and can’t do. You have to listen to your body, your gut and your brain on this one.”

Born in Iran and raised in France, Alessandra wholeheartedly believes that advice. Her worldly perspective provided her the reality that women around the world continue strenuous activity during pregnancies. “In the States, we treat pregnant women (and honestly most people) as though they are fragile and frail,” she reflects. “There are women all over the world who carry heavy loads, move long distances and put their bodies under strain and have happy, healthy pregnancies. The human body is designed to work hard and survive; CrossFitting in a safe environment is nothing in comparison!”

Comparing her two pregnancies. Alessandra had very different experiences. The differences led her to two truths she found during and after recovering from her second pregnancy:

  1. It’s not about what is right, but what is right for you. Expert advice, whether it be with diet, exercise or life means NOTHING if you don’t adjust it to your own needs, values and lifestyle.
  2. As humans, we continue to evolve and develop even into adulthood. Big changes, like motherhood, can precipitate huge shifts in our needs and values. It can be tough to negotiate those shifts, and the transition in roles that come with motherhood.

Experiencing her own shifts led Alessandra to create her business, Life in Focus Coaching. Today, Alessandra works with woman [and men] inside and outside the box as a lifestyle and nutrition coach.

And, speaking from experience, she’s damn good at helping people emerge directed and confident from those life shifts.

More on Alessandra:

Since doing CrossFit while pregnant, I’ve learned: I can do anything I want with my body; there is no reason to worry if I put on weight or lose strength because I have to take a break. It will take time, effort, and a bit of mental fortitude, while I negotiate the loss of skill and strength, but I can get back to a place where I feel/am strong, agile, capable and fit.

Biggest CrossFit and pregnant challenge I’ve faced: Arguing with others that I am strong and not foolish or neglectful.

Do you follow a particular eating lifestyle? Paleo/Primal since May 2009 (I needed it to get my body back from giving birth to my first baby).

Best CrossFit and pregnant tip or secret you’ve discovered: Rest > diet > exercise. Rest has been the hardest thing to allow myself, especially as a mother and during my second pregnancy. I have done very well with diet, but that is because I understood very early on the importance of making lifestyle changes rather than reactively dieting or trying to follow “expert” advice that doesn’t meet my personal needs.

What have you found most valuable about CrossFit while pregnant?: The point of view! I love being able to see other real women’s experience in negotiating what is both an incredibly inspiring and trying time for a woman.

If you could do it all again, you would: Absolutely, except I would work out through my first pregnancy.

Favorite girl WOD: Grace, although I also have a soft spot in my heart and my very scarred tailbone for Annie.

Three words that describe me: Assertive, stubborn, and loyal

When I’m not in the box, you can find me: at work, at home working, running around doing errands and taking the kids to the playground and trying to change my world in a meaningful way

Twitter handle: @lifenfocus

Facebook profile: Life in Focus

Athlete Profile (update): Leslie Spector

Hiking

Hiking with her babies (photo courtesy of Leslie)

A year ago, we featured Phoenix, Ariz., native Leslie Spector, who was pregnant with baby #2, and an advocate for CrossFitting while pregnant. Today, Leslie is rocking a hot bod thanks to hard work and participating in a Back Alley CrossFit paleo challenge. “I had hit a plateau with my weight loss after Sean,” said Leslie. “The paleo challenge was the nudge of motivation I needed.”

Her results speak volumes:

  • 15lbs gone forever
  • 16 inches gone forever
  • Reduced performance times by at least a minute

Leslie advises that it’s more than just the box and paleo (or any diet tweaks) to get that weight off. “If the kiddos are losing their minds and you can’t make it in, you need to have a back-up plan.” She recommends having a list of at-home WODs, DVDs, or getting outside. “Anything is better than nothing!”

Balance is a struggle for this full time working mom of two. Now having two kiddos to manage and a husband with a fire fighter’s schedule, getting into the box can be tricky, but making the commitment is key.

Double unders! (photo courtesy of Back Alley CF)

Double unders! (photo courtesy of Back Alley CF)

“My best advice is to have a solid routine and stick with it,” said Leslie. “On days when your heart is tugging more toward baby than the box, listen! Those feelings happen for a reason. I love Elizabeth Akinwale’s quote about always having inches to lose and gains to make, but our babies are only babies once. That got me through last week having two sick babies and only working out twice. I really try to be in tune with my needs. If it’s respite, I find someone else to love my babies for the hour I’m working out. If I miss my babes, but know for my own well-being my butt needs to be at the gym, they come along and I work out with the annoying interruptions because that’s better than not seeing them.”

Team WOD (photo courtesy of Back Alley CF)

Team WOD (photo courtesy of Back Alley CF)

When her kiddos do join her in the box, she leverages technology and food. For her toddler, some tablet time is key, since WOD time is some of the only time she sees technology. Her baby’s distractions shift from food, to other people, to his big sissy, to the various toys in the box. “To be honest, the awesome community at Back Alley is what gets me through if he is there,” Leslie said.

Leslie’s focus on a paleo lifestyle helped with the weight loss, but she suggests finding something that works for you and your family. “Dial in the diet, but make it realistic so it works for you instead of being destined to fail. If it’s not realistic, you’ll fail. If you fail, it’s an excuse to go off the rails. At least it is for me.” Having the support of a spouse/partner or the entire family definitely helps. For other moms considering paleo, she offers this advice, “It seems more complicated than it is. Once you know the basics, and carve out prep time, it’s easy.” She turns to Paleo Grubs for recipe inspiration. “I make a spicy chicken recipe at least once a week. I also, have bacon and steak wrapped asparagus in the weekly rotation.” YUM!

Leslie didn’t CrossFit during her first pregnancy, but was a huge advocate for it when she became pregnant with her second baby. Leslie isn’t only focused on her physical health through CrossFit; she uses it for full mind, body, and spiritual health.

Endurance training with Coach Melissa (photo courtesy of Leslie)

Endurance training with Coach Melissa (photo courtesy of Leslie)

“CrossFit is my medicine! Literally, I use it to naturally treat my bipolar disorder,” said Leslie. “Chemicals freak me out and Back Alley makes it possible for me to maintain balance without having to pop pills. If I go more than a couple days without my daily dose of BACF, it’s obvious. I love being dependent on exercise and friends…the support and friendships I have built are priceless!”

How’s that for CrossFit and pregnant success?

More on Leslie:

Biggest CrossFit challenge she’s faced: Front rack lifts, due to a nagging wrist injury that won’t go away.

Greatest CrossFit accomplishment: I can see back muscles after a super successful paleo challenge!

Favorite girl WOD: I like Fran for the challenge. My best time 4:47, but that is a light and scaled version. I did it in 5:53 a little heavier, still a bit scaled too.

Biggest value in CrossFitting while pregnant?: My mental well being and there is less work on the back-end. During my first pregnancy, I gained 70# (sans CrossFit). With number two, it was only about 26# – enough said!

Favorite mom resources? (book, blog, website, toy for baby, etc.): Friends are number one. Support group is number two. I joined one specific to Nursing. Google is another favorite. When my babies were tiny, ‘Baby Wise’ was my go to book. Now I frequently delve into ‘Love and Logic.’

How much time did you take off after your pregnancy before you got back to CF?: I took the recommended six weeks and then I went really slow. CrossFitting while pregnant was much easier than after baby.

A Pro’s Perspective

Hello friend. I've missed you.

Hello friend. I’ve missed you.

Eight and a half months post natal and I am within 10# of my original weight. Ten pounds won’t be easy, but I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. As I’ve shared, it’s been a struggle – most likely because my number one priority is the sweet baby I love fiercely.

CrossFit Baby

CrossFit Baby

The weather is at the height of perfection in Phoenix. I’ve been taking advantage of being outdoors – long walks with my babies and a run squeezed in when I can muster motivation. I CrossFit once or twice a week and do a lot of conditioning (burpees, sit ups, supermans, push ups, leg lifts, etc.) at home while playing with the babe.

Best running buddy ever!

Best running buddy ever!

Knowing my struggle to accept the new me and also knowing how extremely hard I am on myself, my sweet husband shared a blog post from CrossFit Elite Athlete Elizabeth Akinwale. Titled “All Due Respect,” Akinwale shares her thoughts on getting her own body back post babies. My favorite line:

“Priorities will change and that’s ok because you know what? If you put your fitness on the back burner, it will come back! You have an entire lifetime to continue to pursue the fittest version of yourself, but your babies are only little for a short time.”

Photo credit: elizabethakinwale.com

Photo credit: elizabethakinwale.com

How so very true. Thanks, Elizabeth, for the fantastic reminder.

Now, off to snuggle my sweet baby.

xoxo

Six Months

photo 1

Six months of motherhood. I blinked and we’re already at the half-year point. I have no idea how that happened. In honor of those six months, I would like to expose some of my truths:

I was slovenly all summer. It’s no secret: I’m not a desert heat kinda gal. I hibernate like it’s nobody’s business. So the extra 20 (yes, 20!) pounds have stuck around at six months. All those statements about nursing and losing the weight? Lies. Pre-pregnancy clothes have yet to fit (can I get an AMEN for yoga pants?). I’m awkwardly wide. Spanx don’t do shit. This is probably my greatest struggle with pregnancy and motherhood. I miss my wardrobe and the body I worked so hard for prior to baby.

Monkey Swings at Back Alley CrossFit

Monkey Swings at Back Alley CrossFit

CrossFit definitely helps, but I have been at a weight-loss plateau for quite some time. Have I CrossFitted five days a week? No. But it’s more than just working out. Recently, I started keeping a food journal. The minute I put what I consumed on paper, I shredded some inches and pounds (no lie). Through my week of food journaling, Coach Melissa helped me realize my sugar addiction and is currently helping me get my blood sugar back in check. Melissa has me eating so much, which seems counter-intuitive, but I am also not crashing or experiencing extreme starvation post-nursing. Huge wins – mentally, emotionally, and physically!

iPhones let you take selfies!

iPhones let you take selfies!

My iPhone and social media saved me from the long stretches of boredom and isolation and kept me engaged during the early days of hours-upon-hours of nursing. Sometimes I feel guilty about this (Should I be talking, singing, praying to her? How can I be more present? Will she be addicted to technology at a young age from seeing me like this?). But to my fellow online mommas, thank you for being there; for responding at crazy hours. It’s nice knowing there’s a village out there googling the same crazy questions, posting hilarious parenthood articles, and sharing pics of the cutie-patooties.

Courtesy of ecardforum

Courtesy of ecardforum

And when I wasn’t scrolling through my phone, TV was my best friend. I watched every season of Lost. I started Pretty Little Liars (terrible, but addicting). Chad and I watched The Office and Friday Night Lights (this was the second time we’ve watched every episode). People, that’s four series consumed from May to August. My word, that’s a lot of TV! But in the dead of summer (aka 116 degrees), there’s not much else to do with a newborn, but hole away in the air conditioning.

For the first five months, Florie refused to sleep during the day. Until we bought a swing for nap time. Yes, judge away; my child naps in the swing. But there are days (like today) where she fights a nap, even in the swing, (and wins). She just doesn’t want to miss anything. My Type-A personality struggles with the reality that I get little accomplished everyday. It’s one I’m overcoming as she becomes more independent, but those early days were hard! And I thank God everyday that she has slept through the night from a very young age.

The pendulum of emotions and weird things your body does postpartum sucks. There’s no better word. I’m tired of the hair loss, the irritability, the feelings of starvation that follow long periods of nursing (see point above; no wonder I can’t lose the extra 20 pounds), the brain fog…

Then there’s the challenge of balancing my professional self with my new role as a momma. This isn’t easy for me. My friend, and subsequently my life coach, Dr. Alessandra Wall, of Life in Focus, has helped me in this time of re-definition. We’re working on a variety of things, but, most importantly, she’s definitely my voice of reason when I’m battling the “how do I do it?” questions.

My friend Margie’s very honest blog about her first year as a mom has been a point of salvation. She suffered a rough first year with her first-born and was brave enough to share her truths with the world. I applaud her for bucking the norm and for making me feel OK with some of my own challenges. And let me tell you, she’s on baby #2, kicking ass and taking names, all while running her own business. Major props!

I wouldn’t change any of this if it meant I didn’t have my sweet, strong, fierce Little Miss. Life with her is so much brighter and better. I’m fascinated by her daily developments – what’s instinctive and what she’s picking up from us. I’ve loved getting us involved in all the fun (FREE!) activities around town. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to deepen some friendships with other (new) mommas. And I’m so thankful for my supportive, patient husband, who has risen to his fatherhood duties without hesitation. For that, I’m truly thankful and lucky.

What are your truths? Where did you turn on bad days? Any wise sages have advice for new moms?

Barbells for Boobs a Success

Courtesy of Barbells For Boobs

Courtesy of Barbells For Boobs

The Barbells for Boobs event was a huge success. I surpassed my fundraising goal; thanks to my many friends and family for helping me make a difference.

And I was 10 seconds shy of completing my “Grace” goal. I took 4:10 instead of under 4 min. Still really pleased since it’s been quite awhile since I’ve thrown that much weight around consecutively 30 times. When I was struggling to get that weight overhead and I had jiggly arms, I thought of the brave battle my Aunt committed to and won. Definitely easier to push through that way!

I had the best cheerleading section, too.

My cheerleaders

My cheerleaders

What inspires you to push harder?

Barbells for Boobs

b4b

More than 20 years ago, my Aunt Mary “Mimi” was diagnosed with breast cancer. With the support of her family and friends, she beat it and has had a successful remission. Not everyone is as lucky.

Meghan & Mimi

Meghan & Mimi

To honor her brave fight and the fight of so many women and men, I’m raising money for early detection education and participating in the CrossFit Barbells for Boobs WOD (Workout of the Day) on Oct. 17 at Back Alley CrossFit. The WOD is called “Grace,” which is 30 clean and jerks for time. My attempted weight and time will be announced this week.

Please help me support Barbells for Boobs by making a donation through my page. Even a small donation will help me achieve my goal. The process is fast, easy, and secure. If you donate and would like your donation to honor someone, I’ll gladly temporarily tattoo their name or favorite saying on my legs or arms … so let’s get my skin covered!

Thanks so much for your support.

Meghan

Post Partum: Weeks 12 and 13

Awesome week and finally made it to Back Alley in addition to yoga and walking. Feeling excellent! I’m attending the 101 classes twice a week. This is allowing me to ease back into it and minimize any scaling. I’m also still wearing my heart rate monitor to now gauge my capabilities without a baby.

Some things I’ve learned in my short three months as a momma:

1. CrossFit is the best way to start shedding that baby weight. Shouldn’t come as a surprise, I know, but after just two days, I can see and feel a difference.

2. The minute you don’t have clothing back-up, the baby will have a blow-out. Thanks little miss for christening my come back to the box with a blow-out mid-WOD. Glad you’re comfortable in just a diaper!

3. That being said, less really is more! All of the sudden my car is full of stuff – bags of returns, swimming gear, workout gear, library books, a stroller, dog gear – and our baby is only three months! We love the Skip Hop pronto changing station. We now have three because they are totally genius. I keep mine stocked with diapers, wipes, hand sanitizer, Advil, first aid kit, extra outfit. When out and about, I can easily just grab it to change her – in the car, in a random bathroom, at the box, etc. We have three because we keep one in each car and one with the stroller.

4. Drive-throughs are a mom’s best friend (and I don’t mean the McDonalds!). Thanks Starbucks for keeping me caffeinated and hydrated while I keep my baby sleeping in the back seat.

I’m sure it’s old news by now, but love that CrossFit HQ is finally giving some attention to all the awesome women out there who CrossFit while pregnant. Be sure to watch the latest video, if you haven’t already.

For a quick snack pre- or post-WOD, I recently made these no bake protein bites from HeandSheEatClean. Super simple to make and who can beat the no bake part?! I also made mine lactation friendly by adding in a tablespooon of brewer’s yeast. You can easily sub the peanut butter for almond butter for a more paleo-friendly option. YUM!

And we have been meeting the newest CrossFit babies! Both Katie and Sara delivered healthy, precious babes. Aren’t they darling?

With Katie and Baby Rounds at Back Alley

With Katie and Baby Rounds at Back Alley

Meeting Baby Hillman at the hospital.

Meeting Baby Hillman at the hospital.