Failure is the Key to Success for Adaptive Athlete

Featured in Memphis Health + Fitness Magazine

Michelle Geiser, 25, was terrified the first time she walked into a CrossFit gym. She didn’t know how she was going to do the complex movements like everyone else, but she was determined to figure it out. For nearly 10 years, Michelle’s life has been about adapting and always thinking 10 steps ahead.  

“I was in a really bad car accident when I was 16,” she says. “For 16 years of my life, I did everything with two hands.”

The result of that accident was two weeks spent in the hospital, where her left hand was amputated.

“My whole life from then on became about looking at the world a little bit differently,” she explains. “Whether it’s tying your shoes, cutting your vegetables, or braiding your hair—these are all things we take for granted and we don’t even think about it.”

It didn’t take long for Michelle to decide that she wasn’t going to let her new disability hold her back. Within two weeks of being home from the hospital, Michelle told her mom that she wanted to start driving again and doing the everyday things, like chores, on her own.  

“I realized my mom isn’t going to be there to do everything for my whole life. My dad is not going to be there. My sister is not going to be there,” she recalls. “I wanted to pretend like life was back to normal. There are certain things that it took me longer to try, but I now can do 99.9% of the things I could do before my car accident.”

Taking On More Challenges

Growing up, Michelle wasn’t a competitive or active kid. In fact, it wasn’t until she got to college that she picked up running and signed up for her first half marathon. 

Michelle was living in Detroit working for an automotive dealer when a CrossFit gym opened down the street. She had to see what it was all about. 

“I had no idea what I was doing, but I saw the bigger picture. I think it was wanting to be the best version of myself that got me into the gym, but I think it was the community that kept me going back.”

Michelle said goodbye to that community when she lost her job in August due to the pandemic. When offered a job at AutoZone in Memphis, she decided one of the first things she would do when she arrived was find a new gym. 

Failure As Part of the Process

With help from her coaches back in Detroit and her newfound fitness family at CrossFit Hit & Run in Downtown Memphis, Michelle lifts barbells using ropes that evenly distribute the weight. And after many failed attempts, she recently did her first wall walk on her elbows.

“I was almost in tears when I did it,” she says. “The amount of time I spent upside down, the amount of times my elbows were bruised, my shoulders were bruised…I almost dislocated my elbow or broke my collarbone from landing on it so hard. It became a lot of being comfortable being uncomfortable and not being afraid to fail.” 

It’s that fear of failure that keeps many people from walking into a gym, but Michelle, who also recently took up golf, has a perspective that might just help others overcome that intimidation and hesitancy to try something new.  

“Everybody starts somewhere. There is always going to be someone stronger than you. You just have to worry about you,” she says. “I still get embarrassed sometimes, but I laugh at myself. I have fun with it, because if you can’t laugh at mistakes, then what’s the point? Life is too short to be that serious all the time.”

Michelle spends five to six days a week in the gym, and she’s also training for another half marathon. In just a few weeks, she will compete in the CrossFit Open, which is holding its first adaptive division this year. 

“It’s great that CrossFit is giving this as an option, because adaptive athletes very often don’t get to RX a workout, let alone hit the scaled workout, but now we have the potential to hit a scaled workout and be able to finish it,” she explains. “What gets me excited is having an opportunity to feel worthy of a score.” 

Whether it’s lifting weights, golfing, running, or whatever it is she decides to try next, Michelle knows that failure is part of the process. 

“I don’t know if it’s the visionary in me or the grittiness. I want something, I’m going to go get it,” she says. “I think it comes from the fact that I want to be better than I was yesterday.”

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