AUSTIN (KXAN) - Last summer, Darlene Price could barely contain her joy – and her amazement – as she climbed up on a podium to accept her Silver Medal at the Reebok CrossFit Games in California.
Out of 79 women who set out to compete in the Women's Masters Division for athletes between 55 and 59 years of age, Price won the final event, boosting her into the second place finish.
"It was beyond words, thrilling," Price said. "When I got up on that podium it was with a sense of, 'Wow, I really conquered something here.'"
That feeling was far removed from the one she had almost three years earlier when she first arrived at the CrossFit Austin gym at 8708 South Congress Avenue.
"When I drove up here the first time," said Price, 56, "I saw them lifting these huge weights through the windows and I thought, 'I don't belong here at all; you've got to be kidding me.' But I'd already paid my money, so I walked in the door."
She carried some baggage into the gym with her, emotional and physical baggage weighing her down after more than a decade of declining health.
"When I was 40," Price said, "I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and for about the next 10 years it seemed like one thing after another.
"I won't bore you with all the details, but it was not a fun decade for me. At 50, I was diagnosed with heart disease and put on the blood pressure and cholesterol medication and was told that would be pretty much the rest of my life. I didn't like hearing that.
"When you hit 50, and it starts to feel as though you're on a long downhill slide, that's not fun."
A friend recommended the intense, focused and rapid fire exercise patterns used in the increasingly popular CrossFit program, but at first, Price was overwhelmed.
"We're big on challenging people and kind of pushing their limits a little bit and making them uncomfortable," said CrossFit Austin owner and trainer Wes Kimball.
"Initially, folks don't think that's what they want to do, but once they get in there and start seeing the results, they realize that they actually really enjoy it."
"I was last in every class," Price recalled. "I was doing push-ups from the knees and struggling with that. And the idea of doing a pull-up was – I just would have never believed it."
But other athletes at the gym were supportive and Price found herself working out side-by-side with the more experienced CrossFit members.
"It's very inspiring," she said. "This guy next to you is doing incredible things and your eyes pop out and the possibilities start playing in your mind and you think, 'Wow, someday that might be possible for me."
Price also took to another aspect of CrossFit: The discipline goes beyond the typical litany of drills and exercises and puts a big emphasis on timed workouts.
"Adding the element of a clock and measuring how much time it takes folks to do a set amount of work is relatively new to the fitness industry," Kimball said. "That's where the competitive aspect really comes in."
So inspired by her colleagues and driven by the clamor in her own mind for better health, Price dug in.
"The first nine months I lost 30 pounds," she said. "I was off the medications; I've been off them ever since. My blood pressure is normal; my doctor is just as delighted as he can be with me. I come in and he tells me I'm one of his favorite patients."
And the rewards go well beyond physical well-being.
"The simplest way to say it is you're just more comfortable everywhere," Price said. "I have a completely different body than I had three years ago and along with that, much more self-confidence.
Now, as Price prepares for a return trip to the games, she marvels at how far she has come.
"To have it actually happen is really intoxicating," she said. "It's been such a thrill the last three years."
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