“You can save your life…”

At 33, Angi Sanders is learning how to run. And jump. Obese and inactive for most of her life, Sanders didn’t learn these basic movements until she discovered CrossFit in November 2014.

Now she can run, jump, swing a sledgehammer and flip a tire. She’s also lost more than 100kg since 2013, but Sanders would much rather to tell you about what she can do, not what she’s lost.

The Beginning

Sanders’ transformation started with gastric-bypass surgery in 2013. At the time she weighed 221kg and didn’t know about CrossFit. Sanders was against the surgery, but her employer offered to pay for it, so she decided to give it a try.

The surgery changed the shape of Sanders’ stomach and forced her to eat less, but she said it was CrossFit that changed her life.

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Left: Angi Sanders before CrossFit | Right: Sanders today

Sanders was watching an interview with professional wrestler Seth Rollins when he mentioned CrossFit as his training method. Sanders was intrigued. She looked it up and thought, “Oh, OK. So I have to be fit to do that.”

She tried Curves but found it boring. Then she worked out for a few months at a globo gym before summoning enough courage to drive to CrossFit North Arlington in Texas. After sitting in her car for 15 minutes, terrified, Sanders walked into the gym and asked the owner, Lennon Simpson, if she was fit enough to start CrossFit.

“Can you get in your car?” he asked her, “Can you drive here? Can you walk up the steps?”

She said yes.

“You are fit enough to do CrossFit,” he replied.

“It all started there,” Sanders said. “I went to my first class and I loved it. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but I loved it. I signed up that night.”

A Gallon of Soda

Sanders grew up in Texas on a diet of fast food, meat and canned vegetables. “For the longest time I thought I hated vegetables,” Sanders said, because in her experience vegetables came in a can or not at all.

“I didn’t eat vegetables. I considered myself a carnivore,” she said. Sanders continued those eating habits into adulthood. “It wasn’t uncommon for me to get one of those 64-ounce cups from a convenience store and drink that at least once or twice a day. I ate like crap. I didn’t know anything was wrong. I didn’t know any better,” she said.

After the gastric-bypass surgery, the doctors told Sanders to avoid sugar and processed food, but that was the extent of their nutrition counseling. “I wish I had known about CrossFit before the bypass because I would have jumped on it.”

Everything she knows about nutrition Sanders said she learned through CrossFit. She now eats and loves fresh—not canned—vegetables, knows she should stick to the outside of the grocery store and understands the importance of meal preparation.

Sanders has learned a lot more in three years of CrossFit (these days she trains at CrossFit San Marcos after a move from Arlington to San Marcos, just south of Austin).

“CrossFit taught me everything I needed to know about movement, everything I needed to know about mental toughness, strength of will. I wish I had known about CrossFit before the bypass because I would have jumped on it,” she said.

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“So Much Fun”

Sanders spent most of her life feeling disconnected from her body. Now she’s finding it can do things she never imagined. Discovering movement opened a door in Sanders’ world, and when she talks about CrossFit, she sounds giddy. The weight loss is impressive, but the mental shift is breathtaking. She said she loves that CrossFit is different every day.

“It stimulates you not only physically but mentally, and so you are having to concentrate on what your body is doing and the people around you,” Sanders said.

She described a recent workout that started with a mile run, then 18 minutes of handstand work, hanging from the pull-up bar, Turkish get-ups and sled pulls. Sanders made it sound like a visit to an amusement park. “(I’m) in the middle of it and it is so much fun. I am breathing hard and I am sweating my ass off, but that’s when I feel the most alive—in the middle of a workout,” she said.

Sanders participated in the CrossFit Games Open this year for the first time and said it pushed her to try things she thought were impossible. “Like jumping pull-ups. I’d never done a jumping pull-up before! I did better than I thought I would,” she said about the Open. When she started, Sanders couldn’t jump. She stepped up onto a 20kg plate. Now she can jump up to a 16-in. box.

“That’s 100 percent CrossFit,” Sanders said.

“I credit CrossFit with saving my life. I honestly believe if I hadn’t discovered CrossFit … I would be in the ground right now. Even after the bypass. Because I would have fallen into old habits. I was already getting bored at the globo gym,” she said.

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Inspiring Others

Sanders wants to share what she’s learned with other people who are overweight and haven’t connected with the joy of movement. She is attending a Level 1 Certificate Course and hopes to become a CrossFit coach.

“I know there are people out there who currently are where I was,” she said, “I want to help those people who may not know where to start or how to start. … It’s hard but it can be done.”

She has a message for people who think they aren’t fit enough to start CrossFit: “You can do this. You can save your life, too.”