To Death’s Door And Back: One Woman’s Kettlebell Epiphany, Part 2

We’re going to finish up our interview with Karen Rossler today and discover her “kettlebell epiphany” and how she finally made peace with her body, heart, and mind.

GN: What were some of your initial successes?

KR: The first time I swung a kettlebell, it reminded me of gymnastics. I had the same sensation of being on the uneven bars – that feeling of flying, of freedom. Might sound strange, but that’s what it was like. I felt like my whole world opened up. I started remembering who I was, who I had been all those years ago.

I quickly discovered that a 4kg wasn’t heavy enough. I ordered an 8kg, followed by a 12kg about a week later. My confidence skyrocketed. Thirteen years earlier, after my surgery, I couldn’t lift my right arm at all. My husband had to help me shower, had to help me get dressed. I couldn’t do anything for myself. I was so weak, just getting out of bed took an hour for the first month after my surgery. My first “workout” was Richard Simmons’s “Stretchin’ to the Classics”. I couldn’t even stand up for 5 minutes, and when I did, I had to hold on to a chair – but I was determined to do something. Old Richard kicked my butt! And he made me cry. Pathetic, but true. So there I was, ordering one kettlebell after another, getting stronger by the day. Within 2 months, I was snatching a 12kg bell. And I did it on my “cancer re-birthday”, June 20th. That was an awesome day. I went from not being able to wash my own hair, to snatching a kettlebell. I have snatched heavier than that since then, but I’ve been most proud of that first 12kg snatch.

GN: Yeah, I can see why – that’s quite some journey. I wonder how many people make it back from the edge like that and to go on and thrive like you have. If any of them are reading this, I hope they can see that anything is possible. Ok, not everything has been roses, rainbows and lollipops since then. Can you tell us about some of your disappointments using kettlebells? And share with us some of your failures?

KR: When I first started using kettlebells, I topped out at deadlifting and swinging a 16kg bell. I had a block about getting anything heavier. It wasn’t until I signed up for my RKC cert that I realized I really had to get used to heavier weights if I was going to successfully get through the weekend. Funds were a bit limited, so I started using double bells – which was great because we were tested using double snatch weight bells at my cert.

The one failure I’ve had was at my RKC cert. I had gone into the weekend on 3 weeks of absolutely no overhead kettlebell training. That meant absolutely no snatch testing. None. I wasn’t even allowed to touch a kettlebell until the week before my cert. I had to resist freaking out every single day. I was confident with my overall skills, but the snatch test was looming. I ended up passing all my skills testing, but got 92 out of 100 snatches before I ran out of time. I had had an amazing, awesome, fantastic weekend, so I wasn’t completely devastated. Disappointed, yes. But determined to nail it within a month. I talked to my team leader, he gave me a plan and I executed the plan. It was killer. Double 12kg swings, 15:15 x 10 rounds, three times per week. The first time I did it, I thought, “This must be what it’s like to be chased by a bear.” By round 5, I was ready to let the bear have me. By round 7, I thought, “Screw you, bear. I’m gonna chase you!” I started to enjoy The Bear Chase in a sick, twisted way. I still do it.

GN: No shame in that – especially in since you couldn’t go overhead for 3 weeks before your cert. So how did you conquer this obstacle and get your RKC?

KR: I realized I was holding myself back because I was comfortable and yet also afraid to fail. I reminded myself that when I first picked up the little 4kg kettlebell, it was in a box marked “HEAVY”, even though it wasn’t all that heavy. I reminded myself of all the times I pushed myself to do something that seemed impossible – like get out of my hospital bed, deal with excruciating pain, drink radioactive iodine to kill the cancer – every time, I had done it and I had come out stronger. So really, lifting a heavier kettlebell didn’t look so tough when compared to the cancer adventure.

I also started discovering strong woman who used kettlebells. I figured if they could do it, so could I.

GN: Afraid to fail? I think that’s a common fear. I know that’s one of my fears for sure. At least it has been in the past. And I think that’s a key point: So many people are “comfortable” where they are. So they don’t ever achieve their goals. That and the whole “afraid to fail” thing. I like the way you positioned your challenge – “it didn’t look so tough when compared to the cancer adventure.” Not everyone has faced death like you have, but I’m sure we all have had some difficult times. So positioning or framing or current “mountain” – that big, somewhat scary goal – in against something we’ve conquered or achieved in the past is a great way to get where we want to go. Thanks for pointing that out. Ok, so what made you decide on that solution versus something else?

KR: I’m stubborn. I love Hannibal’s quote, “We shall find a way, or make one.” There’s absolutely nothing that comes my way now that I will fear. Nothing. I don’t know why I had cancer. I don’t know why I lived and so many others have died. What I do know is that I will not waste the life that God has given me. I will not give in to fear and darkness. Not passing my snatch test was not the most horrible thing to happen to me. It was an opportunity to be humble, to learn, to keep my head up, to be grateful, to improve, to be able to use that experience in helping others down the road. If I had flown through that weekend, I wouldn’t be the instructor I am today. If I hadn’t had cancer, I wouldn’t be the instructor, friend, wife, sister, daughter, aunt I am today. I’m not crazy about the huge scar, the neuropathy, the missing SCM muscle and all the rest of it. But when one of my clients masters a skill or lifts a heavier kettlebell, I know exactly how they feel. Some of them have really struggled to trust themselves. I have full faith in them, but they aren’t so sure at the beginning. I know what that’s like. I spent decades fighting my body, then fighting something that was trying to kill me. I know what it’s like to finally trust yourself again, to finally feel strong. Really strong.

GN: I LOVE that quote. I’m going to adopt it and use it in my own life. Thanks for that. That was a long journey for sure. Crossing your own personal Alps. Switching gears here a little bit – in a world of loaded with and driven by exercise ADD, what is it that keeps you using kettlebells today?

KR: Cuz they’re awesome! I’ve tried so many other things over the years and they were boring, they didn’t work, and I’ve gotten hurt. The simple answer is kettlebells work. And they work well, in a short period of time. Long gone are the days when I thought for a workout “to count”, it had to be super involved and super long. I’ve really taken what you’ve said about short workouts to heart. I’m stronger and leaner as a result. Way stronger and way leaner, thank you very much! I used Kettlebell Burn 2.0 for the last 2 months while training for my RKC cert 2 years ago. It was perfect. If I had found it sooner, I’d have used the entire program. I finished it after my cert. It was uh-mazing. Yes, I got stronger and leaner. But the biggest thing I got out of the program was a head over heels love for the get up. I learned patience – something I have seriously lacked my entire life. Patience under the bell. Biggest lesson out there, in my opinion (until I think a little more and come up with something else). Taught me how to not panic – take my time – enjoy the movement. Enjoy the movement. Be thankful for the movement.

I also stopped thinking about fat, and started thinking about moving well and getting stronger. The fat started to leave when I stopped eating stupid stuff at the wrong time fo the day. How did I figure that one out? A nifty – free – book titled “Permanent Weight Loss Solution”. Gee, all that subcutaneous fat was from insulin resistance caused by processed carbs I was eating during the middle of the day??? Really? Um, okay, I’ll stop doing that. I had also fallen into the thought trap of “hey, I’m really working out hard and heavy here – I should be able to eat whatever the heck I want!” Uh, no. Not so much. Literally and figuratively – not so much, girl. And then there was 365 Abs. Sure, it’s written for men, and I know from watching my husband’s amazing transformation and comparing it to mine that men and women aren’t made the same, and therefore, what works for him might not work for me. But the basics about hormones (my friend insulin, again) are the basics. Eat smart, get leaner.

The busier I have gotten over the past year training my clients, the more I realized that I need a coach. I needed a great coach, cuz I’m awesome and I deserve it. 😀 When I met you at Summit of Strength in 2011, I knew that I had found my coach. I kinda sorta had figured it out during Kettlebell Burn 2.0, but talking with you and learning from you that weekend, I realized you were my coach. Whether you wanted to be or not! I bought Kettlebell Express and Ultra and went to town. I knew the workouts would be “sane, safe and sustainable” and would give me great results. They did. And I had plenty of time to go about the rest of my life. Even though I love to work with kettlebells, I have found that shorter training sessions – 20 – 30 minutes – make me love kettlebells even more.

And then came Kettlebell Burn EXTREME!. Oh. My. Goodness. I was obsessively checking my email for days when you announced a new program was coming. Double kettlebells six days a week? I’m in! All in! That program is just plain awesome. The workouts are genius, the nutrition plan is simple and effective, the recovery program is fantastic. It’s perfect.

In June, after EXTREME!, I was at loose ends about my programming. I was tinkering around with ideas, and started to drift into the “oh no it’s gotta be perfect” mindset. Then I remembered your Inner Circle. I thought, “Eureka! That’s it!” LOL I’m finishing up the fifth month and it’s just great. I know the programs aren’t designed just for me, but they sure feel like they are. I love love love programming for my clients. But boy, I really have a hard time doing it for myself. I love being able to just get to work 3 or 4 days per week, knowing that at the end of each month’s programming, I’ll have improved. I don’t have that much fat to lose at this point, but there’s always strength to be gained!

Last year when I went for my yearly cancer check up, I took my trusty 16kg black beauty along. I wanted my endocrinologist to see how far I’d come in the past year. Before I could tell her about the RKC, the muscle I’d gained, the clients I was helping, she said, “I know you’ve had a great year. I can see it in your eyes and your smile.” Yeah, “cuz kettlebells are awesome”! And your programs are absolutely brilliant. No joke. I’ve said before it’s like they are made for me and me alone. Sometimes I wonder if you have our house bugged. I will tell Michael something like “I need to do more get ups and swings” and then “Treachery and Deceit” shows up in my inbox. LOL.

GN: Well thank you! I appreciate your kind words! I LOVE that story about your doc. Thanks for sharing your story. You are an inspiration to me and to all who have read your story, I’m sure. Any other piece of advice you’d like to pass along to people reading your story that you think would help them get where they want to get to?

KR: Trust yourself. Don’t worry about what other people are doing, or what they think you should be doing. Spend some time thinking about what you really want. Think about what you don’t want. No matter what, believe in yourself. You are so much stronger than you might think you are. God wants you to be happy, to be strong, to be healthy. So go be those things!


4 comments… add one
  • George Pazin Mar 15, 2013 @ 9:54

    Awesome read, thanks for sharing.

    I stand in awe of Karen’s achievements. Well done. I’ve had my own successes, but they pale in comparison. Gives me something to shoot for!

  • Samara Gerson Mar 15, 2013 @ 13:28

    Karen is a true gem of a person. I have trained with her for almost a year now, and she has provided me with a workout outlet that I love. She is supportive and tough as a trainer. Thank you for showcasing her amazing story and infectious personality.

  • TC Mar 16, 2013 @ 5:21

    Hey Karen you’re such an inspiring and strong person. You defied all odds and the challenges you faced would have been very overwhelming for most people to take. For some reason, I think we could have been in the same RKC Cert 2 years ago which is 2011 April in St Paul. Thanks for sharing your motivating experience.

  • Dr. Linsay Mar 26, 2013 @ 0:28

    I’m totally inspired by Karen’s story! Talk about overcoming challenges. It’s really true that you’re stronger than you think you are!

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