Sometimes life throws a few hurdles in your way. For me, the primary hurdle is my scoliosis.
To sum it up, scoliosis is any abnormal curvature of the spine that is 10 degrees or more. It is most commonly found in women and often develops in adolescents between the ages of 10-15. According to the American Chiropractic Association scoliosis affects between 5 to 7 million people in the United States alone.
Here’s my experience with scoliosis…
I was first diagnosed with scoliosis in middle school during one of those mandatory screenings where the school nurse has you bend over to touch your toes and checks the curve of your spine with some protractor-looking device. It seemed simple enough and not a big deal at the time, but then I got different results back than most of my friends. After visiting the doctor, I was told my curve was about 15 degrees — relatively small at the time — and that I would need to be monitored for a few years.
It was innocent enough and I wasn’t experiencing any pain or issues with my back so I didn’t think much more about it. The chances of my back going near the “danger zone” of 40 degrees didn’t seem likely at the time, and I continued on with a pretty normal pre-teen existence.
About two years later I was diagnosed with a 33 degree S curve. An S cure meant my was essentially curving in two directions. As you can see in the photo, my upper back curves towards my right shoulder and my lower back curves towards my left shoulder forming what looks like an S.
Around the age of 15, my scoliosis had worsened and I had to start wearing a brace — just in time to start my freshman year of high school, I might add — for about a year to keep my curve from progressing too far to the 40 degree mark. I wore a stiff, plastic brace called a Boston Brace that would force my spine into the correct alignment as long as I was wearing it and would keep the curve from progressing past the 40 degree mark.
Sounds like tons of fun, right?
Around 16 I was allowed to stop wearing the brace because the doctors said that I had pretty much stopped growing and that me curve wouldn’t get any worse. At this point my curve was 36 degrees, just below the 40 degree mark where surgery was needed to correct spinal alignment with steel rods enters the conversation.
How weightlifting helped me…
At 16, I wasn’t overly active and noticed a lot of pain associated with sitting, standing or laying down for longer than an hour. I slowly became interested in weigh lighting, but at times it was discouraging. At first it was hard because I didn’t have a lot of strength in my back (or any other part of my body for that matter) and the training was completely new to me. As I was learning to snatch, clean, and jerk, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t catch it real low in the bottom, like my sister or all the other women at my gym.
I learned to adapt…
Thankfully for me I started learning under amazing coaches who stressed technique above everything else and allowed me to adjust my body how it needed to.
For example, Olympic lifts are explosive and don’t allow my back a lot of time to set itself before I need to be locked underneath the weight in the bottom of a squat. As a result, I have a really deep squat when it comes to back squatting, overhead squatting or anything that involves being static at the top all the way down into the squat.
Both my mom Elizabeth Brown and Whitney Rodden understood that I wasn’t a cookie cutter weightlifter and needed plenty of time to create a solid base of technique before I would ever be able to lift any “big” weight.
Today, almost four years later, I am only a kilo away from snatching body weight and can pretty much complete any CrossFit movement asked of me. Certain movements are still a struggle for my back, not because it isn’t strong but because it needs a little extra time to receive the weight or set itself.
While I love Olympic Weightlifting, CrossFit and Kettlebell Sport, my heart truly lies with kettlebells. It has made all the difference in my training and really allowed me to strengthen my core in ways I was never able to with the other sports.
As it turns out, kettlebell sport is better for my back because it has allowed me to adjust in ways a barbell never would. That doesn’t mean adding kettlebell sport with its long AMRAP routines into the mix didn’t throw my back for loop in the beginning. But, like weighlifting, I pushed through with the support of family, friends, and coaches along the way.
I’ve been on this journey for almost three years now and I very rarely have back pain anymore.
Of course my back gets sore from workouts — but that is a good feeling, a manageable feeling, and, it means I am getting stronger and closer to my goals.
Bottom line is that if I can take such a disadvantage and continue to do the things I love better and better everyday I strongly believe anyone can!
Yes, it was hard.
Yes, I wanted to quit A LOT.
Yes, I often wonder what it would be like if I didn’t have to live with a 36 degree scoliosis curve for the rest of my life,
I know all these things have made me a better athlete. It has made me very in-tuned to my body and its pains. I know when I can keep pushing my body and when I need a break. I wouldn’t change anything about my journey and my only wish is to inspire others to work towards their goals no matter how impossible it seems.