Every cloud has silver lining

One of the main reasons for starting “Raising the Bar” was for us to be able to share our experiences, turning disasters into triumphs etc.  I said that there are some inspiring women that I have met and one of them is Gwennam Thomas – who is 35 years old and trains at Dragon CrossFit… I will leave the rest to her.

 “What’s that saying?: ‘every cloud has a silver lining’

I think everything happens for a reason. I’m not sure why I lost my hair, but c’est la vie. Thankfully, I am not ill. I am happy and healthy. I also consider myself extremely lucky, because I found CrossFit.

Ten  years ago whilst having a hair cut for my brother’s wedding, the hairdresser noticed a small bald patch at the back of my head. She thought I should get it checked out. I wasn’t particularly concerned at the time, but went along to see my GP anyway. He too was unconcerned and just told me not to worry about it. A few weeks went by and more patches appeared. I demanded every kind of test, which all came back negative (thankfully). So I was referred to a dermatologist, but by the time this happened it had been six months since that first patch appeared. In the words of the consultant dermatologist “Yes it is alopecia, but it’s too late to do anything about it as the hair loss is now so extensive, nothing can be done… what a shame for a 25 year old woman”.

That was that and I left the consulting room traumatised, but at the same time relieved to have a diagnosis. My sister and I drove straight to one of my best friend’s houses where the “GI Jane” was performed! My friend Melody and my sister shaved off what hair was remaining. It was actually a really liberating experience. At last I was in control of what had controlled me for the last 6 months.

From then, I wore funky bandanas for 4 years or so until I was convinced to try wigs. I wore wigs for another 5 years. Then in the summer of 2009 I decided going bald was the only way forward and I ditched my wigs! It was the best thing I ever did. I felt for the first time since developing alopecia that I was the real me.  No hiding under bandanas or wigs. Plus I get an extra half hour in bed every morning, not having to stick my bloody wig on!

Shortly after ditching my wigs, I discovered CrossFit . It really has changed my life in so many ways and for the first time in a very long time I feel so “at home” and happy being me.  I walk into the gym and forget I have no hair. No-one judges me.  It is the community of CrossFit that allows you to be 100% you and I feel accepted for who I am. The culture of CrossFit means that everyone is accepted and never judged. It’s fair to say that finding CrossFit and its community has reinstated my self esteem and confidence. Not only the people at Dragon CrossFit but the entire community have helped me believe in myself again.

It’s not been easy going “bald”. Losing my hair knocked every ounce of confidence I had. There are some really naive people who jump to conclusions and make some very negative comments, but for the most part it’s been a very positive experience.  Thankfully I have very loving family and friends who have helped me through it.

CrossFit workouts are tough and sometimes I just want to give up and go home. Going through the ups and downs of alopecia has given me an attitude that means that giving up is never an option. People often stare at me because of my baldness, so I have learnt to hold my head up high, smile and carry on regardless. Alopecia brought out an inner strength I never knew I had, which I believe transfers to other situations in life. I am now not only physically stronger, but I am mentally stronger.

So I have jumped over that hurdle of alopecia. CrossFit on the other hand still has many hurdles!  My biggest accomplishment to date is pull-ups. With Andy Edwards’ coaching, I got my first pullup last summer.  So when The London Throwdown qualifier WOD 1 was released comprising 75 pullups, 75 thrusters and 75 burpees, I knew this was the time to attempt them RX. Mid-way though I asked Coach Andy “What the hell am I doing?” to which he replied “Get back on that bar, you are rx’ing…keep going!”. I did finish the WOD, although it took me a long and painful 58 minutes.

I have so many other goals and ambitions, so I am excited about the future where I hope to continue improving, learning and achieving. With the help and support of the community around me, anything is possible.

The community I have found through CrossFit is like nothing I have ever come across before. I have made so many amazing new friends. We work hard together and go through a lot. We pull each other through when all we want to do is lie down and weep! People that do CrossFit have a similar outlook on life which is why I think I have found myself again.

Lance Armstrong’s inspiring outlook on life often pops into my head. If I’m struggling, all I need think about is “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”

CrossFit has pushed and challenged me like nothing else, and has introduced to me a new way of life. I  may have off-days when I fall off a pull-up bar (literally, head first) but, you make a decision – you either go home, or you get back on the bar.

I lost my hair, not my smile and I found strength and determination through CrossFit.

For more information on Alopecia click here : http://www.alopeciaonline.org.uk/

About Jane Holgate

This is me! I am 53 years old I am a freelance writer and PR consultant. I have never been particularly sporty although I was hooked on scuba diving for over 15 years and am a BSAC Advanced Diver, Open Water Instructor. However, I was introduced to CrossFit over 5 years ago and was instantly hooked, discovering that I was strong and keen to develop and improve other skills. I am a member of Reebok CrossFit 3D in Manchester.
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9 Responses to Every cloud has silver lining

  1. Jackie Terry-Schuhmann says:

    Gwenam – your story is truly inspiring and very moving.

  2. Jackie Terry-Schuhmann says:

    I also meant to say – RESPECT! 75 pullups – WOW! I’m a member at CrossfitHG3 in Harrogate and we’ve just been putting our goals up on the wall and one of mine is just to do a pullup. So your achievement gives me hope…

  3. Gwennan Thomas says:

    Thanks Jackie! I’m quite overwhelmed with all the lovely comments. All I can say about the pull-ups is go for it… If you want a pull-up, you’ll get a pull-up. Just don’t give up. For me it just clicked one day, so hang on in there (literally) and you’ll be surprised xx

  4. Hamish says:

    Gwen, what an amazing woman you are. I never knew what happened, and feel ashamed about a comment I made on face book, when you were going through such an ordeal.
    I was at school with you, for people who don’t know, and you two twins were a highlight of my schooling days. I wish you well dear, and hope to see you one day x Hamish

  5. Delphine says:

    I know Gwen. And I can tell you she is a beautiful, strong and kind woman. When I first met her (7 years ago I think) she was sporting the wigs. In August 2010, I saw her for the first time with her bold look, at our friends wedding in Sweden. Hand on my heart, I can tell you she was more beautiful and striking than I’d ever seen her. Gwen I have huge admiration for you, you rock and most of all .. you are very very funny! Xx

  6. Clare Lewis-Jones says:

    Gweeeen, I feel very lucky to be able to call you one of my close friends and I think you’re a truly inspirational woman! Feel proper proud of you like!! :-) x

  7. Gwennan Thomas says:

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply – it’s certainly been an overwhelming week. I’ve had such a fantasticly positive response to my article. Thank you Hamish, Delphine & Clare… your messages were really very touching. xxx

  8. Becky Pykett says:

    One word: INSPIRED. That’s all I need to say!

  9. Kath Jones says:

    Hey Gwen, sorry this is a little belated but just want to tell you this is a beautifully written article, really inspiring and I’m pleased it’s received the deserved attention … nice one luv :) xxx

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