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'Life Is Precious': Paramus Woman Recovers From Brain Injury With CrossFit

Kelly Ann Woods of Paramus credits supporters and workouts at CrossFit The Rack located inside of Gold's Gym for her brain injury recovery. Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine
"I have a different appreciation for life and how precious it really is. It's not something to be taken for granted." Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine
Woods trains with CrossFit The Rack coach and co-owner Dan Sullivan. Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine
"Kelly Ann is a highly-motivated person professionally, personally and when it comes to fitness, she's not going to take no for an answer." ~CrossFit The Rack Coach Dan Sullivan Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine

Life can change in an instant.

It did for Kelly Ann Woods of Paramus in 2012 when she slipped and fell on ice. Only months later was she diagnosed with a concussion and spinal fluid leak.

The accident to Woods is a red line that divides her life in two, but her fierce determination to finish any task at hand -- whether it's recovery or a workout at CrossFit The Rack located inside of Gold's Gym in Paramus -- remained constant.

"When you go through a life-altering accident you really gain perspective on what matters most," said Woods, 31, an infrastructure architect for UPS in Mahwah.

"You also understand people better and what relationships are about. Which ones matter the most."

That's where her CrossFit family comes in.

"Kelly Ann is a highly-motivated person professionally, personally and when it comes to fitness, she's not going to take no for an answer." ~CrossFit The Rack Coach Dan Sullivan

Woods was recovering from her second of three skull base surgeries in 2014 when the relationship began.

Her goal was to be able to run again -- but the harsh reality was that Woods was facing a long road over the next couple of years.

Dr. Anthony D’Ambrosio, Woods' neurosurgeon, started her doing only 10 minutes on a stationary bike at Gold's Gym. Prior to her accident, this didn't even qualify as her warm-up.

"I knew I had reached my limit at the ten-minute mark," she said. "And then it was just a matter of gracefully leaving the building without being conscious of everyone staring at me."

While waiting for her dad at the tables in the front of the gym, Woods was approached by a fellow Gold’s Gym member named Uzi. He would become one of her cheerleaders during recovery.

"He said, 'You're doing great. You're going to get better and back to the life you want to live,'" Woods recalled after a recent workout at Gold's Gym.

"That was a phenomenal conversation. He was one of the first people to welcome me back here and that's the comfort I found during the recovery -- coming here."

Uzi was just one example of just the support system Woods found at Gold's Gym and CrossFit The Rack.

"I credit CrossFit and prayers from all the members to where I am today. I think I’ve come back stronger and more resilient than where I was before.

She continued coming back each day, increasing her stamina, finding her strength and passing members of CrossFit The Rack -- located inside of Gold's Gym -- in the locker room.

"I would see them each day and they'd ask me, 'When are you going to join us?'" Woods said.

Sometime in 2015, she did.

Woods began working closely with coach and CrossFit The Rack co-owner Dan Sullivan.

Knowing doctors had given Woods a whole slew of things they said she may not be able to do again, Sullivan took a systematic approach.

"I've found that in almost any population if a person has been told they can’t do something, but they’re  highly motivated, they’re going to use that to motivate themselves to do what they want to do," Sullivan said.

"Kelly Ann is a highly-motivated person professionally, personally and when it comes to fitness, she's not going to take no for an answer."

He started with her confidence.

In the initial evaluation, Sullivan gave Woods several body weight exercises to see how she'd do with her weight as the primary force of resistance. These exercises mimicked challenges she might encounter on a daily basis.

Stepping on and off of a box. Getting down on the ground and back up. Push-ups. Ring rows.

Then, the exercises progressed. Picking things up and putting them down; deadlifts. Squats. Kettlebell work.

"As she's gotten stronger and taken on more complex movements, she's felt more independent," Sullivan said.

"Having been through the exercises a variety of times, she has a degree of comfort doing it on her own. She can take what we work on and implement it independently."

When doctors gave Woods clearance to try running, Sullivan started her with a brisk walk, then a jog and eventually sprints.

These days, she's content with a four or five-miler.

Woods emphasized, though, the CrossFit workouts alone weren't what helped her bounce back.

"You have your friends here," she said, seated on a high box in the gym after a workout.

"We all go through different challenges through our journey and we all support each other.

"I credit CrossFit and prayers from all the members to where I am today. I think I’ve come back stronger and more resilient than where I was before.

"It’s a different appreciation for life and how precious it really is.

"It’s not something to be taken for granted."

Woods encourages anyone who wants to learn more about the recuperation process from a brain injury to watch THIS TED TALK by Jane McGonigal

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