OCR Transformations- Brooke Van Paris

ORM presents the series of stories on OCR Transformations. Runners and athletes whose mind body, and spirit have been altered through obstacle racing.

Six years ago, in October of 2009, Brooke’s life changed forever. She was attending Indiana University as a sophomore and double majoring in Accounting and Finance through the Kelley School of Business on a full ride Scholarship. Before college, Brooke had been a gymnast for ten years and even participated in club gymnastics at IU.

BLINK OF AN EYE

On October 29th, 2009…Brooke was leaving class in her car when she crossed through an intersection and was hit head on by another vehicle. In a split second her world was changed. Her SUV did two 360-degree circles, her windows shattered, all four tires blew out, the airbags blasted out, and the engine of her vehicle came through the car and landed into her lap. When Brooke opened her eyes she was in complete and utter shock. She remembers smoke everywhere in her car and she couldn’t stop screaming uncontrollably. As she tried to get out of her car she realized that her pedals had wrapped themselves around her feet. The only way she could escape was by sliding her feet from her shoes to try and get out as fast as she could.

brooke's car

As Brooke ran from her car, students that were near the intersection grabbed her and held her as she screamed and cried in devastation. She tried to gather her thoughts and had a stranger call her parents in the meantime. Within that time Brooke realized something was very very wrong….both of her hands were crushed.

The next morning Brooke was scheduled for surgery with an orthopedic surgeon in the Indiana area. She had X-Rays taken which confirmed that both of her hands were severely broken. She immediately had surgery and for the next eight weeks Brooke was confined to full casts that ran from her fingertips to her elbows on both arms. Over the next two years, Brooke endured numerous surgeries to correct the destruction of her hands. She had four surgeries over a two year span (one every six months) to try and correct the damage. The surgeries consisted of plates, internal pins, external pins, screws, physical therapy, and multiple casts.

broken hands

“You may wonder what it would be like to have no use of either hand. Well let me show you…take both hands, tie them behind your back, and proceed to live your life” – Brooke Van Paris.

PERSPECTIVE

Without her hands, it was clear to Brooke that she had previously taken life for granted. She couldn’t go to the bathroom alone, shower alone, brush her teeth alone, touch her own face, eat without assistance, dress herself, open a door without help, use a computer or phone alone, or even pet her own dog. She was completely helpless and it tore down her spirit. At this time, Brooke was a 19 year old independent, intelligent, all-star athlete who now had to ask for help with almost everything she wanted to do.

“It was easy to get down on myself and down on life, but I had to stay strong”- Brooke Van Paris.

During this time, her parents were her biggest supporters. They would come down to the University two to three days a week each and would help her with anything they could. They would share talks about life, strength, and about God and his plans for her. Brooke had made the decision that she was going to be a fighter and get through this. She wasn’t going to pity herself and she was going to stay in school and finish the way she planned. Her dad would always tell her to believe in her dreams, focus on her education, and that education is something that could never be taken from her…so she did just that.

With the help of her support group and her amazing professors, Brooke finished school after four and a half years and with a 3.67 GPA. She maintained a full-time student status the entire time after her accident and graduated with a degree in Management from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Brooke was a fighter and she achieved a huge victory by not allowing her accident get in her way of her dreams. She firmly believes that everything happens for a reason and that God had a much bigger plan for her life. Through a “never give up” attitude, she was able to use positivity to help her see the light at the end of the tunnel. Brooke’s accident taught her to be humble and show compassion. She has learned to live every day like it is her last and to value the people in her life.

“Life is just too short to be anything but happy!” – Brooke Van Paris

SECOND CHANCE

After her accident, Brooke’s muscles had atrophied and were almost non-existent. Everything she had previously worked for was gone and she was now 22 years old and her goal of playing team sports were very limited. Over her healing period, Brooke gained weight because she was unable to be active like she was used to and she would use food as a way to comfort herself. Brooke had become overweight, un-athletic, and basically living in a body that wasn’t hers.

brooke before

Last year, Brooke was invited to do her first obstacle course race called Morgan’s Mud Gauntlet. It was a small three mile local race with obstacles, trails, and water. She figured she would try it out and little did she know that her life was going to change yet again. When she finished the race she was absolutely exhausted. Before that day, she couldn’t run to save her life and the obstacles seemed challenging, but she was hooked!

brooke 3

When she got home (covered in OCR kisses) she hopped online and signed up for as many events as she could find. This included OCR events, trail runs, road races, and anything else she could find! Not to mention the fact that before race day she couldn’t even run a single mile without stopping. In the last year, Brooke has done 48 races (22 OCR events) and she qualified for OCRWC at eight of them. In October of this past year, she competed at OCRWC in both the individual and team events (ranking high in each of them). With determination, healthy eating, proper training, racing, and focus…Brooke was able to lose 40 pounds in just a year.

Brooke Medals

“I had earned my body, my happiness, and my life back!” – Brooke Van Paris

BEAST MODE BARBIE

Obstacle course racing helped Brooke meet so many amazing people that have helped her growth from novice to elite. Some of her biggest supporters (other than her family) are the Crazy Mudder Muckers, Kevin Jones in particular. She joined this OCR family of racers after the Ohio Spartan Beast and they have always supported her! They share workout tips and meal ideas through social media as well as meet up at races to share experiences. Being a part of this group has made Brooke feel like she has an OCR family that shows each other love and support on and off the course. They have even given her nicknames such as: BVP and Beast Mode Barbie.

brooke competes

The last year has been a crazy ride for Brooke and she continues to love every minute of it. The world of OCR has taught her to wear her OCR kisses and medals proudly. Even though she raced nearly every weekend for nine months, it helped Brooke find her passion and love for life again. She wants to inspire people with the story of her journey and to motivate anyone she can as a reminder that they are not alone.

Brooke uses a quote by Babe Ruth to describe her journey, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up”. She plans on running mainly elite heats this coming year, but she will always remember her journey and the struggle she has emerged from.

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“No matter where I end up placing, I know that as long as I try my best and never give up, I will never be beaten.” – Brooke Van Paris

CURRENT WORKOUT PLAN

Brooke currently goes to the gym five days a week and includes weightlifting, plyometrics, grip strength training, and cardio into her routine. She prefers to get out of the gym as much as possible and enjoys riding her bike, running trails, running the stairs at the War Memorial downtown Indiana, and she also runs the canal. Brooke also loves rock climbing and doing obstacle training with the Indy OCR meet up group.

In October 2014, Brooke weighed 170 pounds. She now weighs 145 pounds which consists of a 40 pound fat loss and 15 pounds of muscle gain.

Brooke Transformation 2

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OCR Transformations- Allison Dacus

ORM presents the series of stories on OCR Transformations. Runners and athletes whose mind body, and spirit have been altered through obstacle racing.

Over the past year I have asked people to share their stories to the OCR community, their friends, and even perfect strangers. I have asked them to share some “embarrassing” moments in their lives, dig deep in their past, and bring to light their transformations so all of you could read about them. Overall, the feedback of the OCR Transformations series has been very positive and readers seem to really enjoy it.

Asking people to be transparent isn’t always an easy task. I have heard those I’ve written about say things like… “wow, that’s really embarrassing to read” or “this is so amazing it brought me to tears” or even “I’m not where I want to be, I don’t think I am ready to share my story”. The truth is, we have all come from something we weren’t necessarily proud of. That’s the point of this series though, to put the good, bad, and the ugly all out on the table to help inspire others that are going through the same things in their lives. No, we won’t always relate to the person’s story 100% of the time and that’s fine. But maybe, just maybe…you will be able to pull out a tiny bit of the inspiration and motivation that each story offers and it will cause you to find something in yourself you didn’t know existed.

Everyone has been on a different journey and it isn’t easy to put all your cards on the table. You feel venerable, embarrassed, and ashamed even…but then you realize that it is all in the past and your journey isn’t over. That is why I have decided that there is no better time than now for me to share my own story. This is my thank you to all of you who have been so willing to be my “subjects” throughout the year to make this series a success.

HELLO…IT’S ME

I grew up in what was once a small town right outside of Hilton Head Island (these days you can hardly recognize it) called Bluffton, SC. We used to have one lane going on and off the Island and the only McDonalds in town was on the South end of the island, which was a good thirty-minute drive from my house. Kids played freely in the neighborhoods, we rode our bikes (without supervision) to the convenience store, and everyone looked out for one another. Oh and we didn’t have outlet malls!

Sports were one of the only activities we had to keep us busy. Most of us would play every sport the town rec offered until we were old enough to play in Middle School and High School. Softball, baseball, and football were the largest sports in the area. Clearly I wasn’t going to make the football team and I was a definite Tomboy, so cheerleading was out of the picture…softball it was!

Allison Volleyball

I was pretty kick ass at softball up until High School. I was on all of the All-Star teams, always team captain, and very well rounded on the field. However, since Bluffton didn’t have their own High School we had to go to Hilton Head High which was made up of rich kids whose parents could afford lessons and club ball throughout the summer…and thus, my dreams of being a star athlete were quickly crushed. I was good enough to make the JV volleyball and softball teams for my Freshmen and Sophomore year, but once I turned 16 I was off into the workforce!

My parents got divorced when I was eleven. I remember when my friends would talk about their parents getting a divorce and they cried and were sad, but that was honestly the best day of my life. My dad moved down the road within about a mile of my mom’s house…it was the perfect distance so I could escape when things got too tough.

“Hello, my name is Allison and my mother is an alcoholic.”

IN THE BARBIE WORLD

I did my best to understand the situation I was living in, but at 12 years old there really isn’t much to grasp. I began being very hard on myself. I strived for perfection with grades and sports just to make her happy. As a teen, my mom convinced me I was manic-depressive because of my mood swings…when really my mood swings were caused from her (but I believed her and I believed there was something wrong with me).

During my most venerable years as a teen I lived in a reality were I was becoming self-conscious and I had no idea why. Maybe it was the “get that makeup shit off your face”, or the “what do you mean you got a B on that, you could do better”, or maybe just the fact that I literally had to tip-toe around my own home any time after 5:00 p.m. and the entire weekend. No wonder I developed control issues!

As soon as I could get a job, I jumped all over it! I started working every chance I had just to stay out of the house. Senior year Bluffton opened a High School and we were all shipped back over the bridge to finish out our last year (talk about a major uprooting). I kept my grades up, but I did everything I could to just get away from it all. I signed up for work-study so I could leave school at noon as long as I had a job to go to. I had three jobs at one time at age 17.

I still felt like something was always missing. I hated the person I saw in the mirror. I would get frustrated with life and hit myself as “punishment”, I would lose my temper very easily, I would cry…a lot. Until one day, I found a new way to control all of my emotions. I started inserting my finger into the back of my throat until my gag reflux would take over. It started out as pure curiosity just to see what was “purging” all about. Then, I realized…I felt free, I felt like I had control over my own body, and I had found my new escape from reality.

Prom

On top of the bulimia, I bought myself a gym membership and went to the gym every chance I had. I was only 130 pounds to start with, but you can’t tell a teenage girl anything about weight and have her actually listen. When I went shopping for my prom dress, my size 3 fit perfect…until I just stopped eating all together unless I was about to pass out. By the time prom came around, I had quickly become a frail 119 pound version of myself. It still amazes me that my mom didn’t wonder why we had to pin my dress so much. That night was the first night the boys in my school noticed me…I actually got told I was pretty (no wonder teenage girls have poor body perceptions…just a thought).

Fast forward to College when I moved away and came to Aiken, SC. Living on my own allowed me to actually breathe for the first time! I slowly….slowly….stopped hating myself all the time and I was able to find a healthier approach to my diet and not feel the need to purge anymore.

WE GOTTA START MAKING CHANGES

My weight loss journey has been all over the place! There are two significant times I can think of that attribute to my actual “life change” decision to become healthy and stop treating every other week like a new diet fad.

The first scenario was about four years ago. I had already begun my running journey and become pretty lean, but then I bought another ticket to the lazy train and let all my hard work slip away. I was at a point in my life when I started hanging out with a group of friends that all we did was go out and drink, work, and go out again. I had become a mess and was trying to fit in for all the wrong reasons. Reality set in when I took a trip to Scotland that same year. A majority of the trip was spent hiking and walking around castles which were pretty epic. Except one day we went for a hike that kept going up and up with no end in sight. I was struggling so bad to get up this mountain… I couldn’t breathe, I had to stop multiple times, and I literally wanted to turn around and walk back down. After we made it to the top and enjoyed the view for a few moments, the people I was with cracked a joke (meaningless to them, but a dagger in the heart to me) and said, “I thought you would have been able to run up this thing! Maybe too much Haggis on your trip”.

“Ummmm…….”

allison 1

When I got back to the states I realized two things: 1. It wasn’t the Haggis jackass, I had been gaining weight, so there! and 2. I needed to get myself back in shape and fast. So I made the most logical decision and cut out ALL THE MEAT! I also started a blog (for accountability reasons), started running every single day, and leaned my ass back up (went from 148 pounds down to 135 pounds).

WHO RUN THE WORLD

I did a great job of maintaining my “new” self and I even ran some great PR’s during half marathons and 5k events. My workouts consisted of running, spin class, running, light plyometric, oh and did I mention running yet? That was until March of 2014 when my life changed forever…

Allison Running

I had done a local mud run years ago and vowed that I would never do anything like that again! I HATED IT!!! That was until my boyfriend and his crazy ass friends somehow convinced me to run a Spartan Sprint in Charlotte, NC while it was 30 degrees out. I had NO clue… ZERO clue of what I was about to get myself in to. Fear, excitement, vomit, hypothermia, happiness, and satisfaction are just a few words that I can use to describe my experience (no I didn’t vomit or have hypothermia, but I was close to both). I can’t explain what happened that day, but something clicked in me and I needed more of the crack also known as OCR!

Spartan Team

My 2014 race year was a whirlwind of first experiences. I was able to meet the most amazing people from what is known as “the OCR community” and I even traveled to places I wouldn’t have before. I stopped writing my own blog and started working with this dude Matt B. Davis and Obstacle Racing Media (you made heard of him, he’s kind of famous ☺). Even earned some mental scars on Wintergreen Mountain during the Spartan Super (that took me seven hours…yes I said seven). Then the 2014 race season ended and life took over; which leads me to…

ISN’T IT IRONIC

The second scenario of my weight loss journey was when life took over and denial set in. A lot happened at the end of 2014—I bought a house and changed jobs all within 3 months. I knew I had started to let myself go a little especially after the Carolina Beast and Super that October. I’d find myself eating Zaxby’s or Checkers more and use the excuse “it’s fine, I’m active I can burn it off” (yeah if I were Michael Phelps training for the Olympics). Reality really set in this past February when I ran my first half marathon for the 2015 season. My time was incredibly slow (maybe due to lack of training and my new muffin top) and this was the first event that I developed an injury from. For weeks after, I had MAJOR foot pain so I went to the foot doctor thinking I may have fractured something. The doctor couldn’t find anything truly wrong other than, “maybe your shoes or weight gain can cause issues as well”.

“Weight gain…what weight gain sir? Sure I am a little fluffier, but it will be fine it will fall off!” – Denial.

Allison Then and Now

My clothes kept getting tighter and not in a cute way where it was politely tapping me on the shoulder saying, “excuse me ma’am, but I am about to make your life miserable”. It felt like I woke up one morning suffocating in my own body! I wanted to claw out of my own skin. I don’t recall ever looking at myself the way I did during this time. I was sad, I hated the person staring back at me in the mirror, I was confused, I was determined to NOT buy new clothes even though I couldn’t breathe in my dress pants at work, and I was in pure denial! In my mind I was doing everything right when it came to eating and my health. I was meal prepping, eating clean, and working out…or so I thought.

“None of it made sense…twenty pounds? How could I have gained TWENTY freaking pounds in a matter of three months? This can’t happen to me! I am healthy and I’m active, why do I feel like I have a load of bricks in my pocket? Something is wrong with me this isn’t right!” – Denial.

I scheduled a physical with my Physician and convinced him to run blood tests and all. I just knew something was wrong with me that caused my weight gain. All of my results came back nearly perfect (well all except for my weight at 158 pounds and a BMI above the range it should have been). I still wasn’t convinced that “I” was actually the problem. Shit got real one Friday night when I had to tell David our Friday date night was going to be at the ER. I had to leave work early in agony I couldn’t explain in my abdomen and lower back. After six hours and a few crazy tests later I was told I had a bad Kidney infection.

Fit Fam

I had to go back to my Physician for several follow-ups because I kept having Kidney issues or I would pull a muscle at the gym. I HAD IT! I was done getting injured, I was done getting sick, and I was done feeling like a sausage stuffed in casing…DONE!

I finally made an appointment with my Physician in August to get to the bottom of it all. He gave me the reality check that literally everything that was happening to me was directly related to rapid weight gain (I mean I went from 138-140 pounds to 158 pounds in a matter of six months for goodness sakes, there has to be consequences DUH). On that day, the Sheriff (a.k.a my Doctor) laid down the law and set me up with a plan of action!

“Hi my name is Allison and I had caused my own weight gain. I ate healthy, but I ate a lot and I kept telling myself I was active even though my activity level went from 90 to literally nothing. I was responsible.”

THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE

That appointment forever changed my life. I knew I was going to walk in at my next appointment and I was going to show my Doc I was serious and I was determined to make a difference. I cut my portions literally in half and I limited my foods for the day, but I don’t have to count calories. I discovered what a typical day needed to look like for myself in terms of food and I kept at it. My secret weapon: I got my fat ass in the gym and started working out FOR REAL this time!

OCR Trans

My goals and drive to lose the weight and feel normal again really motivated me to find myself again. By mid-October I had reached my healthy weight at 140-142 pounds again and my BMI had gone back down to the “average” goal. The difference in my performance was incredible! I ran the Savage Race in Georgia late September and placed 11th in my age group for the open heat, 16th in my age group for the Atlanta Spartan Super in October, and 12th in my age group at the Carolina Spartan Sprint in November (my Sprint time in March 2015 put me at 87 in my age). Basically, I had been training with a twenty pound “weight vest” on so once I shed that weight I was able to unleash the beast that had been brewing inside of me.

I am still nowhere close to my full potential. To survive a race I still have to do a ton of penalties for monkey bars, rope climbs, and most upper arm obstacles…but I train to my weakness and still make decent time with 90+ burpees on the table. For the upcoming 2016 season I am concentrating on my weaknesses to build them into my strengths. We built an 8’ft wall so I can practice climbing on my own and we are in the process of building a monkey bar set using Olympic rings. Training for the actual obstacles has been the key to a better race day experience. I have a 40lb sand bag I run around my neighborhood with and I am definitely the girl in the corner of the gym sweating to death from 50+ burpees after every workout.

Allison and David

Becoming the person I am today hasn’t been easy. I truly believe that without the struggle, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate and hold on to the good I have in my life. We will always have ups and downs, but OCR has taught me how to adapt to the obstacles thrown in front of me. We are all capable of more than we ever thought possible…you just have to believe in yourself, stop saying “no”, and keep moving forward because there is a feeling of satisfaction waiting for you at the finish line (and so in life as well).

THANK YOU

I know without a doubt that I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today without David pushing me harder each and every event (I probably would have never even signed up for my first event). He kept telling me I could even when I kept yelling I couldn’t…hell the man has even built me a mini obstacle course in our back yard just because I want to get better. For all the times I needed a lift over a wall, or even a running push up a hill I couldn’t thank Monsi and Jeff enough for always being my positive inspiration (and for the occasional ass grabs to keep it interesting ☺). My dad who encourages me to keep chasing my dreams and reminds me that it is okay to be just a little crazy (I get it from him). Also, the constant encouragement from my friends and acquaintances on Social Media keeps me motivated each and every day to be a better version of myself!

CURRENT TRAINING PLAN

This may sound crazy, but I don’t have a “real” training plan. I have had to adapt so much lately to figure out what seems to work for MY body and it has reminded me that everyone’s body does something different. Here is what has seemed to work for me: I eat less fruits (1 banana and a handful of grapes a day), I start each day with oatmeal, for lunch I eat a tuna wrap (everyday, except on the weekends I switch it up with an alternative light option), I may have my grapes or a handful of chips with my wrap (I love chips ☺), and for dinner I make pretty clean meals (I just eat a smaller portion than before, living with a guy causes you to try and eat more). I have started to eat for fuel and not just because I am bored which has made the biggest difference. For my workouts: they are still all over the place because…that’s life. I made a commitment to myself to get at least 5 days of real activity in (whatever that looks like) and I have started using my lunch break for runs just to make sure I don’t find an excuse not to. I am currently working two jobs so finding time for the gym has been a struggle, but I am about to start a half marathon training schedule (I’ll keep you posted on how that goes). When I find a routine that works for me…you will be the first to know. Until then, just follow me on Instagram because each day looks different and I am figuring it out as I go!

Allison Transformation

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