Fighting Lymphedema with CrossFit
It took a year of complaining before Mamie Frank’s doctor finally ordered tests to investigate the swelling in her legs. Then 24, Frank was told she was perfectly healthy, but she knew the painful puffiness that extended from her knees to her toes couldn’t possibly be benign. It wasn’t until two years, eight doctors, and thousands of dollars in medical debt that Frank was diagnosed with lymphedema.
According to the Lymphatic Research Foundation, lymphedema is caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune and circulatory systems. The blockage prevents fluid from draining properly, which leads to swelling (usually in the arms and/or legs). The severity varies, but at its worst, it can cause debilitating pain and lead to life-threatening infections. In many cases, like Frank’s, the cause of the condition can’t be explained. “I quickly learned that there’s no cure, and little is known about either the disease or the lymphatic system in general,” she says. “I was advised that the only way to manage the condition is to treat the symptoms, which would take hours out of my day every day for the rest of my life.”
Frank, now 34, lives in Astoria, New York and has learned to cope with her condition. In addition to traditional treatments, which include massage and wearing compression garments, she has found that taking CrossFit classes helps manage her symptoms. (Related: Does CrossFit live up to the hype?) The strength and conditioning program—which combines Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, and plyometrics—is more strenuous than doctors typically recommend for lymphedema patients, but “but the medical community is coming around to the idea,” Frank says. “Plus, the support I get from fellow CrossFitters keeps my spirits high when I’m having an especially hard time.”
CrossFit has played such a large role in Frank’s post-diagnosis life that she’s organized a fundraising event at her affiliate that will benefit the Lymphatic Research Foundation. “I want to show others with lymphedema that we can be strong, healthy, and happy despite the disease,” she says. Much like a charity 5-K or bike race, Lift4Lymph participants will pay a registration fee; instead of running or riding, though, they’ll complete a CrossFit workout:
In 12 minutes, complete as many reps as possible with a partner:
- Partner A holds a plank for 1 minute
- Partner B completes 3 burpees, 4 kettlebell swings, and 5 hang power cleans
If partner A drops the plank, partner B stops working. Partner A and B switch after 1 minute.
The event will be held on September 8, 2012 at CrossFit Queens in Astoria, New York. To register, donate, or learn more about the cause, visit lift4lymph.com.
—Christine Mattheis, Editor
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