Ashley Riddle has been sweating for an hour inside a non-air-conditioned CrossFit gym in Omaha when she steps out the front door to cool down.
It's 92 degrees and the sun is blinding, so she sits in the shade. At least there's a breeze out here, she says, ripping open a package of trail mix. Her cheeks are still flushed.
The 27-year-old took her first CrossFit class in January 2012, a year after her son Collin was born. She gained 60 pounds during her pregnancy — a replay of her first pregnancy with her son Cameron, now 5.
Riddle, who played college soccer, hoped CrossFit would appeal to her athletic nature and help her shed leftover baby weight.
Now she's hooked and stronger than ever. You can find her at CrossFit Artis, near 132nd and B Streets in Omaha, four or five times a week. Sometimes six.
“It's become part of who I am,” she said.
“The community of CrossFit is the biggest thing. You feel like you're going to barf. You feel like you're going to cry. (But) you look over, and they're still going so you keep going.”
CrossFit sneaks into her classroom at Morning Star Preschool and Child Care near 84th Street and West Dodge Road, too.
When she takes a group of children outside, a particularly active girl bounds from tree stump to tree stump while others search for bugs. Her mom CrossFits, Riddle says to another teacher, turning the word into a verb.
“Show everyone a burpee,” says Riddle, of Bellevue.
The blonde girl in the pink dress falls to the ground in a push-up position, jumps back up and claps her hands over her head.
Once inside, it's time for more exercise. The kids run from one end of the room to the other, first hopping on one foot, then doing the crab walk.
“You gotta use your arm muscles,” she tells them, smiling.
A few of the children can even do handstand push-ups against the back wall.
Riddle has embraced the Paleo Diet, too, which mimics the eating habits of our Stone Age ancestors. Paleo advocates eat primarily meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit and nuts but not grains, potatoes, dairy, processed foods, salt or refined sugar. It's popular among CrossFit devotees.
She eats tacos, sans shell, and celebrated her birthday last month with a gluten-free brownie instead of cake.
On a July evening after the WOD — CrossFit speak for “Workout Of the Day” — it's trail mix and watermelon for a snack. For dinner: grilled fish, steamed broccoli, more fruit and a few dark chocolate Hershey Kisses as dessert. “Typical,” she says.
“It's literally become my lifestyle.”
The exception? Stella's Bar & Grill in Bellevue. Her order there is, “a fat, greasy burger with the bun, fries and a cream soda.”
Now her jeans are loose around her waist, but tight on her thighs.
It's the squats. And the box jumps. And the lunges.
During a Wednesday afternoon class, Riddle and about a dozen CrossFitters started their workout with back squats.
Down, up. Down, up. Down, up.
She does three reps, then it's someone else's turn. When they're done, she adds more weighted plates to the bar and dips her hands into a bucket of powdered chalk to help her grip it.
Riddle, wearing fitted shorts that show off her muscular legs, looks a little intimidating when she hoists the barbell onto her shoulders, and even more so as she squats, her rear now inches from the floor. She maxes out at 145 pounds.
The class ended the workout with a high-intensity circuit of kettlebell swings, overhead squats and wall balls. To do wall balls, Riddle squatted while holding a weighted ball and then threw it toward the ceiling as she returned to a standing position.
The entire circuit lasted nine minutes.
When the CrossFit coach yelled, “Time!” everyone in the gym gasped a collective sigh of relief. Riddle laid on the floor, her chest rising and falling with each breath before she stood up and high-fived her husband, Brad.
Her sons, who play at the gym while the couple exercises, often tell her, “Good job, mama. You did so good,” Riddle said.
She jokes that when they're older, they'll ask their friends, “What, your mom doesn't back squat?”
“Not many kids see their moms doing this sort of stuff,” she said. “But this is all they know.”
Sometimes, when 2-year-old Collin falls asleep on the couch, Riddle scoops him into her arms and lifts him above her head and into his top bunk bed.
It's easier to carry groceries in one trip, too, and she doesn't need her husband's help to lift or move heavy boxes.
“It's functional movement,” she said of her workouts. “Our goal at CrossFit is to be healthy and strong, not necessarily what jeans you can fit into.”
Her passion for CrossFit inspired Riddle a year ago to create a Facebook page called “Reborn CrossFit.” She hoped to inspire her family and friends to exercise and eat well. Now she's inspiring strangers, too. She has more than 2,500 followers.
She posts her favorite healthy recipes, including one for Paleo banana bread; exercise memes; bacon jokes — the food is a much-loved staple in the Paleo diet; pictures of herself and others lifting weights; and words of encouragement.
“You are always stronger than you think,” one post reads.
Riddle is proof of that.
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