Interview by Nicole Friets | Images provided by Lindy Barber
Looking at Lindy Barber’s strong physique, you would never guess that she was diagnosed with three spinal conditions (including a fractured vertebrae) and told she should never squat again.
In fact, Lindy has been competing at the very highest level of CrossFit (constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity) for several years - first as an individual competitor and now as a member of the world champion CrossFit Team Mayhem.
This 28-year-old inspires all she meets with her story, determination, and uber-positive attitude. In this interview, we talk to her about her journey from a single to team competitor, what keeps her motivated, and so much more!
What attributes were you looking for when choosing a team?
When I was initially looking for a team to compete with, I did not have any specific attributes that I was looking for. Leading into CrossFit, I had always been on some sort of team, so I just missed the friendship and connection made with teammates during training and competition.
Thankfully, the team I ended up with (they chose me!), exceeded any and all expectations I could have had. They are hard working but also love to chill and hang out. They are insanely tough but will be there to calm you down if necessary. They are hard and push each other but are also family at the end of the day.
In other words, everything it takes to make a successful team.
Do you feel additional pressure or stress being part of a team?
I feel pressure on myself to be the best teammate that I can be.
I actually talked to the team before saying yes to their invitation about my potential limitations, and they were nothing but supportive and accepting of anything that was going to happen. They completely trust me as an athlete so they know that I would never do anything to put myself in any type of risk or in front of potential harm.
Given all that, I do feel like I owe it to them to do everything that I can to keep myself healthy because they are counting on me - I take extra precautions and do extra core strength work to make sure that I am staying as on top of my injury as I possibly can.
How different is your training as part of a team? Do you end up working more on your relative strengths or relative weaknesses? Do you have to put in additional effort/ modifications do you have to make given your back condition?
Training on a team, I always have training partners around me to spur me on which (I think) makes all my training sessions better. Also, when I was competing as an individual, a lot of the training was solitary - it's now so much more fun to have a whole team to “suffer” with.
As an individual, I also had to address several movements that were difficult and painful for me due to my spinal issue - I had no choice but to push through them. With this team, however, I have been able to avoid those movements almost entirely to keep myself safer thereby increasing my longevity in this sport.
How did your time as a single competitor help you as a team competitor?
I believe my time as an individual competitor helped me to become a good team member. I had time when I was an individual competitor to learn about myself as an athlete (what works/ doesn't work) that made it easier to adjust to team life successfully.
For example, you need to know yourself well enough in terms of your comfort in changing workouts between training sessions and competition season so that you are able to fully support your team. If you feel like you need a rest day, but your teammates will want to train, you need to know yourself well enough to know if you can push or if it's better to take that rest day to come back the next day as a stronger athlete.
I think that by learning all of that about myself as an individual, I was able to help this team even more last season.
Given how much of a toll CrossFit takes on all levels, and especially since you’ve already reached the pinnacle of winning as a team, what keeps you motivated?
I think the minute you feel satisfied as an athlete is the minute you are done competing.
I am still not satisfied and still have a craving for competition. There is always room to grow and things to get better at - which is one of the reasons I love CrossFit.
In fact, I plan on CrossFitting for the rest of my life in some capacity. It’s easy to stay motivated when you are continually trying to improve yourself.
In your blog and previous interviews, you mention your “why” - why you do CrossFit and why you push so hard. How has it evolved over the years?
Honestly, I don't think it has evolved very much.
I still have the same feelings, love, dedication, and commitment to the sport that I had from the beginning. I still want the same things and I still feel like I am constantly pushing the boundaries of what should be possible for, “someone like me” everyday that I step into the gym.
Obviously, my loyalty and goals are now different being on a team instead of just competing for myself. At the end of the day, however, I am still doing this for the same reasons: I want to be someone’s inspiration. I want to be the reason why someone else chose to fight instead of give up. I want to challenge limitations and prove that we are so much stronger than the barriers placed in front of us.
I try to remember those things daily.
CrossFit is obviously physically challenging - what are the other challenges?
I think that my challenges are the same as any traditional female CrossFit athlete because emotionally, I am constantly charged.
It is challenging to put in such a great amount of effort day in day out and not get emotionally attached to what you are doing.
Being so passionate about what you are doing.. it becomes so much more than just working out. You start to see weaknesses as flaws in yourself and it's working on your “flaws” daily can become draining.
This whole pursuit can sometimes start to become so much of your life and make it hard to emotionally separate the two.
What constitutes a good or bad day for you now?
I always tell people that I am on a pain scale between 1-10 on a daily basis. The pain is always there and never goes away completely - it's more a matter of how much it affects me on a given day.
I definitely have good and bad days - and am at a point where I can usually tell which it will be right when I get out of bed or as soon as I start moving in the gym.
A good day for me is a day where the pain does not increase regardless of the movements I am training through; a day where I can get a great training session in and go home feeling ready for the next day. An okay day is when I feel my back pain flare up a little more than normal and it affects the way that I need to train that day. In other words, having to adjust movements or lighten weights to make sure I am still staying safe without much risk or lay down and put my feet on a bench right after a workout to ease the pressure on my lower back. These are probably the days I have about 80% of the time.
A bad day is when everything is hurting and I have to call off training before my back flares up into something worse. These don't happen as often now, but I always have to be aware and take precautions to avoid such days.
Given that crossfitters notoriously bristle against rest days, what are your coping mechanisms?
I have never had any problems taking rest days. I know that my body needs them and I would not be the athlete that I am today without taking a rest day or even days.
I know that in order to be able to train at the high level that I do, I need those days of rest and recovery to recharge not only my body but also my mind.
I like to take Sunday as a day completely away from the gym if I can, as a decompression and to pretend like working out is not my job. It’s a good re-set each week for me to stay focused.
There is a perception that CrossFitters are a physiotherapists’ worst nightmare - given your background in exercise science, what are your thoughts on this?
I think that is CRAZY - unfortunately there are a few bad gyms and a few stubborn athletes that ruin the perception for everyone.
Overall, CrossFit is a safe sport: there is no contact, no one is going to throw you off your barbell, or push you off the pull-up bar. You are in complete control of your body and if you find a good coach, they will teach you how to perform movements correctly and will stop you if you are in danger of hurting yourself.
Injuries can happen to everyone at anytime, especially in sports - that's just the way our bodies are.
CrossFit in general does not lead to injuries - it’s the stubborn athlete, or their pre-existing injuries from something else that leads themselves to injuries.
I think that any physiotherapist that is blaming CrossFit the sport for an injury needs to rethink their approach to their job.
What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?
I actually get asked these questions a lot, and I still do not have a good answer.
I have always been a very “live life in the moment” kind of a girl. If you were to ask me 10 years ago where I would be right now, I would have been so far off it’s laughable.
I like to live my life as it is handed to me. I do not really like to plan out my next steps because I like to take life as it comes and experience everything that I can.
If I had to answer, though, I would say that in 10 years I will be happy, healthy, and maybe living in Switzerland. Who knows? ;)
What advice would you give your younger self?
“Stop being so hard on yourself. You are going through something that most people do not experience so give yourself a break. You are doing the absolutely best that you can, day in and day out and no one can expect anything more from you. Enjoy the experiences that you are given, and cherish these days because they are limited. Be proud of yourself and enjoy every minute.”
In your video, you also tell others not to let an injury define who you are or who you can be in your life - what defines you now?
Can I plead the 5th on this? HAHA! It’s such a hard question! When I think of a good answer that I feel is completely accurate I’ll let you know ;)