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Kelly Dreyer: Using the Whole Life Challenge to Come Back from Stroke

By September 10, 2014Success Stories
Reading Time: 4 minutes
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Kelly Dreyer was your average, multi-tasking 37-year-old mother, wife, coach, and occupational therapist from Cincinnati, Ohio. All of that changed on January 27, 2014, when she suffered a catastrophic stroke. The effects of the stroke rocked almost every corner of Kelly’s world. In addition to the loss of muscular control on her left side, she also endured constant pain from the slightest touch, even the rustle of clothing on her left side.

“A stroke of this severity would take most people years to recover even the basic skills,” said Kelly’s physical therapist Sherry Paul. “What Kelly has accomplished in a few months is nothing short of remarkable.”

In 2012, Kelly had been introduced to the Whole Life Challenge. For four Challenges, Kelly played and inspired an ever increasing number of her family and friends to play the game on her team and experience the same life changes as she had.

But after that fateful day in January, the Whole Life Challenge took on a whole new meaning for Kelly. She went about the task of putting the physical and emotional pieces of her life back together, using the daily play in the Challenge as a means to constantly reinforce the lessons she was learning in her recovery.

According to Kelly, “The Whole Life Challenge was the catalyst for my recovery. I decided I could either take control, or I could lay here and be miserable.”

Vowing to do whatever it took to recover, Kelly entered the spring Challenge that year. People from all over the country joined in, and soon the new version of Team Empowerment 55 emerged. Her mission became to inspire stroke survivors and families facing the life-altering effects of a stroke to participate in the Whole Life Challenge as part of Team Empowerment 55.

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Kelly Dreyer’s Story in Her Own Words

The first time I joined the WLC, I played alongside my brother and sister in law and their CrossFit team in Trumbull, Connecticut. Living in Ohio and being so far from my teammates in Connecticut, I wasn’t sure how much support I would feel from the team aspect of the game. None of my hometown family or friends were playing. Was it really worth trying? After reading the inspirational messages from Andy and Michael, my desire for change outweighed the fear of failure. I took a chance and signed up!

Throughout the Challenge, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of connectedness and teamwork I felt. I started each morning reading the blog. The messages were inspiring, thought provoking, and educational. Many of us texted pictures of new food creations and shared recipes. I took time writing and reading the reflections of my teammates. Despite our separation in miles, we all began identifying with one another’s successes and challenges. I felt like part of the team.

In just a couple short weeks, I was living the Challenge. Literally eating, sleeping, and breathing the Whole Life Challenge. And the more I lived it, the more others around me became intrigued. Coworkers saw me making smoothies every morning. The outer pockets of my work briefcase contained a large water bottle as well as spices and oils for salads. When coaching sports, I conditioned right alongside the team. Everyone began asking questions and I happily shared what I was learning. I posted Andy and Michael’s daily blogs on our office bulletin board for the staff to read. Family and friends not only talked to me about the challenge, but were seeing my results too. I had more energy. No more swings in blood sugar, afternoon fatigue, or feeling overly full after meals. I was losing weight and inches; my body shape was changing. I found myself becoming more focused, more in control, and less stressed. I was feeling healthier. Even those around me started making healthier choices. It seemed to be contagious!

Setting the personal goal of “paying it forward” felt natural and right. More than fifty family and friends signed up with team Empowerment 55 that following spring challenge. Discussions exploded around me about health, wellness, nutrition, and exercise. Office parties and luncheons were focused on WLC “compliant” foods. Fitness and running groups began forming and teammates were signing up for races. We developed a compliant recipe database online and held a taste testing party. Everyone was talking, sharing, and supporting one another and new friendships were forming. It was a powerful and moving experience.

Despite the setbacks caused by my recent stroke, I am still witnessing the benefits and power of this movement. It is an honor to play alongside all of you. Great work is happening here with the Whole Life Challenge and lives are changing for the better all around me. Why wouldn’t anyone want to be a part of this amazing movement?

To get the most out of your team experience, consider the following:

  • Identify your goals and share them with your teammates
  • Stay engaged through communication: ask questions, write reflections, and make comments
  • Connect with teammates by sharing recipes, meal planning, and/or cooking together
  • Partner or team up when exercising
  • Build in some friendly competition
  • Play openly and share often
  • And lastly remember, even those not playing the WLC, can be supportive teammates!

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Michael Stanwyck
Michael Stanwyck is the co-founder of The Whole Life Challenge, an idea that developed during his seven years as a coach and gym manager at CrossFit Los Angeles.

He graduated from UCLA with a BA in philosophy as well as a degree from the Southern California School of Culinary Arts, and feels food is one of the most important parts of a life - it can nourish, heal, and bring people together.

Michael believes health and well-being are as much a state of mind as they are a state of the body, and when it comes to fitness, food, and life in general, he thinks slow is much better than fast (most of the time). Stopping regularly to examine things is the surest way to put down roots and grow.

He knows he will never be done with his own work, and believes the best thing you can do for your well-being starts with loving and working from what you’ve got right now.