Two Cancer Scares, Double Mastectomy, Hysterectomy Doesn’t Stop Michelle Ritter from Breaking Nine State Weightlifting Records

Photo credits: Benedict David Photography (instagram.com/benedickdavidphotography)

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Michelle Ritter admits that there are days when the fear of her cancer coming back causes her great anxiety.

“Especially when I have an upcoming doctor’s appointment. I usually have trouble sleeping… But I try to tell myself I’ve already beaten the odds twice,” said 49-year-old Ritter, who was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer for the first time in 2013, the same year. that CrossFit helped her get into the best shape of her life.

After eight rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, a full hysterectomy (a precaution because her mother died of ovarian cancer), and multiple reconstruction surgeries over the following months, Ritter was cancer-free. And through all of her treatments and surgeries, she continued to train at CrossFit GSL in Salt Lake City, UT.

“When I was diagnosed, I was in the best shape I’ve been since I had my kids, and maybe even better than before, and I didn’t want to lose that. So my goal when I started chemo was to keep moving for as long as possible,” she explained at the time of her mindset.

So five to six days a week, Ritter continued to train with a community that was always supportive.

“I remember going to the gym and doing a WOD with double-unders, and it was just when my hair started falling out, and there was hair all over the floor when I was done. After practice, one of the coaches quietly grabbed a broom and swept it up without saying a word.”

One of her mantras became, “If I can do chemo, I can do this CrossFit WOD, and if I can do this WOD, I can do chemo,” she explained. “If you’re working out and you feel like you can’t do another round, I’d say to myself, ‘I did five hours of chemo, I can do this,’ and when I’d be on chemo and I’ would be like, ‘this sucks,’ I would remind myself of the WOD I went through. CrossFit just helped me feel really healthy.”

“I never really worried that first time it might kill me…” she added.

Photo credits: Benedict David Photography (instagram.com/benedickdavidphotography)

And then it came back

In June 2015, Ritter’s cancer returned. This time, however, it was stage 4, triple negative, metastatic cancer in her lymph nodes and pelvic bone. In other words, it was in one of its most advanced stages.

The diagnosis led to seven more rounds of chemotherapy and 30 radiation treatments, and in January 2016 she was cancer-free again. Again, she credits her mindset for helping her get through.

“I guess I’m just a perpetual optimist with pretty much everything. I kept telling myself, “I can be angry and scared and sad and have cancer all the time, or I can be happy and have cancer, so I choose happy,” said Ritter, who also never stopped working as a teacher at a school. high school. since her first diagnosis.

And just like her first experience with cancer, Ritter consoled herself by keeping her body as fit as possible, but this time she took it a step further and started competing in Olympic weightlifting. Two weeks after receiving her diagnosis, she even entered her first weightlifting competition.

“I kept saying to myself, ‘I can be angry and scared and sad and have cancer all the time, or I can be happy and have cancer, so I choose happy.”

Once she was cancer free, Ritter went full steam ahead and in recent years has racked up nine state records for her age and weight class.

Ritter holds Utah’s clean and jerk, snatch and total in the women’s 45-49 division in two different weight classes, as well as the clean and jerk, snatch and total for the 50-54 division, a record she set last month. .

Ritter is currently training for the April 2020 National Championships to be held in her hometown of Salt Lake City, where she hopes to improve on her best competition punch of 53kg and clean and jerk of 72kg.

When Ritter was diagnosed with cancer a second time and was told her chances weren’t good, she decided to write a dozen birthday cards for her two children to open every year in case she wasn’t around. But as every year goes by, Ritter has used their birthdays as an opportunity to “say a big F to cancer and tear up the card and get a new one,” she said.

“You will never be the same after being diagnosed with cancer, but it doesn’t have to be the most important to you. It never gets out of your head, but it makes you stronger and more resilient… Being able to have this mindset about everything is because of CrossFit. After you have kids, you get to the state where you’ve reached maternal weight, and if I’d had cancer then, I wouldn’t have had the motivation to keep going. But because I already had that routine and because I was fit, it made a huge difference for me.”

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