“The Journey to 300,” Part 5: A New Beginning, Again

By Presser
March 19, 2024
7 min read

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth part in a multiple-part series written by Athena Perez, chronicling the year-long challenge that she originally dubbed her “Hiller Challenge.” Throughout the early part of the year, Andrew Hiller, a prominent CrossFit YouTuber whose videos have inspired both die-hard followers and dissenters, served as Perez’s coach as she documented the journey across social media (and in Athena’s words here). Read the other parts here and here now.

It was in December 2016, an experience I’ll never forget, a core memory now. 

I had been battling a relentless blizzard in my Jeep for what seemed like an eternity, my body screaming in protest. 

My nearly 500-pound frame was uncomfortably wedged into a seat far too small for my body, leaving me immobilized and in pain.

Upon reaching the hotel, my heart sank as I surveyed the daunting distance from my parking spot to the inviting warmth of the hotel lobby. The journey seemed insurmountable, and tears welled up in my eyes, a testament to my physical and emotional exhaustion.

Twenty grueling minutes later, I finally reached the sanctuary of my room, only to be confronted with an unforeseen and deeply humiliating challenge. I found myself trapped on the toilet, my body so sore and fatigued that I could not perform the most basic personal hygiene tasks. Overwhelmed and defeated, I surrendered to my circumstances and spent the night in the cold, sterile confines of the bathroom.

[Related: Caitlin Stevenson: From 350 Pounds Bodyweight and Bariatric Surgery to the CrossFit Open]

Fast-forward several months, and on March 24, 2017, I found myself stepping into a CrossFit box for the first time.

Up until this point, the concept of fitness was alien to me. I had never engaged in any sports growing up, and even PE class in middle and high school was a chapter I skipped.

That night, I walked into the fifth workout of the 2017 CrossFit Open. I sat in silence, observing the frenzy of activity around me — people were hurling barbells, cheering, and screaming in a chaotic symphony.

Amidst this whirlwind, someone sat beside me, introduced themselves, and gestured toward the spectacle on the floor. 

  • “This time next year, that’s going to be you,” they said. It was the most absurd thing I had ever heard.

I was hobbling around with the aid of two canes and sometimes even a walker. My goal was simple: to get rid of the canes and walk independently. 

There were no thoughts beyond that. 

I didn’t agree to keep coming to this CrossFit box because I saw my future self on a leaderboard or participating in the Open. I stayed because they didn’t laugh or point at me.

And I didn’t have a desire to compete or compare myself to other CrossFitters worldwide when I participated in the Open for the first time a year later. It was a personal challenge, a testament to my courage to face the uncomfortable and venture into uncharted territory.

[Related: Get to Know the 2024 PRVN Fitness Athlete Roster]

I was acutely aware of my fitness level. I didn’t need the Open to remind me of my morbid obesity or my inability to perform bar muscle-ups

My score didn’t dishearten me because, a year prior, I couldn’t even wipe my own bum. What mattered was my clear understanding of my starting point. That night in the hotel was my baseline; this was my yardstick for measuring progress on my fitness journey.

  • I could not walk unaided from the car to the hotel lobby or anywhere else.
  • Stairs were an insurmountable obstacle.
  • Daily showers were a luxury I couldn’t afford, as even such a mundane task was more exhausting than one could imagine.
  • I rarely left my house unless absolutely necessary.
  • The mere thought of walking to the mailbox filled me with dread.
  • Standing in my kitchen to prepare a meal was a Herculean task. I would have to sit in a chair, drained of energy.
  • I was taking painkillers, I was on a breathing machine, and I could probably add a mile-long list here.

Over that first year of losing 200 pounds, joy and drive came from changing these bullets. When things got hard, my only thoughts were of that little hotel in the middle of an Iowan blizzard.

The Ultimate Goal

My coach and I have experienced numerous misunderstandings, particularly during this Open season. Each one is a painful reminder of our differing perspectives and lenses. 

It’s not that I don’t see the value in the Open — I do. 

However, its significance for me during this season is different.

During a recent conversation, my coach, Andrew Hiller, likened losing 150 pounds in a year to qualifying for the CrossFit Games. 

It was an apt comparison, perfectly capturing the magnitude of the challenge. 

But the ultimate goal isn’t just to lose 150 pounds — it’s to reach a total loss of 300 pounds. 

Using Andrew’s analogy, I’ve already made it to the Games once. 

Now, I’m pushing myself to do it all over again. I knew what this was going to mean.

[Related: Interview: CrossFit Athlete Kelly Baker Talks About Raising Awareness for Fertility Issues in Women]

Let’s be clear: for me, every day of this year is the Open. 

There are no days off. To reach that goal, my mind must be fully engaged every day for 365 days. 

The mental challenge is relentless. It never switches off; it never rests. It’s a constant battle.

This season, though I did the Open and did feel a sense of accomplishment, I did not feel I needed a score for the “Ultimate Test of Fitness.” This is primarily because, for me, in three weeks, that score will change. If I did those Open workouts every month this year, there is a good chance there could be a different result.


This season, for me, is the ultimate battle in a psychological war. 

“Hard” is every single day. 

This season does not require a scorecard. It requires support, encouraging words, and pats on the back.

A Note on This Article’s Title

Andrew sent me a note earlier in the week letting me know that he is happy with the progress that I’ve made, but he feels he is not able to be the coach I need at this time and feels that I deserve someone who can be more available to me than he can be. 

[Related: “We Just Do CrossFit”: The Secret to CrossFit Nashville’s Longevity]

Though I am saddened by the end of our coach/athlete relationship, I want to thank Andrew for being the catalyst I needed to get this second half of the journey on its way. I appreciate him more than I can express, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart for everything over the last two months.

The journey will continue with a new coach, who I will announce soon. 

Featured image: @athenamariebt / Instagram

The post “The Journey to 300,” Part 5: A New Beginning, Again appeared first on BarBend.

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