Barbells for Boobs Strengthens the Fight Against Breast Cancer

Brielle Urciuoli

Zionna Hanson credits CrossFit – with its intense workouts and even stronger sense of community – as something that helped to save her life. Now she is hoping to use the sport as a means to do the same for others, through her nonprofit organization, Barbells for Boobs.

Hanson started CrossFit in 2007, and then opened her own CrossFit affiliate gym about two years later. Things were going well until her best friend, Cecy Morales, found a lump in her breast. However, she faced barriers to proper screening because of her age.

The lump was cancer. Morales was 26.

“I was naïve to breast cancer happening to young women,” Hanson said in an interview with CURE. “When she originally went in with a lump on her breast, she was denied screening services and told to come back when she was 40. That was the fire that drove Barbells for Boobs to be what it is today.”

But Barbells for Boobs didn’t start out as the nationwide nonprofit it is today. Instead, it started with 30 reps of clean and jerks, a type of Olympic lift, in a CrossFit workout called “Grace.” Angry at the situation that her friend was in and wanting to help, Hanson did the workout to raise money for her.

“I went to get her the money, and she said she didn’t need it and to go give it to someone else,” Hanson said.

The efforts took off from there.

The mission of Barbells for Boobs is to mobilize and empower people to take action against breast cancer. The organization will help people – of all ages, and regardless of insurance status or type – to get screened by connecting them with resources in their area.

Now in its seventh year, the organization is appropriately paying even more attention to the 7 percent of patients like Morales who will be diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 40.

“There’s nobody talking about them. There’s nobody protecting them, so we need to be the loudest voice for that population,” Hanson said.

Organizations can reach out to Barbells for Boobs with fundraising ideas, though the most common way people participate is through special workouts performed at CrossFit affiliates – most of which happen during the month of October.

“If it wasn’t for the CrossFit community, we wouldn’t exist,” Hanson said. “CrossFit brings people together, and that’s what Barbells for Boobs is, too.”

One of Hanson’s goals is to bring people from all walks of life into the gym. Understanding how important exercise is for people with and without diagnoses, she is now working to develop special guidelines for cancer survivors.

And the community drive does not stop there. During the 2018 CrossFit Open, an international event where athletes of all skill levels can log their workouts to see how they stack up around the world, Hanson and her team will be traveling the country to work out with the 10 gyms that fundraised the most money this year.

However, CrossFit is not the only organization that Barbells for Boobs works with. Hanson mentioned that it was crucial for breast cancer organizations to work together to help more people and ensure that they are not duplicating efforts.

“My ultimate goal is that we stand united,” she said. “I hope that we’re always walking together to help and empower more people. I think you’re stronger when you can show up together and collaborate.”
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