After a testicular cancer diagnosis in 2011, CrossFit helped Rory Mckernan get his health back on track. Now, he is helping other cancer survivors do the same.
A cancer diagnosis can be isolating, and treatments for the disease can cause long- and short-term physical issues. Finding a fitness community can tackle both these problems, offering community support and a chance to improve strength and functionality that may have been lost.
Rory Mckernan knows that firsthand.
Mckernan was on the CrossFit media team since 2009, and for the decade after was known as the face of the sport, hosting commentary on the annual CrossFit Games and presenting and commentating on the worldwide CrossFit Open until 2019. He was also diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011 at the age of 28.
“I love to share (my diagnosis) with people because I’ve had so many people come up to me and when I tell them that I’m a cancer survivor, sometimes they’re flabbergasted because they’re in the heat of it; they’re in the thick of it and see no light at the end of the tunnel,” Mckernan, who is currently the VP of business development and athlete representative at Rich Froning Fitness, said in an interview with CURE®.
Mckernan took his passion for CrossFit and his cancer history and set out on a mission to improve the lives of other cancer survivors through a partnership between the gym where he is an instructor, CrossFit Mayhem, and the Battle Cancer Program, which provides 12 weeks of strength and fitness programming for cancer survivors who have finished their treatment. Battle Cancer recently teamed up with the American Association for Cancer Research to raise awareness and funds for cancer.
“As an organization, a gym exists to give back to a community, and Battle Cancer gave us the opportunity to do that with their global initiative on a local scale,” Mckernan said. “They’ll be reaching out to cancer survivors and pairing them up with us and giving us the opportunity to serve them.”
Scaling options are “infinitely accessible,” and can range from simply lifting hands overhead or independently getting out of a chair, to elite-level fitness, like that of Rich Froning Jr., the owner of CrossFit Mayhem. He finished second place in the CrossFit games in 2010, and then won the event each year after, from 2011 to 2014.
“No two cancers are the same, and no two diagnoses or treatment paths are even the same,” Mckernan said. “So, people are going to come with different physical limitations that were caused by their cancer – both diagnosis and treatment. The obvious effect is being able to regain what you have lost to the best of your ability.”
He laughed in saying, “From the outside looking in, oftentimes there’s the perception that these are only beastly athletes with 18-pack abs who are throwing houses over their heads. In reality, (CrossFit) movement patterns are just absolutely compulsory to live a good life.”
Mckernan said that he is grateful to have been able to gain back his athleticism – and then some – after cancer, and he hopes that he can be an inspiration to others, even if that means opening up and being vulnerable.
“It makes me even more passionate because I’ve been blessed both to come back even better than I was physically before cancer… and because I have an elevated voice and the ability to speak to more people than others through YouTube or social media or hosting television and things like that. And it’s always been a goal to at least make the smallest difference in people’s lives.”
Finding a fitness community can also help alleviate the feelings of loneliness and anxiety that all too often come with a cancer diagnosis.
“I think anybody who gets involved in the program, especially in the context we’re about to present, (will meet) other people who are going through similar stuff… someone might be able to say, ‘Hey, I know what you’re going through… and here we are, sweating together, starting at the bottom trying to get back to where we were,’” Mckernan said.
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