Steely gray clouds hung over CrossFit Praus, an affiliate nestled between a truck maintenance center and plumbing service shop in a dusty industrial lot on the outskirts of Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was Memorial Day, and Nicole Schwanz, 28, was on her final 800 meters of a half-“Murph.”
She had survived the first 800 meters, followed by 50 pull-ups, 100 push-ups and 150 air squats. Now, as she strode along the sidewalk for the final leg, she felt a cramp in her abdomen. But Schwanz, a CrossFit athlete of two years, knew how to push through discomfort.
Shrugging off the dull ache, she finished at around the 42-minute mark. Less than two hours later, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
“It was one of those incredible moments; I can’t even describe it,” Schwanz said. “I was so excited that he sounded great, he looked great.”
It wasn’t Schwanz’s first time giving birth. She and her husband, Corey Schwanz, have a 2-year-old son named Cody. But because of CrossFit, she said, it was her best experience.
“I could do so much more,” she said. “I didn’t feel as weighed down, and the recovery was so much better the second time. The first time, the first couple of weeks after delivery, I just [lay] on the couch. This time, I started to do light workouts one week postpartum.”
A former dancer and college cheerleader, Schwanz never suspected she was out of shape. After college, she diligently exercised three times per week, walking and jogging on the treadmill at a globo gym.
“I was healthy, but I wouldn’t say I was fit,” she said. “I don’t think I knew the difference until after CrossFit.”
Corey was the first to drink the Kool-Aid, joining CrossFit Praus in 2011. For a year, Nicole refused to join, more comfortable with the treadmill than barbells and boxes. But over time, watching her husband snatch and clean-and-jerk made her itch for a more interesting workout.
“It looked fun,” she recalled.
By the time Schwanz decided to join, she was pregnant with Cody and opted to stay on the treadmill. In June, 2013, three months after giving birth, she switched from onlooker to CrossFitter.
In Schwanz’s first fundamentals class, she did 10 minutes of “Cindy,” a 20-minute AMRAP of five pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 air squats. Though she said the first round made her feel like “toast,” she loved it.
“It was a horrible workout … but I loved feeling better than when I had come in,” she said.
Training three to four days per week, Schwanz performed her first strict pull-up after nine months of using bands. In the weeks before her second pregnancy, she ran her first mile.
“It wasn’t a fast mile, but the fact that I kept moving says a lot,” she said.
Schwanz was thrilled when she found out she was pregnant again in August, 2014. This time, with more than a year of CrossFit behind her, she gave no thought to the treadmill.
“I enjoy being pregnant, and I enjoy doing CrossFit,” she said. “I talked to my doctor … and he said, ‘Listen to your body and do what feels good.’”
After consulting with CrossFit Praus coaches, who had coached two other athletes through healthy pregnancies, Schwanz did just that, modifying movements while she grew a life inside her. Box jumps became step-ups, and she used plates to elevate herself for push-ups and burpees.
Though some of Schwanz’s friends cautioned her against training while pregnant, leaving critical comments on social media when she posted workout pictures, Schwanz was never concerned.
“I knew as long as I listened to my body and did what felt good, I’d be fine,” she said. “If something didn’t feel right, I stopped.”
At 38 weeks, Schwanz did “Fran” as prescribed in 9:55. One week before she gave birth, she matched her hang snatch PR at 105 pounds.
“I was able to stay so much more active [than during the first pregnancy],” she said. “We went to the zoo once or twice a week, and I was able to walk around and still keep up with my 2-year-old.”
As her due date approached, Schwanz feared she wouldn’t be able to participate in the Memorial Day Murph, a CrossFit Hero workout honoring Navy Lt. Michael Murphy (killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005), after giving birth. Schwanz hadn’t done the workout before and was eager to try it. So when she awoke on May 25, still pregnant at 41 weeks and four days, she packed her gym bag.
“I felt good, so I was like, ‘OK, I guess I’ll do it!” Schwanz recalled.
Cutting the 1-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and a second 1-mile run in half, she walked her 800 meters and did her push-ups atop the 35-pound plates. She did the squats — and the pull-ups — as prescribed.
“The whole atmosphere … was just incredible,” she said. “We have a flag in our box that was flown overseas by one of the family members of one of our members, a husband in the service, so it’s a really big deal at our box. We really care about our servicemen.”
At round six, the cramping began. Still, she felt good, so she completed four more rounds before taking off for the final 800 meters. Schwanz and her husband had planned to go home and shower before joining their fellow athletes for a cookout, but not long after finishing, the cramps — contractions — began coming every few minutes.
“I looked at Corey and said, ‘I don’t know if we’re gonna make that cookout,’” she said.
The couple went home, and Nicole showered. After stepping out of the tub, her water broke, and Corey rushed to fetch a towel.
“By the time he got back, I had a baby,” she said. “It happened so fast you don’t have time to think, you just react … I just reached down and caught that baby.”
The couple named their newborn son Brandon James Murphy: James for Nicole’s late grandfather and Murphy for the hero they had just honored.
“It felt wrong not to put it in there,” she said.
One week later, Schwanz returned to the gym, training bodyweight, light dumbbell and empty barbell movements. And with Murph behind her, her boys at her side and a lifetime of fitness ahead, she encourages other CrossFitting women to stay the course while pregnant.
“It’s not going full blast, hardcore every time,” she said. “It’s listening to your body and learning how to modify.”
“It’s good for you,” she added. “I felt healthier at one week postpartum than I did before I ever started CrossFit. It’s one of the best things I’ve done for myself.”