My Road to Rio: Paralympics Athlete and Crossfitter Natalie Marie Bieule

I caught up with Natalie just days before she was flying to Toronto for the Pan American Championships.


Last time we spoke, you have been training for the War Games on the 5h of July in Florida. How did it go?

The event went great, I was proud to be part of such an incredible event. Crazytrain CrossFit did remarkable for their first year running and hosting this event. I am very proud to say, I came in first among all adaptive athletes.

The  War Games are a challenging fitness competition for the US army forces including adaptive athletes. What made you compete in this competition?

I am part of a an adaptive team called Some Assembly Required, which not only supports many American soldiers who were injured or lost a limb in the war, but they also support adaptive athletes such as myself.

What happened when you woke up and realized the leg below your knee was gone? You where a very active 18 year old and a great dancer at that time. This must have been very shocking at first.

It was very difficult. Especially in the society we live in today, were a women’s image is everything. I had just turned 18, the age were a young lady is still trying to find herself, trying to overcome insecurities, and accept who she is. Now there I was, having to accept that for the rest of my life, I would be a leg short. Honestly, I owe most of my strength to my mother. She encouraged and pushed me and reminded me there was nothing I couldn’t do, even though many doctors put limitations on me.

Natalie-Marie-Bieule
Natalie right after the accident.

In addition, my mother would always tell me I was still here for a reason. God had a plan for me and it may not come to me right away, but there was something big I was meant to do. It was difficult to put my dancing career on hold but that didn’t stop me from dancing. Many doctors told me I would not be able to dance the way I use too and that news was real tough for not only myself but for my father to hear.

You see since I was a little girl he was the one who taught me how to dance and at every family party or event we owned the dance floor. I refused to accept what the doctors told me. My car accident happened in March 2001 and on Father’s Day (June 2001) a month after getting my prosthetic I gave my father our Salsa dance. I will never forget the look in his eyes when he told me “You dance better now than you ever have.” That’s the moment in my life that I said to myself, “No one will ever tell me I can’t because I am going to try even harder!”

What kept you from going into a dark place at that time? I am sure your family and friends kept you up? What helped you to overcome this tragic event in the end?

I had an incredible support system: the greatest family and friends I can ask for. My father is always there to listen, my brothers and sister never saw me as a less of a person, they always reminded I was still capable of everything. Also, my friends kept me laughing and in good spirits, which was always the best. However, I am where I am today because of the two greatest people in my life. My mother was my light, she never felt sorry for me and she always pushed and encouraged me. Some might have thought that she was rough but if you know my mother that’s the only way she is and I didn’t fall into a depression because she didn’t allow me to. The other person is my husband and greatest friend Matthew. He taught me how to love myself and believe in myself again. I built this persona of a “fake it to you make it” and that’s how I dealt with things. I bottled them until I hoped they would go away. He showed me how to release all that built up anger and put it to good use. Also, he believed in me and encouraged me to achieve greatness because he knew I could do it. Since he knew I could do it then I myself started to believe.

Natalie-Marie-Bieule2
Natalie as national champion and American record holder in 2014.

You have been a dancer before. Have you continued to dance after the accident? And is there any special moment you can think about?

That Father’s Day dance will always be my favorite dance and also my wedding dance with my Dad. Every great dance has always been with my favorite coach…my Dad.

I heard that Crossfit became a very important sport for you while after the accident. Can you tell me more about how you started and how it changed or improved your life?

My biggest inspiration came into my life when I gave birth a baby girl on June 5, 2008. I was involved in spinning and kickboxing but I wanted something more challenging. You see I feared my daughter would look at and say, “Why is my mommy missing a leg and all these others mommies have two?” So I wanted to involve myself in something that pushed me to my limits and beyond. Something that I myself thought was impossible.

Natalie at CrossFit Games.
Natalie at CrossFit Games.

My oldest brother introduced and challenged to me to CrossFit. Walking into the Box (CrossFit Siege in Miramar, Fl); I was completely scared, shocked and for the first time questioned my own abilities. However, that’s the thing with me, I channel my fear and start to overcome things that most able body people can’t do, and that felt real good. What felt even better was watching my daughter see her mother compete against able-bodied women and still win. I was instantly hooked and my Crossfit family never doubted me or questioned my ability.  In fact, they pushed me to great length and didn’t allow me to adapt to any movement.

To give our readers an impression about our strengths, can you tell me your Deadlift, frontand overhead squat 1 RepMax?

Deadlift: 325 lbs
Front Squat: 205 lbs
Back Squat: 220 lbs
Power Clean: 145 lbs
Snatch: 115 lbs
Bench Press: 140 lbs
Overhead Squat: 135 lbs

Wow! You also became the first female adaptive athlete that competed in an all-women able-bodied Crossfit competition where you placed 12th out of 60 athletes. That is impressive!

Thank you! That was great moment for family and myself. The competition Wodapalooza, which is the biggest Southeast region Crossfit Competition here based in Downtown Miami. Now, they have an adaptive division, but I did it before the adaptive division was even created. I was going head to head with some strong able-bodied women and I still managed to place in the top 15 with no modifications or any adaptations.

There was one WOD, that I will always remember, where you had to swim 300 meter in the bay of Miami, row 2000 meters and run about a mile and half and I told myself “You finish this one Nat…you already won”. Out of the 30 women who jumped in that water, I was the last one in due to taking off my leg, but was the 6th individual out of the water, the fourth one of the rower but the run killed me (I didn’t have a running leg at the time) and I came in last on the run. However, in two heats I came in first. It was a great day, one that I will never forget and my daughter was there seeing mom do it all. I plan to compete again this year, even though I like to think I had a small influence on the adaptive division, I plan to compete in the scale division and hopefully move up in my ranking. We shall see.

Natalie-Marie-Bieule-crossfit2
“You finish this one Nat…you already won”.

At one of these events you had your first contact with Track & Field. Who did you met and what happened then?

I went to the Amputee Coalition looking for a blade leg or someone to help me with my prosthetic because they all just kept breaking. There I met the incredible and legendary April Holmes. She is a 5 time Paralympian gold medalist and she was calling me out from the crowd of people. She got down my information and told me I needed to join the team, she didn’t know what I could do but I needed to join the team. I honestly did not think I would get a call but two days later I got a call from Cathy Sellers who is head of United States Track and Field Paralympics. She asked me what sport do I play? I simply told her “I love to Lift!” She said they needed throwers. Never have touched any throwing implement I was introduced to the javelins, the shot and the discus. Once I put the discus in my hand it just felt natural and within 3 months of training I made the National A team. Four months later I threw the American and Americas Record and became a hopeful for Rio 2016.

How did Crossfit helped you with Discus? 

Entering a new sport I already had the strength and physical conditioning needed to perform that I obtained thru Crossfit. Also, Crossfit taught me how to learn to love the pain and leading up to Rio 2016 I knew it was going to be a hard, yet painful journey to the top. Grueling training hours moments of ups and downs and I have learned to enjoy the ride and treasure the good with the bad. Crossfit taught me you can’t win them all but you can always win at your best, it’s you against you. I will always be grateful to Crossfit, it taught me that the only limits we set are the limits we set in ourselves.

Since you started, you had a very successful season: You are ranked 3rd in the world after only 7 months of training and you set a new American record of 28.93m/94-11 in the women’s F40-44 discus category that you nearly broke again in 2015. Sounds to me like you are enjoying this new community around you!?

I am enjoying the ride to the top. I believe this is what my mother always told me. She always said there was a greater purpose I was still here and it would come to me one day…here it is. I know God has placed me here for a reason. Getting ready now for World Championship in Doha Qatar and hoping to bring home gold. Then comes the biggest event Rio 2016. Never would I have thought I would be part of the Olympic Games but then again Never say Never.

In the beginning of 2015 you also became a member of the 2015 U.S. Paralympic Track & Field National Team that will compete in the Paralympics in Rio 2016 and are also a part of the U.S. Roster for 2015 Pan American Games. How does this feel and why is Rio important for you?

It will all be a full circle. From where I started to where I am. All the hard work I have put, all the time away from my family for this moment. This one moment to represent my country, my family, and mothers. I still at times can’t believe it myself “How did I get here?” Hard work, sweat and tears and nothing is going to stop me. When I get in that throwing ring, all I see are the tribulations I had to overcome; and right before I release that disc I see my girls smiling at me and I know Mommy is making them proud. Being part of Team USA is everyone’s dream and here I am living the dream.

Next to your Crossfit training and your successful Track & Field career you are happily married and you also born your second child in March. How does all the training goes along with your family life? I saw a picture where you trained with the discus while heavily pregnant. Did your doctors said anything? You probably know all the discussions about the pregnant Crossfitters.

Yes, I have heard it all and got a lot of negative comments. However, my family and friends especially my husband was more than supportive. My doctor understood that “no” wasn’t going to stop me, so instead he just made me wear a heart rate monitor. Followed Crossfit4moms.com with my coach Braulio Garcia careful eye on me. My baby Valentina was due in March and the throwing season commenced in April, with Nationals being in June. In order to make team for Parapans and World Championship you had to throw my last season best throw to make team. So I had to do what I had to do to make sure I didn’t fall short or anyone else would take my place and out throw my own throw.  Not to mention at 40 weeks pregnant, I completed first event of CrossFit Open 2015 of snatches, deadlifts and knees to chest instead of toes to bar (only time I have ever adapted) I still threw the discus every day but from wheel stands and 4 months after my C-Section I made team for Para Pans and now headed to World Championship in Doha.

All in all your life took a great turn. You said in another interview “You tell me I can’t, and I’m not going to stop. You tell me that it’s impossible, and I’m going to prove you wrong.” Is that your life motto?

Always! The only limits we set are the ones we set on ourselves! Believe in yourself, if  you want it the you will. Don’t let anything or anyone stand in your way! No dream is ever to big and I think I am a living testament to that.

Natalie Bieule will be competing at the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil. The whole BOXROX team wishes her all the best!

Natalie Bieule

USA Paralympic Team

Track and Field

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”

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About The Author

Clemens is working at BOXROX. He has been a CrossFitter at CrossFit Potsdam for about 9 month and is a sports addict. He is also helping at several events all around Europe, including the CrossFit Regionals and Invitationals.

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