YOUR MENTAL HEALTH IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS YOUR PHYSICAL…AND HERE IS WHY…
REAL LIFE…REAL PEOPLE
An inspiring, powerful, truthful interview with our member Aaron Game, on how CrossFit has helped battle his anxiety, depression and body dismourphia.
Three years into his Huntsman journey, Aaron Game continues to smash through his strength and
fitness goals, but it’s not his Murph time he wants to tell you about (although that’s impressive) nor how
much he can power clean these days (although that does have him punching the air). Aaron knows that
the muscle he has trained hardest in his time at Huntsman is the most important one of all: the one
between his ears. It’s the one that needed the most attention. We spoke to him about his struggles with
mental health, how CrossFit has helped him and what he has learned in the last three years that he most
wants to share with you.
I know you were quite an athlete as a teenager, a competitive sprinter, jumper and javelin thrower.
Starting CrossFit must have been easy for you.
I first came to Huntsman on my 26 th birthday. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, not
physically, but because I was in the midst of an intense battle with my mental health. For years I’d been
suffering with severe anxiety, depression and body dysmorphia, but I hadn’t done anything about it. I
was going through therapy at the time and was near breaking point. Only a handful of people in my life
really understood the immense pressure and upset I was going through daily. I so badly wanted to
change my life and turn it around.
I’d spent a few years unemployed and broke, making so many mistakes left, right and centre (we all
make them, we’re all human, and I, like most, have certainly learned from them). I was so deeply broken
inside, my mental health getting worse and worse. I was slowly unravelling.
My fitness was no better. I’d been training on and off at a local gym, but I was having frequent panic and
anxiety attacks that would trigger severe asthma attacks. It was not a good time in my life.
How on earth did you pluck up the courage to join Huntsman?
Thankfully, I was surrounded by a wonderful family and fantastic friends who have supported my
journey along the way. My friend Cheryl Jones (who’s also a Huntsman member now), told me about
CrossFit. She thought it would suit me well so I did some research. It seemed very physically challenging
and intimidating – a very masculine-dominated environment, but I looked up local boxes, found
Huntsman, scoured their website and even did a drive-by to scope it out!
I can’t tell you the number of emails and conversations I had with Chris and Hannah before I even went
to meet Chris for the first time. I was working in London for Cartoon Network at the time, so I could
never quite make it in, and quite frankly, kept putting it off. Eventually, Chris and Hannah persuaded me
to come down for the trial, and I vividly remember that day.
I was nervous from the moment I woke up that morning – dreading going there, terrified of being late
and even more terrified of what I was walking into. When I arrived I couldn’t get parked (which caused
me more stress and anxiety), and when I finally got out of my car I walked into a hot wind and a wall of
noise. It was during the heatwave of summer 2018 and every door was open. Music was blaring,
barbells were clanging and crashing to the ground, everyone was shouting and encouraging one
another. When I got closer, I could see some thirty half-naked people throwing barbells around! I stood
frozen in the doorway, completely intimidated.
I could feel the anxiety bubbling inside me and wanted to throw up. It’s not a lie to say that it took
everything inside of me not to flee the scene. When I turned round, there was Chris, with immaculate
timing. He stopped me from leaving and somehow got me through the introduction and my first
And so you signed on the dotted line?
Not exactly. There were another five to six weeks of too-ing and fro-ing. A friend eventually gave me the
push I needed. They said, ‘Give it a month, then cancel if you can’t do it. What have you got to lose?’ So I
bit the bullet and went for it. The first question I asked Hannah was, ‘What’s the emptiest class?’ Back
then it was the 6am. There were never more than ten of us in a class, sometimes even less, especially
during the long cold winters! That worked for me.
What memories do you have of your first WOD?
My first workout involved a kettlebell, and I distinctly remember – because I used to do a kettlebell class
every week at my old gym – being told that the weight of the kettlebell I had chosen was far too light for
my build. ‘Go put back the 12 and at least pick up the 16!’ I was also trying to get my head around so
many new terms: ‘EMOM’, ‘AMRAP’, ‘WOD’, ‘Metcon’. After the workout, I remembered driving off and
having to pull over because I thought I was going to throw up, and the next day I woke up and
everything ached, but it was that good ache, the feeling that you’d worked hard.
It didn’t put you off then?
No, I stayed for the people, the constant challenges, the environment, the overcoming of major
breakthroughs in my battles with my mental health, the community, the comradery, the style of training
and the wealth of knowledge. I’ve made so many new friends, who are a huge part of my life in so many
ways. Huntsman is a community, and we all bond over training even if we are all so different.
My training was, and still is, so fulfilling and ever changing. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being
in a room filled with people all pushing themselves, pushing their limits and each other during an
intense workout. It’s the thrill of it all.
Tell us more about those thrills.
Just before the November lockdown I hit 100kg on my clean, thanks to Thorny and Saff. That was a huge
moment. Cleans were a totally new movement for me when I first joined. I just couldn’t make the stars
align. I slowly started to get them, but they weren’t perfect. It wasn’t until I fully committed to attending
Barbell Engineering week on week that I started to make huge changes, as well as getting stronger. On
the day I hit the clean, it was during a workout, towards the end of the session where the weight was
building each set. I’d attempted the 100kg a couple of weeks before and wasn’t ready, but in that
moment Saff encouraged me to go for it and it flew up! I was so surprised and excited. It was such a
special and big moment for me, more than the coaches and the people in the session knew. It was over
two years in the making!
How have you coped with lockdown?
A highlight of the first lockdown was doing ‘Murph’ in a weighted vest for the first time. That was an
amazing experience. I am not a runner anymore and have never been a long distance runner, so it was a
challenge for me and not great for my asthma. Add weight and the boiling, dry heat, and it was certainly
very testing, but so rewarding! I wanted to complete it in under 90 minutes and managed it in just under
70, so that was another great moment for me.
I have tried to stay positive for the most part throughout the lockdowns, the uncertainty and the
pandemic in general, but like most people I have hit huge training walls. I’ve gone weeks without
exercising, purely because I couldn’t bear to be squashed into the same spot in my back room where I
train or couldn’t face spending any more time on video calls (as like most people, my job entails video
calls all day).
Mentally, I’m an empath, and I bear a lot of people’s emotions and feelings on my shoulders. While it’s
great to listen to people and to help others, it can take its toll on you. You have to protect yourself; it’s
important to take time for yourself. I find walking and talking with friends and family is so important.
And exercise, of course: I’ve now got into a good routine and regularly train with the 8am Zoom crew. It
gives me motivation to get up and also ensures that I actually train each day.
What have you missed?
Bench and Deadlifts are my lifts. Back in the box I used to bench a few times a week and deadlift at least
once or twice a week. Hines had an ongoing joke. Every time we were both in open gym together, he
would ask me ‘Benching today? That’s all you ever do!’ Sometimes I caught him off guard and would be
doing something else, but one thing was always the same: we always put Taylor Swift’s Reputation
album on, so if it’s ever us two in open gym together, expect Taylor to be playing.
Apart from Taylor Swift what else are you most looking forward to when you get back to the box?
For a while I’ve mainly focused on bodybuilding and powerlifting, which I love, and I’d like to put some
size back on, but during lockdown I’ve fallen in love with CrossFit again. It was the reason I first joined.
So I’d love to get back to the box and the main classes. I want to improve my gymnastics work too and
regain some lost strength. Oh, and Barbell Engineering as well, which I was already doing once a week
Finally, what have you learnt in your time at Huntsman that you want to pass on? What advice do you
have for others?
Okay. Number one. If you are struggling, ask for help, speak to somebody, do not suffer in silence like I
did for so many years. I am a huge advocate for supporting each other and talking about mental health
and it makes me so happy that it’s now a more open, and common conversation, but there’s a long way to go for everyone to understand. Remember you are not alone on your journey. So many people
struggle with their mental health and it’s so important to talk about it and to speak to people who might
be going through the same thing.
Two. Take the time to listen to others and their journeys. I now make sure I am somebody who is always
there to listen to others, to welcome new people into the box and to support people taking steps on
their journey. If you ever need somebody to talk to, feel free to reach out, my line is open for everyone.
Three. Stay off social media! Sharing our stories and passing them on through real conversations is so
much better. Since last summer I have been on a social media hiatus from Facebook and Instagram. In
fact, it wasn’t until this week that I changed something on my Facebook page and went on properly for
the first time, and I have only re-visited Instagram for a few minutes, two or three times over the last
seven months. It’s really been cleansing and freeing. Social media consumes our lives and we need to
get out there in the world and do things for ourselves and spend less time on our screens, and more
time, learning, exploring and experiencing.
Four. Don’t obsess over Zen Planner. It’s really great to see what people are sharing and how they are
hitting their goals and numbers, but for me my weights and journey are more personal. I’ll share
something if I feel proud of it, but I don’t want to get distracted by checking other people’s scores.
Remember, everyone's levels and abilities are different so don’t compare yourself with others. It’s not
the CrossFit Games! Just support each other and lift each other up.
Five. Don’t overcomplicate things! That’s a big problem with my training mentality; I overcomplicate
training, when actually the principles are simple.
Six. I still have days when I lack body confidence – I’m human – but it’s not something I obsess over
anymore. Accept that everyone’s bodies are different. Embrace yourself!
Seven. Do the CrossFit Open! The first time I did the Open in March 2019 was amazing. It was such a
nerve wracking and thrilling experience. I am so glad that Hannah and Saff convinced me to participate!
It was a great way to meet people, support one another and power through some hard workouts. Being
at Huntsman has given me so much confidence. Looking back now, I’ve come so far in the last three
years and I honestly do not know where I would have ended up if I hadn’t taken those all important
steps through the door.
Finally, number eight. You never know what somebody else is going through personally, mentally or
physically so it’s always important to support one another and be kind.