When Sarah Jane Stallings and her husband, Bo, took over the CrossFit facility in her hometown of Russellville, Arkansas, one of the first things they did was launch a Fit over Fifty program.
SJ was constantly active during her childhood. She was a competitive cheerleader, swam for the junior Olympics, and played softball, track, soccer, and volleyball in her spare time. Ribbons and awards were piled high on her shelves.
She ran out of steam faster than the others, but her will to win kept her going. Indigestion was blamed for the sharp aches in her chest. Her wheezing was diagnosed as sports-induced asthma by doctors.
Because of her health issues, SJ began her softball scholarship at the University of Arkansas as a team manager in 2013. Her body, however, could not keep up.
She felt unusually weak on one autumn day during her freshman year. She told her coach that she thought she was getting sick.
He encouraged her to relax and go pick up some balls.
SJ's heart raced and she grew dizzy when stooping over to pick up balls. Everything went dark after that. She was in the hospital when she awoke. Heart issues were discovered by tests.
Her aortic valve had two flaps instead of three when she was born. Her pulse rate fluctuated between too slow and too rapid due to sick sinus syndrome, an electrical signaling disorder.
It explains why she was constantly exhausted. But the only solution was to keep her heart rate below 200 beats per minute.
Her resting heart rate was between 120 and 150, which was extremely low for someone so busy. So she decided to try a strength and fitness program. SJ learned to exercise safely thanks to regular heart rate monitoring. Mentally and physically, she felt better than she had in years.
SJ couldn't battle the tiredness by her senior year of college.
She passed out in class one day and was rushed to the hospital. She was suffering from a stroke.
She felt energized the next day after receiving the pacemaker. This is supposed to be how 22 feels, she reasoned.
SJ is the type of person who can stay motivated and never give up. She has been using her experience to help CrossFit clients and others.
Bo also adores his wife's willpower to inspire others. He gives folks the talk when they complain about not being able to achieve something.
"I used to feel like my heart problems were a burden," she explained, "but now I feel like I get to bless people with my experience."