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Cut Up: Rachel Charity

In almost every workout there comes a point where we want to break, but the sight of a teammate crushing it convinces us otherwise. Someone pushing through the exact same workout as we are—exhausted yet making it through that last rep—makes us think, “Alright. If they’re doing this, so can I.”

And for the past few months, that someone has been Rachel Charity.

If you don’t know Rachel, allow us to do a quick intro. She’s a Cut captain often found checking in the evening classes, she’s positively hilarious, and you will never—NEVER—hear her complain. Even at eight(!) months pregnant, she’s still attending Heart Day, and if you want to be personally humbled, line up next to her on a slider push.

“If I’m going to do this,” she said, pointing directly at her belly, “Trust me, I can do that,” nodding toward the studio. Thus far, she hasn’t let anything slow her down, and we’re not just talking about pregnancy. Rachel was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2016, an autoimmune condition which causes miscommunication between brain and body.

—Something you would never, every know about because, like we said, she never complains.

To learn more about one of our biggest motivators in the room, keep reading to hear more about Rachel, her diagnosis, and how she feels about being a mom.

Ok seriously—are you going to workout until the day before you give birth? Were you always this active?

Right now, I’m taking things day by day. If my body says no, I listen. I’ve definitely slowed down and the workouts take a lot more out of me. Some people can leave class and go about their day, but I need at least ten minutes afterward to collect myself.

I’ve always worked out a lot, playing lacrosse in high school then club sports in college. I got into boutique fitness five years ago, doing bikram yoga, boxing, a lot of SoulCycle, and coaching spin classes. I like to feel like I’m getting the most from what I’m doing. If there isn’t a point in the workout where I wanted to quit, I feel like I wasted my time.

You know you’re everyone’s number one motivator right now, right?

I have one person after every.single.class come up to me and say, “I just looked over and thought, If Rachel’s doing this, I can’t stop.” Obviously that’s not why I’m here, but it’s such a supportive space.

If anything, the first trimester was harder than this—you’re tired, bloated, and have zero energy. Now, I make small modifications. I go lower in weight, don’t do belly downs (but I do the burpees!), and avoid ab days. Bear crawls actually got easier because I have to “cheat” in order to avoid my knees hitting my belly.

I focus on the immediate goal. I think, Ok. Get the sled to the cone. Turn around. Pick up the sliders. Push. And everyone in the room is very affirming. That second I want to break I hear Triana, Syd, Lauren, or Allison go, “Rachel you got this!” and think, Fuck. Now I have to do this.

When were you diagnosed with MS?

I was diagnosed with MS in 2016, which explained so many things throughout college and into my twenties. My arms and legs used to feel like they were falling asleep all the time, but I was young and naive—and frankly, more concerned with partying.

I went to college eight hours from home, and spent my spring semester senior year driving back and forth for tests that were all inconclusive. I saw every doctor and specialist, getting multiple MRIs and a spinal tap. Eventually they diagnosed me with Clinically Isolated Syndrome (CIS).

When the numbness came back in 2016, I just lived with it. I was like, “Why would I put myself through all those tests again, just for them to tell me nothing?” The pain of having a spinal tap done is unlike any pain I’ve ever experienced. They put a long ass needle in your spine to draw out fluid. I cannot explain to you how fucking painful that is—I don’t want to get an epidural because of it.

When did they finally give you the correct diagnosis?

After a boozy brunch in August 2016, I got the liquid courage to tell my dad and husband that the numbness had returned in my arms and legs and spread to my torso. The next day, my dad took me to Sibley hospital where I spent the day in the ER as they checked to see if I had a stroke and ran unlimited tests. No one said a word to me all day until finally—at ten at night—they told me they were admitting me. The nurses actually said to me, “What? No one told you?”

I completely broke down and started crying. They kept me for four days to give me an IV drip of steroids and took more MRIs of the lesions in my brain and cervical spine.

For those who aren’t familiar, can you explain what a lesion is?

MS in an autoimmune disease, which is where your body’s immune system attacks your healthy cells. With MS, your immune system eats away at the protective covering of your nerves—those damaged areas are called lesions. That can manifest in so many different ways, with mine being numbness and incontinence. You can have depression, anxiety, or muscle weakness.

I have MRIs every year, but it hasn’t changed much of my daily life because I have what you could call a “mild case” and they caught it early. I had a flare [my symptoms acted up] last October, probably triggered by stress at work. I was on a plane traveling to Orlando when my right hand went completely numb. I stayed calm and thought, “Ok. You know what’s happening. If it doesn’t subside, call your doctor.”

The doctor sent me home with an IV drip of steroids that had to be left in my arm for three days. My mom helped me get dressed and did my hair—which looked a little too 1960s-TV-anchor, thank you—but I still went to Dacha, IV and all.

How did you react when you were diagnosed? Were you ever scared?

Not once.

I’m very much a person who doesn’t get mad at the things I can’t change. This won’t be what kills me. If it were a brain tumor or something similar then yea, maybe I’d be afraid of it.

I don’t let it define me. I don’t talk about it constantly nor do I let it stop me from doing something. Everyone has their shit, and my problems are no more special than yours. Everyone around you is going through something, which is why I always try to take time to learn about people. You don’t know shit about someone until you spend five minutes looking into their background.

What about your family and your husband? How did they handle it?

You know, it’s so funny—when you get older, you ask your parents their advice for certain things. You ask about applying for a mortgage, how to buy a car, or how to raise a kid. Because they’ve gone through it before. But with MS, everything was new. My parents couldn’t tell me what to do any more than I could tell myself, so I made the decision to handle this on my own.

I got married in 2017, and my husband is such an all-star. In my wedding vows I said, “When I was diagnosed with MS, you didn’t skip a beat. You said everything would be fine and we would figure it out. MS was never my diagnosis, it was always ours.” He learned how to give my shots in case I become incapacitated; he drives me home from MRIs when I’m high on valium. I always say, “Your partner needs to be your #1 troll and your #1 champion,” and I am telling you he is both.

Are there any risks associated with MS and pregnancy?

I saw my MS doctor in May and he basically said, “You work out all the time; you’ll be fine.” People with MS get pregnant all the time.

When you’re pregnant, the baby’s stem cells prevent your immune system from attacking your body. So as long as I’m pregnant and until I stop breastfeeding, I have no symptoms. Think of it like general stem cell research.

Although I’m not considered a high-risk pregnancy, I will have a doula in the delivery room. Basically, a doula is there to ensure the doctors listen to you and don’t speak as if you’re not there. Black women have an exponentially higher maternal mortality rate during labor than white women, based solely on socioeconomic and systemic racism. There was a New York Times article about Serena Williams, who almost died from complications after giving birth to her daughter. When doctors won’t listen to a multimillionaire-athlete, you know it’s a problem.

Ok. You said your diagnosis never scared you—are you scared about being a mom?

Fuck. Yes.

But like with anything, you figure it out. One thing that scares me is not having time to exercise because I know my priorities will change. I don’t want to “lose” myself after the baby comes. But my mom always says, “You make time for the things that are important to you,” so that’s my plan.

Are there any misconceptions you want to clear up—either about MS or about pregnancy?

Stop asking me if I want to sit down! I will fucking sit if I want to sit. Pregnant women are a lot stronger than you think. Ashley. Alex. Michele. Linda. Me. We all worked out while pregnant.

So many people are like, “I can’t believe you can do this while pregnant.” People, there are women in other countries who give birth then go back to factory work in dangerous conditions—just to give you a little perspective. Exercise while pregnant is important for both the mother and the baby, and can help you recover after birth. I’ll make the call when I want to stop the same way I’ll make the call if I need to sit down.

Is there a motto you live by or a certain way you motivate yourself?

Take one day at a time.

I may plan out my calendar social-wise, but life-wise I just take things one day at a time. I try to make the most out of each day, accomplishing something work-related or going to see friends. My husband actually gets annoyed with me, saying, “Why can’t you just sit still?” and my only reply to that is, “Why? When there’s so much life to live?”

We can’t know anything for sure until it happens, and there’s no use being mad, anxious, or upset until it does. If I take Cut tomorrow and come out thinking, “I’m done,” that will be the end. And yes, I’m scared about being a mom but I know we will figure it out. My only hope is that she’s a happy baby, with all her parts, in all the right places.

And yes, I might need to tell my husband to watch her for two hours while I come to Cut.