Driven by Pain

In her early 30s, Helen Lawson was in constant pain. She worked 70 hours a week at a desk job and had been to multiple doctors to try to alleviate her discomfort, but to no avail. “I’d go out to dinner and I’d stand up in a restaurant because it hurt to sit down,” she said.

However, Lawson found one reliever: working out. “The more exercise I got, the better I felt,” she explained. “So, I was trying to work a full-time job, have a family, a life and at one point I was working out two hours a day just so I would not be in as much pain. Eventually, I figured I can’t keep doing this. I better find a way to get paid for it.”

Becoming a personal trainer, she found CrossFit while doing research for a client. “I ran into something CrossFit related and just started going down that path and learned a lot more about it,” she said. “My own two hour exercise per day turned into half an hour, 45 minutes of exercise a day because I was being much more efficient. I started using the same methodologies with my personal training clients and on it went from there.”

Lawson gained her CrossFit Level 1 certification in 2010 and opened CrossFit Schenectady in Rotterdam, New York, Affiliating in 2011. With her background in personal training, Lawson brings her experience into her coaching. “I think that CrossFit is great,” she said. “I think a lot of what they do is great, but I think that there are a lot of other things that are great too, and we should try to learn from everything that we can.”

This belief is displayed in her Box. “Just about everyday I use something that I learned from CrossFit, but everyday I use something that I learned from somewhere else too,” Lawson said. “To me, somebody who’s only got CrossFit certifications and that’s all they have, it would be like going to a restaurant that only served steak and nothing else. You know what I mean? You’re not giving your clients what they really need.”

Culture is another aspect Lawson’s coaching helps cultivate. She said anyone is welcome, and some of her clients prove this: one is approximately 30 years old and has multiple sclerosis. Another is about 50 and is completely blind. Yet, Lawson works with them, relaying that it’s her previous life that helps her have such an inclusive culture.

“One of the things that makes me a better Coach than a lot of the other Coaches out there is that I had a whole life before I did this,” she said. “I had a career. I had a family. I’ve experienced all the things these people go through on a daily basis. It’s not like so many Coaches that start doing this when they’re in their 20s and have never known anything else. So, I think I just relate to all these people.”

Lawson is now 45 years old and says her biggest piece of advice is to never stop learning. “Learn from your people,” she said. “Learn from your members. Learn from yourselves. And learn from all different sources, not just CrossFit. Of course, do all the CrossFit certifications you can, but go outside the Box and look for other answers.”

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at