Lauren "luluskie" Herrera: Athlete, Wife, Nurse - Using Fitness to Cope
Lauren Herrera, affectionally known as “luluskie” - if you’re one of her 80k Instagram followers, is a 2x Regional individual athlete and 3x CrossFit® Games team athlete. Not only is she absolutely stunning (inside and out), the cover girl and namesake for Chestee’s “LuLu” sports bra, she is a military wife, PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit ) nurse, and one of the sweetest, most humble athletes I have spoken with to date.
“I was scared of the barbell when I first started. I was okay with like 55# or just the barbell in workouts.” Now, Lauren has a one rep max snatch of 180#, according to her Games profile. “I would still get really scared when a one rep snatch was programmed up until about two years ago [she laughs]. It freaked me out for awhile.”
Lauren comes from a pretty eclectic fitness background: track, soccer, and volleyball, which turned into a “globo gym” membership after graduating college. “My boyfriend (now husband) was the one who actually got me into CrossFit®.”
Lauren’s husband was stationed overseas on deployment and like so many in the sport received his first introduction on his base. When the couple went to a CrossFit® class together for the first time, Lauren really didn’t even know what she was getting herself into. “I honestly thought he was taking me to an Orange Theory class, that was getting really popular at the time.”
Lauren’s husband paid for her first month after they took a class together. “I loved it. I left the gym feeling accomplished every day and I just kept going after that initial month.”
Baseline fitness? “I couldn’t even do pull-ups [Lauren laughs]. I started with a thick green band and I never wanted to do barbell stuff.”
Lauren’s only foundation came from playing sports in high school and being an active person. To say it was a long process in becoming the athlete we see her as now is an understatement. Even to this day, Lauren states she still gets way more excited about body weight movements and gymnastics than barbell work.
“I still get butterflies when I snatch heavy.”
How did Lauren go from a casual gym goer to a games competitor?
“My first open was in 2012, I started doing CrossFit® in 2011. Between 2012 and 2013 my husband had gone on deployment to Afghanistan. During that time all I did was work and train.”
In 2013 her ranking changed significantly: moving up into the top 250 in the region. By then, Lauren had finished her degree and was only working part time so she could focus most of her time and attention on training.
Lauren’s main goal was to quality for regionals in 2014, which she did.
“At the time that was one of the happiest days of my life. I remember thinking I just didn’t want to come in last. This was before the super regions were formed and I finished 6th that year when it was just Florida and Georgia.”
For Lauren, 2014 was a memorable season for so many reasons, not only because all of her family and friends were there supporting her, but also because her husband proposed to her on the competition floor. The nostalgia of that regional makes it stand out amongst the rest.
The following year Lauren qualified again. “I felt more alone in 2015 and more pressure. I love looking at my programming and seeing what I have to do and ticking things off the list, but that year I felt a lot of pressure to do well because everyone expected me to do better than my previous year.”
Lauren finished 11th, which would have been comparable to her 6th place finish before super regions were formed in 2015.
Coming off the 2015 season feeling a little bit burnt out, Lauren decided to take a break from her regular training. She dropped 10lbs of bodyweight that season to sit at 115lbs: a competitive weight class at the American Open and local weightlifting competitions. “It was hard to drop down in weight and realize that your numbers are also going to go down. Even though I was doing “good” weightlifting for my size- it was still a hard transition.”
Lauren trained only with the barbell working on her lifts for more than half the year.
“I found myself wanting to row or do some conditioning after my programming and my coach would need to reel me in. I started feeling that way a lot and realized how much I missed CrossFit®. Just having the barbell wasn’t enough, I missed breathing heavy.”
Coming from such a multi dimensional sport to just working with a barbell for six lift attempts in competition is difficult. You can blow an entire meet out of the water with three missed opportunities. The platform is silent and once a lift is failed there is no redemption. In CrossFit® we are allotted so many chances in competition. It was hard to forget about that.
Suddenly back at it, Lauren was asked to be on a team.
“I honestly didn’t know if I would be a good team player or if I could push hard enough for other people. As an individual I was in it for myself. If I let someone down it was all on me. Also, I mostly trained alone so I didn’t know how I would feel about that aspect of being on a team either.”
It only took Lauren a few training sessions in a team environment to be completely sold.
It was during her first year at regionals that Lauren and her husband owned and operated a gym together. “We had a third person going in with us who bailed at the last second so we downsized, and it became just the two of us running it and coaching all the classes.”
Lauren had a hectic schedule those first few months. She would wake up to coach from 5am to 10am and then train from the time of her last class till noon and break for lunch. From 2pm-4pm she would do her second session and then coach classes from 4pm to 8pm.
“People thought I was crazy, they couldn’t understand how I managed this schedule everyday. I had a little home at the gym with a comfy couch and air conditioning, I would nap there. I would wake up, stretch a little bit, and try to get my workout in before the 4:30 class would show up.”
Lauren and her husband owned the gym for three years. While she loved coaching, the stress of her schedule began grating on her.
“As a smaller gym we were doing well, but as time went by we started to let go of the reigns and let other people run it. With that, we lost a lot of members. People tend to get attached to one person and when they don’t see that coach they are used to, you lose people.”
Lauren began to feel disconnected from the business coupled with a desire to go back to school. Ironically, building management wanted to convert the gym into a restaurant so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to pursue other endeavors and explore a change.
Lauren’s mind first began to wander over to the thoughts of nursing school because of her background as a medical and research assistant while getting her college degree.
Lauren had a degree in exercise science and health promotion with the thought of continuing on to become a physical therapist. She took the GRE and completed extensive observation hours in order to apply. After which, she felt kind of on the fence about the whole endeavor.
“If you want to go back to school for something, you need to really be into it and I just wasn’t feeling that way about becoming a physical therapist.”
Becoming a PT is time consuming and expensive. It takes three years of your life and can leave you with tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt. You want to be pretty damn sure it’s the right thing for you.
“After having the gym for awhile I really didn’t know if I wanted to do PT anymore,” Lauren said. Once she walked away from the business, Lauren came to the realization that there were so many different pathways she could go with a nursing degree, rather than being pigeonholed into any one setting or discipline. To Lauren, that was really appealing.
“I liked the idea of being able to choose where I wanted to be and feeling like I had a profession that was always in demand.”
Lauren also liked having more flexibility geographically. She didn’t know if her husband would continue in the military so it was nice to feel like she could pick up and move if she needed to and still have her own work.
“It all happened pretty fast. I got into nursing school, started an accelerated program that put me on track to finish in one year, and we moved to Miami. It was the hardest thing of my life.”
Lauren and her husband moved into a tiny apartment where she brought her rower and assault bike.
“I tried training with Alison Scudds out of Peak 360 and even though the gym was only 10-12 miles away, the traffic made it really hard. It would end up being an hour of commuting on top of school, which was just too much at the time with my course load.”
Lauren found a local gym that was more centrally located where she met a coach who was in the same nursing program as her. Quickly, they became friends and training partners.
“We could go to the gym if class got out early to get a quick workout in and it helped so much through the process. It's crazy how you meet people in this sport and they end up helping you out so much in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with the gym and in turn you evolve great friendships with.”
Like many of us, Lauren used the gym as a means of stress relief from the grind of her overwhelming course load.
Lauren also began her team training during the season. Once The Open started in January she would drive from Miami to West Palm Beach (about two hours) to do the workouts and be back in class on Monday morning.
“School would have been easier on me if I was just doing school, but I still wanted to be involved in CrossFit® and I wanted to be on a team. My husband would always tell me how crazy I was for driving back and forth so much.”
Lauren is a pediatric intensive care unit nurse. The kids on her unit range in age from newborns to 17 years old.
What was it like being so closely enmeshed in CrossFit® while also being in the healthcare industry?
“I think everything at the end of the day goes back to diet. Cancers can be derived from the fat in our bodies and some medications aren’t really necessary. You can do so much more with just changing your diet and exercising.”
“My perspective with healthcare is a little bit different though because I am dealing with children. I really only see diet and exercise coming into play with kids who have Type II Diabetes. Many times, the reason they get to this place where they are diagnosed has as much to do with the parents as the kids. They are both sometimes at fault.”
Lauren talks about how, unlike the world of adult medicine, she doesn’t see many situations where kids are sick because of non-compliance, diet, environmental, or lifestyle factors. Usually kids are born with congenital issues or chronic diseases.
“When I did my clinical and was exposed to the adult world of medicine I would just look at people and think to myself- ‘oh my god’ you have so many medical issues that could have been avoided simply though good diet and exercise.”
Lauren is quick to explain that is not the reason why she chose to work with kids. At first she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do but she knew she wanted to be in critical care.
“I love everything about it. I love going to work and having a variety of different conditions, age groups, and personalities. I also love the family aspect of it, especially dealing with parents.”
“People say to me all the time, ‘I cannot imagine the types of parents you must have to deal with on a daily basis.’ Sure, sometimes parents can take things out on the nurses, but mostly they trust us and are kind to us. There is something about being able to nurture [the kids] and be with them. I just love everything about my job.”
Sometimes you don’t get the outcomes you’d like for some kids, but as whole they are always progressing in the right direction, getting better. That aspect of Lauren’s job is very fulfilling.
“When I interviewed for my current position the central question they asked me was how I coped- ‘you’re going to see some really sad things here. How are you going to cope with that?’ My response to that was that I loved exercising. When I’m exercising I’m not thinking about anything else other than the task I have to accomplish. That’s how I cope.”
Lauren reiterated that her husband is military and he has always done things very ‘by the book’ for as long as she had been with him.
“He can be very strict. He has seen way worse than most people have. We don’t talk about those things but I feel like being with him… we have a strong heart. If we see something [bad] we don’t get too worked up about it -we think about the positive things that are coming out of what we are doing and it makes life easier.”
Lauren has moments where she leaves her shift and can’t help but think, ‘how will they do today or the next day, will they be there when I get back?’
“When you're in nursing school and you see a baby get intubated for the first time it’s heartbreaking. Then you get out in the field and you become adjusted to it, you have to because you have a job to do.”
When her shift is over regardless of what she has seen, heard, or felt Lauren knows she is making changes in the right direction. Today was a little bit better than yesterday.
With change upon us in the form of sanctioned events and new qualifying rules, I wondered where Lauren found herself fitting into the community now?
“I’m 29 and I’ll be 30 in June. I feel like I’m getting older. When I first started CrossFit® I was so lively in the sport and I loved everything about it, but over time CrossFit® has become more of a hobby and less of a priority.”
Lauren is no longer willing to miss a friends birthday or a family event to get a workout in. If she is tired from working, she will rest. No longer does she say no to things because she feels like she needs to be working out.
“When we sold the gym we kept a lot of the equipment, which we’ve utilized so much. We are always using that gym. I still go to my team gym to be around people and train but sometimes my schedule is so tight, the fact that we have a home gym is so convenient.”
Lauren would like to always be involved in CrossFit® and compete in some capacity. As long as her body allows it, she will do The Open and if someone needs a teammate, she will show up for that as well.
“The new qualifying rules affect our team this year but we actually weren’t planning on having a team. One of our guys is going back to professional golf, so it all kind of happened at the right time.”
Lauren’s plan for the 2019 season is…to have no plan.
“I’m really open this year. I don’t have a committed team. I might just do The Open and a few individual competitions and see if I qualify. Thats it. I don’t have anything solidified and I kind of like it that way because I’m a free spirit.”
Lauren also admits that she is getting to that point in her life where she really wants to think about having a family. Her and her husband have been together for over seven years and they both feel ready in all aspects of life.
“We want to start a family. People always say we have plenty of time to have kids we just want to get to that point sooner rather than later.”
With a heart as big as Lauren’s, there is no question she will make an amazing mom. Until that day, she has plenty to keep her busy: including inspiring other athletes through fitness and saving little lives in the quiet morning hours while most of us are fast asleep.
She is truly one of the good ones.
Lauren “luluskie” Herrera
By: Genevieve Gyulavary
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