Pursuing Health

Cancer, Racism, and Speaking Up with Deb Cordner Carson PH147

June 9, 2020

The thing about it, she said, ‘Why are they destroying our city?’  And I said, ‘What if you were trying to get mommy and daddy’s attention and we weren’t paying attention to you? What would you do?’  She was like, ‘Well, I would talk louder.’  I’m like, ‘What if we still didn’t listen to you?’  She was like, ‘I would scream!’  And I was like, ‘What if we STILL didn’t listen?’  She was like, ‘I would be really sad. I would start crying.’  And I was like, ‘I know! And what if we STILL didn’t listen?  What if it went on all day long and we just didn’t listen to you?'  She was like, ‘I would be so upset. I would… I don’t know.’  And I was like, ‘Would you throw a fit? A tantrum?’  And she was like, ‘Yeah, I probably would. I’d probably throw my toys at you.’  And I was like ‘That’s kind of what happened, and then we would notice you because you would be making a mess, and we’d say ‘Sydney, Sydney, what’s wrong?’  And we would stand with you and try to calm you down and listen to you.’  So I said, ‘That’s kind of what happened with black people around the city.’  Definitely the first night. And people I think have realized what was going on, finally, and what black lives matters means and they were like, ‘Alright. You’re right.  We stand with you.’
- Deborah Cordner Carson


The CrossFit community may best recognize and remember Deborah Cordner Carson as the gutsy athlete who gave an inspirational performance at the 2012 CrossFit Games, overcoming a fear of open water swimming in the triathlon event and going on to win the 2012 Spirit of the Games award.  Deb could also be distinguished by the compression sleeve she wears on her left leg, and by the color of her skin.  Deb is one of the few black competitors in the sport of CrossFit.

Growing up, Deborah was inspired by great athletes in her family.  Her father came to America from Trinidad and Tobago on a track and field scholarship and her grandfather was the heavy weight lifting champion of the British Empire.  As a young girl she competed in gymnastics, and as a teenager she excelled in track and field, eventually earning a full scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa as a 400-meter sprinter.

When Deb developed lymphedema, a condition where fluid is retained in certain parts of the body and can cause dangerous swelling, she was forced to retire from her track and field career, but in time, she discovered ways to manage her condition- including that recognizable compression sleeve- while still being active.  She took up CrossFit and quickly rose to elite status in the sport, placing as high as 5th in the 2013 CrossFit Open and 13th at the 2012 CrossFit Games.

Since retiring, Deborah continues to do CrossFit for health, but she has also struggled with the heartbreak of multiple miscarriages, and most recently, a diagnosis of gestational trophoblastic disease, a type of pregnancy-related cancer.

Throughout her life, Deborah has been aware that the color of her skin means she's had to work harder for opportunities than others.  As a mother to two mixed-race little girls and a resident of the Minneapolis area, she also has a unique perspective on the recent events that have highlighted the ongoing systemic racism in our society.

I am grateful to Deb for taking a moment to share her perspective amidst all the other challenges she is currently taking on.  These conversations can be uncomfortable, but they're also important as we all strive to stand together and learn from each other.  In this episode, we chat about her experiences as a minority CrossFit Games athlete, the mentality she's using to fight her cancer diagnosis, the lessons she strives to teach her daughters, and how we should all speak up to overcome injustice and racial bias.


In this episode we discuss:

  • Deborah’s struggles with multiple miscarriages
  • How she is coping with the diagnosis of gestational trophoblastic disease, a type of pregnancy-related cancer
  • How Deborah’s experience competing in CrossFit helps her focus on the task at hand when it comes to tackling challenges
  • Her initial reactions to hearing about George Floyd’s death and the outrage in Minneapolis
  • Explaining the looting and rioting to her daughter
  • Deborah’s personal experiences with systemic racism and unconscious racism
  • How Deborah needed to be the best of the best to have the same opportunities as her white classmates
  • Deborah’s thoughts on why there’s a disconnect in people understanding the additional challenges a black person has to overcome
  • The lack of sponsorship opportunities available for a black CrossFit athlete
  • Her disappointment with CrossFit HQ’s silence
  • What it’s like to be a black athlete in the predominantly white sport of CrossFit
  • Ways that Deb approaches the topic of racism with her children
  • The importance of speaking up and making an effort to understand other cultures
  • Three things Deborah does on a regular basis that have the biggest positive impact on her health
  • One thing she thinks could have a big impact on her health, but she has a hard time implementing
  • What a healthy life looks like to Deborah

You can follow Deborah on Instagram


Related episodes:

Ep 10 - Jenny LaBaw on Running 500 Miles for Epilepsy Research and Education

Ep 15 - Lewis Howes on Chasing Greatness

Ep 70 - USA Track & Field Heptathlete Tiffeny Parker on Beating the Odds

Ep 137 - Rich & Hillary Froning on Putting Family First

If you like this episode, please subscribe to Pursuing Health on iTunes and give it a rating. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below and on social media using the hashtag #PursuingHealth. I look forward to bringing you future episodes with inspiring individuals and ideas about health every other Tuesday.

Disclaimer: This podcast is for general information only, and does not provide medical advice. We recommend that you seek assistance from your personal physician for any health conditions or concerns.

This post was originally published on June 8, 2020.

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