She was 18 years old and had just graduated high school with dreams of performing on Broadway when a car accident led Natalie Bieule to have her right leg amputated below the knee.
“I got trapped in the passenger side and they had to use the jaws of life to remove me from the vehicle…I was in and out of consciousness. But I remember them hearing them say, ‘She’s bleeding internally,’” Bieule, now a Pembroke Pines, FL resident, recalls from the accident 20 years ago.
The details: The next thing Bieule remembers is waking up in the hospital with her mother at her side. “And I asked, ‘Can I still have kids?’ She was like, “They had to amputate your leg.’ And I was like, ‘That’s fine, we’ll figure it out,’” said Bieule, who with just five points is currently leading the women’s lower body extremity division of the Open heading into the final week.
After that, Bieule admits there were some obvious challenges “mostly just figuring out what my life would look like now,” she explained, but generally she said she was able to quickly adopt a positive mindset. She credits her strong, Cuban mother for this.
“My mother is a hard working, independent woman and she never made excuses for me. When other people felt bad for me, she was like, ‘She’s OK.’ It created a toughness in me, and I really think that my fighting mode really comes from my mom,” Bieule said.
She added: “I never allowed myself to think that my life was over….Life is never easy, but you just have to keep swimming against the current, and in the hard moments is when you have your aha moments…So from that age of 18, I just kept setting goals for myself. Little by little, it was always about what can I do next?”
What she did next: Bieule finished her university degree in psychology and became a teacher, had two children, found CrossFit and represented the United States at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, Brazil. “I always wanted to be a dancer, but to me the discus is like a dance, so I danced on the greatest stage in the world and represented my country,” she said of her Olympic experience.
Bieule started CrossFit in 2013 shortly after having her first of two children. “I wanted my daughter not to see her mama as someone who was missing a leg, but as someone doing things women with two legs are doing,” she explained of why she got into it in the first place.
In 2014, Bieule was also the first amputee to compete at Wodapalooza in Miami, FL. She competed with a prosthetic leg in the scaled division and placed 12th overall. “I’ll never forget the swim, row, run event. I was the seventh fastest out of the water, and fifth of the rowing machine, but then dead last on the run,” she said laughing. After that, she upgraded her prosthetic.
Bieule’s ultimate CrossFit goal is to compete at the CrossFit Games. “I am happy to see adaptive athletes be part of the Open this year, because it has been a long time coming, but I’d love to be able to compete at the CrossFit Games. I understand Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I want to stand there in that arena at the Games one day,” she said.
One big thing: Bieule credits the strength and fitness she gained through CrossFit with helping her break the national discus record within six months of picking up the sport.
“One of the main reasons I rose so quickly to the top…is because I came in so well prepared because of CrossFit,” said Bieule, who mostly follows Street Parking programming from her home gym.
The big picture: Whether or not she ever has the opportunity to compete at the CrossFit Games, Bieule will continue to do CrossFit, because it’s about so much more than the Games.
“It’s my therapy. It’s where I go to let go of things, where I let go of the hassles of being a mom and a wife and just remind myself what I’m capable of…Just because my leg is made out of carbon fiber doesn’t mean I can’t do it. Maybe I can’t go as fast, but I can still do it,” she said.