The Perfect Fit: Frank Uhlarik’s Crossfit JourneyAug 29, 2022 03:55PM ● By Terry Jensen
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Frank Uhlarik got the news no one wants to hear back in 2018. Diagnosed with stage-three colon cancer, his treatment required surgery, followed by chemotherapy. His doctors were optimistic, due to Uhlarik’s passion for fitness. His physical constitution and commitment to nutrition gave him a fighting chance.
For Uhlarik, fitness came naturally. As a boy, he camped and fished. In high school, he was on the wrestling team at Omaha Bryan, going on to wrestle for the Colorado School of Mines, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in geological engineering in 1984.
Although Uhlarik’s career as Sustainability and Compliance Administrator for the City of Lincoln keeps him busy, spending time with his active family is a priority. Along with boating and fishing at their cabin in the Ozarks, Uhlarik and his wife, Paula, enjoy traveling. Favorite destinations include Washington State and Montana. This spring, they visited Hawaii for the first time.
Staying active is a big focus in the Uhlarik’s marriage. They belonged to several gyms, health clubs, and kept workout equipment at home, though ultimately grew restless. Even working with personal trainers couldn’t keep them engaged for long. "We’ve always been active, and our kids were all active in sports and continue to this day.
“But in 2009 or 2010 we kind of hit a dead zone, more or less. We were thinking, ‘Gosh, what’s something else we can do?’” Uhlarik explained.
It was Paula Uhlarik who first discovered CrossFit. “My wife’s kind of the ring leader-she got us into it. She had an interest in the weight training portion. I like the aerobic work. I’m built for running. I’m not a heavy lifter,” Uhlarik said.
They quickly discovered CrossFit classes combined gymnastics, weightlifting, and endurance training to create challenging workouts. The CrossFit lifestyle incorporates healthy nutrition and effective exercise to promote overall fitness.
Intrigued, they attended a complimentary session.“They brought us through a workout and I about died. I think it was tough for Frank, too. But we decided to go that way, and we’ve been there ever since,” Paula said.
It’s the variety of CrossFit that appeals to the Uhlariks. “There’s some things we can all do well, and some things we struggle with, but that’s the beauty of it. ‘Cause every day you can come in and look at the workout and adapt it to however you can achieve the results you’re seeking,” Frank said. CrossFit workouts change daily, with members attending as often as they like. The Uhlariks try to workout four days a week. When traveling, they visit another CrossFit location so they don’t miss too many days. They’ve visited facilities in Montana, Alabama, and Colorado, though like the instructors and environment at CrossFit Omaha best.
The Uhlariks have been members of CrossFit Omaha for about 12 years. Head Coach and Director of Fitness Programs Stacie Tovar was a member before becoming co-owner of the facility in 2016. She remembers being impressed with Uhlarik’s dedication and energy from the start. “Every time we ran, it was inevitable you had to run a hill at some point in the run.”
“And Frank, at his age, literally passed me. I had no juice; I could not go any faster, and was so mad about that. But I was like, ‘wow, that is incredible’” Tovar said. She admires Uhlarik’s commitment. “I actually want to be like Frank when I grow up,” she said.
Finding a way to channel his energy hasn’t always been easy for Uhlarik.“I’m naturally anxious, I have anxiety. I’ve done medication in the past and I just didn’t care for that. But my best medication is here in the gym.
“Being able to calm my mind and focus, and recognize that getting this thing done or that thing done, really...doesn’t matter,” Uhlarik said.
Ultimately, CrossFit helped Uhlarik find balance. “It’s state-of-mind, it’s healthy eating, it’s the fitness component, and the community.
“All four of those, they vary by person. It kind of goes back to that anxiety issue. My wife can see it: if a couple of days, three, four, maybe a week for whatever reason I don’t get in the gym, she’ll say, ‘You need to go to the gym, Frank’ and it’s not because I’m necessarily unfit, it’s because she can see it in my behavior. That’s pretty revealing to me,” Uhlarik said.
Paula agrees, once telling: Frank “’You know I love you all the time, but I like you better when you work out.’ He’s like an Energizer Bunny.” Both believe CrossFit has strengthened their relationship. There are partner workouts, and the couple often teams up on the workout of the day. “Just as long as she doesn’t critique my form,” Uhlarik joked.
The CrossFit community does more than work out. The Uhlariks enjoy the many social events that are an important part of the lifestyle. Every month, there are several opportunities to get together before or after CrossFit events.
“One of the ones I did for the first time this year is called a ‘Beer and Burpees’ event, where you’re required to chug a beer and do a series of burpees, which is a drop to the floor, jump up, clap your hands and go do it again. It’s quite the event, and people dress up in team costumes and whatnot. It’s a lot of fun,” Uhlarik said.
By the time he received his cancer diagnosis, CrossFit was a way of life for Uhlarik.
“We had been here [CrossFit Omaha]seven or eight years when I was diagnosed in August of 2018,” Uhlarik said. Doctors supported his continuing workouts while undergoing treatment. “It sure helped me get through cancer by being healthy to begin with, and continuing to a level I could.”
“There were even a few occasions where I would come in with my pump, my chemo pump, and move as best as I could. I can tell you, that was challenging at times,” Uhlarik said.
The CrossFit community also offered support.“Outside of wrestling in high school or college–the community, the connection, and the camaraderie–since then, I really haven’t encountered anything...like CrossFit,” Uhlarik said.
Three years later, Uhlarik is still committed.“I actually get up in the morning and think, ‘I get to go to CrossFit today!’”
He believes the strengths he found through CrossFit helped him survive his cancer. “Not only the fitness aspects–the aerobic and the strength training–but in this environment we’ve learned a lot about dietary issues that we wouldn’t have otherwise come across.”
“Healthy eating, fitness, social, all those elements stack up to help you fend off whatever comes your way, the best that you can,” he explained.
For Uhlarik, that means he can now devote time and energy to what really matters. He considers his family his greatest success. “A successful marriage and three healthy, by all accounts happy, children and son-in-laws and six beautiful grandchildren…there’s really nothing else that really compares,” Uhlarik said.
Visit bigomahafitness.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.