“My Hiller Challenge,” Part 3: Be Braver

Editor’s Note: This is the third part in a multiple-part series written by Athena Perez, chronicling the year-long challenge that she’s dubbed her “Hiller Challenge.” Throughout the year, Andrew Hiller, a prominent CrossFit YouTuber whose videos have inspired both die-hard followers and dissenters, will serve as Perez’s coach and they will both document the journey across social media (and in Athena’s words here). Read parts one and two now.

As soon as I was able to overcome the initial shock and surprise from many who discovered Andrew and I were working together, the comments I received began to express concerns about sustainability.

In the first several weeks of collaborating with Andrew, I was filled with a sense of elation at the progress we were making. By the time I reached the one-month milestone, I had lost a significant 25 pounds. 

Imagine lugging around a 25-pound weight all day — it’s no easy task!

However, some began voicing concerns that the pace of my weight loss was too rapid. Many of these apprehensions came from other coaches within the community, while others in my circle worried that my new direction would lead to a loss of interest in being the LBA [Larger-Bodied Athletes] advocate I had always been. They feared that I would lose interest and people would be left behind. Such a thought had never even grazed my mind. 

In fact, I saw it as an opportunity to strengthen my passion even further. I never saw Scaled Nation [Perez’s fitness education company and CrossFit Affiliate] as a hobby; it is my life’s work.

[Read: Part 1 and Part 2 of Athena Perez’s “Hiller Challenge” series]

But even after a month, Andrew hadn’t seen me in action, in real-time. Everything takes on a different dimension in a live setting, and in my own opinion, it was becoming increasingly important for him to understand my physical journey: the surgeries I had endured, the recovery process, and my current abilities. 

There were things I could do and things I couldn’t—at least not yet. 

The only way to truly bridge these gaps was to meet in person and we set a date to make that happen.

Meeting Up With Andrew

I wasn’t apprehensive about the trip to Chicago to work with him. However, as I nestled into my airplane seat, gazing out the window, I found myself immersed in contemplation. 

Would our in-person interactions be as harmonious as our weekly check-ins and daily banter had suggested? I wasn’t certain, as there was still so much about him that remained unknown.

It was a bright and early Saturday morning; the air was crisp and cold, but the sun was shining brightly. As I pulled into the driveway, I switched off the car, let out a deep sigh, and muttered to myself, “Okay, here we go.” 

I began to approach the house, but I could already see Andrew descending the steps to greet me. As I drew nearer, his initially furrowed brow relaxed into a broad smile, and I knew everything was going to be fine. His warm, welcoming hug instantly dissolved any lingering nervous or anxious energy I had been harboring.

[Related: The 10 Best CrossFit Athletes of 2023]

Within 30 minutes, I was standing over him, utterly captivated by his piano playing. His self-taught talent was mesmerizing; he could effortlessly play any sheet music placed before him. Sight-reading, while complex, was possible. However, when I asked him to pause and select a random song from his phone’s playlist, he looked puzzled but complied. 

We sat in silence for about 30 seconds, letting the song play, before I challenged him to replicate it on the piano. After a few adjustments to find the right tone, he astonishingly began to play it. I was awestruck. He had perfectly memorized the song, note for note. He had remarkable memory, a keen sense of pitch, and extraordinary pattern recognition skills.

It was an emotional moment for me, as it shed light on his unique thought process and his penchant for spotting flaws first. Patterns, being repeatable and certain, made sense to him. As I watched him play, in my brain, his videos flickered past again and suddenly took on a new depth because his content focus was on rigid rules, routine, and intolerance for deviations from the “norm.” He is very black and white in a world of a million colors.

That rigid “black and white” reminded me of the importance of my reactions, not just with him, but with anyone. 

I am in a position where I could face negative feedback or criticism. While no one enjoys either, they can provide an incredible opportunity for self-reflection. 

It’s a moment for me to question why any particular criticism would affect me in any given way. Is there truth in it? Sometimes, the harshest stings occur because there is indeed truth in the criticism.

[Related: The CrossFit Karen Workout, Explained and Scaled for Every Skill Level]

A little later, we strolled into Costco for some shopping. I was eager to introduce Andrew to the recipes he’d glimpsed in my daily photos. As he ambled along, he was engrossed in assembling his camera setup. 

Instantly, I felt my face redden and my eyes widen at the mere thought of becoming a spectacle. My internal panic must have been evident in my chatter and facial expressions as Andrew turned to me as we entered the store and said, “Athena, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission. I want you to be brave.” 

His words were bold and resonant, echoing the famous saying of Admiral Grace Hopper. I’ve always held this sentiment close to my heart, not as a license to exploit situations, but as a nudge to push boundaries when necessary. Though Admiral Grace meant it differently, I took the nudge as “Hey,  sometimes you just need to understand that life is full of naysayers, and sometimes, you just have to take a leap of faith, roll the dice, and say, WTF.’” 

Despite my belief in this philosophy, I don’t embody it as much as I’d like. I yearned to be braver. Ready or not, Andrew had just thrust me into the fast lane. 

How does one gain confidence in anything? By simply doing it.

The second day of my trip brought even more enlightening lessons for me, but that’s a story for another chapter.

The Journey So Far

Here’s a quick look at where I’m at in my journey:

Day #: 42


I’ve shed 28.5 pounds.  

I’ve lost 18.75 inches and nearly two dress sizes.


Releasing control is a daunting task for me. In moments of ambiguity, I often find solace in maintaining a sense of control.  However, I’ve come to realize that the truth is quite the opposite.

Invest in others. Make it a point to learn about the people around you. Ask them questions, truly listen to their responses, and show genuine care. It’s not just about knowing them but about valuing their experiences and perspectives.

Building unshakable confidence requires some conquering of the inner critic.

Featured image: @athenamariebt/Instagram

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