A lot has happened for Christmas Abbott in the seven months since she made it to the finale of Season 19 of the CBS reality show "Big Brother."
For one, Abbott, who was based in Raleigh during her time on the show (she didn't win), has relocated to Tampa, Fla. But she still owns her Crossfit Invoke gym in Raleigh and is back here about once a month.
But the biggest change is one that's only just beginning for her: In October, Abbott will become a mom.
"I'm actually really, really excited," Abbott said in a phone interview last week. "I’m hoping to share my experience through pregnancy and motherhood. I’ve always had a lot of questions about that over the years and I’ve always said, 'Look, I can’t advise you personally.' … but now I can!"
Abbott is also guest speaker at a Walter magazine WINi 2018 event in Raleigh this weekend, a Ted Talk-type gathering at which local women role models share their personal journeys.
'It's almost like Stockholm Syndrome'
It's significant that Abbott made it all the way to the end of the psychologically and sometimes physically grueling reality show, particularly considering the severity of her foot injury. At the time she described her broken foot this way: "It looked like a bomb went off in my foot."
Abbott — who worked as a civilian contractor in Iraq in 2004, started Crossfit training in 2006 and became the first woman to work in a NASCAR pit crew in 2012 — had 10 broken bones from the freak accident, four dislocated bones and one ligament that had to be reconstructed. Surgeons had to use a donor bone in one place, and she was told she would not regain full mobility — meaning an end to competitive Crossfit training.
But the mental and emotional aspects of being confined with 16 other contestants inside a house and isolated from the outside world also takes its toll. The houseguests compete in physical challenges, form alliances, form counter-alliances, manipulate and backstab — and all of it is captured by the dozens of cameras tracking their every move and recording their every conversation.
Abbott described the aftermath as being a combination of post-traumatic stress and Stockholm Syndrome.
"It's kind of like this weird dichotomy of feelings," Abbott said. "It's a psychological warfare experiment. ... People are paranoid and you don’t know who to trust. It just amplifies all the negativity of what I think human behavior is. But on the flip side of that, it’s also one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.
"I really didn’t understand how shell-shocked I was until recently, to be honest," she said. "I had separation anxiety. I felt so much anxiety on a daily basis. I had social awkwardness. You’ve been conditioned for three months in social isolation — it takes its toll."
Abbott said she just started feeling more like herself in January.
"It took three months out, at least, to really kind of find my stride," she said. "But I was very proactive — meditating, journaling, reaching out to my fans who shared the experience, and being as transparent as possible about my healing process and where I was."
Even so, Abbott says she would love to do it all again.
"Crazy enough, I really want to go back in the house!" she said. "I was still in the chaos of trying to decompress and come out of my shell shock and people were like, 'would you do it again?' and I’m like, 'absolutely.' It’s almost like Stockholm Syndrome. I mean, I loved loved loved 'Big Brother.' I really, truly did."
As for her foot, "It’s a work in progress," she said.
Abbott had the hardware taken out in December and has been doing rehab since.
"I have about three months before it's been a year mark, and it still hurts me every day," she said. "I still have a little bit of a limp sometimes, and sometimes it swells up. I haven’t gone a whole day without feeling it in some frustrating way. But it’s getting better, slowly, and I’m just anxious to get to where I really want to be."
'Big Brother' bonds
Abbott said she has remained friends with most of the people from her season of the "Big Brother" house, but it's no surprise she's closest to her ride-or-die co-finalists, Paul Abrahamian and Josh Martinez.
"The closer relationships have continued," she said. "Josh and I still keep in contact pretty regularly. Paul and I keep in contact. Alex — can’t wait to see her again. Those are the primary ones I’ve kept in contact with.
"It’s that shared experience. You only know what you’ve been through if you’ve been in the house."
A couple of housemates she likely won't be inviting to her baby shower are Cody Nickson and Jessica Graf, who went from their "Big Brother" ouster to win this past season of "The Amazing Race."
"I know they won, and that’s awesome and congratulations. I’m not disgruntled about anything," Abbott said. "If I had the opportunity to do ('Amazing Race'), I would have done the same thing. But inside the house they played a game I didn’t respect or like. It was kind of an awful game. But they apparently played 'Amazing Race' much better."
In training for motherhood
What lies ahead for Abbott promises to be more challenging — and more rewarding — than anything "Big Brother" could offer.
Abbott is expecting a baby boy in October with Benjamin Bunn. The two started dating this past October, but met the year before at a charity event. Bunn is a Crossfit athlete and gym owner in Tampa, and a former Army paratrooper.
"We were just kind of friends for a long time and then started dating," she said. "We're both kind of surprised by this and we have the same goals and aspirations for this, and that is to be amazing parents, to have an awesome, healthy, loving relationship, and make this our own journey and not have to conform to traditional expectations."
And Abbott is eager to take what she is learning as a pregnant athlete and help give other women the tools they need to stay fit before, during and after pregnancy. She's filming a series of videos in June or July — "when I'll be real, REAL big," she said — that will be available on her website around August.
"I'm hoping to show more moms that pregnancy doesn't start when you get pregnant, it starts before, and your health and wellness is dependent on the before, during and after."
It's part of Abbott's overall mission to promote health and wellness through education.
"That’s what my passion is," she said. "It’s not being fit, it’s the education of health and wellness — and that’s nutrition, that’s workout and that’s also mindset and understanding the balance of life."
For Abbott, the author of two books, that balance includes continuing to work out and lift weights in a safe way.
"People were kind of losing their minds that I'm working out so much during my pregnancy," she said. "And I have to continuously remind them that I’m lifting about 50 to 60 percent of what I was before and I’m giving about 50 to 60 percent of what my effort and metabolic conditioning was before. Me lifting 200 pounds is not heavy for me. So it’s all subjective.
"I’m just training for a healthy labor, that’s my next competition," she said.
'We're not these fragile creatures'
Abbott stresses to women that they should ask their doctors lots of questions about exercise, and ask them to explain the science behind the answers.
"I'm encouraging women to ask their doctors 'why,' but also give their doctor a history of where they are in their athletic capability right now, because that is different for each person.
"I just want people to know that we’re not these fragile creatures that have to sit around and become lazy and open the opportunity for depression and postpartum depression," she said.
The one thing Abbott has put on hold for sure is appearing on more reality shows — for a while, at least.
"Now with the pregnancy, I’m obviously going to shelf that experience of my life and appreciate it and take all the love I can from it," she said. "And you know, if ('Big Brother') is still on in 20 years and my son wants to go on 'Big Brother,' it’s gonna be his choice."
See Christmas Abbott at Walter WINi 2018
When: Noon on Sunday, May 6
Where: The Umstead Hotel & Spa, Cary
Details: Enjoy lunch while five panelists share 5-minute talks about their individual journeys. During dessert, there is a session about social media literacy. Speakers are Christmas Abbott, Lara O'Brien Munoz, Molly Paul, Kaitlin Ryan and Charlotte "Lotta" Sjoelin.
More info: waltermagazine.com/featured/wini