I began doing CrossFit in June 2013. Horribly out of shape and overweight, I made a decision to change my situation. It wasn’t easy. Athletic things came easy for me much of my life. In my late 20s, I stopped making my health a priority and began to gain weight and lose fitness. From there started a downward cycle. Trying to climb the fitness mountain seemed daunting. And the slide continued.
My wife had already been doing CrossFit for about a year. She was hooked. I saw how much she was enjoying it. I told her I would try it. She was encouraged…albeit skeptical that I would last. I was skeptical that I would last.
So many things went through my head before I started:
I’ve never been last at anything athletic that I can remember. I had to come to grips mentally that I would be last now. It was the largest mental hurdle that I had to tangle with. I knew everyone in the gym would be fitter, faster, more flexible and stronger than me.
I kept seeing mention of the term ‘community’ on CrossFit websites and I didn’t understand what that meant. It made no sense to me. I was used to ‘team’. Team means to showcase the best and replace the weak link. I didn’t want to be the guy that everyone felt sorry for. I would soon learn what community meant.
I sat in the parking lot before my first On-Ramp Introductory class. Walking those last few steps was perhaps one of the more difficult things I have done. We started the warm-up. It was simple dynamic stretching. I was already struggling. We then ended the warm-up with a 400m run with a coach’s instruction to not leave anyone behind. I didn’t make it 50m. As I struggled to catch my breath, two wonderful people, Katherine and John, walked with me that last 350m.
The start of my CrossFit journey was slow and steady. I began learning the movements and learning what I needed to do to scale each exercise to be self-sufficient. I enjoyed it.
Each WOD provided new challenges. As my body adjusted to pain and soreness, I became more comfortable with each movement. My mobility slowly started to improve so I could do the basic moves without too much discomfort. I took last every day, every WOD, nearly without exception. My results were the worst on the entire board everyday.
Most times at the end of class, I would walk close to the board to give the coaches my time, my rep, or my barbell weight. I struggled with the embarrassment of last place and being the worst.
Finding the right gym for me was key. The coaches at our gym are great. They understand what I need to do to scale and be successful. Every coach not only seems technically strong as an instructor, but they also provide a good mix of motivation and care and concern. In addition to the encouragement from coaches, my gym-mates would even cheer me on as I tried to finish each workout. I wasn’t expecting that. Was that the ‘community’ I had heard so much about?
Nine months into my CrossFit journey, I was making some progress. I still had last place solidly locked up, but I was getting stronger, more flexible, and fitter. The CrossFit Open was coming fast and I knew the question would be asked—Are you going to sign up? I had never done any workout at RX. I wasn’t even close much of the time. Many of the basic movements I knew would be programed in the Open I could still not do. For example, I still scaled pull-ups to ring rows or box pull-ups. Every time I was asked and encouraged to sign-up for the Open, I always said no.
Thursday morning before the first Open workout was announced, I signed up.
First on the list was double-unders and power-snatch. I had never done a double-under. I viewed it as a good opportunity to practice them and went into it with the attitude that it was a good time to learn. I signed up for my heat. The gym was buzzing with excitement and packed from wall to wall.
I walked out onto the competition floor at my prescribed time. I looked around and I was the only one standing there. Somehow, this was a heat of 1—me. I was used to being last and used to having people watch me struggle, but the spotlight heat scared me. There was no turning back. I turned to my coach and said, “My goal is 1.”
“3-2-1-Go”. My plan was to pace myself and work steady to hit one double-under. I planned on using the entire 10 minutes to get that one rep. I hit my first double-under in the first minute. My gym was excited. They cheered and yelled, but no one was more surprised than me. I didn’t know what to do next. I had not planned for success. In the end, I completed a total of 8 reps. I was tired from 10 minutes of jumping rope, but 14.1 was complete and I was on the scoreboard.
14.2 brought a new challenge: overhead squat and chest-to-bar pull-ups. Pull-ups were not going to happen and for me to hit an overhead squat I would need to hit a PR by 15 pounds. Somehow, I completed 6 reps in the 3 minutes. I felt proud of my accomplishment.
The next week of deadlifts and box jumps provided a new challenge. Somehow again, (I figured this was my Open curse) I was the only person in the entire heat. Before my heat, all lanes were packed. After my heat, all lanes were packed. For my heat, it was just me. My PR for box jump was 20 inches and I had only completed 1 rep. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do a 24 inch box jump. After I completed the deadlift, I turned to the box. I lacked the mobility to step-up to the box, but I didn’t want to quit without trying. The crowd cheered my first few attempts.
And then I missed. I missed badly. I missed very ungracefully and ended up crashing into the wall and in an embarrassing mess on the gym floor. The crowd went silent. My shin was dripping blood. I was angry for missing. I was angry for signing up. The voice in my head yelled to get up and not quit. A new surge of adrenaline and endorphins pushed me to my feet. I got up.
Then something unexpected happened. I made it. And then I hit it again. Despite the blood and pain, I completed the required 15 reps and made it back to the bar for a few lifts before time expired.
My score was poor, but I was happy to have completed my third event.
That day I learned about community. People I barely knew told me how I inspired them. I didn’t understand. I just humiliated myself. I was limping, in pain and bleeding. I took last place, yet people were encouraging me and patting me on the back for a job well done. That day I learned that community was about the shared struggle. It is about recognizing people trying their best.
Next week, 14.4 was a pleasant row for me. I was unable to progress to the next movement because toes-to-bar are out of my reach.
The final week brought burpees and thrusters. I am horrible at burpees. When the coach reviews proper burpee technique with a class, he points out all the things not to do. Everything he says not to do is how I complete them.
Before this workout, my coach asks me if I want to scale the workout. He knows I am horrible at burpees. I see the look of concern on his face. Without hesitation (or maybe defiance), I say, “No, I want a score.” I’ve gone four weeks and bled to get a score. I didn’t want to quit now.
As the clock starts, I settle into a steady pace to complete the work. Today, I will not be saved my friends called AMRAP and Time cap. It is just me, my barbell, and my willingness to not quit.
The thruster weight is a PR. I struggle early. My body hurts everywhere. Tonight, the voice in my head tells me to quit. I want to quit. My coach/judge, Shelby, is the same judge that I have had for each week of the Open. For the past month, she always seemed to know what to say. She is awesome and I am grateful for her support. She balanced pushing me, yelling at me, coaching me and feeling sorry for me. Tonight, she asks me if I want to quit.
I keep fighting that voice. The voice ten months ago that told me I was crazy. The voice ten months ago that told me I couldn’t do it. Rep by rep, I try to just keep moving. I learned cursing the barbell doesn’t make it lighter and you don’t feel rested lying on the gym floor. The voice in my head slowly changes from telling me to quit to telling me that I can’t quit.
As my last 6 reps were approaching, all of the spectators in the gym cheered every rep. I was overcome with appreciation for this community. I loved the community. I felt their care and excitement for what I was accomplishing. It meant everything to me. I completed the workout with a time of 1 hour, 3 minutes, and 38 seconds. It is one of worst times in the world (literally—check the leaderboard), but I didn’t care.
I actually completed the workout. I even completed it RX. My name had an RX behind it. Like an “I Love Mom” tattoo on a sailor, I had CrossFit’s badge of honor.
Afterward, people sent me notes of praise and recognition. I had a lot of time to read them as I could barely walk for the next few days. The Open was over. I succeeded in a way I couldn’t imagine. And I took last place. I took last place in my gym. I took last place in my region. I nearly took last place in the world. But that isn’t why I succeeded.
Somehow in the end, I was proud. I wasn’t proud of last place. I was proud of what I started 10 months ago. Out of shape and feeling trapped, I competed. I posted a score every week and had many PRs.
But more important, I learned what community means. It is more than a collection of people that go to a gym. It is coaches and athletes. It is friends. It is people that care about your success. It is people that cheer where you are going more than where you are at today. I am grateful for the coaches and especially our gym owners, Molly and Stephen. I am thankful for my community.