It’s months later and still you think about how you left her laying there. You just walked out and left. How could you have done that?
You were tired. She was too, or so you imagined. There really was nothing left to say. It had been a good run, and like all good things, it had ended. Suddenly, badly. There were tears. You weren’t proud of the things you said.
Sometimes, things don’t work out, no matter how much your heart wants them to, no matter how great your desire, no matter how much you love. They just slip out of your hands. You know that now. You knew that even then.
Something goes wrong and, as much as you don’t want it to end, you simply must walk away. Rest. Heal. Try again when you’re ready.
But still how you left her stays in your memory. Haunts you. Wakes you up in the dark hours, with the memories playing over and over in your mind like some video streaming from hell.
You really should have put that barbell back in the rack.
Some of us slipped away a pull-up at a time. One pull-up. Then another. Maybe on a band. Maybe even to full extension. A couple of deadlifts later, the path started to show itself. That’s how we wandered off from our lives. Or what we thought was life.
Some of us ran. Like the “Go” at the end of “3-2-1-Go!” was what we had been waiting to hear, all these mornings and evenings of our lives, biding our time until fresh, cold air blew into our lungs from a suddenly opened door.
It wasn’t that our past lives were so bad, so horrible, so wretched. Mostly, they were nice enough, beautiful in some cases, and yet they were beautifully killing us. Or maybe just hurting us in ways that would eventually choke some crucial artery and leave us light-headed on the floor with time running out and wondering as our breath became labored and our sight lines dimmed,“What the hell happened? How did I get here?”
The pain of that former life wasn’t always dramatic. Mostly, it was banal and insidious. A dull pain that we had grown to accept. A pair of uncomfortable shoes that we wore, not ever really knowing how shoes should feel, assuming that the problem was our feet, our minds, our thoughts. Until the pain wasn’t there anymore. The pain that we were so used to, the pain that felt like home. We had just assumed that this was how life moved, how time passed — for everyone.
But we had been wrong. So wrong. At least for us. It was like we had lived among people who spoke our language but we didn’t know our language was not ours. It was theirs. And we didn’t have to speak it. Like lost travelers, we only had to find our way to where others were speaking our words, and we could understand them so simply, like we had known them all of our lives.
Nicole Carroll once said about the murky bog of poor nutrition: “You’re so used to feeling like crap, you don’t know what it feels like to feel good, to feel wonderful.”
Then we glimpsed it, we tasted it, we felt it, we knew it – this good, this wonderful, this suddenly vibrant life. And those of us bold enough to run, we ran. Or maybe bold is not the right word. Maybe we were just scared enough. Or desperate enough. Maybe crazy enough. We ran away from what and who we were, towards who we could become, who we always wanted to be.
And now, here we are.
And now, I have to ask, what will we do with this freedom? What will we do with this power, this vision, this new life? What will we do on this day alone? This next hour? How will we not waste this new life? How?
“I would like to go for a ride with you, have you take me to stand before a river in the dark where hundreds of lightning bugs blink this code in sequence: right here, nowhere else! Right now, never again!” —Amy Hempel, “Tumble Home”
She was probably ten years younger than me, but she seemed older. Maybe it was the extra thirty pounds. Her long blonde hair hung almost to her waist, but it bounced a little (along with her middle) as she stepped out of her car in our parking lot. I watched her place a McDonald’s bag on the Chevy roof, followed by a drink carrier.
McDonald’s. Lord, it had been years since I had seen one of those bags near CrossFit.
It brought me back to the time that Tooner had brought a Big Mac and a large Coke to (the old) CrossFit Watertown, thinking he could eat his lunch and watch the noon class tackle the workout. He looked surprised when I kicked him out. I said, “These people came here to get away from bad choices. Don’t be flaunting that stuff in front of them.” Tooner limped off like a kicked dog. He really had meant no harm.
I tried to imagine who this woman with the Mickey D’s bag was, and why she was eating this food that I knew was death. It seemed like she worked in the church downstairs. I imagined she had a job, four kids, and a husband named Ed, who was (of course) balding and fond of short-sleeve dress shirts. Ed loved sports on television and bowled on Tuesday nights with his old high school buddies. He still had a hard time saying he loved his wife, and he often called her “Mother.” She had learned not to mind. She was a mother, after all. Even with his paunch and his hair loss, Ed still thought he was a catch. This woman, she didn’t think that anymore about Ed, and most certainly not about herself. Life had worn on her, but society had worn on her more. Taught her conflicting messages for her entire life: you can be whoever you want to be, but you should be what we would like you to be. Servile, subservient, a worker in the “caring” professions, a mom, a second chair, not “too much” and certainly don’t cut your hair too short because we all know what women with short hair really are. “Did you get ketchup for the fries, Mother?”
All this from ten seconds of observation. I was so full of shit. How did I know she wasn’t a surgeon? How did I know she wasn’t a software developer? Maybe she was a confused, slightly manic writer, just like me. How did I know those McDonald’s meals were even for her? Maybe she ate Paleo and went to CrossFit. Maybe she had just changed to the green band on pull-ups. Maybe she had volunteered to do the lunch run for her co-workers and she planned to eat none of that crap. Maybe she had a perfect Zone meal (3 blocks) waiting for her in the refrigerator. Maybe she was looking at me and thinking, “What is up with that short-haired chick in the Mini?”Maybe she was imagining I had a hot girlfriend and a published best-seller. I often imagined those things too. Or maybe she just thought I was a judgmental asshole and the thought of people like me scared her away from trying the workout that could change her life.
She walked inside. I followed, smelling the hot fries all the way up the stairs.
“The only thing that we can know is that we know nothing, and this is the highest flight of human wisdom!” – Leo Tolstoy, “War and Peace”
You know what I love about sport? It doesn’t discriminate. The barbell doesn’t care if I’m gay or straight. It also doesn’t care if I’m black, or if my mom and dad were Latino or Lithuanian. The barbell doesn’t know that I’m a woman. A deadlift is a deadlift for me, or for a man or a child. The pavement doesn’t rise or fall under my feet because I prayed to this god and not that one. Burpees are burpees for the young and the old. Bumpers don’t give a damn where I live. Pain will come calling, no matter whether I have a lot or a little in my bank account.
And you know what I love about CrossFit? All CrossFit wants from me is effort and a desire to get better. The minutes and seconds tick off the clock at the same pace if I vote conservative, libertarian, liberal, or not at all. “Time!” is pronounced differently as a word in English or Russian or French, but it has the same meaning: your workout is finished. Sweat angels darken every mat.
In a world that tries to remind us of the differences between people, CrossFit reminds us that, fundamentally, we are all the same. In order to maintain our health, all humans need functional movement. And so here we have training centered on the concept that everyone needs these basic movements. And, in that CrossFit workout, we can make modifications for the differences between individual human beings while at the same time acknowledging our sameness. That’s a beautiful concept, simply and elegantly rendered. In our rush to improve, it’s something we rush by, but it deserves attention, and it deserves applause.
Thank you, CrossFit. In a world that often seems to be trying to tell me that I don’t belong, you tell me that I do.
I refuse to become one of the walking undead. The unwell. The quitters, the complainers, the crybabies. Those who say “Oh, well, I’m fat” and just accept it. Those who don’t even try. Those who won’t get off the couch and on the road to anything but the drive-through. I am so done with them.
Although I have reached what used to be quaintly referred to as “middle age” I no longer think of it as some green pasture to lay down in and count my money until I die. This is my prime.
I will not go gently into the good night. I will not let my body spread, my willpower relax, and my determination downgrade. I am making a stand here. Like Dylan Thomas, I am raging against the dying of the light.
I refuse to listen to “Oldies Rock” and wear “Mom” jeans and appliqué my sweatshirts with inane seasonal greetings. I won’t use the phrase “old enough to know better.” My body is older but I am better. I am fine.
I vow not to become one of those people who stroll past hard-working CrossFitters and sneer, “You’re not getting me to do that.” Instead, I will be one of those people who stop and ask, “How can I do that?”
I am not too old for triathlons; I am too young for complacency. The next forty years is a long time to sit on the sidelines. I am not too old for CrossFit; I’m too young for life on the f***ing couch.
I am not in the wrong place. I am, finally, in the right mind at the right time.
To me, CrossFit is like breathing. And, trust me, you don’t want to get between a woman and the source of her oxygen.
So, step aside, I’m taking my turn at the pull-up bar. And I brought some bands for my girlfriends so they can take this path too. Get used to us. We’re CrossFitting for the long haul. We will not go gently into that good night.
Even after all these years, I’m still amazed at how 13 minutes and 33 seconds of CrossFit can break my soul. That was the length of my WOD the other morning and it felt like 13 hours of doubting my worth as a human being, followed by 13 glorious seconds of celebrating before I turned again to improving my movement, my workout, my work, my love — to improving all of my life. All that from 13:33.
CrossFit doesn’t just take me up and down. CrossFit takes me deep. And up and down repeatedly, constantly, exasperatingly, and exhilaratingly throughout the WOD. In the span of time it takes most people to get through the Starbucks line, I become a queen and a peasant and every station in between. All because of a workout. All from a workout. All from my mind.
So when people say CrossFit is a just a workout or just a sport, I want to say, “Oh no. You’re just doing it wrong.” Or maybe I should say they are doing it on only one level. It’s okay if all you want is a workout, but it seems to me that CrossFit gets sweeter the deeper you go. You have to open your heart more, then your lungs. Open your soul more than your grip. Let the movement flood your moment. Flood your brain. Flood your spirit. Come up to the surface, take a breath, dive back down. Hold your breath. Hold your life. Hold whoever the hell you are, and accept those realities and those truths. Accept all of it.
Before you start to think this is just a bunch of spiritual nonsense or sexual innuendo (or both) consider just a few of the things that CrossFit does beyond workout or sport:
1.) CrossFit helps you figure out — truly — where you are at in so many ways. People talk about CrossFit helping them to manage their fears (and it does) but maybe it’s more than that. CrossFit helps people to manage their expectations. You learn to assess your strengths and weaknesses, before the WOD, during the WOD, and after the WOD. You effectively learn to intelligently inform your own thought process about what you can do and where your performance should rank. If you’re lucky (or determined) this attitude carries over into your work and your relationships.
2.) CrossFit keeps you centered. Through CrossFit, you are training yourself to celebrate achievement in small ways, but not rest on your laurels. There is always something more to achieve, something else to learn, and another skill to master. So you set a PR on your clean, but what about your jerk? What about your handstand push-ups? What about your double-unders? This outlook bleeds into your workday and your home life. Achievement is noted, but not considered the end. More learning and more skill work are expected everywhere.
3.) CrossFit teaches the lessons of sport, but it also carries that sport into your life in a comprehensive manner. Some people think this is a good thing, and some people think it’s a bit nuts. Zealots are popular guests often only in their own nation. But the truth is that, perhaps more than any other sport out there today, CrossFit encourages you to take what you learn inside the box to outside the box– into your nutrition, into your education, into your relationships, into your family, into your community, and into communities half a world away. Many workouts and sports have never seen anything close to the comprehensive human care exhibited by the CrossFit community.
You can’t breathe the air at your CrossFit affiliate and not inhale the intoxicating determination of a group of people committed to making themselves and their communities better. During the Open, it’s a contact high. Similarly, it’s impossible to watch the CrossFit Games and not be moved by the human spectacle of effort, triumph, loss, and love. CrossFit is more than a sport or workout, always has been and always will be. The community is what assures that reality and safeguards it.
Like Nicole Carroll said back in 2011: “I think what makes the Woodstock of fitness is the community. As long as the top competitors keep coming off the bar and they keep turning around and they keep cheering everybody else on to do the best they can, that spirit will never die.”
If there is one piece of advice I can offer you right now, it is this: Be you. Be original. Stop copying. Stop imitating. Stop chasing. Still your racing mind, and take stock of what you have to offer this world. Cry from your soul. Stop being who you are not, and simply be who you are.
If who you are is not good enough, get better. If your work is not original, tear it up. Start over. Tear it up again. Over and over. Until your blood does not bleed green with envy anymore, but bleeds a rich, luscious, vibrant, full-of-oxygen red. Until you bleed you.
This world has enough fakes and posers. More than enough. Unoriginality runs rampant through our streets like a virus, infecting all who are not strong enough to resist the siren call of false success. You do not have to be one more copy.
Avoid the “I never had a chance” folks. Don’t buy into their delusion. They will tell you sweeping stories of opportunities lost, of chances disappearing before their eyes like melting snowflakes, the winds of chance blowing away what they could have had. They are mistaken. They had a chance. Sadly, they lost it, or they were not strong enough to hang onto it. Give these people a hug and move on. They need your love, your sympathy, your understanding, but perhaps not your time or effort. These precious things are yours alone. Guard your moments. Give away what you should, and preserve what you must. Spend your time as if there is never enough of it. There never will be. This will all end one day and your screen will go dark.
Make your chance. Now. Today.
Remember this: very few people with a dream job or life started that way. Most started far lower, and worked and failed and worked and failed and worked and failed until they had a glimmer of success. And then they worked some more. And repeated that process again and again and again. In the wee hours, in the dark hours, in the “I’m so tired I just want to rest” hours. While others slept, while others played, while others only dreamed, the restless worked to get better until they were better. And then they kept working.
Know this: Success will not knock at your door until you bloody your knuckles knocking on the door of practice. And you may never find success. This is the chance you take. But you take it anyway because you love what you are doing. You crave it. You almost like it better than sex. Almost.
You have to not just want success; you have to earn success. No one can tell you the timetable, although many will try: “Do this, and then that will happen.” Bullshit. Your timetable, like great nutrition, is specific to you. You are feeding you. As much as you want to be like the others, you can’t be. You are an individual and so success will be individual to you. Right now, I have 224 drafts in my archives and 28 notebooks filled with writing. All or none of it may ever see the light of publication. That is the risk I take for getting the thoughts of my head. For being able to sleep without words waking me at night and whispering into my ear in the dark. This is the price I pay — this volume of effort that goes unseen — and I am happy to pay it. Another person may need 223 drafts and 27 notebooks. Or they may need only 1 and 1. I have heard some people get a muscle-up on their first try, or fall in love with the first girl they meet. Such is life.
But if you would be a success, I urge you to be this first:Original. Authentic. You.