After a year of prodding by a neighbor, feeling the need to get fit before 40, and a whole lot of self-talk, I mustered up my courage and scheduled an appointment with the owner of our local affiliate. CrossFit sounded like my kind of workout: stripped down, personalized, guided and quick.
Then one chilly Thursday in March, I found myself in a yellow, industrial, concrete shell with no heat nestled behind an auto glass manufacturer and a door I wasn’t strong enough to open, enjoying the odor from the neighboring sanitation department and surrounded by chalky poles, stacked weights and clammy rubber, desperately trying to hold a push-up position.
An insightful, seemingly sensitive but stern coach who was guiding me through the session reached for AbMats to support the wide gap between the floor and my chest.
“She doesn’t need AbMats!” boomed the owner and head trainer.
“He seems to think I’m strong enough,” I thought. “Maybe this guy knows something I don’t.”
One push-up. Not bad.
Three. Not happening.
“Can I do them on my knees?” I asked the sensitive sergeant.
Before she could answer, the owner’s voice flew over my shoulder, reverberated off the concrete and knocked me in the jaw. “This ain’t no New York Sports Club fairy princess class! No. You cannot do push-ups on your knees.”
Who does this guy glued to that swirly chair think he is—the burning bush? Scared straight and getting the sense that he knew what he was doing, I kept my mouth shut and went back to work.
When my On-Ramp was over, Sensitive Sergeant said, “You are a strong person. The only one getting in your way is you.”
The Burning Bush stood up, smiled earnestly, gave me a high five and said, “Excellent job for your first time.”
Their disciples, who cheered me on during the timed portion of my workout, came over and did the same. And when I hobbled out, my body feeling like a dented can of preserves, a golden goddess of a woman smiled and said, “No matter what, just keep coming.”
I heeded the advice, knowing discomfort was coming my way, but not realizing I was about to get more than I bargained for.
As a teenager, I was the big-boned girl who couldn’t climb the rope in gym, the non-risk-taking solid citizen who longed for validation, and the secretly shy, moderately social, but most certainly insecure person who soldiered through life alone, never getting too tight with anyone, especially a group of girlfriends. CrossFit resurfaced, challenged and then chipped away at each of those lingering childhood discomforts.
In CrossFit, egos are checked at door. Because the only way to get fit, fast and strong in a place like this is to take risks, be vulnerable, put yourself out there, make mistakes and trust your coaches and classmates. And for someone like me, that was slightly unsettling. But I did it anyway, and I started to get better.
Success is magical. Whether it’s running 400 meters without stopping, throwing a weight over your head, doing a pull-up, getting into a handstand, jumping rope like Rocky or beating a personal best, you feel like you did as a kid learning to ride without training wheels or whistling for the first time. The emotion is pure, unbridled elation especially if you never imagined you’d be able to do it.
Gaining ground, being pushed to my physical and mental edge, and kindling that inner flame time and time again convinced me that I wasn’t as limited as I thought and encouraged me to draw on my strength consistently in and outside the gym. I got out of my own way, and eventually climbed that rope.
However, the CrossFit picture isn’t always pretty. Things can and do get raw. But anytime I hit a wall, needed guidance, lost a skill or had a bad day, The Burning Bush, Sensitive Sergeant, and my fellow disciples had my back. For that designated hour, our job was to work together, help each other, cultivate community and have good fun. In this place, you can’t help but feel validated and confident.
Sometimes, amid the blood and burpees, you also make a good friend. Mine was Sparta. She and I started CrossFit that same spring. Because we had similar schedules and were of similar ability level, we quickly became training partners. After a year of laughing, lunging, chatting and cleaning, she asked me to join her team of lady friends for an upcoming mud run. She thought nothing of the gesture. It was a natural extension of our new friendship.
As the girl who always wished to be tight with a group of women, but usually found herself on the peripheral, Sparta’s thoughtfulness meant the world to me. A couple of mud runs with these ladies have come and gone since her invitation, and now it’s understood that whenever there’s an event, we’re a team.
And so I declare to you from the plyo box on which I jump: Discomfort is in fact good. Discomfort opens doors. It helps you grow. CrossFit just happened to be right for me.
Whatever your discomfort is, tap into it.
Then chalk up those hands.
Crank up the Katy Perry.
And get on it.
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