It changed the way he trained. He stopped working from the outside in - building physical strength in order to become more confident. He started working from the inside out: building courage, forbearance, serenity to boost his physical performance.

- Learning to Breathe Fire, J.C. Herz 

If I were to be completely honest, I don’t read much. I honestly go through more GIF sets than I do articles and books, combined. I’d like to blame this on having a day job that requires sprints on concentration, instead of mental stamina for to last long and dreary meetings - alas, that would be a defeatist position to take, and I can’t allow myself.

The truth is this: I don’t read anymore because lack of practice has made it taxing to stay focused (and away from my phone, gasp). 

So imagine my surprise when the narrative on Learning to Breathe Fire gripped me like a nervous driver meeting steering wheels for the first time. It wasn’t until 50-odd pages in, however, that I felt compelled to put it down to write my thoughts on it. 

Just a few days ago, I had a conversation with my coach that went this way -

'But you don't understand. I need to be able to do this. I have to snatch 115 lb. off the ground - today, and right now.’

Why now, and why was it so important that I made that lift? I couldn’t articulate it. As much as a told him that he didn’t understand, I was equally clueless.

Two years, a back injury, and a wrist hairline fracture into CrossFit now, I found myself walking into the box looking to switch off my brain. I knew what I was physically and realistically capable of, and where the safe-zones were. When the clock beeped to its final countdown, I told myself - embrace the suck; it’s Go time. I switched off. There was no time or energy left to think about how much I dreaded work, no fear of not completing the workout, no anxiety before approaching the bar - I was in a high intensity workout, with zero intensity. I switched off. 

When the workout ended, I was on the floor and gasping for air, but there was no post-workout euphoria. Nothing about my life changed from that 15 minute trip to-and-fro hell. I dusted myself off the ground, walked over to my bag and mentally willed myself to work after a quick shower.

For weeks now, I couldn’t understand why I’ve defended CrossFit as an ‘necessity’ on more than one occasion, or why it mattered so much to be able to execute lifts that I’ve previously done. While reading Herz’s account on Amundson’s experience with the muscle ups, I finally understood. I was drawing willpower and courage from being physically capable to do all these things - telling myself that if I can snatch the weight equivalent of a teenage girl, I can mentally survive another day of work. I took my physical strengths as benchmarks and reasons-to-believe that I can stick it out in a job that I had very little faith in. 

Every failure in these physical efforts drained me mentally.

I’ve always thought that ‘The greatest adaptation to CrossFit happens between the ears’ meant that with enough repetition, and enough toughing-it-out, you’ll be mentally strong enough to do what you think is impossible. 

I just found out: I’ve been wrong all these while.

Reporting for 11 Time Zones: CrossFit Games Asia Regional 2014

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Photo from the CrossFit Games

-

"What do you have for me, Mel?" 

The 90-minute deadline was well beyond over, and heat 2 of the Men’s event was already underway. Typing away furiously on my laptop and avoiding eye-contact with our Regional Media Director (RMD), Jen, I only managed a meek response.

"10 more minutes…?" 

"You have five," Jen laid down the final ruling, as she wrestled for time with HQ to pay for my indecisive writing. 

In the musky Media room, there was an unusual silence accompanied with occasional slurps by Agust and his motherfuckin’ strawberry juice. Lines upon lines of cliched narratives were chopped as I read through the report one last time, before sending it off to Jen.

Only eight paragraphs survived. 

Attach document. Send. 

Several revisions and 30 minutes later, the article was off to HQ. We were done with the first Asia Regional report of the year. I heaved a sigh of relief and returned to the stadium to let out my inner fan-girl, while watching some women throw up impressive weights.

The rest of the weekend would follow in similar fashion; between Dex, Akshay and I, we tag-teamed all six Regional reports and were running to sweaty competitors, grabbing quick quotes - all in a bid to string together coherent sentences that were both informative and narrative. We didn’t need many reminders that fans and friends of these athletes only have what we give them- an indirect consequence of being the first region to miss out on a live stream this season. We knew we had to deliver - in full-color, no less. 

Perhaps that was why it was so nerve-wrecking to write that first report. Apart from the fact that it was nearly impossible to figure out who won the event (teams can skip movements now?!), we felt the need to include the entire experience within one mobile-responsive, infinite-scroll article, without using cliched expressions like ‘battle’ or ‘neck in neck’. The enormity of the responsibility gnawed at me for a solid 10 minutes before I could get any virtual ink on the document.

The challenge of writing at the Asia Regional lied within both the obscurity and the richness of the experience.

Being the little-known region that gets crap every single year for putting non-Asians on the podium, we’re also one of the most fluid regions. Newcomers are abundant every year, and they arrive with noteworthy pasts without much warning. For example, Zohar Lipkin, a newbie with an engine solid enough to land him in third by the end of day one, turned out to have only started his CrossFit journey three months prior. Or Phil Hesketh, an athlete from InnerFight in Dubai, who completely slipped our radar almost ended up placing first in the region.

And those that we do get to learn about beforehand often have stories so close to heart, it’s difficult not to root for them. 

Getting that first sentence in was frankly paralyzing. 

We don’t serve up mind-blowing statistics, but the richness in inspiration and humanity within the region is incomparable. Everyone was from somewhere else, or has dreams of making it elsewhere - and this was a pattern consistent regardless of whether you were competing, volunteering or spectating.

Unlike volunteers in different regions, the crew that turned up in Seoul was highly international - from the Media team alone, we comprised of up to seven different nationalities. Most of us paid our own way to lend a hand at making the weekend an experience worth remembering. The same could be said about the judges, the athletes’ control crew and the staff members.

Why pay for flights and accommodation, to spend 12-hour days at an event you’re not participating in? The limelight was on the athletes, and the tasks were hardly glorious - but everyone who turned up cared personally either for the sport, or for someone giving their all on the competition floor. By the time athletes took the floor, the atmosphere in the stadium was electric. There was no talk of glory or credit; just pure slivers of finesse through grit as a celebration of the sport that we love. 

Personally, I turned up because I was curious. I didn’t expect to be immersed in the company of people who cared as deeply as I did, and to find such diversity in the same people.  

It’s been a week since the Regional; the crowd has moved on to the next biggest attraction - unfortunately for us, it’s yet another CrossFit-bashing article, but regardless, I’m still reeling from the good vibes that happened last week in Seoul. 

There is a strange yet wonderful high that follows the Asia Regional stress. Starting from the break of dawn where we huddled in the musky Media room, all the way to lights-off at the stadium, there was no room for boredom. The Media team began as separate individuals, all lending voices to regale stories on behalf of athletes that would eventually take center stage at KBS 88 Sports World. But under great leadership, we became a team - picking up slack for one another and unquestioningly filling in gaps wherever it was needed. 

Looking back at our chat logs and multiple email conversations, I catch myself smiling at the inside jokes we share and missing the team sorely, only to realise that we’re really never that far apart - so until next year, Media Team. What an incredible treat it has been. 

*All the above represent my views and opinions, and is in no way a representation of CrossFit HQ’s. 

The Four-wheel Therapy

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Lost and almost out of gas, I was scrambling for a way out; signalling to reverse out earned me a cacophony of blaring horns and their accompanying Fuck Yous, sung in colloquial tunes. The anxiety within me was mounting, and in a moment of fear, I found myself accelerating towards a side barrier. 

The casualties? One front bumper, parents’ faith, and any remaining desire to ever operate four wheel drives again. 

Two years ago was the last time I drove. Since moving back to KL, the lack of a reliable public transportation system necessitated that I conquer some old demons. I was equal parts scared and excited, because I drive like I live - it’s always all out or nothing. Getting behind the wheel again found me at the point of nothing. No confidence, no speed, no balls. Navigating roads in KL demanded a combination of skill and quick decision-making, topped with silent prayers to get out alive - all of which I was void of. I was doomed from the start.

Parking lessons from the dad, multiple hours of practice with mom screaming from the passenger seat, driving friends from out of town, and shuffling to work and the box on the daily - all of that added up quickly. Fast forward to today - it’s been seven weeks of chasing sunrises, and trying not to get blinded by high-beams on the way home. Dare I say, driving is the closest thing I’ve ever felt to the joy I get with an olympic bar in my palms.

Perhaps its the numerous parallels Coach Wu has drawn between lifting and driving; both are demonstrations of power. Flooring the gas pedal and hoping for the best, is the driving equivalent of pulling 200lbs from the ground through blunt force, and hoping it’ll land where you want it to go. You could still get there, but there might not be a lot of art to it. And one thing is for sure in both instances - you have absolutely zero control of the result. Praying is not a skill. 

Open roads and clear traffic make for a simple drive, but it’s the ambiguously sparse traffic that’s exciting. It’s the lifts that you bail out of that will keep you thinking for the rest of the day. The ghost of my driving pasts still haunts me from time to time, keeping me on good behaviour, but I’m glad the fear of driving didn’t keep me away from the roads. I’m learning with every lane change, that life is not always about charging full-throttle ahead. A little finesse goes a long way, and the view is sometimes worth slowing down for anyway. 

A little honesty for the road

Most of the time, if you’re willing to be honest enough with yourself about what’s really not working out - and the hardest of faults to admit is often one of your own - clarity isn’t all that far away at all.

Why my first job was in a Startup

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Sin City Invitational 2013: Youngest competitor, Sarah Widjaja and her mum in tight embrace after the athlete completed a gruelling event. Photo credit: Norman Jaillet 

"Congratulations on the new job! Where will you be at?" 

I’ve gone through my fair share of confused looks and half-hearted clarifications when I told people I worked for CrossFit Fire City. Fire City is a small startup affiliate in Singapore that features the strength and conditioning program developed by Greg Glassman. The obscurity of the fitness program itself was easy to explain; the decision to turn down job offers from reputable marketing agencies was not. Not initially, anyway. 

I outgrew the illusion of a sheltered college life sooner than most. By the end of year 1, I was spending most semesters juggling internships and homework, eagerly awaiting for class to wrap up for the real work to begin. While helping campaigns come to life, I quickly learned the irony in going to Business school at all. When I finally graduated and transitioned fully into a full-time gig, it felt like I was in my favourite class every hour of the day. And with the enthusiasm equivalent of a small child, I soaked in all of it.

I was my company’s first and only hire, and with that came endless possibilities. I never switched off because I cared about the brand on a deeply personal level; but more importantly, I never had to switch off because work truly felt gratifying - I wasn’t a nameless, faceless employee, and I had an employer that made damn sure that recognition was given where it was due. The more I gave to the community, the more I got back. Within six short months, we successfully moved to a new location of operation, ran two charity drives and collected over S$10,000 in support of rebuilding homes destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, and saw our community double in size. The best part was the fact that these events served as building blocks to our inaugural Sin City Invitationals - a weekend competition that drew in hundreds of participants and spectators from 8 different countries. 

As unforgettable as the highlights were, the memories that will always stay with me include: 

  • Teaching myself HTML and Wordpress because we needed to fix our website. 
  • Being the Creative, the Suit and the Tech, all rolled into one.
  • Feeling frustrations dissipate with every heavy squat rep, and the ensuing clarity that comes after a steamy workout - during traditional work hours. 
  • "It’s not good enough!!!" Struggling with my needs for perfection, and my inability to delegate responsibilities/empower other people with exclusive experiences
  • Having 15 things happening consecutively that require my immediate attention. 

Working in a startup will always entail wearing multiple hats, regardless of whether you own the business. If you embrace that, the skills and languages you’re forced to pick up will add arsenal to your tool belt. Startup environments are hectic, fast-paced, erratic and immensely rewarding. The exposure you get is second to none, and you will only be limited by two things - your management/boss, and your imagination. Screw ups will be aplenty, but the important thing is to move fast. 

It isn’t lost on me that I was incredibly lucky; not many can claim to have found something they’d be willing to do purely out of passion, and even fewer have the opportunity to turn that into a source of living. But consider this my personal plea to you: start by caring. Care enough about your happiness to search for what truly excites you. Give a damn about where you spend 8 - 10 hours of your day, and not just how much it compensates  you monetarily. And eventually, do one thing everyday that will get you closer to living the life you’re excited about living. Make every moment like being in your favourite class in school again. 

And if your enthusiasm gets infectious enough to attract questions about being off the beaten path, you have my congratulations. 

Things no one tells you about moving home

With luggage in hand, you bumble across the living room, careful not to break furniture that seemed to have aged faster than you did. You move like the space is not your own, like a new tenant in yet another rental.

But with every sunrise, you’re reminded that home is home again. And just like that, the pink floral wallpaper that used to signal blissful weekend retreats seems claustrophobic. 

You throw on old pyjamas that surprisingly still fit like a glove. Cradled in the comfort of aged cotton, you crack open the fridge for breakfast. The silence in the house echoes with muffled contempt; the milk carton with its clearly marked price tag mocks at your inability to make it in the ‘real world’ on your own, relegating the responsibility to care for yourself to your aging parents. You grab it by the throat, with the same forceful conviction you tell your friends that this was a move you made by choice, not circumstance. 

No milk carton was going to tell you what you were worth. 

The pan sizzles with urgency as two sunny side ups demand to be taken off the heat. You look into the fridge again, surprised to find the steak you left on the top shelf missing. Your mind races quickly to scan for possible culprits, until suddenly - you realise that nothing is truly yours.

No more passive aggressive roommates leaving angry notes about the stolen chocolate bar from the fridge. No more long nights wondering who ate your last piece of cake. Nothing is yours, but everything is yours. 

After lunch, it’s back to the dashboard of job hunting. Navigating through a bedroom that resembled closer to a memorial ground for years spent away from home, you find a spot to plug in and tune out. You lose sight of your peripherals. The voice of insecurity that pounded so loudly in the backdrop starts to fade along with the slap mark embarrassment left on your cheeks for moving back to your parents’. Sarah Bareilles’ reassuring lyrics tells you to be brave, and to say what you want to say - you feel like the independent woman your passport stamps validate you to be.

Finding familiar ground again, you begin to spread your possessions like claiming territories - until the careful takeover becomes a massacre of organisation, and a resounding

"I TOLD YOU TO CLEAN UP THAT MESS!" comes screaming across the corridors.

Jolted out of your makeshift paradise, you retaliate with the maturity of a ten year old.

"I SAID I’LL DO IT LATER!" 

Just like that, you dance with your past and your present, oscillating between old habits and the new familiar. But for all the pain and aches, you remember with every sunrise, that home will always be home. 

lights that shine bright fade loudly too

"Lately, I’ve been living up out of my suitcase
Building trust in that I’m leaving on Tuesday
Bought a one night stand, just a bootleg
A duplication of something authentic
Heart augmented, and it’s so hard to end it
I said peace before but this time I meant it”

- Macklemore, “Thin Line” - The Heist

Sometimes this is how it feels to be where I am right now. City to city, day to day and I’m hopping on a plane before anything authentic can find its way to becoming real. 

Unfiltered thoughts in Brisbane

Unfiltered thoughts, go: 

  • Massive PR in life today: I drove by myself, for a combined period of 3 hours to a foreign location, without hitting any objects - stationary or otherwise!

    For anyone who might not yet be privy to my fears relating to driving, let me catch you up to speed. In the past 4 years or so, I’ve probably operated any sort of vehicle for a grand total of 10 times. Out of which, 3 of them ended up with a trip to the mechanics. I’m not a great driver; I’ve always assumed that it’s because I get scared too easily. I’m frightened by unfamiliar roads, by cars getting too close by, by sudden flickering lights or sounds within or close to the vehicle… especially so when all these things occur at the same time. 

    Today I figured out that my repeated visits to the mechanic had very little to do with being inexperienced or scared. The better question was: what was so frightening about all the above? On my way back from Mooloolaba today, I figured it out. It’s frightening because I take it too seriously. I’ve subconsciously considered driving to be a reflection of performance; when I fuck up, miss a turn, get honked at for doing something elaborately stupid, I take it personally. Fear begets fear, and mistakes just pile on because my focus is in shreds. Once I realised that it really isn’t that big of a deal, and that for every wrong turn, there’s always a way back, I started relaxing and driving became… fun. 

    As frightening as it was, this was one PR in life I was happy to claim. Certain roads will still haunt me, for sure, but I’m taking this one lane change at a time. 

  • You really never know who you could meet. 

    At Primal Pantry today, I was properly Bulletproofed by my grass-fed butter + MCT Oil coffee when I realised that the man sitting next to me was working on a CrossFit website. Without giving it much thought, I walked up to him and started a conversation. 

    Incredibly enough, he owns an amazing design studio, and has been designing stunning websites for fitness facilities such as CrossFit boxes, globo gyms and other related businesses. We talked about a number of other things, design + fitness related and I found myself inspired again to create again. To be honest, I find design slightly cumbersome right now - mostly because I constantly go through a phase where I don’t like myself very much for the quality of work I put out. I’m never happy enough with how efficiently I arrive at design solutions, or with the quality of solutions for my clients. But hearing him talk about his business, and through him affirming the legitimacy of my fears, I felt hopeful again. 

    And following that, I signed up for more classes on Skillshare! There’s almost no better time to learn than now. 

  • "All our worlds are simultaneously enormous and irrelevant.”
    If you’ve ever had the misfortune/incredible luck of leaving a sport/job/person you hinged your identity on, you’ll understand what I mean. We make our own symbols and icons, and they are only relevant to the people who worship the same ideals/goals. Lu XiaoJun is both an incredible inspiration, and a random nobody - it all depends on who you ask and what they care about.
     
  • "If you have passion, you’re the luckiest person in the world." &

  • "When my athletes leave, I’m upset. It doesn’t mean I stop wanting the best for them; I just wished their definition of what’s best would be the same as my definition.

    I get upset because what happens in coaching is that you form relationships and every one of them are individual and unique - when athletes leave, its like a breakup and it’s never easy. If it is easy for you, you have no business coaching.”


    - Miles from Cougars Weightlifting Club in Brisbane, AU.

  • This:

Living The Not-Dream

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Strapped to my chest and back is a collective 25kg representative of my life right now.

It begins to drizzle. I look up and see heavy clouds that won’t let up; sighing and battling the thoughts in my head, I climb uphill in search for Olivia’s house.

"How’s it like, living the dream?" 

When this question pops up in conversations, I wonder if my friends consider this trip a well-funded extended vacay from reality. I never quite know how to respond appropriately, other than to laugh it off as an exaggeration. As I trudged uphill in the suburbs of Brisbane, I think to myself, “My definition of ‘the dream’ right about now would be sitting in a warm garage, lifting some god damn weights, followed by inviting friends over for a throw down and some barbeque after.” 

Not this. Not walking in the rain, searching aimlessly for a house after being shat on by 14.1, with a broken wrist and an unrelenting stubbornness to be defined by my ‘work capacity’. Not meeting new people but skipping town before having the opportunity to turn acquaintances into friends. Not planning for no longer than 2 months ahead, and living off the grace of friends. And most importantly, not wrestling with my thoughts 90% of the time when I’m perfectly alone. 

This is not the dream. 

Of course there are days when it’s easier - days when I’m not trying to fight being here, or forcefully figure out ‘next steps’ or ‘the plan’. On those days, my thoughts multiply in positivity and dreams become fuel, not fear. Those days have been too few and too far in between, in the past four weeks.

What’s it like being on the road, then? 

It feels lonely. It feels like you’re in an endless loop of conversation with yourself, and if you’re lucky, you learn to find comfort within your thoughts. You find out if you love yourself enough to let go of the things that are beyond your control, or if you have a tendency of letting the fear of inadequacy creep in and paralyze your actions. You learn to be honest with yourself because there’s no pillars to fucking hide behind. The internal dialogue is a room filled with mirrors and everywhere you look, you see the same face staring back at you. You try not to go crazy arguing with yourself. And sometimes, you learn that you don’t like yourself very much - and finally understand why certain people left.

Being on the road is unhinging me by the minute, but a good friend reminded me today that it is precisely for this reason we go on the road. How else can we expect to set sail if we keep thinking that we’re on train tracks? 

"How’s unemployment treating you?"

I’ve been traveling for a little over 2 weeks now, and to be honest, the first few days of having absolutely nothing to do or no where to be, was terrifying. I spent most of my waking moments wondering if this trip was the right decision. When all that became too dramatic, I’d hit up a box to lift some weights in an attempt to completely exhaust every ounce of energy I have.

So I suppose unemployment has needed some adjusting to. But after the panic and the exhaustion, there’s silence. The silence is familiar; every time I fall back first against the cold ground after a WOD, I’m greeted by a sense of calm. “The worst is over,” I close my eyes, arms spread to both sides. And as my belly pulses up and down with every shallow breath I muster, there is complete silence. No thoughts, just breathing.

Except this time, instead of being interrupted by the urgency of getting more work done, the silence stays. And something amazing happens - it lends itself to clarity. I walk off, and let the scent trails of Surry Hills lead me to the nearest café for some post recovery.

I’m slowly learning to feel comfortable with drowning out the noise in my life; sometimes they come in the form of self-imposed expectations (“I should be doing the Open. I should be looking for a job. I should be dating boys my age.”) And sometimes they stem from the reluctance to let go of the things that hold the illusion of promise. (“I should be looking for a regular 9-5 because everyone has to go through that struggle. It builds discipline, and you can’t always enjoy what you do.”) A week after graduation, Kai told me not look back. Not to compare the life I have and will have with anybody else who has chosen to follow a predetermined path.

I think I’m only starting to understand how hard that is, but I’m ready to go down the rabbit hole now. Apart from wrestling with myself, I’ve been lucky enough to be a recipient of grace and kindness from strangers - or as I like to call them, potential new friends. I’ve given my number to cute bartenders, gone on dates with promising but unfortunately boring boys, been talked into thinking about starting my own business, written my first of hopefully many articles for CrossFit HQ, embarrassed myself and the entire Asian population by eating ribs in a park in open air (Totally paleo, by the way.), flirted with danger - and I’m not even close to being done yet.

Auckland, Brisbane, Singapore, Manila and Brunei. Then, I’m bound for home. Down the rabbit hole I go.

Are you coming along too?

"How’s unemployment treating you?"

I’ve been traveling for a little over 2 weeks now, and to be honest, the first few days of having absolutely nothing to do or no where to be, was terrifying. I spent most of my waking moments wondering if this trip was the right decision. When all that became too dramatic, I’d hit up a box to lift some weights in an attempt to completely exhaust every ounce of energy I have.

So I suppose unemployment has needed some adjusting to. But after the panic and the exhaustion, there’s silence. The silence is familiar; every time I fall back first against the cold ground after a WOD, I’m greeted by a sense of calm. “The worst is over,” I close my eyes, arms spread to both sides. And as my belly pulses up and down with every shallow breath I muster, there is complete silence. No thoughts, just breathing.

Except this time, instead of being interrupted by the urgency of getting more work done, the silence stays. And something amazing happens - it lends itself to clarity. I walk off, and let the scent trails of Surry Hills lead me to the nearest café for some post recovery.

I’m slowly learning to feel comfortable with drowning out the noise in my life; sometimes they come in the form of self-imposed expectations (“I should be doing the Open. I should be looking for a job. I should be dating boys my age.”) And sometimes they stem from the reluctance to let go of the things that hold the illusion of promise. (“I should be looking for a regular 9-5 because everyone has to go through that struggle. It builds discipline, and you can’t always enjoy what you do.”) A week after graduation, Kai told me not look back. Not to compare the life I have and will have with anybody else who has chosen to follow a predetermined path.

I think I’m only starting to understand how hard that is, but I’m ready to go down the rabbit hole now. Apart from wrestling with myself, I’ve been lucky enough to be a recipient of grace and kindness from strangers - or as I like to call them, potential new friends. I’ve given my number to cute bartenders, gone on dates with promising but unfortunately boring boys, been talked into thinking about starting my own business, written my first of hopefully many articles for CrossFit HQ, embarrassed myself and the entire Asian population by eating ribs in a park in open air (Totally paleo, by the way.), flirted with danger - and I’m not even close to being done yet.

Auckland, Brisbane, Singapore, Manila and Brunei. Then, I’m bound for home. Down the rabbit hole I go.

Are you coming along too?

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