It’s been 16 months since the first time I picked up a barbell.
The first time I held a barbell was in June 2012. Prior to CrossFit, I called myself an Ultimate Frisbee player and never ventured into the weights section of a gym. I ran suicide sprints with my team, and drilled cutting patterns on grass fields in my free time. I never held anything quite as heavy… or empowering.
In my first CrossFit class, I was taught how to clean. A lot of the movements feel intuitive now, but I remember how it felt - to be exact, I felt like a complete idiot, trying to keep the bar close and prevent it from hitting my face. In my first few months of CrossFitting, I could barely hold onto a 35lb bar, and girls smaller than me were cleaning their own body weight’s worth of load onto their frames. But unfailingly, everyday at 8pm, I would check for the WOD online and rush back into the box for another serving of pain and humility. I wasn’t strong, fast or… good, by any means, but I didn’t care. What I lacked in, I made up for in enthusiasm and willingness to learn.
I soaked up every little tip and advice I could find; one chilly day in Eugene found us back squatting for heavy singles. I was in the ‘weak pool’ with the rest of the newbies, but something interesting started to happen. Weight started to pile on and it didn’t feel difficult. So we kept piling them on. Before I knew it, I had the entire class surrounding me while I tried to hit a heavy single - it was 80kg. I had only been CrossFitting for 2 weeks. I made the lift.
High fives were given, and reassuring nods from the coaches hinted that they knew there was some latent athleticism in that shell of a body. In that very same moment, the competitive monster within me felt a gentle nudge after being in slumber for months; suddenly, Mel could be good at something. I didn’t want to entertain the thought, but the personal record felt so good that it left me singing at the top of my lungs, while riding home from CrossFit. I was hooked.
My definition of fun started to change, and I was reminded of it every time I talked to non-CrossFitting friends about it. Conversations would typically start off innocently enough, and somehow circle back to what I did at the box for the day and how tough it was. Eventually, I found myself pushing harder and faster at things that I saw potential at being good at. Powerlifting was one of them. Not making a lift could take me on a ‘search for my identity’, and make me question why I’m doing this in the first place. As for the things that I never had natural propensity for, I dreaded them. I would still work on it begrudgingly, but I never beat myself as hard over it.
It has been 16 months. And I still have bad days or weeks at CrossFit - I’ve grown to be less vocal about them because of my position as a coach, but I’m slowly starting to realise why these days can sometimes feel overpowering. CrossFit used to be a means to an end; I wanted to CrossFit to be a better Ultimate Frisbee player. I never found the recognition I wanted in Ultimate, so I thought CrossFit could help me get there. I didn’t expect to fall in love with it as a sport, and in return, set myself up for the related heartaches when you’re told that you’re not good enough. I liked the attention that came from trying and succeeding - the things that most of us don’t get rewarded for enough in real life. That one hour in a CrossFit class was a cave I could escape to, where there were a few simple rules: work hard, don’t cheat, and celebrate the little victories. As long as I followed them, I was golden. But I was a greedy little bastard; I was improving everyday, but I could never see it. I wanted more. I wanted better, and I wanted it now.
I measured myself in the loads I could move, the distances I could go, and the time I took to complete workouts. I took pride in crafting my Facebook statuses whenever I smashed a personal record, but what I didn’t realise was that I wasn’t having fun anymore. Hearing about someone else overtaking me would send me into irrational jealousy and rage, and straight into the squat rack so that I wouldn’t waste any time not improving. I was obsessed with being better than a phantom target, but never had I been more constantly reminded of one of Greg Glassman’s quotes, “The greatest adaptation to CrossFit happens between the ears”. I don’t think I ever realised how important that was until today.
Today, I found myself on my knees in the middle of a CrossFit heroes WOD. I looked at the clock and I knew that I had almost exactly a minute to finish each round, if I wanted to bring it home on this one. It all seemed realistic until I started failing at my cleans. High pulls after high pulls, it wasn’t happening for me. I wanted to cry. I looked at the clock again, and I looked at my hands. My heart was racing, but more importantly, it was breaking. I was scared that I wasn’t able to finish the workout -
and before I could finish that thought, a voice inside asked, “So what if you don’t?”
In that moment, the analytical version of myself crunched the possible scenarios on what would happen, and very quickly, I arrived at the conclusion that I would have been okay with it if I kept trying to get that weight up my shoulders. Even if I failed, I would know that I wouldn’t have been able to do any better. So I put my hands back on the bar, and set myself up for the clean. The bar bounced off my hips and I caught it in a full depth squat. Standing up with the weight seemed like a gargantuan task after 130 over wall balls; one knee landed on the floor and sheer willpower, I stood back up to complete the clean. It felt like a storm had just passed. I was going to be okay.
I finished the WOD in 28:46 minutes, but that had very little to do with the smile on my face after. I fought hard, like I would every other day. But today, I knew that taking the fight on was already a victory in itself. The validation in whiteboard ink was nice, but I learning to not need it anymore.