I joined CrossFit long enough ago that it wasn’t really a huge ‘thing’ yet. Honestly, I was looking for a forcing function to diversify the way I was using my body. I’ve been a lifelong runner, long distances. It’s always been a spiritual experience for me but it was getting a little intense, like 40, maybe 50 miles a week. The first CrossFit workout I ever did was with Big Mike and Jeff McKinney and it ended in the middle with me heaving in the alley. It was beyond humbling, I walked in the door with an attitude. I was an athlete but I had honed this one tiny skill. I was athletically and physically limited. I work with a lot of leaders in my professional life and I often advise them to focus on accuracy over precision. It takes a moment to let that settle and make sense but it really is a profound concept when you apply it in your life. Precision can be a such a brittle approach. Looking back it’s obvious to me now that athletically running was always this battle over precision, shaving seconds off my 10 mile pace, over, and over, and over. As an athlete my mind has opened radically, along with my confidence.
For a long time, during the early days of my CrossFit experience I would walk in the door and feel fear, like real gut-wrenching fear. “Can I do this?”, “Do I have what it takes?”…”is it going to hurt”… I passed this wall early on doing CrossFit where I realized there was no single finish line, no way to ‘win’ every movement, or every workout…and it changed my why. Am I here to get ripped? Am I here to PR a lift? No. I’m here to give my best, to be brutally honest with myself and my fellow athletes about whether or not my head is fully committed or not (and there are days when it just isn’t!). It’s evolved to be about emotional honesty, endurance, fear, optimism, grit. When you take all of those things you realize it’s about you’re mental alignment, it’s all of it at once and none of it without the others, it’s about spiritual accuracy.
In 2011 after a very long fight with an overuse injury from running I went in for a simple ortho on my left knee. I actually trained for the surgery because they advised me about the post-op atrophy I would suffer in my quads. My mental and physical training were really the thing that helped me survive what happened during that surgery. It was supposed to be a simple 3 month recovery but it ended up being a life-altering trauma. I got a massive internal Staph infection which did a lot of really bad things to my body. I’ve had 8 surgeries as a result to try and fix the damage and have been taken down to the point where I have had to literally learn to walk again, 3 times. I used to work with Jeff McKinney at the Red and Black Gym with crutches! Jeff believed in me when I couldn’t even believe in myself. He actually carried me to a new place for which I am forever grateful.
Short story here is it has been a very, very deep struggle, and still is. The irony here is that I just kept showing up to CrossFit, again it’s not about perfection, it’s about showing up and crushing it with your best, regardless of what your best looks like (and in my case it’s been a hot mess for a large part of the past 5 years). I recognize that there are days that even though I showed up on crutches I often times put in more work with more grit than some of the folks around me.
I don’t care about, and honestly I don’t try to be ‘good at CrossFit’. What I do do, every day, is to the the best me that I can, and to be honest with myself about what that means. That is a mindset that has helped me survive this trauma. I have these mantras that I kept saying to myself during the darkest hours of recovery…and finally got them tattooed onto my arms, right where I can see them forever…one is “Only through action can we conquer our fear”. The other one is a quote by the painter Renoir, “The pain is temporary but the beauty remains…”. A big part of the past 5 years has been about pain, a lot of physical chronic pain, so I have had to develop what I call ‘relationship skills’ (with the pain).
I had the tattoo artist use a lighter grey ink for the words ‘fear’ and ‘pain’ as a reminder that they will both fade, that I will always be in control of how I react to those things, that they will never own me. The words ‘Action’ and ‘Beauty’ are in a darker ink, those are the enduring truths.
In the end it’s not what has happened to you. Bad shit happens, it just does…what matters most is your relationship to those things, it’s that space between you and that injury, those events, those people that defines you. I don’t define myself as injured, I live my life as a conquerer. I owned it.
Wake up and face it with your best, every day.