Competitive sports and CrossFit…these are two controversial topics in the fitness industry. Now, I run a gym that houses a CrossFit affiliate (we run ours a little different than the pack) and we work with a ton of student-athletes so quite naturally I have my opinions, but they don’t really matter today.
Today I want to talk about why I own a gym, and in a roundabout way it’s because I put one foot on a football field and one foot into a CrossFit gym. Let me explain.
I was never any great athlete as a kid. I loved baseball and I loved to throw a football, but I was middle of the pack at both. In seventh grade I was a lineman on our school’s football team and because we only had 14 of 15 kids, most of us played both ways. During one game I got my foot twisted under me and was on crutches for about a week after, which was the first time I’d really been hurt playing a sport. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I liked it, but the season was over soon enough and I thought I might be done with football.
The next year we had an even smaller team and the only other kid who could really throw the ball was our best athlete by far which meant he’d need to be a running back. So I got to play quarterback, which was my secret dream since Doug Flutie won the Heisman for BC in 1985. I was also elected a captain, which was another first.
I remember one game very vividly. Standing out on the field for the coin toss and then shaking hands with the other team’s captains, I had this sense that this was going to be a different kind of a day for our winless team. Sure enough, we took an early lead and held it most of the game until I threw an interception directly to one of the other team’s captains. He took it back most of the way and I tackled him close to the goal line. I was pissed, humbled, sad, and angry. They were going to score and we were going to lose, and it was going to be my fault.
Then something weird happened. He got up, helped me up, and slapped me on the back. “Great tackle,” he said. I couldn’t understand what had just happened. This was who this kid was? Not just some punk who picked me off and was in the process of ruining my thirteen year-old life? He was actually a real person who dusted himself off and lifted me up in the process? This was what sports could be like? You could be the sum of your accomplishments but bigger than them at the same time?
Fast forward 20 years to my first day in group class at CrossFit Boston, coached by Neal Thompson. I’d been wanting to try CrossFit for a while after reading about it in Men’s Health and I had finally gotten up the courage to join. After finishing my 3 private sessions, I was ready for class. I thought.
The workout was humbling. A lot of pullups, some running, and my new worst enemy the barbell thruster. Looking around the room before we started, I imagined I might finish in the middle of the pack. I was one of the youngest in the room and I could do a decent amount of strict pullups.
Twenty minutes later–about five minutes after everyone else had finished–I was hanging on the pullup bar completely unsure of how I was supposed to get my last set in. Maybe the lights would go out. Maybe they’d just take pity on me and tell me I’d done enough. What if I looked really sad and kept shaking my head, maybe they’d just say “okay, stop”?
Nope. What they did was rally around me. I saw people I’d only just met meeting my gaze and nodding me on. I heard people yelling my name and telling me to keep going. They’d already finished, some of them in a personal best time, but they were laser focused on me and getting me through to the finish line. I hadn’t felt like that in such a long time.
There is only one word for what filled my heart on that football field and in that CrossFit gym.
The word is love.
Here in New England, so many of us are battered down into ourselves. Maybe it’s the winters, maybe it’s our Puritan heritage, or maybe it’s in the way we cut our vowels short and purse our mouths against expression.
For me, the way that human movement, sport, and a collegial physical atmosphere all seem to facilitate our better angels of kindness and generosity of spirit…for me, that is my why.
I want our gym to be a place where you come in like a person, train like an athlete, and leave like a champion. Every single one of us. That’s why I do what I do.