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Russell’s Sunday Sermon: 307 Throw-down Part 1


Russell’s Sunday Sermon: 307 Throw-down Part 1

The most respect I’ve had for anyone I’ve ever worked out with was for a guy who went to Crossfit Eminence, in Thornton, Colorado, while I was stranded for a winter of nursing clinical rotations. When I first met Brian, he was over 400 pounds. An enormous man, well north of 6 feet tall, but to carry 400 pounds gracefully you need to be almost 9 feet tall. He wasn’t quite there.

I would love to have been a fly on the wall when he first came into the gym to talk. People are always burdened by so much self-doubt and obstructionism within their own minds. I’m sure he approached that door with no small amount of trepidation.

But he did it. He opened the door, he walked inside and said, “hi”. To someone, maybe one of the trainers, perhaps one of the Marcellis (I have to throw a plug in here for the Marcelli’s at Crossfit Eminence, if you’re ever in Thornton and need to grab a workout, I cannot speak highly enough of this husband and wife team) he opened the door and gave it a shot. Brian kept coming and he kept trying. He never stopped making progress. He moved forward for the entire time that I knew him. He would do as much as he could – Crossfit claims to be infinitely modifiable and scalable to meet your individual needs and limitations. Anyone who has seen me modify the hell out of a workout has heard me offer this in my own defense.

When Brian first started, I’m guessing there weren’t enough resistance bands to buttress him over the pullup bar. That is ok. I’m sure he started with modified ring rows or something to that effect. That is fine. There is this misconception that everyone who works out at a Crossfit gym is some kind of freak, has always been an athletic freak, and just happened to have found a community of likeminded psychotics. This isn’t true. Many people have to work into it, the skills and abilities have to be earned.

Crossfit has grown, rapidly, to be viewed as this spectacle on ESPN in July, where people who look like laboratory experiments do workouts that approximate something of a laboratory experiment/circus stunt gone awry. They turn max effort deadlifts that would be impressive at a powerlifting meet around and run a hilly 10k that would be impressive at a cross country meet. They swim, jump, run, lift enormous weights and engage in gymnastic activities worthy of the olympics. Some of you have heard my thoughts about athletic endeavors that are too good to be true. I won’t include that here, I’ll only say that the accomplishments of the elite Crossfit athletes are something at which to marvel, regardless of how they got there.

These aren’t the people who amaze me the most. A tribe of college athletes, and people with extensive athletic backgrounds, doing what they’ve always done – displaying physical prowess and excellence. How is that cathartic? How is that special? So many people whose only task in life is to work out more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m intensely jealous. If I could make a living hanging out at the gym, working out and helping others to do the same, I’d certainly be interested. But that isn’t where I’m at in life, nor most of the people who do Crossfit.

Look behind the scenes. That games athlete, who we’re all drooling over, lives in his parents’ basement and works out as his full-time job. Again, there is a portion of that lifestyle which makes me quite jealous (not the living in Mom’s basement part). That athlete owns a gym, and does 4 workouts/day between coaching classes in the same room they train in. Another athlete who lives off sponsorship deals. Working out is literally their job.

Must be rough.

I’m so jealous.

These people weren’t average before they began Crossfit, and their lifestyles while doing Crossfit are not typical. Let me compare myself to Brian for a minute, and then compare both of us to these people. I’ve always been athletic and I’ve never had a weight problem. I was much heavier in my 20’s, when I defined myself as a powerlifter and my only goal in life was to get bigger and stronger – that wasn’t a weight problem, it was a byproduct of function. I was enormously strong and very muscular. After that, I was a very poor ultra-endurance athlete. I’ve run as far as 37 miles in a single sitting. Then, I found Crossfit. I did a muscle up – a movement with which most people have an enormous amount of difficulty, and a movement that has proven to be a hallmark of most people’s Crossfit experience (I FINALLY got a muscle up!) the very first time I tried one.

I’m supposed to do what? Do a pullup and get myself into a dip above the rings? Ok.

I’ve always been a gym bunny or athlete of some variety. The longest I’ve gone without working out since around age 14 was when I broke my neck. That period lasted less than 2 weeks before I was back in the gym, crashed on the recumbent bike. Lifting, running, riding, etc. I’ve not missed more than a couple days at a time in decades.

Brian had a different background. He was starting from a place where he was quite large and had virtually no aerobic or strength training for many, many years. He didn’t do a muscle up his first try. He showed up, and he may have walked the running workouts and done step-ups instead of box jumps. He may have done modified ring rows, with his body progressively less vertical as he grew stronger and continued to lose weigh – until he could use a band to do pullups, before finally ditching the bands for full-bodyweight pullups.

When I left Colorado, Brian had lost well over a hundred pounds. He was a new man, transformed. I hate it when the word “journey” is used to describe fitness and weight loss, but his really was. He wasn’t the same person after that year. He was, literally, a changed man.

Brian is who inspires me, not Rich Froning. Give me a break. If Froning wasn’t a failure at baseball, he wouldn’t be crossfitting. If Camille Bazinet was a better gymnast, she’d be doing that, not Crossfit. The Crossfit elites are comprised of people who weren’t quite good enough at other sports. The drive to succeed at this sport, and not fail again, is among my arguments for “less than natural” performances. I digress (I said I wasn’t going to talk about that here).

How are Brian and I alike? We’re both adults with real jobs and responsibilities. We have to put food on our tables with jobs that take us out of the house and away from the gym for many hours per day. We aren’t elite and we don’t have lives that would allow us to be, even if our parents had given us the genes to make it possible.

I’m going to a Crossfit competition in Casper, WY this weekend with my wife, a friend from graduate school, and her husband. Trish is a wonderful, involved mother who teaches, coaches two elementary-age soccer teams, plays soccer herself and does Crossfit whenever she has time. Jamie is a nurse, a full-time graduate student and does Crossfit whenever she has time. Jason is an engineer who does Crossfit whenever he has time. I’m a nurse, a full-time graduate student and a parent who does Crossfit whenever I have time.

Most of the time, this means we do Crossfit at 0500, or after work. We prioritize physical activity, but we have to make room for it in the rest of our lives. It can’t be our lives.

We’re going to Casper with the expectation that we’ll probably get creamed by some of the other teams present. Teams with gym bunnies, still stuck doing the jobs of teenagers as they approach 30 – but boy can they cruise for a weekend in a small, Wyoming competition! We’ll lose to teams 10 years our junior, who work out twice as many times – or more, in a week, than we can.

They’ll become lost in their own hubris, thinking that they have proven a point regarding the superiority of their own training. They’ll miss the point. They’ll see only competitors, not wives, mothers, nurses, students. They’ll miss the fact that the competition isn’t the competition.

My competition is a liver biopsy on a Tuesday morning. My competition is a research paper on a Friday night, or a presentation on Monday morning. You aren’t my competition, I’m here for the T-shirts. My competition was the three professional certifications I completed this year and the hours of study that went into each of them.

You get lost thinking that you are the hero, or proving a point. Brian is the hero, he proved the point. My team, full of adult professionals with adult schedules and responsibilities are the heroes. We’re the ones proving what is possible. You’re taking the easy route and sticking to what is easy. Your person lacks depth, and you’re going to find adulthood a bitter damned pill.

We’ll see you in Casper. We’ll be the team having the most fun, not because we prepared the hardest for victory, but because it means we aren’t working or doing homework!

Enjoy your victory.

Don’t delight in the victory, hide your embarrassment that you didn’t do better.

*This blog has not been approved for weak-minded idiots**

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