1. The ability to do something that frightens one
2. Strength in the presence of pain or grief
Many people have asked me over the years, “what makes a good CrossFitter?” A lot of times, we think of CrossFit as a purely physical domain, and I default here as well when I answer the question, responding with “experience with individual sports like gymnastics or wrestling seem to really help.” And my primary, conscious reason for that answer is that these sports teach us individual skills that tend to help with bodyweight movement in the gym, and also teach us how to manipulate an object in space, whether that is our own body (gymnastics), or someone else’s (wrestling).
What I’ve looked over, until now when I tried to answer the question more in the sense of “what personality trait makes a good CrossFitter?” is COURAGE.
In addition to the physical capacity that individual sports develop – the sport-specific skills that allow athletes to win in competition – I think courage might be the biggest mental capacity that is developed. And obviously courage is not just developed in individual sports! Team sports, military service, and just braving through personal adversity are all ways that courage is tested and further forged. In all of these tests, and maybe most acutely seen in an individual sport like gymnastics where one person represents a team but is out there on the mat by themselves in the moment of competition, the question of whether you will succeed or not can almost be boiled down directly to the yes/no question of “Can you summon the courage to step up and do this, right now?” Many may possess the physical skills but lack the courage to complete the task at hand when it truly counts. The ones that consistently do, we call champions.
I don’t usually start writing using a definition as I did above – I usually find it a bit cliché. But the reason I included those definitions from the Oxford Dictionary is that these phrases are specifically the two ways that I think CrossFitters demonstrate COURAGE.
“The ability to do something that frightens one.” Does that remind anyone of the first time they stepped into a CrossFit gym? When I meet someone new who just took the hardest 10 steps in their life to date from their car to the front door, I am immediately impressed with this person. If I’m smiling really big when they walk in, it’s genuine. If I’m not, I’ve succeeded in containing myself a bit. And I know they’ve made a HUGE step in improving their fitness and health by just walking in the door, because I know that once you’re in there it’s not that scary anymore. You’re welcomed by more smiling faces, and while some may look intimidatingly fit, they are also warmly smiling through their sweat and can’t wait to meet this fellow courageous human that just walked through the CFKI threshold for the first time.
“Strength in the presence of pain or grief.” As CrossFitters, we all know that we are not going to the gym to get injured, and that injuries are very few and far between. But PAIN is different, and is very real in a serious gym where we’re looking for serious results. If we think about pain as a significant level of discomfort, all of us able-bodied athletes with no injuries can absolutely tell you the last time they were in pain at the gym, because it was today. And we know that in order to achieve a worthwhile goal, we are going to have to go through a good amount of pain and grief in the process, learning lessons and getting stronger along the way. Similarly to the gymnast stepping up with courage to trust her training and stick the landing, athletes in the CrossFit gym show a tremendous amount of courage by stepping up to the inevitable pain of a tough workout and showing physical, mental and emotional strength in powering through and coming out the other side, sweaty and crumpled on the floor, but within minutes on their feet asking their coach, “What else ya got?”
Sometimes it can be hard to see where we are similar, especially as the current political discourse aims to divide us and show us how different we are from our neighbors. But maybe we just need to look around and try to find the good in each other, and be courageous in pushing away negativity and leaning into the positive – hard work, bettering ourselves through self-mastery and bettering our communities through service. That’s what I’m going to do. And I’ll keep on inviting in new athletes through our doors, and smiling at their COURAGE!