01 Dec 2013
Let’s start with a regret. I wish I had gotten off my ass and joined CrossFit Boston a year ago.
Fitness-wise, it had been a rough year since I got out of the Marines and started at HBS (Harvard Business School). Not that I wasn’t working out at all, but what I was doing wasn’t much more effective then doing nothing. Going to the gym, throwing around some weights, going for a run every once in a while. I had a couple of friends who had joined CrossFit Boston, but I figured they were wasting their money. I thought I didn’t need a class to get in shape. I was a Marine, I could take care of myself.
Well I was completely wrong. I had put on weight, lost muscle, lost aerobic ability and my overall fitness was degraded. I did need CrossFit. The good news is that I finally got off my ass and joined. The instructors, the competitive team atmosphere and the CrossFit workouts have been completely worth it. It’s been 2 months since I’ve joined the gym. I’ve still got a long way to go till I get to where I want to be, but I’m already hitting PRs. Not 2 month PRs but liftime PRs in lifts that I’d been doing my whole life (even the bench press, which it’s not like I was ignoring before). And then there are all those things that I never had done before. I had no idea how to do a clean, snatch or overhead squat before I joined. I really didn’t even have the mobility to do the snatch or overhead squat. Not saying when I do them now they are always pretty, but I can get them done. And then of course there are all the other levels of fitness CrossFit throws at you.
Every day I both dread and can’t wait to get to CrossFit Boston to do the next WOD. I’m hooked.
30 Oct 2013
By October of my first year in Boston I’d begun to feel somewhat underwhelmed by the changes college had brought. The binge drinking and pizza eating provided no satisfaction. I struggled with the distinct sense that I had not yet found my place. While my dorm mates seemed to thrive on the insular culture of group living, I felt stifled. I couldn’t have articulated what was missing, but looking back I was longing for a sense of community and purpose. During this time I was following CrossFit’s main site and doing their workouts independently, mixing in weightlifting with my existing running routine. While the workouts were challenging I was bored, lonely and increasingly over-trained as I continued to increase the volume in search of greater gains (because more is always better, right?).
Finally, at the end of October I decided to give CrossFit Boston a call. At my uncle’s urging I called Neal and scheduled my intro session. I remember walking into the gym and immediately feeling that I had made an egregious error by agreeing to this. My thought was that they would immediately know that I didn’t belong. Someone would take one look at me and smell my fear and that would be it: exile to the island of the unskilled and untrained. To my great relief the opposite was the case- I was welcomed in with open arms and more positivity than I can begin to explain. I was hooked immediately, so thrilled to be learning new things and to once again be in an environment that was both supportive and competitive. I remember well, Jon Gilson in my face, stridently informing me that I had more in me, that I didn’t need to put the bar down yet. And honestly, everything was really hard.
When I began I had no concept of where my body was in space and absolutely zero ability to integrate coaches cues into my performance of movements. I flailed. I struggled. I hit myself in the face with a barbell more than once. My arms were so weak they were useless. I finished last every single day but just kept showing up. I’d wake up at 5:30 four days a week to make it into the 7:00am class at CFB and hustle back to BU for 9:00am lecture. As the months passed I steadily improved. I gained muscle and learned for the first time how to use my upper body. I learned to lift things and reveled in the newfound skill.
But the most noteworthy change wasn’t in my strength, endurance or coordination. The big transformation was all in my head. CrossFit provided the basis for a complete shift in how I viewed my body, my value and myself. Not long after joining I found myself thinking not in terms of inches or sizes but rather in terms of pounds lifted and sprints run. With this new metric for assessment, my thoughts began to change. I berated myself less often for the size of my thighs and thought instead of how heavy I could squat and how far I could jump. My confidence soared even as I had to buy larger jeans to accommodate my new muscular quads. I cannot possibly overstate what a huge change in perspective this was. Today I’m strong and it shows. My shoulders, which I once would have called ugly and too big, are my favorite body part. I relish the fact that I am strong, I look strong, I feel strong. It’s awesome.
I’ll share one other anecdote about my CrossFit experience before I wrap this up. A few years ago, after a flare-up of an old injury, I started to focus on Oly because it was one of the few things that didn’t bother my back. I took a step back from CrossFit and focused my efforts on learning the complex lifts. Over the months the movements began to click and I was thrilled by the progress I made. I put the work in, drilled my form relentlessly and eventually became proficient in the lifts that had previously been the absolute bane of my existence. I went on to compete at lifting meets, winning my weight class on a few occasions. What was previously a major weakness is now something that I identify as one of my greatest strengths. Again, cue major shift in perspective. Olympic lifting allowed me to understand that excellence isn’t something that just happens to people. Skill and strength are the hard-won result of dedication, attainable if you are truly willing to pursue them. I feel so lucky to have grown up at CFB, having had the opportunity to learn so much about sport and about life. It’s been an incredible gift.
So here’s a big thank you. Thank you to CFB for helping me to lay the foundation for a healthy, happy and strong adulthood. Thank you to Neal for creating a gym where respect, compassion and encouragement are paramount. Thank you to the coaches for inspiring excellence. Thank you to the whole CFB community for being my friends, my training partners and my acquired family. While I’m excited to begin a new chapter in Denver, my next gym Front Range CrossFit has some serious shoes to fill. I love you fiercely and am so fortunate to call you all friends.
25 Aug 2013
Iron & Grit Athlete of The Month
I can’t think of anytime I have been quite so surprised as when Tina told me that I had be voted athlete of the month here.
Growing up, I was not athletic, not even a little. You know that last person left standing there in gym class when teams are chosen? That was me. My mother couched her boundless encouragement – “If you set your mind on it, you can do anything you want ” with the realistic caveat – “as long as it doesn’t involve anything physical” Outside of grade school gym class, I have never played any sports, organized or not – no softball or tennis, no beach volleyball or ultimate Frisbee.
In my 20s, I lived in NYC’s East Village and commuted each day to work in White Plains. It was the gritty 1980’s New York, the East Village of bodegas and storefront galleries, its burnt out tenements not yet turned into shiny condos.. I loved living there, but the commute was awful: the subways were filthy, the trains often broke down, and the 90-minute trip sometimes took several hours. It was in this incongruous setting of cigarettes and late-night clubs that I discovered exercise, in the form of downtown dance/workout classes. They were great fun –some had live drummers accompanying them, others had DJ mixed tapes with that week’s underground club hits. I’d take classes and lift weights til I could stop gritting my teeth from the stress of my job and commute. Finally, for the first time, I was fit.
Then I moved up to Boston. I kept the habit of working out. I’d go to the gym, bike around town, run a bit, and cross-country ski when there was snow (and I had time – a rare combination with two kids and an academic career). It’s been a pretty exciting life here, with some dramatic ups and downs personally and professionally, but fitness-wise it was mostly steady and dutiful. And, over the years, increasingly boring. I had a routine I’d do at the gym, or I’d run, at a pace that was getting slower and slower and slower. Finding excuses not to workout was getting easier.
I’d heard about Crossfit, and when I turned 50, a bit over a year ago, I decided to join. Though it was rather intimidating, I liked it tremendously from the start. It’s never boring (well, 100 burpees can be kind of boring, but the pain helps distract from that). Not only is every day different, but it’s a constant learning experience, with so much to focus on with each move. What are your shoulders doing? Where is your weight centered? What grip should you use Is the bar on the right path – and why not? The coaches are amazing – I don’t think there has been a single class in which I have not learned something.
The competitive aspect of Crossfit is terrifically motivating, and a fascinating balance between competing with other athletes and with yourself. Part of my surprise at being athlete of the month is that I’m often to be found right there at the bottom of that Wodify screen. But even if I’m among the slowest, it’s often still a victory for me, because it’s better than my last attempt. Perhaps I got in only a few overhead kettlebell swings – but a year ago, I couldn’t do them at all. I’ve gotten stronger in this last year at Crossfit, and I’ve also learned so much about the combination of balance, power and control that makes it possible to move a lot of weight – or yourself – around. I’m still struggling with actually performing much of what I learned and I have a very long list of skills yet to be mastered: kipping pull-ups, double-unders, handstands (handstand push-ups are off in some distant horizon), overhead squats with any significant weight, and many more. Knowing this list will never end is actually very encouraging ; I see that the best athletes have equally long lists – there are always higher weights, more reps, better form that they struggle to achieve.
One of the things I like most at Crossfit is being with people of such wide variety of abilities, each of whom finds their challenge in the day’s workout. The community is incredibly encouraging and motivating. When I think that I’ve done my last thruster, that I could not possibly do another pull-up, I see all around me others who are sweating, struggling – and still going. And I realize that one more is indeed possible.
Thank you all!
22 Apr 2013
I think the first thing I can say is thank you, to the whole CFB crew and all the athletes that come to the gym and push me to do better every time I come. It’s kind of hard to be the athlete of the month after Jason Sager, tough act to fallow, he’s is an inspiration to us all and I can only aspire to be the athlete he is. When Tina notified me that I was going to be the athlete of the month I was a little shocked, in my head I’m still 5’9”, 196 lb with roughly a million percent body fat. I think it’s going to take me a little more time to get used to the fact that I’m not that person anymore. These days I eat clean and train dirty as the t-shirt says, today I’m more then proud to say (to anyone who would listen) that I lost 36 lb and enjoying every minute of it.
This whole journey started in September of last year, when I decided to lose some weight, a friend of mind told me to try Crossfit and honestly I don’t really know why I didn’t at the time. Like a lot of people I thought I could do it by myself. I was going to start a diet and start running a few times a week, well… that lasted for about 3 weeks. Not only did I gain the little weight I had lost, I gained more! I kept telling myself it’s not the right time, that I work all the time, and it’s only one more pizza…
In December, after a few months of putting off my exercise and diet master plan I went shopping, I walked in to the store and with great confidence picked up a pair of pants, size 34, and proceeded to try them on. After I managed to squeeze myself in to them I took a look in the mirror and my jaw fell to the floor, they were so tight I looked like a balloon in jeans, I stormed out of the dressing room turned to my wife and said “That’s it! Im going to Crossfit, now!” I left the store and on my way to the car I signed up for a free trail, scheduled to begin the following day. At 7:30 PM I walked in to the gym and tried my first Crossfit class with coach Matt Tapply, let me tell you something, he beat me to a sweaty pulp! Light headed and on the verge of passing out I had to leave for fresh air several times and that was only the warm-up! I felt so out of shape and the only thing I could think about was “bring it!” There’s no way in hell I can’t do this. When I got home and every part of my body screamed for help I kept thinking about the fact that I got so out of shape that I couldn’t do the warm-up without pausing every few minutes to catch my breath, I decided to go again and register first thing in the morning.
At the beginning every WOD was harder then the other, and the pounds slowly starting to shed, when I started following the Paleo diet they really came flying off, my sleep apnea stopped completely (a few months earlier I was convinced that I needed to go through surgery for that) and the PRs starting piling up.
I am starting my fifth month of Crossfit and I can tell you one thing, I’m not going anywhere, it has became my therapy session, my church, the best outlet I could find.
To anyone who considers trying Crossfit or thinking about what they can gain from it, it’s not about losing the weight, even though it started that way for me, it’s not the most important thing you will gain from it. It’s about pushing yourself, it’s about not letting your first instinct of “I can’t do it” take over, it’s about looking at something that you wouldn’t normally think you could do and say “I got this”. It starts at the gym and before you know it you find yourself thinking that way in everything that you do, a really strong feeling of “getting things done”.
Thanks to Crossfit I’m healthier, stronger, leaner, and I can even say happier. I can think of so many athletes in CFB that inspire me to come everyday, to push harder each time, and not settle for anything less then crushing every WOD. And I thank them all for that, the coaches, the athletes, and even Meatball.