I was five years old when I played in my first competitive soccer game. I have no memory of whether my team won or lost. What I do remember is that it sparked a long and tortured internal battle within myself: for whatever reason, I was fixated on ‘being the best.’ I could not find that happy medium of being proud of my accomplishment while leaving my failures on the field. If I scored the game-winning goal or won a swim race I immediately considered myself America’s Next Great Athlete, immune to failure.
But when I missed a catch or made a mistake during a play I wasn’t worth the cleats I played in. I would then berate myself continuously for that one fault until I truly began to believe that I just wasn’t good enough. When I was put out on the field, my nerves would get in the way and I would miss an easy catch or forget the route to a play. When you’re known as the team ‘benchwarmer,’ it isn’t easy to keep a positive attitude about yourself.
I quickly began to think less of myself based on my athletic performance, which in turn caused serious insecurities that led to a poor self-image, low confidence and a crippling fear of failure.
Little wonder that while I was in college, I kept my workouts to myself in the Rec Center. Treadmills, Ellipticals, and Nautilus machines were my new normal. After college, I dabbled in 5Ks and sprint distance triathlons, often finishing towards the back of the pack. I shuffled through my first half-marathon, internally ashamed at my slow pace but externally blaming ‘runner’s knee.’ I was ashamed of my pace and my obvious lack of training, but I had spent more time worrying about training – and being scared about failing at the training – then actually training. I was afraid I would somehow make a mistake at training – the very time you’re supposed to fail, learn from your mistakes and move on.
Fast forward to June 2013. By this point I had completed a Half Ironman distance triathlon, numerous road races, and cycled with my bike-obsessed in laws during weekend bike trips. And while I simply managed during these events, my inner Competitive self was roiling with dismay. It wanted me to go faster. It wanted me to be stronger. It wanted me to quit being scared of failing and just get out there. I finally had it with “just managing” through a race.
At that point, Crossfit had been making waves in the media so I decided to see what it was all about. I sent an email to JT at Crossfit Somerville. I was very nervous – blindly reaching out to someone asking for help was directly at-odds with my wallflower personality. After receiving his reply, I was so glad I had pressed the Send button. JT’s reply was kind, welcoming, and no-nonsense. Of course newbies were welcome, he said. His class sizes are purposefully small so everyone received hands-on, quality coaching. His coaches would never make anyone feel stupid, slow or bad about not know what was going on. He closed the email by saying “When will you come in?”
That email changed my life.
My first few workouts were physically and emotionally draining. I felt like a fish out of water, the atmosphere of the CFSV gym a totally alien environment. I didn’t know how anything worked. Weights were being dropped all over the place and it was loud. I was often the last person to finish a workout (scaling or no). But the people and the coaches were kind and supportive and I kept going back.
One particularly brutal workout has stayed with me, which was a couplet of kettlebell swings and 50’ of bear crawls. I was the only person in the class that day, and Nick was the coach. Towards the end of the last round of bear crawls, my legs gave out. They were so fatigued I could barely move them. I dropped to the ground, and said ‘I can’t.’ And Nick got down on the floor with and said ‘Yes, you can’ and bear crawled right next to me, encouraging me until I finished the last set. I went home that night and collapsed on the couch. I noticed something didn’t seem right. I realized that in the past I would have felt deflated and embarrassed by my performance, convinced that I will never be successful. Instead, I felt the warm glow of pride and confidence radiate throughout my tired, sore body. Something about Crossfit had pushed down the barrier in my head and because of it I was able to embrace my internal struggle with ‘never being good/fast/quick enough’ and move on from it. I had evolved from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can try.’
In the last 16 months, I’ve progressed from doing box jumps on a 12” agro box to sailing up to a box at 24.” I can climb a rope. I can do a toes to bar. I can do a pushup. And not a princess pushup, I can do a real life, honest to goodness pushup, and I can do quite a number of them. I can do double unders, and I know what a split jerk, snatch, and power clean are. I am also pretty sure I have a “two-pack.” My progress in Crossfit has made me a faster runner, a faster cyclist, a stronger swimmer, and a better skier.
In addition to gaining strength and fitness, I’ve met dozens of amazing CFSV members who come from all walks of life. Getting to know them and hearing their own stories has considerably enriched my life, and I feel lucky and humbled to call them my friends. Crossfit isn’t an easy sport, just like running, cycling, or triathlons aren’t easy sports. As
everyone always says, working out isn’t supposed to be easy. I come home after each class exhausted and aching. When I wake up the next day, I embrace the muscle soreness because it means I am improving. It means that next time, I’ll be faster.
I don’t feel defeat and misery if I miss a double-under or need to have another band added to my pull-up scale. My worth isn’t measured by my performance against the “Rx” standards, or how much weight I moved in comparison to my classmates. My worth is defined by the fact that I show up, work hard, make changes, and cheer on my friends. I spent my first 28 years as a young woman who was too scared to try anything because of my fear of failing. But, because of the support of my Crossfit Somerville family I know that I will spend the rest of my life as a woman who is proud of who she is and what she can do, no matter where she finishes in a race.