6 Things That CrossFit Games Athletes Taught Me

District_Crossfit_Class_Warfare-47_(14973829717)

Photo by Rose Physical Therapy Group obtained from Wikimedia Commons

Regionals are heading into week 2 this weekend, featuring Califonia, East and Pacific regions. Like most CrossFit (CF) Games fans, I tuned into last weekend’s 3-day regionals, tracking 2014’s Women’s Champ, Camile Leblanc-Bazinet AKA CLB and many other well known names. I’ve only been following the CF Games for nearly a year now. I started following the 2014 Games in mid competition. I just wanted to watch something on YouTube and the live broadcast was on. I liked olympic lifting and since CF had it incorporated, I decided to tune in. I had heard about CF and Rich Froning before, but I was never caught in the trend – until I started watching the events go down in Carson. I was immediately sucked in and swept away by the competitive vibe, “coolness” of the events and most of all, I was in complete awe of what these athletes were capable of. The big headliner revolved around Rich Froning, who I had heard was supposed to be some unbeatable super human. Yet this guy was apparently in real risk of being dethroned. On the women’s side, I saw Kara Webb, who I had never heard of before, not being able to finish Midline March. My heart sank when commentators said it was a nerve injury. It’s not something you can just muscle through without possibly risking permanent damage. I had struggled with an ulnar nerve issue myself, so my heart broke for her. So you see, the allure isn’t just the fast paced competition. There are stories. And CrossFit is full of them.

Today I widely follow a number of CFers on social media. However, if you ask me if I would crossfit myself, that’s a whole other discussion and will be an upcoming blog post. I think I easily have the heart and competitive drive to do it, but I don’t think I’d ever truly crossfit, for reasons I’ll discuss in the future. If you missed the noise recently on Dr. Stuart McGill’s take on CF, click here. Whether you crossfit or not, know someone that does crossfit, disagree or agree with CrossFit, I think we can all agree that there will never be an end to the discussion of whether it’s “good” or “bad”. I am probably among a certain voice that says that there are both positive and negative aspects in it, and just like any other sport, there are always risks of injury. I for sure am a huge fan of CF Games athletes because I admire them as athletes and human beings. (Note: I don’t discriminate against athletes that don’t make it to the Games, it’s just due to social media and sponsors that I mostly hear about the better known athletes.)

Another reason that I’ve come to love CF is that I’ve learned a lot from the athletes about many things, not just concerning how to be a better athlete, but a better person too. Last summer, I was just getting better and feeling good again, after suffering one of the most trying semesters in Spring 2014. (More on that later in future mental health blog posts.) In retrospect, CF might’ve actually helped me deal with anxiety and more. Here are 6 lessons that I’ve learned.

1. Laughter is important. So is having fun.
When I watched the CrossFit Games Team Series in the fall, it was very apparent to me that these amazing, professional athletes are silly and like to have fun. Even though things can get very serious in training and competition, they still like to goof around with each other. You can easily also take a look at any of the videos that captured the 2014 Games behind the scenes and you’ll see it too. Being a CrossFitter that goes to the gym most days and lifts weights, throws med balls, ergs on the rower, etc., and seeks out the “dark place” or “pain cave” each time isn’t exactly the happiest time filled with laughter. And neither are the days when barbells feel heavy and you can’t nail your snatches. I honestly never realized the importance of laughter until my own laughter receded in Spring 2014.

2. Balance in life, beyond CF.
If you watch CF’s video on how the sport has evolved, you’ll see the ambassadors of the sport speak the truth behind the glitz and glam that we all think that professional athletes live in. CF is a very demanding sport and Rich Froning is known for doing multiple workouts each day. If he’s not working out, he feels guilty. Games veterans like Froning and Jason Khalipa know that there’s more to life beyond CF. They are fathers, husbands, business owners, etc. And although they take their sport very seriously, they make conscious efforts to also recognize that their careers in this sport won’t be forever and that they need other priorities in life too. We all know that balance is key, but hearing it from them really hits the message home.

3. Sacrifice
One of my role models and favourite CF athletes is Julie Foucher. If you watch CF’s feature video of her, you get a taste of what it’s like to be a medical school student, and a 4 times Games athlete that has never finished outside of top 5. She took a break from competition in 2013 for school reasons. And this year is her last year of competition before she commits fully to her studies and career. It’s mind boggling to imagine what kind of disciplined athlete and student that she must be, by always making sacrifices to train enough and also study enough to excel in both realms.

4. Truly loving what you do.
If you’ve ever heard interviews from Dan Bailey or Michele Letendre, you’ve heard of their comments about their contemplation of when to call it quits. Michele said in one of the videos that she was very close to ending her competitive career because she wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Luckily, her spark for CF was regained and led her to a 4th place finish last year. Honestly, this is such an important concept, whether you apply it to sport or other aspects of life. If you don’t enjoy what you do, you’re not going to be a happy person when you’re forcing yourself to do something you dislike, day in and day out. This is a good reminder to check in if you truly love what you’re doing each day.

5. Constantly evaluating and adapting your goals.
Since the Games and Regionals are multi-day competitions, athletes have to keep changing their strategies and goals. Sometimes you really have to stay realistic and ask yourself if you think that your goal is still obtainable. This forces you to stay true to yourself and leads to greater success. Again, this is applicable to many aspects in life.

6. Using your dark place as a prime strength.
Back when I competed in XC and track, when any of my teammates asked me why I was nervous before races, I would always answer that I was afraid of the pain and having the wheels come off. It probably took until university when I finally realized, that pain was actually my strength. I don’t know that there’s ever a workout that CFers do that isn’t brutally painful. If you don’t like pain, then CF may not be for you. Josh Bridges prefers to train by himself and embraces pain as his strength. As I’ve grown as an athlete, I now know that I’m no longer afraid of the pain and know that I can endure it.

“The truth of the matter is, very few CrossFit Games athletes make a full time living just off of CrossFit Games… Anyone that makes it to the CrossFit Games have made a lot of sacrifices in their life… when everybody else is doing X, Y, Z, the Games athletes are training, pushing to get better at something.” – Jason Khalipa

“If you want to beat me or Michele, you don’t just have to be like good and manage all the skill and weight… you have to be willing to die. You have to be willing to leave it all there… we’re going to go in that really dark place.” – Camille Leblanc-Bazinet