Hedge fund guys do CrossFit. So do cops. And construction workers, engineers, and professors. (Even rock stars, too!) Here are their stories.
J.C. Herz, 42, is a Washington, D.C.-based author and speaker.
In school, I was a year younger than most of my classmates. Which meant I was smaller and slower and not as strong, and therefore not on teams. To blow off adolescent steam, I ran. I could run (slowly) for an hour and enjoy it. I just never experienced the team thing: practices, coaching, competition with friends and against other teams. “Leaving it all out on the field.” Being cheered for. The people who had those experiences were in their own social universe. They were the popular alpha kids, The Athletes. My social universe consisted of people whose bonding consisted of shared music preferences (the more arcane the better) and hair-trigger sarcasm. I was an archetypal GenX goth girl.
Ironically, I ended up marrying an uber-jock: a 6’3” former football player whose nickname in college was “Big Guy.” When two-a-day workouts did nothing to combat middle-aged spread, he ditched his gym membership for CrossFit. His jawline got sharper. He rediscovered “beast mode.” He also started raving in incomprehensible gibberish about his workouts of the day (WODs). “We did 21-15-9, thrusters and wall balls…” This was dinner conversation. As months passed, WOD descriptions became more detailed and annoying.
I figured I had to try CrossFit for the sake of our marriage. Because if I liked it, then I’d be as excited about the gibberish as he was, and it’d be a shared interest. If not, I’d get credit for being a good sport. I had nothing lose. So I started doing CrossFit.
It kicked my ass. It was physically demanding like nothing else. It was also spiritually challenging to push myself through the physical intensity of the workouts and to get so many corrective cues from coaches. There’s a fairly steep learning curve for feats of coordination like double-unders (jump once, while a jump rope passes under your feet twice) or Olympic lifts. In order to make progress, you need to let the coaches fix your glitches in placement and timing. You need to accept that you’re just going to suck for three to six months. Even for athletes and superfit people, CrossFit is humbling.
Being terrible at sports was a familiar experience, so that part didn’t bother me. But it was odd to have someone give a damn. If you’ve never had a coach, it takes some getting used to: technical corrections mean that someone who knows how to help you get better is paying attention, and wants you to get better. It’s psychologically uncomfortable at first, but then you crave it because you want to build skill.
The thing that really weirded me out, though, was that the people who were really strong – the Army Rangers, Ironman competitors and former college athletes – were so friendly and encouraging of my efforts. One evening when we were all struggling to find our maximum strict shoulder press, I had a barbell three quarters of the way up. My shoulders were starting to lose steam. From a couple different places in the room, I heard “You got this!” and “Get-it-get-it-get-it-get-it!”
The cheers were coming from the Athletes. The Secret Service guy whose dad had a Superbowl ring. The 5’9” blond-ponytail girls who’d played lacrosse and field hockey. My first thought was, wow, someone must be going for a personal record. Someone behind me? The blond ponytail girls were looking in my direction. Like Duckie in the movie Pretty in Pink, I wanted to look over my shoulder and see who they were talking to. It was a real shock to realize those alpha kids were cheering for me.
The barbell levitated itself – or at least that’s what it felt like. I scrawled my personal record alongside everyone else’s numbers on the white board. They’d been teammates all along, showing up for practice, squaring off but also cheering for each other. I just hadn’t realized it because I’d never been on a team. And now suddenly, in my late thirties, I had a coach and a squad and a jersey (a premium moisture-wicking tri-blend t-shirt in the gym’s colors). I realized (in yet another moment of nostalgia for John Hughes) that any neighborhood CrossFit gym reprises the plot of The Breakfast Club, with a twist: all the princesses, weirdos, geeks and delinquents end up becoming athletes.
J.C. Herz is the author of Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness (Crown Archetype)