My Crossfit journey is essentially a mirror of my career: a perpetual struggle for success: to do better, to be better and to never settle for less than the best I can be. My love-hate relationship with Crossfit began when I had to give up Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido after 15 years of study. I simply could not handle any more hospital stays from blows delivered to my legs. I found Yoga and loved it, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to work out with weights but I really did not know what I was doing, and weight routines become boring real fast.
When I stumbled across Crossfit while surfing the net I found exactly what I was looking for. Crossfit was started by Greg Glassman in 1995. (He actually came to my Arizona gym a few weeks ago!) There are now more than 10,000 Crossfit gyms worldwide with more than 2 million Crossfitters working out in them.
I was thrilled to find a Crossfit gym (aka “box”) not even a mile away from where I lived in White Plains. It was in a basement. Without the internet, no one would even know it was there.
I dropped into Westchester Fit, unannounced. There was Chris Guerrero, the owner—and Coach Mikey sitting at a desk. It was an off hour, so there were no classes in session. “I don’t know if I belong here,” I blurted out. “Maybe I’m too old.” “Oh no,” they replied. “Crossfit is for everybody. Come to our three introductory ONRAMP sessions.” I was sure they were taking bets on how long I would last after I left them, laughing their asses off.
The following week I went to my first ONRAMP session and Chris explained the basics behind Crossfit. A group of us did some simple exercises that are part of many of the WODs (Workout of the Day). I was so sore I could barely move…and all I did was Air Squats! I called the instructor and told him that I was too sore to come to the second session. “Oh, you have to come,” he said. Crossfitters do not pay much attention to soreness, because it is primarily buildup of lactic acid. The workouts are always different, so the body is always being worked out differently from the day before. I soon learned that working through some soreness is therapeutic—there is increased blood flow to the areas that most need it and the soreness actually disappears during training. Steve Madden, in his book, Embrace the Suck, says that “pain, soreness, fatigue and even nausea are a regular part of intense athletic training…if your routine is anything but routine, if it is consistently varied, then it stands to reason that you will be constantly sore.” It is true that I am always sore, but never am I as sore as I was from those Air Squats! I savor the soreness…it is proof that I did something!
In my first few weeks, I needed extra attention in class. All the exercises and repetitions had to be scaled to what I could actually do. Chris and Mike helped me through the difficult initiation. “Don’t worry,” they encouraged. “In a month you will be doing what everyone else is doing.” And they were right.
Of course, I have limitations! I have some mobility issues. No one would expect a 60-year old to lift the same amount of weight as a 30-year old. However, in Crossfit, you are competing against yourself while working within the parameters of what you are able to do. Some people believe that Crossfit is too intense and that all the athletes end up injured. In all my years of Crossfit the only injuries I observed were among those who did not use their heads. The typical injured Crossfitter was young and practiced difficult movements to excess. I am very smart when I workout. I know what I can do and what I can’t. I know the difference between soreness, pain from exertion, and pain that is abnormal. I would never work through pain that is abnormal.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Crossfitters make wonderful community. We’re family! I made a lot of friends at Westchester fit and I took comfort in knowing that we faced our fears together. We were all terrified of the difficult WODs.
There were some WODs I thought I could never do. It would be easy to avoid those WODS by not showing up on those days. But Coach Chris railed against this: “You can’t cherry-pick the WODs!” Crossfit is about facing your fears, and your classmates hold you accountable. They notice if you are absent. “One of the truisms of Crossfit,” says Steven Madden “is that you should do the thing you hate the most, because its only in mastery that the hate will dissipate.”
It is true that only by working on your weak skills can you ever hope to master them. You learn nothing if you only keep perfecting the skills that you already excel at. The same is true in Dentistry. So many practitioners are afraid to try anything outside of their comfort zone. The result is that the patients all get the same treatment, regardless of whether that is the right treatment or not. “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” the saying goes.
All things are difficult before they are easy. Pursuing excellence in my dental career taught me this. One of my best traits is that I never give up.
So I keep striving to do better—especially in skills that I suck at. I guess it is appropriate that Steve Madden titled his book “Embrace the Suck.”
I’m not sure who lost the bet–Chris or Mike–but it is now 9 years after ONRAMP and I am still doing Crossfit. (Who’s laughing now?) I am truly hooked on Crossfit.
When I first moved to Arizona, one of the very first items on my to-do list was to find a new Crossfit Gym. I wanted a box with the best trainers. I easily found Next Level Performance and I have been a member ever since. Mycal Anders, the gym owner, is a former Marine with an MBA. In addition to being the gym owner and athlete par excellence, he is a leadership speaker and coach. I joined his leadership club as well as his gym. The leadership club is made up mostly of gym members. I was absolutely astounded at the level of accomplishment achieved by this group of people who I only knew as “faces” at the gym.
Why should I have been surprised? Only Type A people gravitate to Crossfit. Type A people have the discipline and persistence necessary to succeed with Crossfit. It is only natural that they would carry these traits to their professional lives. After a few club meetings, it became clear that nearly all of us had “father” issues. By that I mean that we grew up striving to please our fathers. Most of us had fathers who were very difficult to please and some had fathers who could never be pleased. Many were struggling to come to terms with their difficult fathers. Some even had fathers who did not love them (luckily, I am not in that category). It dawned on me that we—the ones with the father issues–were the lucky ones! We had fathers who demanded excellence from us! Our fathers actually made us who we are.
After I had been at my new gym for a while, I met Sam Gershkovitz, my 30-year old trainer at Next Level Performance. I had just taken one of his classes when he first came to the gym and I expressed to him that I wanted to learn all of these complex skills that I rattled off. He looked me squarely in the eye and asked “Why?” “The 30-year-old inside me wants to do them,” I replied. “You tell that guy to shut up!” he exclaimed. “Some of those skills you don’t need. The risk versus the benefit is not worth it.” Steve Madden says, “there is simply too much to master for any one person to think he can do everything.”
“And by-the way, how serious are you,” Sam added? That’s when I started working one-on-one with Sam. I’m now working with him 3 times a week and taking some classes as well. We have been working together for nearly 2 years.
I settled on learning how to do the “Toes-to-Bar” skill. This skill demands a lot of upper body strength, which I did not have. To do a Toes-to-Bar, you have to perform a kipping movement where you push yourself away from the bar so your feet can approach it and then pull yourself under the bar to set up for the next repetition. I couldn’t even do one of these movements. Sam worked hard to help me develop adequate body strength for the toes-to-bar and for many other aspects of Crossfit as well—including aerobic conditioning with the assault bike, Concept rower and running. (I can now squat all the way down with a barbell to the level of a med-ball
When I started Crossfit I could barely do an Air Squat!)
It is truly a miracle the degree to which I have been transformed. I have much greater upper body strength and my upper body is now muscular and noticeably larger. I lost a lot of weight around my mid-section. And I can crank out 7 Toes-to-Bar in a row! (My new goal is to achieve 10—I’m “raising the bar.”) Not bad for a 69-year-old!
Never in a million years did I think this was possible. There really is no question that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. Certainly, this is true with skills in Dentistry. They are difficult skills to master, but if you are persistent, you can do it. All you have to do is accept the challenge and never give up.
I’m never envious of what skills and athleticisms my 30-year old classmates have that I lack. “It’s a central tenet of Crossfit that you are to leave your ego at the door when you enter a box,” says Steve Madden. I am in awe of what my classmates can do—they are my idols.
Everyone in my Crossfit community celebrates each other’s milestones—their PRs (personal records) and their WOD achievements with high-five’s and fist bumps.
What am I getting at? When pursing excellence in your professional life…apply Crossfit wisdom:
–Leave your ego at the door.
–Approach each challenge and problem logically and methodically.
–Be persistent in the pursuit of excellence.
–Never give up when obstacles block the path. Find that path around the obstacle.
–Show up anyway and do your best!
–And always believe you can do it. Because you can.
The ONWARD community celebrates you and gives you fist-bumps.