Sooooo… I’ve been doing the CrossFit Games. These started a few years ago, mainly for the elite of the elite CrossFit athletes. Last year, scaled versions of the workouts were introduced so that regular CrossFitters throughout the world could participate. Without having a clue as to what that meant, I signed up online, after some serious encouragement from the coaches and other athletes.
Each week, for five weeks, a new workout was unveiled. These were called 15.1, 15.2, etc., up to 15.5. I did each one to my the best of my ability, not really caring where I fell on the leaderboard. Not only did I do all the workouts scaled, some I did euphemistically as “ultra scaled.” What were they going to do? Disqualify me from being last? When all was said and I done, I ended up in the bottom third of the bracket for women of my age. Not bad.
This year, I’m taking the CrossFit Games much more seriously. I decided to push myself and do only scaled, not ultra scaled. Also, since I’m a year older, I’m now in the Masters Women, age 55-59, category. The scaled versions of these workouts are the easiest ones of all.
I did all right with the 16.1 and 16.2 workouts. Not fantastic, but all right. These involved a LOT of walking lunges, burpees, jumping pull-ups, single unders (jump roping), sit-ups, and squat cleans. I was able to do squat cleans (lifting the barbell to the shoulders, squatting all the way down, then standing all the way up) at 45# but could not progress to the next round and do them at 65#. I’m not strong enough yet.
That shook me a little but okay. One of my fitness goals this year is to lift at least in the 60 pound range which I’m doing with some other lifts, just not this one. I needed to put it behind me and get ready for next week’s workout.
The next one, 16.3, consisted of as many rounds as possible in 7 minutes of 10 power snatches (lifting the bar from the floor all the way over head with arms locked out straight) at 35# and 5 jumping chest-to-bar pull-ups. That means standing on a box so my head was at least 6″ below the bar, grasping the bar with my hands, and jumping high enough to touch my chest, just below my clavicles, to the bar. Piece of cake, I thought. I’d never done them before but it will be just like jumping pull-ups where all I have to do is get my chin over the bar. I’ll bang out 7 rounds, a minute per round. Visions of feeling like the strongest woman on earth flashed through my head. I’d better be sure to have someone take a video with my phone so I can post it on Facebook, and so future generations can use it to train with.
I got to Wildcat CrossFit early to warm up, chat with my friends, and show off my fashionably well-matched workout outfit. I was quickly able to get my barbell set up and had no problem whatsoever with the power snatches. I casually strolled over to the pull-up bar, got my box in place, was measured to ensure my head was at regulation height, put my hands on the bar, jumped and… could not get high enough to touch my chest to the bar. Okay. I jumped again and… could not get high enough. I tried again. And again. And AGAIN. AND AGAIN. I was now panicking. There were only minutes to go before the judging started. All my friends were encouraging me and saying, “You got this! You’re only an inch away!”
I didn’t have it. The inch might as well have been ten feet. The outcome of 16.3 consisted of me fleeing into a back room at Wildcat to sit hunched against the wall, sobbing. My friend, Jen, did her absolute best to help me shore up my now non-existent confidence and self-esteem. Through the fog of panic and despair, I realized I couldn’t do the chest-to-bars because I was afraid of slamming my larynx against the bar. There was also another major, major reason, one I think that is DNA deep.
I was fortunate enough to be born into a family of incredibly strong, intelligent, caring women. My sisters and cousins are wellsprings of knowledge and touchstones of courage. I ended up Skyping with my cousin, Gina, and one sentence into describing the debacle, she interrupted me with, “You were doing something physical in front of a group of people?”
The penny dropped.
A few weeks ago, Gina had volunteered to bring soup to a gathering at her church. She is new to the group, and wanted to make a good impression. Gina is an excellent cook; she is even a master canner. She made one of her favorites, chicken and dumplings soup, and carefully transported it in her best crock pot over to the church.
When she got to the kitchen, her stomach plummeted. There were already two crock pots there, small and unassuming ones. Oh, no. Next to those, her crock pot, complete with a probe to check the internal temperature of roasts, looked flashy and ostentatious. It was as though she had pulled up in a tricked out metallic purple Cadillac convertible next to two sensible, brown Toyotas.
It also didn’t help that she was the only one there without white hair. If you do not know about older church ladies, I’ll fill you in. They are in charge. They run the meetings and the get togethers and the activities and the lunches. They know how to cook. They know how to run a kitchen. They know how to set things up and how to clean up and put things away. They know how to tell people what to do and how to do it. You cannot BS an elderly church lady.
Not only did Gina bring a circus tent of a crock pot, she now felt like she was back in seventh grade home ec, making her first soup, with all eyes on her. What if hers was the worst soup ever?! What if all the women thought she was a fraud?! What if they never wanted her to cook for them again?!
It’s DNA deep, this fear of public humiliation. It is a fear that most people have. However, layered on top of that, Gina and I believe, is our Amish heritage. Our paternal grandfather was raised Amish but left the order as an adult. While we had no contact with Amish relatives, certain behaviors and ways of thinking were carried through my father and my uncles, one of whom was Gina’s father.
The Amish do not believe the individual should stand out. Instead, everyone works together for the good of the community. This concept has been described by the metaphor of a loaf of bread. All the members are individual grains of wheat, making up the loaf, and none of them is unique.
We came to an important realization as we Skyped. Gina and I are not afraid of making a mistake, of failing, of having to go back to the drawing board to start over. We are afraid of being singled out for humiliation. She did not want to be shunned by a group at a church she loves. Since I am not a natural athlete and have to fight for every tiny bit of progress I make, a busy, noisy event with all eyes on me is not my optimal learning environment when I am trying to do new movements. Even though everyone at Wildcat CrossFit is incredibly supportive and nonjudgmental, old, old internal fear demons rise up and overwhelm me.
We also realized that we are not homogenous grains of wheat in a loaf of bread. We are bright and unique and beautiful, all the more so because we get up after being knocked down, and we try again.
As for Gina’s chicken and dumplings soup? It was the hit of the lunch, eaten down to the last droplets of delicious broth. The elderly church ladies asked her to cook for future lunches. Yes, it is true her biggest fears were unfounded, but they were real fears, that she faced head on.
And the 16.3? I went back to Wildcat CrossFit a couple days later. I still could not do the jumping chest-to-bar pull-ups but did do ten power snatches. Success was not the power snatches. Success was showing back up.