Instead of “I’m the king of the world if I win, and a failure if I lose,” and the crushing pressure that entails, the spiritually rewired athlete’s internal logic is this: I’m a child of God; that’s my primary identity. God loves me regardless of what happens in this competition. God has given me these talents, these amazing gifts, and it’s my responsibility to use them as best I can, to perform and succeed to the utmost of my ability. But it’s not for personal glory, or to feed my towering ego. Rather, every burst of speed and power is a testament to a higher power whose love transcends any kind of earhtyly success. The competitive results are not part of that higher reality. But the effort is. The leap toward perfection of effort, a kinetic hymn, is a connection to God. It’s sacred, the way prayer is sacred. And at the same time it is exquisitely concrete. It has mass, speed, position, trajectory, in the now of a throw or a catch or a weight that needs to be lifted. It’s where physics meets the soul.” – J.C Hertz, Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of Crossfit and the Primal Future of Fitness (New York, NY: Crown, 2014) 248
This month marks my two year journey with Crossfit. It has been quite a ride to say the least. I have always been a pretty active person though never someone who would be seen as having ‘athlete’ as an identifier. No, I bought into the world of ‘working out’ in my adult life which is to say I viewed exercise akin to exorcism: something you do to prevent bad things from happening like death or weight gain. While I was a cross country runner and swimmer in high school, I just never saw myself as athletic. Being a bookworm seemed to be a different and distinct role to play in “The Breakfast Club” and for the most part I was fine with that. So I dabbled with various gym memberships in my late 20’s and ran miles on treadmills, went to occasional classes, read “Born to Run” and thought the key was going barefoot and took up more recreational running including running a couple of half marathons. But I was never an athlete, I was ‘working out’ and ‘exercising’. Into my 40’s in addition to the typical ‘life is busy’ mantra I started having knee problems resulting in a torn meniscus which sidelined me from running for a while.
At this point let me say out loud that I ‘get’ all the push back from folks who both hate the ‘Crossfitters won’t shut up about Crossfit’ meme as well as the argument that it is simply one form of fitness among many. Akin to different favorite hymns at Christmas time there are many, many wonderful ways that adults are finding new levels of fitness: adult crew teams, running groups, yoga and ultra trail running have their adherents and I am not part of those groups but also celebrate them from afar. But something clicked with my journey into a Crossfit box that somehow just made sense in ways I am still trying to put together. Like the line from the block quote I started with from JC Hertz’s wonderful book, there is something in me that was search for a ‘kinetic hymn’ – a way to sing praise with all that I am, to abandon myself and still strive for reaching for yet another horizon. About 6 months into my time with the community of Stoneway Crossfit I realized that part of what was missing was that I was eternally frustrated with ‘exercise’ and ‘working out’ for the simple fact that it wasn’t what we were put on the earth to with our bodies. No, as in all things of excellence it can’t merely be a sidelined aspect of my life. If it is to be transformative then that mean it effects everything. I was not to be ‘working out’ for a fear of death nor ‘exercising’ some demons of fat from my body. No, what I woke to was that I was an athlete who needed to train. I eat food for the sake of performance not sitting around worrying about what calorie count it has. I look at excellence and mental toughness in a new way in all aspects of my life but in a wholistic way. It is hard to get your mouth around the word ‘athlete’ without seemed incredibly pretentious especially as a rather out-of-shape male approaching 50 like a bullet from a gun. But when I made the mental shift and realized that I was an athlete who was training, setting goals, reaching for more as the singing of a ‘kinetic hymn’ then I forgot about the grind of lifting weights, running, rowing, etc. Everyday has become a liturgy of sorts, a lectionary of movements that are about liberation, freedom, and sanctification of the body, mind and soul.
As I sit back now after my two years I am thankful for this kinetic hymn I am still learning to sing and for the choir of other athletes at Stoneway CF as well as other Crossfit boxes around the world I have stepped into and been welcomed, challenged, and confirmed as an athlete who is training and transforming all the time.