Sunday, May 6, 2012

Profiles in courage. A report from the bottom of the leaderboard at CrossFit Mid-Atlantic Regionals

I have a pretty harsh sense of humor. I can be a cynical bastard. My cynicism can be a bit much, really. I try and keep a lid on it, but, yeah, lids break sometimes....

In keeping with that, my sense of awe and wonder may be a little less developed than yours as well. It takes a lot to impress me.

Conversely, however, when I get impressed, look out.

Once my mind gets blown and I get in a full-on state of "Holy shit, did you see *that*?!?!" let's just say that *all* my cynicism disappears in one giant flush and I stand there, figuratively (or even literally), slackjawed and stunned, perhaps even a little misty-eyed, mumbling Zen-based profundities on the miracle of life on the big blue orb that we call home.

Like I said, it's all a bit much, but -- like a decent 400m sprint for an old guy -- sometimes it's all I got.

Which brings us to yesterday's events at the CrossFit Mid-Atlantic Regionals.

I know what you are thinking: I am about to tell you how awesome, amazing, etc. some of the top-flight athletic performances that I saw were. Yeah, to name a few, Ben Smith is a superhuman cyborg. He should be disqualified from all future competitions because he clearly is mainlining the blood of alien babies who died at Roswell. No one could possibly be that good. But he is. And, on the women's side, Jenn Jones is flat-out killing it too. And I could spend a whole lot more space telling you about twenty or more mindblowing feats of strength, mobility and Terminator-like instinct from the likes of twenty or more other individuals and teams. (Speaking of teams, we should consider scrapping the entire Department of Homeland Security in favor of employing CrossFit Greensboro to do the job. Maybe it wouldn't even require the whole gym, just the male/female pair who did the DB snatch event (#3) yesterday). These are scary, awe-inspiring people.

But everyone else is focused on them. So you don't need me to do that.

Instead, I am aiming my truly awe-inspired thoughts today a lot lower on the leaderboard.

I was there specifically to watch my son's team from CrossFit 215. They were a "bubble team," ranked in the very last spot for regional qualification. They had a great attitude: they qualified and they were going to do their best to kick ass, but it was all in the pursuit of fun. They were going to be in the second heat of Team Event Three.

And, whoa.... Team Event Three yesterday was murderous: one-arm dumbbell snatches at 100 pounds for men, 70 pounds for women, and the athlete had to alternate arms for each rep. The full workout was one man and one woman for each team, three rounds of ten snatches each, punctuated by a 100-yd sprint at the end of each round for each person. So it went something like: man snatches 100-lb DB five times on each side, sprints 100 yards and then woman does her round at 70 pounds and then sprints, and back it goes to the guy. Three total rounds for each person. To move on to the next event, each team had to finish one round apiece for the man and woman or else the team would be cut from the competition. The pressure was on.

So, there I was, pre-first heat, shooting the proverbial shit with Steve Liberati from Steve's Club. (And let me digress and say that if you are not supporting the work of Steve's Club through a purchase or donation, you ought to get a move on and get it in gear. They are doing more to help urban teens than the government or almost anyone else). We had just finished talking when I noticed the first heat of Team Event Three had gotten under way. My son's team wouldn't be up until the next heat, but this looked like it could be awesome, and I watched. The guys mostly powered their way through the first ten snatches, did their sprints and passed the figurative batons off to their female teammates.

It was then that it all got inspiring. I said something to Steve like, "Holy shit, look at *this* woman dig in." And he saw what I meant, and we never said another word, instead watching the workout intently.

There were quite a few women athletes destroying their portion of this workout, but some weren't. And, during heat one, I happened to be standing near one of the latter at the time, and it got riveting.

A 70-pound DB snatch would give me serious pause. I am a guy, 6'3"-ish, about 175. Thirty of them, alternating arms -- the amount required of each *female* team member -- sounds brutal, probably impossible for me, particularly just out of elbow surgery as I am right now. (I am not even going to talk about the men's weight... Yowch). But in the hand of what was probably a 5'2" tall woman who, even well-muscled as she is, couldn't weigh than 120 or so? Double yowch.

The word "daunting" came to mind.

I don't know what team she was with. I don't know her name. But, holy hell, this woman had guts.

Let's begin by saying that the weight was heavy for her. But here's the thing: she didn't seem to care. She spent, no lie, most of the twelve-minute cap on the workout trying to get one snatch. One. Get that one and there would be a whole lot more to go. One. She needed a bunch more just to get her team past the one-round cut. One. That's what she fearlessly kept working on.

I would have quit about 30 seconds in.

She didn't quit.

It was quite possibly the most inspiring thing I have ever watched and certainly the most inspiring thing I have ever watched live, in-person.

I swore at various moments -- and, granted, I'm a little pro-elbow at the moment -- that her elbow was going to twist off. At other moments, I thought that the dumbbell was going to leave a melon-sized indentation in her skull as it crashed down repeatedly, just missing her noggin, on failed attempt after failed attempt. Then her arm did this wacky wobbly thing on a few attempts in a row that led a whole bunch of us to think that her wrist, elbow and shoulder might all petition for a new, nicer owner.

And. She. Just. Kept. Trying.

And she was missing these snatches by the narrowest of margins, meaning that she was spending colossal amounts of energy on each attempt.

Yet, she *looked* about as unfazed by all of this as she could. I would have slaughtered several fuzzy newborn kittens one minute into this ordeal. After two minutes, you would have been able to hear me yelling a list of words featuring the letter F a few counties away. And after no more than three minutes I would have thrown the DB through the wall and quit.

She didn't quit. She just kept at it.

For probably 11 minutes, she soldiered on. Failed violent attempt after failed violent attempt. When it had to *really* get gnarly -- from the physical perspective, but particularly the mental one -- was when she *had* to realize that even if she could get one, two, even three completed reps, she wasn't going to get ten and her team was going to get cut because she was running out of time.

She kept going. I don't know how.

Finally, the timer sounded the cutoff at 12 minutes. I was relieved. Honestly, she looked like she wanted to keep trying.

I'm sure it was all a crushing disappointment to her, but you wouldn't have known it. Not more than 30 minutes later -- a period of time during which I would have still been beating something to death somewhere if this were me -- I was walking through the top part of the stands and saw her laughing with friends.


She was easy to identify from the mega bag of ice tied to her arm. I risked being rude and interrupted her for just a second: "I want you to know that was the bravest damn thing I have ever seen. You should be really proud of yourself for grinding that out."

She laughed again and thanked me.

I didn't tell her that, thanks to her, I am going to keep my complaints to myself in the gym for a *very* long while.

A small postscript: this particular heat-one drama played itself out similarly for a number of women in this heat and others, including in the individual events. My son's teammate at CrossFit 215 struggled mightily through the first 10 reps of this workout, and got out of it alive, even somehow making her 11th and 12th reps her best of the day. That was an inspiration too, as was every other competitor who struggled -- failing or succeeding -- with this workout. I focused here on this particular athlete because she was the one whom I observed go through all this agony first. I also saw much of it from a vantage spot on the floor that got so crowded on subsequent heats that I went into the stands, so I can accurately report her great attitude during and after all this went down. Absolutely no disrespect is intended toward anyone else who also gutted out this nightmare workout, succeeding or failing. You are all heroes, much tougher than me.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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