This Is Not A Transformation Story
It’s common knowledge that if you surround yourself with better, you become better. Rarely does anyone speak about how unworthy one feels when you’re constantly surrounding yourself with better. Perhaps because if one keeps showing up long enough, listening attentitively, taking direction, watching others, and pushing just a little harder that feeling of unworthiness turns into determination and that determination prodcues improvement and that improvement breeds commitment. And once committed, there’s no turning back.

I’ve been surrounding myself with better since high school. All of my friends were in the top ten or in our class. I was in the sixties. The were more technicially proficient artists. They were more popular. In college, I was active in student government and held a few leadership roles. I was always overshadowed by my more charismatic, likeable (and electable) friend. My grad school cohorts worked harder than me; wrote better than me; got better jobs than me. My closest coworker is better at her job than I am at mine. My friends are funnier than me; make more money than me; are kinder, more generous, more forgiving than me. My sister is more stylish; a faster, more controlled and confident skiier; a better present giver. I attend yoga classes with women (and men) who can hold the poses longer and more proficiently with their rippled with muscles. I am the slowest “athlete” and the last person finished in every Crossfit class I attend–everyday.

I’ve been working out in some form since high school—weight training electives; treadmills, elipticals, and rowers at YMCAs across the state; student rec centers at UNCW and ASU; walking the Loop at Wrightsville Beach; walking the greenways in Boone; circuit training; cheap-ass purple gyms; contractual gold gyms; weekly personal training sessions as a women’s group; spin classes; half-marathon training; Thanksgiving day turkey trots; Bikram; warm vinyasa yoga; hot vinyasa yoga.For years, I worked out on my own in a gym. Physically being taken nowhere on machines; physiologically bouncing around the scales. Always pining for a personal trainer who could set me up on a program and push me through it. My evolution from an aloof gym-goer to Crossfit was slow. Seven, perhaps even seventeen, years in the making. Unlike many, it was more a slow progression due to an escalation of committment than a head-first jump into the deep end of the pool.

The first thoughts I can remember having when Crossfit first entered my conscious (and the zeitgeist) were, “I want to do that, but it seems expensive. I don’t want to throw up.” 

When I first moved to Asheville, I was at the downtown YMCA at 6am every morning. Not only to get my work out in, but to take a shower and get ready because the bathtub in the one-room efficiency I lived in was disgusting. I didn’t use it once in the three months I lived there. At the downtown Asheville YMCA, I found spin classes and personal training. The spin instructors played good music, urged me to buy a heart rate monitor to increase my output, and gave me the only good reason to wake up at 5:30am. For the first time in my life, I was able to afford a personal trainer–for one session a week, with five other women who were old enough to be my mother and quicker than me at all the movements. The six of us got ready for work together every morning; we had tea at the Biltmore; we biked along the Virginia Creeper Trail one gorgeous fall Friday.

Although I had a fairly regimented schedule (and an obviously excellent support group) at the YMCA, a friend talked me into buying a Groupon for a local bootcamp-like, high intensity interval training gym in December 2012. The difference in this Groupon than all the other exercise-affiliated deals was this: in order to get the discount, you had to show up five days a week for five weeks. If you missed one time, you had to pay the full price. Money as motivation. After some hemming and hawing with my friend, I bought the Groupon and grudingly showed up. For five weeks, I drove ten miles out of my way; went to every class; learned the lingo (burpees, cleans, snatches). I worked harder than I ever had at the gym. I didn’t lose any weight during my time at Hard Exercise Works (hey! it was Thanksgiving and Christmas), but I lost inches.

I wanted to keep the momentum going so my sister and I bought the Groupon for Crossfit Pisgah. But I was playing rugby, had started a new job, and didn’t want to give up my spin classes or the Wednesday morning personal training session with my ladies. I didn’t get around to signing up for the On-Ramp classes. Six months later I had given up rugby, was tired of the same workout everyday at the YMCA, and wanted something cheaper. I also wanted something less intense than what I saw my sister putting herself through everyday. She had used her coupon back in the winter. And with that she had found a schedule, made friends, was working her ass off at Pisgah.

I was finally ready to move to a Crossfit gym, and it was my sister who suggested that I join Summit Crossfit as it had just opened. It was conveniently located. The owner was the charismatic and knowledgeable trainer that I had liked the best while at Hard Exercise Works. I didn’t want to intrude on the workout life Jess had set up for herself. In August 2013, I finally joined a Crossfit box. I did, in fact, feel the need to throw up that first workout. For two years, I came to the 6pm class. I parroted the movements like it was my first time seeing them. I groaned when there were pullups and running WODs. I lamented the coaching changes. But I showed up-grudgingly.

During my time at Summit, I trained for and finished last in a half marathon–with the wonderful help and support of Summit’s owner, Aaron. I met wonderful women with whom I’ve eaten, drank, partied, and commiserated. I was taken out on some of the most grogeous double-digit hikes. I performed 100 burpees in one workout. During my time at Summit, I watched my sister’s time at Pisgah make her stronger, smaller, injured. I saw her compete. I saw her change. I saw other athletes, too, at Beer City Beatdown and River Ruckus. Two excellent events with an excitment and charge in the air that motivate even the most sedentary observers to lift heavy bars over their heads.

After two years at Summit, I was bored. Scheduling was weird. Programming wasn’t making me happy. I knew it was time for a change. I spent the summer of 2015 trying to figure out if Crossfit was something I wanted to continue pursuing or if I should do something completely different. After years of Jess trying to pursuade me to go to a class with her, I finally trudged along to check out the beloved Noonies. The box was small, open, and full of light. The coach was attentive and supportive. I had been going to Crossfit for two years, but it felt as if this were my very first class. How do I clean? What is a snatch? I’ve deadlifted before? It scared the hell out of me. I knew this was the transition I needed to make.

In the ten months I’ve been at Crossfit Pisgah, my time in that gym has metamorphised from meerly a one-hour workout to a committment to the cause. I now go to see if I can pop those hips harder. To see if I can add more weight to that bar. To chat it up with my fellow weightlifters. To see if the coach will get my tears (he won’t). To see if today is the day I won’t be last.

Two weeks ago, I hurt myself. I pushed so hard to acquire a new movement, that I burnt my legs, bruised my thighs, and ripped two inches of skin off my finger. The injuries were a physical manifestation of what I could now clearly see was an internal shift. This realization rocked my fucking world.

This upheaval, this shift, it’s due to so much more than the internal motivation I usually draw upon for accomplishment. It’s having a partner to go with everyday. It’s having that partner be faster and stronger. It’s having to work harder to be worthy. It’s having a coach who comes up to you in the middle of the workout to tell you that he thinks you can go faster in your last round than you did your first round. It’s the comaraderie and feeling of team when you walk in at the same time everyday. It’s support that gives you the nonjudgemental modification for using the bike instead of running because you have the arthritic knees of a 50 year old. It’s making an all female power hour playlist for you or allowing you to commandeer the music and force something other than Rage Against the Machine. This upheaval, this shift it’s due to the environment and atmosphere that I force myself into everyday at noon.

When did I stop being the girl who simply shows up to class to get a workout in? When did I become to the girl who injures herself from pushing through her comfort zone? When did I start remembering what the actual movements are and the weights I should be attaching to each end? When did I start upping those weights? When did I start looking forward to being in that box every single day, changing into my uniform of Gap Capri leggings and ripped tshirts, chatting up the coach, and writing my results on the board? When did I begin staying after a WOD to practice my olympic weightlifting? When did I start caring? When did I actually get better?

In a business where anyone can stand in a warehouse with a certificate and dictate movements to those who are willing to listen and follow, to have a real coach who understands the art of motivation, expectation, connection to get you to out-perform what you think you’re capable of, it’s rare and it’s special and it works. And it’s the answer to some of my questions on how I got to where I am today.

I had the opportunity to start Crossfit Pisgah with my sister two years before I did. I’m trying not to dwell on this fact. For reasons unknown, my journey had to take a more circuitous path to get where I am today. But I’m telling myself that I’m here now, and I choose to be here for a while longer. To continue surrounding myself with people who are faster, stronger, more dedicated, and who push me to excel.

Because I’ve been surrounding myself with better, I can physically see the effects, up and down my body. My is name written on the white leaderboards in the gym. I don’t hate inchworms anymore; I’m good at them now. I lifted a new personal record for deadlifts last month–235 pounds. I no longer have to use my knees as I transition from a plank into cobra. I can hold a crow pose. I have control as I lift my legs into the air for a partial shoulder stand and release them back to earth. I can hoist my body up a rope. I can pick myself up after falling on the ski slope. My legs now plane into my hips. My knees don’t ache like they once did because I’ve built up my quadriceps, as both my family physician and orthopaedist prescribed for me. I have a tiny dip in my arm between my shoulder and my elbow. My sister told me that she thinks Crossfit has finally given me a butt. These are the little things that added up because I showed up everyday, saw how good everyone was, and accepted their strength and support.

On its face, this may seem like a transformation story. It’s not. It’s a story about finding motivation. Connecting. Having patience. Progressing. Flipping the switch.