Choosing to be an Athlete
April 23, 2018
It’s been a year since my first CrossFit individual competition.
It’s been a year of training and extra accessory work, a year of successes, a year of failures, a year of learning what foods my body needed (and didn’t need), and a year of hitting reset when I ate those unneeded foods instead of my broccoli. This year was filled with research and endless questions to my coaches. It was also the year that I found the right people to push me from my workout partners to my CrossFit friends who sent me videos, and encouraged me to challenge myself. I set goals and crushed them, and set new ones and got off track only to find my way back again and again. I’m pretty sure that I’m the world’s biggest button pusher when it comes to hitting RESET. This year I lost weight and body fat while continuing to build muscle mass. This year I focused on listening to my coaches and being coachable. This year, I even got my first pull up!
But the most powerful thing that occurred this year was my decision to think like an athlete.
The competition ended just a little bit differently this year. I medaled. Little, tiny, munchkin me got to that podium! Me!
Part of me, the powerful part, always knew I could and would get there. The scared, insecure, doubtful part of me is still a little surprised, even with that shiny medal sitting on my kitchen counter. But after climbing onto that box on Saturday, that part of me has much less say, and much less power. It’s still there, don’t get me wrong, but for now it’s quiet. And my goal for this year is to keep it that way.
Last year, I wrote about my experience of finishing last and choosing to focus on the joy. Even though I wrote it to process my own feelings, many athletes reached out to me to thank me for putting their jumbled emotions into words. Together, we adjusted our perspective and focused on being happy and proud of ourselves.
This year, I want to share the things that made the biggest impact for me so they can help you as well. I’m also sharing them as my way of holding myself accountable. I believe deeply in walking my talk. As an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, I cannot help others unless I first apply my own advice. This begins with the basics like food prep, good sleep and consistent training but it doesn’t end there. Treating myself with compassion and love are high on the self-care list as is a powerful and bold mindset. These tips are for you and me, so please, hold me accountable!
- Set big goals and then break them into daily steps. The small, consistent actions you take each day from doing three sets of plank, to making sure you have eaten a healthy breakfast, add up. The daily acts are bricks, building a foundation of strength and self-discipline. Because I wanted to get my first pull up, I did negatives at least five times a week. It only took a few minutes, but it made all the difference! If you want more, you must DO more. The WOD of the day will help with your fitness but you must dedicate more time and energy if you wish to progress in your weak areas. Don’t be shy to work those weaknesses!
- Mobility and functional movements matter. I came to CrossFit later in life, 43. I’ve been a runner since high school and enjoy yoga, so I always thought of myself as flexible and having full mobility. CrossFit redefined what I considered ‘mobile.’ All movements from squats to handstands to pistols require both strength and mobility. Do you know your mobility strengths and weakness? I sure didn’t, but my coaches continue to help me learn and improve. Go talk to your CrossFit coaches about your mobility. There are exercises that you can do daily to improve it. This translates into less joint pain, and more flexibility in everyday life. It also reduces your chances of injury in or out of the gym. In CrossFit, we move in functional ways that easily translate. When I pick up a big bag of mulch for the yard, it’s a power clean. I’m keeping my core tight, using my breath to brace and focusing on the power coming from my strong hips and legs. Carrying grocery bags to the house is nothing more than a farmers walk with heavy kettle bells. Once again, I know to focus on keeping my core tight and my head and chest up. Mobility makes all the difference in CrossFit and in life.
- Without proper nutrition, it’s difficult to progress. Food is fuel. If you don’t know what to eat, it’s time to start keeping a food journal of what you ate and then how it made you feel. If you do know what to eat, it’s time to dial it in and decide what’s more important: the comfort food or the feeling you will have when you PR or get your first Toes to Bar. I don’t want you to be perfect. I want you to be clear on your goals so that your daily decisions help you achieve them. If your goal is to be fit, you will have certain guidelines around your food like reducing sugar. If your goal is to make Regionals in the Open, then it’s a whole different set of guidelines. Without a clear goal, you have no map. No map means no destination. But I know you want more than that. I know because I do too. And we are the same, you and me. We are CrossFit athletes who want that rush of accomplishing what not so long ago seemed impossible. So, get clear.
- Find your CrossFit Family. CrossFitters love to joke about when they used to have friends that weren’t into CrossFit. It has a way of becoming a lifestyle, or as we joke in my house a ‘cult’ ‘ure.’ You talk about it, build your day around your workouts, eat for it, you hang out with other CrossFitters, and when you move to a new house, 21 of them show up to help. It happens naturally and thank goodness because we speak a different language in which EMOM and Death by Burpees have meaning. We also have a wicked (if somewhat demented) mental toughness. I think it takes a certain type of person to subject themselves to the daily torture of Cindy or a seven minute AMRAP consisting of running with a 20 lbs. sandbag, Russian twists and front rack forward lunges. You can count on your CrossFit family to push you. They will inspire you, celebrate with you when you PR, and hug you when you cry. They will make sure the competition judge counts your reps for you in case you get WOD brain with a touch of poor memory. They will cheer for you when you’re the last one to finish. There’s nothing that gives me goosebumps more than when I see an entire gym stop and come to cheer on an athlete who is still working after everyone is done. So many times, I was that athlete. And some days, I still am that athlete. And other days, I’m the one cheering. But it doesn’t matter because we are in it together until the last person is done with the last rep, or the clock says zero.
- Mindset, mindset, mindset. My word last year was confidence. I was given this gift (in the form of instruction) from one of my Olympic Lifting coaches. All I was missing, he told me, was confidence. Keeping my belief pattern on Team I Can, transformed my experience as an athlete. Committing to yourself (and your workout partner) that you’ll give your best every time you show up, and leave it all on the floor is a powerful mindset. Again, I am not expecting perfection. That would be a lie, and authenticity is essential, especially for mindset. We have days where 70% of our 1RM is significantly less weight. And that’s perfectly okay! But those are the days that you focus on having flawless form. Or you focus on your mobility. Or maybe you focus on the fact that you are surrounded with such amazing athletes and consider yourself incredibly fortunate. No matter what your focus is that day, you must believe in yourself. You must have unwavering faith (even shaky days) that you will accomplish your goals, even if it’s only a baby step that day. Even if it’s a step backwards. Yes, even then. Your mind is far more powerful than your body. As I drove to Traintown CrossFit for the Festivus competition this past Saturday, I continued to see the medal hanging from my rearview mirror. I imagined holding it in my hand, and grinned and giggled with pure joy all the way to the Festivus compeition. When they built the platform at the end of the day, I saw myself standing up there. I imagined how it would feel. I let my heart race with excitement. I saw it before it happened. And then…it happened.
The momentum of progress is addictive. A brand new athlete was born on that wooden box on Saturday. Everything I am offering to you, I will be doing right along beside you. I want more. And I want you there beside me when I get it. I want to collapse on the ground after the final WOD with you, knowing that there was nothing more to give. Knowing we earned it. Knowing that we are athletes.