by Janice Marie Ferguson
I found something in my personal blog last week from July 2010, and it made me laugh. It also humbled me to realize how far I’ve come as an athlete. In the past I wasn’t always happy with my progress, and I’ve been very hard on myself for not being where I think I “should be.” I think everyone does that. Athlete, or not. But, over the years, I’m getting better at appreciating where I am, and also honoring the work I’ve done along with appreciating the sacrifices other people have made to help me to achieve what I have. I’ll never be perfect at respecting my gains and being grateful for them. But, like I said, I’m getting better, and I truly understand how hard it is to think you aren’t making enough gains and fast enough.
On my very FIRST day at my very FIRST CrossFit gym, I informed the owner that I was there because I wanted to compete in the CrossFit Games. That was my sole purpose for joining a CrossFit gym back in 2010. I knew nothing about lifting weights or gymnastics. I couldn’t do a pullup, climb a rope, or swing a 35# kettlebell. I could do double unders one-at-a-time, and only by doing big, awkward donkey kicks, and I had never touched a barbell in my life. But, I saw the 2009 CrossFit Games documentary in the online CrossFit Journal, and I was completely inspired to pursue that dream. With my inexperience in sports performance training, and with the relative underground nature of CrossFit at that time, I knew I couldn’t achieve my goal on my own. I needed access to equipment and training. Four months after I joined that gym, we did a WOD that called for 65# overhead squats. This was my note on the work for that day:
“I did 35# on the overhead squats. I have never done them before with weight, and I felt totally awkward trying 65# in a WOD.” So, basically, in summary, I had to scale the WOD to do the work. PS: A 35# OHS would be a “Level 1” designation at our gym, FYI. That was me, still working at Level 1, after four whole months of CrossFit in a CrossFit gym.
Here’s the whole post: “Motivation”, if you’d like to see where my mind was on July 31, 2010, just four months after I had committed my life to being a CrossFit “athlete.”
Fast forward to today:
Before I dislocated my shoulder at American Ninja Warrior, I did a WOD with 30 OHS at 95#. I’m pretty sure I did 25-28 reps, or maybe 29, of those unbroken. I remember my goal was to get all 30 UB, but I lost my balance on one of them as I got nearer to 30, and had to dump the bar. Two years ago, I may have thrown a tantrum about that. But, I’ve really grown a lot mentally as well as physically over the past few years. I simply put the failure in perspective and kept moving: those 95# OHS were AFTER I had done 60 bar-facing burpees. And just before I was starting a set of 10 muscle ups. In all honesty, my 2010 self didn’t know how I would’ve been able to even do something like that in February 2014. But one thing I did know back then: I was willing to do whatever I could to get myself there.
Why am I telling you this? Because I’m miles ahead of where I started, and I have to remind myself often how hard I’ve worked for what I’ve accomplished so far. And the only reason I can do any of it is because I’ve dedicated MY LIFE to this pursuit. It’s not from showing up to the gym three or even four-five times a week. My training is a part time job that I’ve kept for the past four years.
Everything in my life revolves around being an athlete and my training: I routinely miss family gatherings. I miss my kids sporting events and awards ceremonies. I eat weird foods. I spend most of my money on buying weird food, supplements and gear rather than fancy purses, heels, normal adult clothes and makeup so I can go out on the weekends as a socialite. My friends have changed. I’ve changed jobs three times to accomodate my goals. Not only have I changed jobs, but I changed careers to accomodate my dreams. I don’t even use my expensive journalism and political science degree or the masters degree courses and teaching license that I invested thousands of dollars and countless hours of sleepless nights and research papers and exams to attain. I have to wake up at 3:30 or 4:30 a.m. on Saturday to be at an event or to train myself because that’s the only time I’m able to get my training in for that day sometimes. I’ve paid thousands of dollars on coaching, books, nutrition, supplements, education, and training seminars and invested thousands of hours dedicated to learning more about athletic performance, nutrition, and CrossFit.
After all of that, I still have a long way to go. But, when I think about it, I’ve come so far. Just four months into CrossFit, I was still overhead squatting a 35# bar, for crying out loud. If I were a weaker soul, considering my competitive nature, I would’ve given up while watching others next to me who were able to do the 65# as RX’d. But, rather than feeling sorry for myself, making excuses, or projecting blame on the program, or the gym, or Obama, I vowed to work harder. And that’s what I did.
Speaking of excuses, I love this commercial:
And this one:
After all that “sacrifice,” you want to know what’s sad? None of that hard work has been good enough to help me achieve my ultimate goal of competing in the CrossFit Games. You know why? Because the sacrifices those athletes make are even greater than my own. And I’m just not willing to go to the same lengths they have. Or, maybe I’m just not good enough? Maybe we’ll never know. No matter what, though, I’m going to continue doing the best I can with the best resources and knowledge that I have available to me. Is that effort wasted if I never achieve my goal? Absolutely not. The fitness I have gained along the way is more than I ever thought possible. The friends and quality of people who I get to work with, like my gym members, are phenomenal. The level of commitment I have chosen, even though not enough to get me to the Games, has allowed me to live some exciting adventures that I never thought I would’ve. I’m truly an athlete. And it took me a very long time to learn that my performance or finish placement doesn’t determine that. For a long time, I couldn’t understand that the weight I can lift and the skills that I have do not determine my status as an “athlete.” I alone determine that through my commitment to that pursuit.
I’m not telling you this because I think I deserve an award, medal, or pat on the back for all the “sacrifices” that I’ve made in making myself into an athlete. These are my choices that I willfully made. It’s something I enjoy. I’m not unique. There are thousands of people across the world who are doing the same thing, and even others in our gym, too. If anyone deserves a medal, it’s my precious husband and children for always supporting me. Any victory or recognition I ever earn professionally or athletically belongs just as much to them as it does to me.
I’m telling you this because I want you to learn from my ignorance and my mistakes. I’ve been doing this for awhile, and the honest truth that you all need to know is that the only way many of you are ever going to see the kind of gains you think you “should,”or that you think you “deserve,” is if you dedicate and rearrange your entire life to accommodate “training” for this sport. The bad news? Even if you make those sacrifices, you’ll never be satisfied with your gains, and you’ll always want to have more and feel like you “deserve” more.
Please don’t misunderstand the purpose or sentiment of this post. I’m not casting judgement on anyone for the choices they’re making to suit their lifestyle or their own value systems. I don’t care if you’re an “athlete” or an “exerciser,” or something in between the two. I support anyone’s goals and choices, no matter how often you can come to the gym and your reason to be here–whether it to be an athlete, or becoming a better, more active, and healthier mom or dad. There’s room for multiple levels of commitment to “training” OR “working out” at our gym. I treasure each one of you, and I’m honored that you choose Bandit as your home. This is all about properly managing our expecations.
Honestly, if you aren’t in a place in your life to be able to, or don’t want to commit the kind of sacrifice I described that is needed to achieve a higher level of performance, I hope that all of you can put that into the correct perspective and be happy with the smaller and “slower” gains that you’re all making on a weekly basis. You cannot compare yourself to ANYONE else in our gym, or outside of it, in terms of how fast you’re making gains. Even further, it’s not their training program. It’s not the food they eat. It’s not the shoes they wear, or the gear they have that makes someone “better than you.” It goes so much deeper than that. We must be realistic with our expectations of our gains as we look at them honestly through the lens of not only our actions and commitment toward making those gains, but in consideration of our previous athletic background, our available time and monetary resources, genetics, age, technique and mobility issues, and a host of other factors that play into the gains we make and the speed in which we attain those gains.
For some of you, this all means you will flirt between “athlete” and “exerciser” as your goals and life situations change. And that’s OK. My goals change often. My training changes to match them, too. But, the important thing to remember is that comparing yourself to who you’re standing next to, or someone else that you’d like to “beat” at another gym, class, or competition is completely and utterly useless. There are way too many lifestyle, commitment, and genetic variables to have a true comparison. We all have unique goals and purposes. FACT: The only person you can compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday. And finally, when you compare yourself to that person, you have to look at it through the lens of your current goals and life situation. Maybe last month or last year you could squat 315#, but this week you just aren’t feeling it. So what? There are a lot of variables in your performance. And to be honest, there’s a lot more to being a good CrossFitter than how well you can do one thing. For example, Julie Foucher is listed to have a 255# back squat. I know several women who can squat more than her. I would bet that nearly 50% of the women at the CrossFit Games, if not more, can squat more than 255#. My PR is only 10# away. But, none of those women, including myself, were on the podium of the CrossFit Games. I wasn’t even close.
Many of you are NIGHT AND DAY from the person you were when you walked in my door. Some of you made gains quicker than others. Some of you are just starting to finally “catch up,” and yet some of you are still stuck in certain areas. It’s all relative to many different factors. And the sooner you stop comparing yourself to what someone else can do, and start putting your performance in the context of your own goals and experiences, the happier you’ll be. Take it from me. It took me a long time to stop comparing what I could do to the other people in my class. It took me a long time to not feel inferior to my classmates because I had to use a band for pullups and a 18# kettlebell.
Respect your gains
Respect the gains in all areas, too. Maybe you won’t PR your squat in two weeks when we go for PRs after our most recent cycle. So what?! Think about the 10 double unders you just got in a row for the first time ever. These are gains that you worked hard for, and that your coaches have worked hard to help guide you through. You have used whatever personal time and resources that you have available, and you should be just as proud of those gains as any coach or competitor in our gym or any CrossFit Games competitor would be of their achievements.
My sincere hope for anyone struggling with their perceived lack of gains is that they would make a conscious effort to put in perspective the honest reason for being at the gym. Is it just to be stronger and healthier? Look better in your clothes? Get big muscles? Have a big bench or back squat you can brag to your friends about? Or, maybe you just want to complete a local 5k or mud race, or do a local CrossFit competition? Are you trying to be a Regionals and Games hopeful? Or, maybe a top runner, triathlete or Obstacle racer? Whatever it is, define your goal. Verbalize it. And then commit to it. Then you can measure your progress based on an honest assessment of those goals and your commitment to them AND the level of sacrifice and actions you are willing to take to get where you want to be. When you get tired of pursuing one goal, change it, and repeat the process. Finally, if your coaches don’t know your goals, we can’t help you and advise you. You work out and train at a gym with some of the most experienced and well-connected CrossFitters, athletes, weightlifters and coaches on the Coast. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT! Don’t be afraid to speak up about your goals. We can help you. We want to help you.
One last thought
Many of you have a long way to go before you see the kind of gains you would like to see. And, to be straightforward, many of you may never see them because you are unable, and more accurately, unwilling to prioritize your “wants,” “desires,” or “likes” over your current family dynamic, financial situation, or career path. It’s not that you can’t change those things to fit your goals. You’re not willing to do it. You can do whatever you want. That’s the beauty of this life. Hate your job? There is nothing in this world stopping you from quitting your job this very moment. The sucky part is that you, and for many of you, your family, will have to live with the consequences of your actions. So, for many people, including myself, there are many things that keep me from doing more to achieve my goals because I’m not willing to change the dynamics of certain systems and balances of my life and my family structure. It’s not that I can’t. There’s just many things in my life that are more important to me than my goal of being an athlete.
Two things to remember:
1. How important is your goal? Don’t blame your unwillingness to uproot or make sacrifices in your personal, social or family life for the lack of achieving your goals. Be objective. Put your commitment and actions toward achieving the goal in the proper context when judging your successes and failures.
2. However, realize that we don’t have to quit on our goals and aspirations altogether. It’s not “all or nothing.” There are many levels of being an athlete. We can still give what we can, set our limits and expectations based on our own individual value systems, and keep plugging along.
Then, one day, we get the satisfaction of looking back and find out that we are all fitter and better than we’ve ever been before, even if we can’t clean and jerk as much as the person on the platform next to us, or even if we never make it to the CrossFit Games. And, even better, we never compromised our individual and personal value systems to get there.
I challenge each person in our gym to honestly assess their goals and their commitment to them. What are you willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals? What are you NOT willing to sacrifice? There’s no right or wrong answer. The purpose of those questions is not to judge, but to manage your expecations.
It’s time that CrossFitters around the world accept living in reality, rather than fantasy land where everyone clean and jerks 335# and runs a mile in 5:30 or less. Once you can manage your performance expectations based on truth, realistic goals and commitment level, the happier you’ll be in your fitness journey, and the less you’ll be worried about what other people are doing, their gains, and your perceived lack of.
In the meantime, to learn more about how to define yourself as an athlete, you should all read this article: Are You an Athlete or an Exerciser?