“Focus,” he said. “Stop talking. Breathe. Now, push that bar up.”
Eyes closed, face scrunched, forehead veins popping, I sucked in a breath and pushed the bar up summoning all of my might. When I let it back down I opened my eyes with relief.
“You’re stronger than you think,” he said. “Next time we’ll put more weight on.”
Three months ago hubs noticed a Crossfit gym open across the street from us. Rather nonchalantly he suggested we give it a try. Why not? I phoned and scheduled a time for us to come in. Keep in mind, I did this with only the vaguest of vague notions about class workouts such as Sweatin’ to the Oldies by Richard Simmons or Jane Fonda videos. Yay for group exercise!
Hubs couldn’t make it that first day so I wandered into the gym solo. The first thing the coach went over were squats. Sure, I could bend my knees. No probs.
“Good, but you need to go further than your legs parallel.”
I tried again.
“Get your butt below your knees. Then drive back up.” He then demonstrated the movement with grace and an apparent immunity to gravity.
The bending wasn’t too bad, however standing up from that position (and quickly) was a different story. Whew! So, what’s next?
“Give me 20.”
“I’m sorry? How do you mean?” I asked.
“Do 20 of those squats.”
I was going to kill hubs for this.
And the rest of the session didn’t get much better. There was rowing, push ups, and an awkward attempt at a pull-up that left me swinging from the bar squealing, pretty much offering empirical evidence to the theory of evolution. I came home exhausted, shaky, and sweaty. I needed wine. It didn’t matter that it was 10:30 am. “I’m drinkin’ the good stuff!”
For the next few days I shuffled rather than walked. Even the simplest of movements like turning the key in the ignition caused pain. A few of my students asked me if I was okay. “Crossfit,” I said. They nodded sympathetically. Limping and saying “Crossfit,” around youth, it turns out, gets them to hold doors for you and assist carrying books. During a class break, one student who does Crossfit handed me a little list of recovery activities and smoothies. He gave me hope that things would get better.
My sessions at Crossfit continued. In all honesty I felt like Sisyphus with each new set of exercises because it didn’t seem to get any easier for me. I was the runt of the litter, perpetually out of breath and the last to finish. As a professor, I spend my days walking into a classroom being an expert, but now I was entering a situation where I found myself the dullard of the group. The challenge humbled me. I needed to follow, not lead. I needed to listen, not instruct. I needed to embrace the fact that I had a lot to learn. I needed to trust.
Then one day in the midst of a set of exercises my mind silenced. Huffing, puffing, and sweating, my body continued to go through the movements. I experienced a strange sort of numbness, not in my body but in my mind. The voice in my head usually counting-down and praying for the end suddenly stilled. I just kept going. My muscles took charge and I surrendered to them.
Much to my surprise, my gradual increase in strength and endurance has prompted a rather emotional inquiry. I can do more. But accepting this means coming to terms with a buried long held habit of turning attention away from my body. As a child, I was brutally teased by boys for being chubby. My solution to the problem involved wearing excessively baggy clothes, and in Catholic school I spent a few afternoons in detention for not tucking my shirt in all the way; however, I preferred the baggy look and detention administered by Sister Jean to tucking my shirt in and showing any sort of form to my body.
This mentality stayed with me but not in an obvious manifestation, more in terms of an absence. My attention over most of my life has been almost exclusively directed to the development of my mind. I read. I write. I go for walks to ponder what I have read and what I need to write.
A relationship to my body has been virtually non-existent.
It’s not “me.”
“Me” = devoting afternoons to unraveling Hegel (with coffee and snacks).
Jumping into the grueling exercise program that is Crossfit forced me to confront the source and the perpetuation of my feelings towards my physical self. I absorbed the taunts of the boys even though I put on quite a front with my hands on hips yelling sharp come-backs like, “Oh, yeah, well you’re a stupid-head!”
This has me thinking about the power of buying into others’ beliefs, consciously or not. I accepted as true that my body was subpar. I therefore set a definition of myself as if that were static and couldn’t waver.
How much do we hold ourselves back because someone somewhere said, “This isn’t for you,” or “You’re not capable.”?
The boys are long gone now, and I’ve surrounded myself with people who encourage and push me to do more. At the moment I’m learning how to improve this area of my life. There is still more work to be done and goals to set. Most importantly, I’ve learned to shift my thinking from “I can’t” to “I’m getting there.”
*My deepest gratitude to the coaches and crossfitters at CrossFit Madre.