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  • Emily Makselan

"We Share Suffering and Purpose"

Updated: Jan 13

2020 marks my 5th year as a CrossFitter! Although I technically am no longer a CrossFitter, I still like to dabble in a WOD every now and again. Nothing beats that feeling at the end of a WOD as you’re laying on the floor knowing you couldn’t have done any better; that feeling of pride or accomplishment. But as the years have gone by this is a feeling that fewer and fewer athletes are getting to experience. And worse yet, those of us who do are now seen as the outliers, in what was once the one thing that united the CrossFit community.


In my first year of CrossFit I remember going for a clean PR of 135 at one point. I remember this not because this weight meant anything to me. Actually at the time I was sitting around 170 lbs, and so not only did the weight hold little meaning, but it’s not even necessarily an impressive feat. It was just a 5 lb PR. But I remember it to this day because of the way the entire class rallied around me. We were on our last set of cleans and the entire class stopped what they were doing and stood beside me with the coach (not my husband). They cheered for me as I approached the bar. And after I caught it in the bottom they all started screaming, and continued the entire 5 seconds it took me to stand the lift up. The clean was ugly as hell. But after I dropped the bar I was attacked with high fives and hugs. They made my accomplishment feel more special than it really was. It was moments like this that made me fall in love with CrossFit.


In 2019 my biggest goal was the same thing as it had been for the 2 years prior: to clean 200 pounds. One day in our group class we had some horrible metcon with running, rowing, toes to bar, and a climbing clean triple. I completed my last set of clean triples at 190 and they felt surprising good. Feeling like I maybe had it in me that day to accomplish my goal, I asked the coach (also not my husband) if I could go for one more set to try for 200. So I loaded the bar and gave my self a minute. Then I tightened my belt and went to set up for the lift: silence. I pulled, and caught the bar in the bottom. My husband, who was taking the class with me that day, started to cheer for me to stand it up. I did. I did it. As I dropped the bar tears instantly began to fill my eyes. I fought hard to fight them back so everyone else wouldn’t think I’m ridiculous. The tears and happiness I felt at that moment were not about the weight on bar, but about all the hard work that had gone into that one 10 second moment. But in that moment I felt guilty for wanting to celebrate it.


I had seen videos of friends of mine accomplishing this same big milestone. There were always tears, or screams, or hugs and high fives, or a combo of all of them. But when it was my turn to accomplish this milestone I got one high five, my husband, in a class of over 15 people. After I collected myself I noticed some people were standing there watching, but their faces looked more confused or annoyed than happy. In that moment I thought back to my 135 clean PR and all the smiling faces I was greeted with. It was in that moment that I realized how much the CrossFit community had changed. No one cared or understood all the hard work that had just gone into that one 10 second moment. And in that moment, in a room full of people, I felt alone.

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The thing I love most about CrossFit, aside from the results it produces (when followed correctly) is how the community celebrates hard work. We bond over it, it’s what unites us. Everything in the CrossFit world has to be earned: the PRs/ the bodies. You can’t buy them, and you can’t fake them… they’re all earned. So when someone accomplishes something, no matter how big or small, we ALL understand the efforts and sacrifices that have gone into that one moment. So, we all celebrate it. But this is happening less and less these days in gyms around the World. And worse yet, it’s becoming almost taboo to do so. As if celebrating one persons accomplishments can be offensive to others. But the honest truth is that these days people do take offense to other’s hard work and acknowledgement of it.


There is a growing trend in the fitness community at the moment of acceptance. Whether it be body acceptance, or lifestyle acceptance. And while I am totally here for this, at some point the lines seem to have been crossed as far as what that actually means. What once started as a movement based around supporting and encouraging body’s of all types and abilities has now become a trend of acceptance of habits that may have led to said bodies. I am not here for this. My issue with this new trend is that this is misleading. Somewhere in all the thousands of “you do you” social media posts, it seems some have been led to think that they don’t have to change their lifestyle in order to see results. And this just simply isn’t true.


While I am so happy that as a society we are starting to say ‘no’ to some of these extreme fads and diets. At the same time, saying eating a whole pizza, or drinking every night is “self care” is the other side of extreme. If that’s what you want to do and doing so makes you happy, go for it. But just understand that those things are not making you healthy. Those habits are actually causing harm to your health, and if you have goals they are taking you further away from them. So where my issue with this whole movement lies is that people are partaking in unhealthy activities and claiming they are doing it for their health. People are under the impression that they can achieve results without having to put in the work.


Due to these growing trends many these days seem to find it offensive when they are given criticism or suggestions. But many of these same people are paying trainers, or coaches, or gym memberships. They show up each day closed off to feedback, and unwilling to make necessary changes. As a Coach it’s my job to help clients reach their goals. In order to do so changes need to be made. In the past couple of months I've seen an influx of people wanting to see big results without expecting to have to change a single thing, or put in much effort. And worse yet, a big increase in the amount of people taking offense to the feedback that’s being given to them…. The very thing they are paying me to do.


As coaches the suggestions or critiques we give are 100% with the intent of making clients better individuals. It’s literally what you are paying us to do. It’s our main job to help you figure out what areas you can improve and to help you improve them. We do so because we care and because we want you to succeed. So, this growing trend of individuals who are closed off to that information is greatly inhibiting our ability to make an impact.


Lately things have only gotten worse. Not only are many offended by the feedback they are being given, but now some are offended by the efforts that others are making for themselves. It almost seems as if when someone is working hard others take that as a personal attack, or reminder that they could be working harder. In reality, someone’s effort has nothing to do with anyone besides themselves. I’d be lying if I said that in the past year I hadn’t felt shamed numerous times for the amount of weight I was lifting, or the intensity at which I was working out. Things that have NO affect on anyone but me.


When I started to leave the gym feeling this way some days, that was when I realized the CrossFit community was changing. The hard work we all used to bond over was now separating us. The hard work that used to motivate each other is now seen as shaming to others. This is not the community that I fell in love with, nor is it the one that motivated me to achieve things that I had never imagined possible. And this is where the whole problem lies. When many in the community are closed off to other ways, they are also closing themselves off to growth. And when this happens it impacts the entire community. The definition of ‘community’ is: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. And so when those attitudes and goals change, the community changes.


In my first year of CrossFit, 2016, we attended the CrossFit Games. At the end of the weekend Nicole Carrol gave a speech that I still remember to this day. I remember it because she beautifully summed up all the things that made me fall in love with CrossFit… all of the things that have made me who I am today:


“In our gyms we don’t look at ourselves in the mirror, we look at each other. We don’t celebrate aesthetics, but rather performance and hard work. We share suffering and purpose. We connect, and we build strong local communities that inspire and motivate us to achieve great things.”


All of those things rang so true back in 2016. When she finished her speech that day I looked around and saw everyone else wiping the tears from their eyes as well. We were a part of something bigger than ourselves: a community. All of us there bonded over all that we had endured the past year in an effort to be the very best versions of ourselves. And the CrossFit Games were the pinnacle and celebration of that.

As I read over the quote now, I think that it may not hold quite the same meaning to many in the community today. But how can we change this? How can we return to motivating and inspiring others through our hard work?


The beautiful thing about CrossFit is that we all come from different walks of life with varying ability levels and body types. For that one hour class under that one roof we are all there sharing one purpose: to become better versions of ourselves. What those efforts look like vary by person, they always have and they always will. No matter where we are at in our fitness journeys our goals are the same: to be better. But to be closed off to what might make you better is to also say that you don’t want to be better. And when multiple people are no longer interested in being better, the community looses it’s bond


In 2019 I saw more of my friends choose to leave their affiliates or gyms to train on their own than in all my other years of CrossFit combined. Many of them cited the reasons stated above. Some of them even ditched the CrossFit methods of training entirely... people I never ever thought would. And even as I reflect on my own changes in training this year, I'd be lying if I said that this all didn't play a role in that. All year long I told myself just to stay focused, dedicated, and passionate to my own training. I thought if I did so maybe I'd be leading by example and inspiring others to do the same. But the more I did so, the more I found myself isolated rather than motivating. A stark contrast to my first few years of CrossFit.


There's no doubt that there has been a shift in CrossFit in the recent year. Even CrossFit HQ has said their goal is to take the focus off "sport" to be more appealing to the masses. But is this shift really what's best for CrossFit? Is it what's best for our members? The message I see being recieved is that you don't need to work as hard. But as someone who once transformed my life via-CrossFit I have to say, it took a ton of hard ass fucking work. And the fact that it did is what made me love it so much... and forged a bond that I shared with the entire community. And I don't mean to be rude, but it's a bit insulting to my hard work when people say to me they want to accomplish things that I have, but then they also make it quite clear that they don't want to have to actually do anything to get there.


Somewhere along the line we've sent the wrong message. Somewhere along the way the lines got crossed and hard work has begun to be perceived as a bad thing: insulting even. Hard work is a BEAUTIFUL thing. It's what makes up proud of ourselves, and keeps up motivated to show up every day to be BETTER. It's a better beautiful. Don't be afraid of it. Embrace it.

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