On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 16, 17 and 18, Christy P. competed and placed sixth in the 2010 CrossFit Games. Three weeks removed from her incredible effort, she shares her thoughts on the experience.
The Rope Climb
Have you ever dreamed that you are free-falling and then jerk awake before you land? Ever have the dream that you show up to school naked? You’re at the front of a crowded auditorium, or walking down the hall and suddenly realize in horror that you have absolutely no clothes on and everyone is pointing and staring? I have.
Never had I experienced those sensations so truly in real life until I found myself at the final event of the 2010 Games, on the second ascent of the rope climb, 15 feet in the air, paralyzed (at least I was “fully” clothed in one-inch inseam Rogue shorts and a t-shirt). I clung there, stared up, looked down, then out and around the stadium. Move—go up! But, I couldn’t coordinate my legs and my arms to push and pull as I had done to get as far as I was. My last-ditch thought before I reluctantly slid back down: you’re just going to have to climb back up again…this counted for nothing.
And, then I let go, fell hard, caught my breath and again, climbed back up. Legs shaking, I was scared for the first time I can remember in a CrossFit workout. This time, I got stuck at the same spot and had to get back down, but at least I landed on my feet instead of my back again. I walked around, tried to shake it off, when an older man in the crowd stood up and yelled insistently, “Christy, Christy! It’s just like knees-to-elbows; you have to bring your knees to your elbows!” I don’t know who he was. Did I hallucinate him? I was touched at his concern and his interest in my effort, while the two fittest women in the world were just to my left, battling it out to claim the title.
I took a deep breath and just clamored up there as fast as I could. It was the opposite of tightrope walking, and I just kept telling myself, don’t look up; because before, as I got closer to the top, I slowed down, lost momentum and got stuck. Thank god I made it, and I slowly lowered back down, resisting every urge to let go. One round down, two to go, at least four minutes left on the clock. I would go on to do five more wall burpees and one more rope climb, but it was all over for me. I just wanted it to end, wanted to walk out of the stadium and curl-up in a ball. I think maybe the only thing keeping me out there was a concern that I could never do CrossFit again, any place, anywhere if I stopped. I could never live down that moment if I stopped.
How did I get there? It was the last three minutes of the 2010 Games and I just wanted it to be over, to be anywhere but there.
Ego and ‘Delusions of Grandeur’
In my first semester of nursing school, my favorite professor was reviewing my paperwork and documentation after a clinical experience at the hospital. She sighed and said, “well, I hope you’re not planning on pursuing a PhD, because your paperwork is atrocious!” “Well, that’s funny,” I said, “because I am going to apply for the Doctorate of Nursing Practice program when I graduate.” “Hmm,” she laughed, and named a common psych nursing diagnosis: “delusions of grandeur” (she’s a Brit, so picture this in an English accent).
She’s still my favorite professor, and I know she will write a great recommendation for me when I apply to the program, but that stuck with me. I’ve thought about it a lot since; how do you differentiate between ambition and goal-setting, and being delusional? Where is the line between cocky and confident? Egotistical and just knowing what you’re good at?
Last year, I went to the games thinking that I had no chance of winning but wanting to prove that I deserved to be there—that winning my regional qualifier wasn’t a fluke and that I could hold my own on the national stage. I thought a top 10 finish would demonstrate that. I got sixth. I returned home feeling beat up physically but proud of my success.
This year was different. I wanted to do better than last year. I wanted to finish in the top five. As the event got closer and it became clear who was qualifying for the games and who would not be competing, I wanted top three. By the time I went to my Regional, and in the six weeks leading up to the games, it was clear to me—I wanted to win. Delusions of grandeur, indeed.
The problem wasn’t me wanting to win, the problem was it becoming so important to me that it changed my experience at the Games and it negatively affected my performance. It’s always a long weekend, full of ups and downs for every competitor. It’s an exhibition of incredible feats, yet it exposes weaknesses in every one of us. I went into the games knowing I had plenty of weaknesses, yet I beat myself up when they were exposed in the workouts. I worried over every second lost, when I didn’t lift as much as I could and as points started to add up next to my name. Yet, I was proving that I could hang with the best! I finished no higher than eighth in any single workout from last year’s games and this year I had one third place finish and two second place finishes under my belt. Sitting in third place by the end of Saturday was awesome. My favorite workout of the weekend was the deadlift/pistol/double under (a close second was the muscle-up/snatch workout from Friday night, under the lights, so cool!). I felt I had redeemed myself from a disappointing shoulder-to-overhead lift (40-lbs. sub-max) and physically, I felt ready for whatever events were in store for us on the final day.
The first workout on Sunday included handstand pushups, which are not a strength of mine, but the repetition scheme was very doable—seven rounds of three cleans and four handstand pushups. I reached failure a bunch of times on the handstand pushups towards the end, but would not have changed anything about how I approached this workout. My performance changed my score to fourth overall, just one point away from third. Later, we were briefed on how the final event would be run and we filed nervously into the isolation room to wait.
I sat in that room for hours (seriously, a couple of hours), surrounded by the top 15 men and women in the world. I laid down trying to visualize the unknown workouts. I had wanted to finish strong and had been giving myself pep talks through the entire wait before my heat. C’mon, let’s do this, show them what you’re capable of, just do the best you can…
But, a feeling of dread remained. I got outside to the arena, the sun blazing above, the black rubber mats radiating heat below us and I felt dazed. For some reason, for me, it was so unsettling that the crowd knew what was in store for us and we had no idea. Like lambs to the slaughter (just a bit melodramatic). 3, 2, 1…go, and we were off. I hate to admit this, but the attitude was world’s-fittest-or-bust, and as the last event was starting and I realized that that aspiration was no longer attainable, things fell apart physically and mentally.
Part one went okay, but I was already devastating myself mentally—instead of being energized by my competitors who were charging forward, I felt drained. This was the most acutely I have ever experienced the expression, adopted by many CrossFit-ters, “the mind quits before the body.” I didn’t want to quit, I didn’t consciously say, “screw this, I’m done.” But, I let the pain in, I let it break me down, and instead of overriding it and managing the real physical fatigue and muscle failure that was occurring, I took it on and made it worse. It’s hot, I’m tired, they’re moving faster. This isn’t good enough. I’m not even holding on to third place now. I’m losing it.
Throughout the weekend, I was interviewed by CrossFit videographer, Sevan Mattosian. The discussion of what 100 percent effort is, how you know if you gave it and can you give it, 100 percent of the time, came up several times. We both agreed that it is hard to know if you have given it your all, and it is probably not possible to do that all the time, every workout. Later, Sevan proposed that if you have any regret after the workout, then perhaps that’s the way you know that you could have given more.
Last year, I had no regrets. I wished I could have done better at certain things (55-pound kettlebell swings…wallball…), but I had no regrets. This year, I do. On the last event, I was tired and I was reaching muscle failure on toes-to-bar, and again on the rope climb. Even if I went in there in the strongest, most positive place that I could be mentally, I have no way of knowing if I would have gotten more reps, fewer fails on the rope, faster times, and a better score or outcome. I’m certainly not saying I could have gone faster if I wanted to, but…something makes me wonder, what if I could have? I just know that I wish I could do it all over again, I want another shot at it and I have regret. Was it 100 percent?
But, I won’t ever have another shot at that particular workout or at the 2010 Games again. That’s the pain and beauty of the sport of CrossFit. There are many events that can showcase your abilities, and if you do poorly in one, you can redeem yourself in another; but there are no instant replays to challenge, no re-dos, no “next years”. Regret in this sport can be both better and worse than, for example, the regret an Olympic speed skater must feel after tripping at the start, never even getting a chance to finish his race. Next time, he’ll be prepared; he can train for that, tweak his start style, strategize his position. The CrossFit-ter must simply train to be as good as possible in as many things as possible in the hopes that that will aid her in performing well in next year’s unknown events. No matter whether you are a prospective Games competitor or CrossFit athlete one week into your Elements Workshop, the reason why we CrossFit is the same: we CrossFit because we will need this one day. What you do today will better prepare you for tomorrow and tomorrow you will be better for what you did today.
Maybe it’s just me, but the lessons I learn from failure or set-backs, harsh and painful, are those that stick with me and remind me of how I want to conduct myself going forward. The 2010 Games were not a failure for me but there were some set-backs. I’m reminded that the only demand I must place on myself is to do my best, whatever my best is at that moment. I must constantly pursue that with integrity and self-awareness. Understand that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Acknowledge when I could have done more and learn and move on from it. Another gem from my favorite professor as she sends us out into the hospital for the day: “remember this is not the dress rehearsal. This is it. This is real life.”
I saw the caption, “Coach Sunshine” under a picture my mom posted from the Games before I saw the picture itself. I have to admit my first reaction was to wonder, was my mom (known, among other things, for her cutting sarcasm) being tongue-in-cheek? Is this going to be a picture of Mel at her most intense, with that look we’ve all seen before? I scrolled up, and the picture shown above uploaded. I instantly broke into a grin as big as hers in the picture. She was literally Coach Sunshine.
Melody was everything that weekend. I am still unable to express my gratitude for being able to experience this with her and have her as my coach. Always one to second guess myself and question things, Mel made me feel utterly confident that we were doing things the right way. She took me through warm-ups, reminded me every time of sequences and movements that we have been doing for months (I needed it, so nervous I couldn’t remember). I literally had her pick out my food and then throughout the weekend she would offer it to me in perfect proportions to ensure I was taking in sufficient fat, protein and carbs. Handtaping, massage, stretching, how long to sit, how long to stand, when to put on sunscreen, water, what shirt to wear. She could tell when I needed to see my sister and mom and when I needed to be away. She listened to my ranting when I was pissed at how I did, let me gloat and celebrate my success. She helped me keep things in perspective and prepare for the next task. She felt those setbacks and successes as deeply as I did, I could hear her and John’s coaching in my head as I worked through the workouts, and when it was all over, it was her weekend, her triumph and her disappointment as much as mine, but she let me have it.
Halfway through the weekend, on Saturday afternoon, I looked at Mel and said, quite seriously, “I thought about this a lot and I’ve been watching and it’s not just my biased opinion—you are by far and away the best coach here.” And, she just laughed. But, it was true! She made it clear that she wasn’t there to socialize, she was there to coach. And, others were impressed; Melody was interviewed by every cameraperson there, others borrowed tape from her kit and I even noticed other coaches watch us and then have their athlete do the same warm-ups!
One of my nursing friends is a former Navy medic and she introduced the term “battle buddy” to me. She said that the duty of battle buddies is to watch out for each other. You’ve gotta have each other’s back. It’s essential to your success, miles away from home and family. With the stress of an accelerated program paired with the ever-present threat of failing nursing school (any grade below 74, too many times late to clinical, get on a professor’s bad side, etc., and you’re out.), we’ve realized a nursing school battle buddy is just essential. Similarly, in CrossFit, you’ll find your greatest success with a coach, workout partner, mentor or battle buddy. I have known Melody since we were 21 years old and it’s been a pleasure learning with her and from her as we’ve both come into our own. There is no person you would want in your corner more than Mel and I’m proud to have her as my battle buddy. I strive to take as good care of her as she has taken care of me. Thanks, Mel.