I love competition…just the other night we were building a puzzle with friends after dinner and my husband related that this is not my strongest skill, to which there was the comment “probably because she can’t win.” A statement accurate regarding my tendencies, but not so for puzzling. One of my favorite Christmas memories is an extended family puzzle-off. Many sets of matching puzzles and teams of two going head to head for the tournament victory. Admittedly, I was not the ultimate champion, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process knowing there was opportunity for a podium finish. In my history of racing, I have rarely entered without the expectation to win, at least my age group if not overall. Though it has not always transpired, it has always been in the forefront of my thoughts. Recent events have shifted this focus and it has been an entirely new experience to toe the line with only the expectation of completion, with zero aspiration for a goal time or place. This has caused me to wonder if I have changed as a competitor, if this is a new phase of my sporting life, but as I think of the statement my friend made and the one I so often utter “it isn’t fun if you can’t win,” I realized that even more than the result, the process of competition is really what brings me joy. Key in that phrase is the use of can’t rather that don’t. While it may not always happen, the fractional possibility that a victory is achievable shifts the process entirely.
As we build our community at CrossFit Inconceivable, cooperation and connection with other gyms in the area is important to us as we believe that collegial relationship with our colleagues improves quality for all and drives us to reach our highest potential. The Reindeer Games has been a longstanding successful competition at Rogue Valley CrossFit in Medford, and seemed a good opportunity to initiate our participation in local events. My fellow female coach joined me as The Miracle Maxes and our head coach was accompanied by a most dedicated member on The Brute Squad. With their focus on weightlifting, my novice status in CrossFit competition and our member’s recent recovery from Achilles repair, our expectations definitely hovered on the “get done and have fun” spectrum. Looking at the workouts, weights and time caps, this seemed the appropriate mindset. The day started with the jitters, bathroom visits and nervous chatter, much like the start line of the endurance races with which I am quite familiar. One, of many, distinctions was revealed when the first “go” was announced and there was much down time. Waiting for heats to finish and new equipment to be set up leaves idle time, used for rest, recovery and warming up for subsequent events along with ample time to overthink and psych oneself out of the process. While there is a mental strength in endurance competition, the waiting game was definitely a challenge unfamiliar to me and called for a new level of focus.
Turns out the mental game rehearsal was needed to support the challenge that was to follow. Walking out onto the competition floor for our first event was unlike any experience I have had. More often than not in triathlon, beyond the start or finish, much of the race takes place without an audience and, for me at least, at times not even near other competitors. Beyond the clock and your will, not much else is spurring you along. As we navigated the bike and dumbbells for 120 calories and thrusters respectively, people cheered, fellow athletes pushed their limits and we shared the tasks in a balance of strength and endurance, beating the time cap and finishing at the top of our heat. With a break before the next event, we rested and I prepared to face a row of barbells that far exceeded my max capacity. Embracing the gift of time, I was grateful for the opportunity to greet those from our gym who had come to watch, refuel and cheer for other teams.
The deadlift ladder proved challenging as anticipated, but I managed a higher weight than expected and my teammate hit a personal best lift. While we finished near the back of the pack, the event was a success as we achieved beyond what we previously thought possible. Heading into the fourth event (there was a floater max hang, which we later learned we won!) the barbell was once again a rate limiting factor. Unlike the first event, which allowed for division of labor freely, playing to strengths (literally!), this time we simply had to divide the reps evenly and I was responsible for cleaning 125lb five times for four rounds…a weight that was more than 90% of my one rep max for that particular movement. Managing a few in the warm-up area, I promised my partner my best effort and headed out onto the competition floor, hoping I wouldn’t let her, or the many people who ventured out on the rainy day to support us, down. As my partner completed the opening double-unders, I stared at the barbell, loaded with 45lb plates, which I have never utilized secondary to intimidation factor, and hoped I could get them from ground to shoulder with decent form. Mentally, the first few were tough, but as I managed to make the lifts, my confidence grew and the bar actually moved easier through the rounds. I realized we would make it to the end of reps within the time allowed and executed my portion of the jump ropes with only one mis-step. Energized by my teammate, empowered by the encouragement of the crowd, my capacity evolved and what was once out of reach proved possible.
With the bulk of our work done, we cheered for our men’s team, who, after rocking the first workout and crushing the deadlift ladder, maxed effort in their final, including single-legged double-unders to accommodate injury, in an inspiring performance. As we awaited the results, wondering if we had made the final, I was filled with joy for the day. From the opportunity to engage with gym owners and athetes from the surrounding area, the support of our own members showing up to cheer on their coaches, the effort of my fellow coaches and dedicated athlete representing our community and the performances beyond anything we had hoped, it was an unbelievably amazing day. On learning we just missed the final, in fourth place in the women’s Rx division, I admit, there was a moment of disappointment – the movements were favorable to our skill set and after making the journey out, having another event to watch would have been nice for our supportive cheering squad. The moment was fleeting, however, as I reflected on the day, respected the quality of our competition, honored that we had given our best effort and embraced the opportunity to celebrate with my dedicated coaches turned terrific teammates.
As fate would have it, I had opportunity to finish that final workout the next morning, in my home gym, side-by-side with one of my athletes, converting a team event into individual efforts, pushing each other to perform our best. The victory was hers, but I worked harder knowing the chance was there. Wrapping up a weekend of competition, while there was no tangible trophy, there was a true sense of triumph for finding the best of ourselves as athletes, teammates, competitors and in community. It was most certainly fun because we could win, a lesson that victories aren’t always a gold medal and I will continue to seek opportunity to challenge myself with competition as the medium, knowing that the natural shift in focus can lead to inconceivable results.