Exercise is an important part of my life. My mom has pictures of me doing sit-ups when I was five, for some reason I loved doing sit-ups. I was a gymnast as a child and a cheerleader all through school. Exercising and feeling connected to my body is one thing that will always bring me back to center, even on the days I would rather take a nap on the couch with The Great British Bake-Off playing in the background.
When I first tried Crossfit I was completely out of my comfort zone. The workouts were so intense, I remember walking to the gym, which was only a 5-minute walk away, with a pit in my stomach, anxiety rising due to the conversation going on in my head. “I hope it’s not too hard,” “I hope we don’t have to run”; “OMG, I hope there are no overhead squats.” But, I would make that walk because I loved the community that comes along with group workouts. I stuck with it even when the workouts made me question life and brought up every negative voice in my head in a rising chorus that rivaled the Tabernacle Choir.
One day after a particularly harsh, anxiety-fueled 5-minute walk, I entered my Crossfit box and the workout of the day written on the whiteboard was 150 BURPEES FOR TIME.
WHAT?! No, thank you. I had made the walk, listened to my anxiety and calmed my nerves. Now, seeing the workout, I wanted to turn around and run (wait, I don’t like running) casually walk back out.
I HATE burpees. My body is thick and meaty, throwing it down on the ground and popping it back up, jumping and repeating feels like a herculean effort. I’m always in awe of people who can do it with ease, Like doing 20 in a row for them is equivalent to me walking my dog to the curb. I get about eight in and start checking the walls for a defibrillator.
The negative talk started chattering in my head: “You can’t do that!” “You’ll die!” “That’s going to take me all afternoon!” “Why am I doing this? But really, why?”
With my foot pivoted, ready to turn around and make a break for it – my coach, Lucie, saw me from across the box, registered my fear, came straight to me, looked me right in the eye and said, ”You can do this.”
I wasn’t so sure of myself, but when a woman with muscular tattooed arms, piercing green eyes, and a butt you could place your cup of coffee, phone and a workout journal on and still have room for a scented candle believes in you, it’s hard to say the words, “I can’t”.
Instead of focusing on the whole, Lucie helped me with a strategy of breaking the workout down into sets of 10. 15 sets of 10 suddenly made 150 seem a little more doable. Not easy, but doable.
Even with this strategy, around burpee 40, I wanted to quit. Four sets of ten seemed like plenty of burpees for any human. It’s such a mind game to keep going. I still had 110 burpees to go and I. Did. Not. Want. To. Do. Them!!!!!
My legs felt like jelly and the sweat was making my eyes sting. I looked like I was in round 10 of a boxing match and by the looks of it, no one was going to place a bet on me to be the winner.
But Lucie was the perfect Mickey to my Rocky. She kept encouraging me, “You got this, Deanna. Keep going, c’mon let’s do 5 right now, GO!”
So, I pushed forward. My strategy of sets of 10, moved to sets of 7, then sets of 5, then 3, then dear God, down to my knees, fall forward, kneel back up, stand, bunny hop and try to find my hands overhead. I’m not even sure that counts as an actual burpee, but I was moving and ticking off the count.
Every once in a while I would do a few throw yourself down, pop yourself up, jump and clap over your head versions and then do a little dance to celebrate. That’s when I would take inventory of the people who had already finished and were there cheering the rest of us on.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the feeling of being last at anything. I would much rather be the cheerleader than the one being cheered for. That might be something I need to talk to my therapist about.
After 100, I started to see that that 150 might be possible. More and more people had finished and were willing to wait around and encourage, support, and cheer on, me and one other person who was still chipping away, Marie.
As I kept counting them off, my sense of accomplishment and belief in myself began to rise.
When I got to 125 burpees I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I KNEW I could finish. I got a renewed energy knowing the finish line was in sight. I went back to actual real throw-down, pop up, jump, clap overhead burpees a few at a time and then a rest. Where had THIS energy been the whole time?!
At 140, Lucie said, “You got this Deanna, ten more, let’s just knock ‘em out.” And so, I did. Ten straight in a row. And then I collapsed to the floor and thanked everybody around me who had cheered, encouraged and helped me believe I could do this, all the while calculating how long of a nap I could take that afternoon.
Then I became the loudest supporter for Marie, the last person moving, who was on number 127. It felt GREAT to have the opportunity to inspire someone else to their highest potential. That’s the beauty of Crossfit, the workout isn’t done until EVERYBODY is done.
Marie finished to loud cheers, it’s almost impossible not to finish in that kind of environment. We hugged, and knowingly looked in each other’s eyes silently saying to each other, “WTF, did we just do?’
What seemed impossible was completely possible. That workout changed my whole perspective of what I was capable of, I dealt with some really shitty negative self-talk during most of that workout and I didn’t let it win. I heard it, but I had other external voices who were louder, more believable, more trustworthy giving me a counter argument.
“You got this, Deanna”; “C’mon, just keep going.”; “Five seconds of rest and then let’s go!”
I walked out of the box that day having ended those anxiety-fueled walks that happened every morning. I knew I could tackle ANYTHING that was on that workout board. It may not be pretty, but I could do it.
I took THREE key lessons from that workout that have since helped me in other areas of my life as well:
Have the right people in your corner. People who are willing to support and encourage you as you step out into the arena of unknown possibility. Even if you’re not doing things right, or the way they would do it, have people in your life who will cheer on your progress, not your perfection.
If you’ve got a big goal, break that stuff down into manageable pieces.10 sets of 15. 15 sets of 10. Even 30 sets of 5 sound more doable than 150. When you look at that BIG thing you want to accomplish, chunk it down, break it up and then take small steps consistently. That’s how big moves are made.
Don’t stop for too long. Lucie was so good about continuously saying, “You got 10 more, or 5 more, or 3 more seconds to rest. Now, let’s go!” Because momentum creates more momentum. The longer you pause the closer you get to actually stopping. And then it becomes a real mental struggle to get started again. Just keep going.
Looking back I’m so proud of this accomplishment and I’m grateful to know I will never do it again.