The UnNatural

I wasn't an athletic kid.

Sure, I played sports.  In an elementary school class containing 17 boys – of which 16 were on the St. Joe hockey team – you didn't spend a lot of recesses reading in the library.  But I had close to zero hand-eye coordination.  I was weak.  I preferred to spend evenings playing computer games, rather than practicing hockey in the yard.  My parents weren't unsupportive; they dutifully drove me to hockey all winter, and baseball in the summer.  We had a driveway that was nearly a quarter-mile long, and I rode my bike all over the place.  But I was never a risk-taker.  I never tried out for elementary school volleyball or basketball teams.  I never pursued hockey past the point when making the team was an automatic.

Coopgr11 In high school, I didn't play varsity sports.  I was done hockey after grade 9.  I was more interested in computers anyway.  Lucky for me, I went to CASS.

CASS has an unbelievable intramural program.  On your first day of high school, you're 'drafted' to one of four houses: Kings, Knights, Aces, and Panthers (I was a Panther.  So was Robin.)  After a quick tour of your classes, you were drug into the gym for a pep rally for your House; you were told the traditions; you were sold the Story.  Panthers, for instance, win by attrition: since Intramural points are accumulated by attendance, not just wins, we simply overwhelmed the other Houses with our attendance.  That meant peer pressure to show up, no matter your competitive showing.

Every morning in homeroom, a House rep would visit and post the day's Intramural events on the chalkboard.  They'd push you to sign up for next weeks' Intramural events.  They honestly CARED if you showed up or not.  Early on, I had a habit of signing up for everything and showing up for nothing; I was berated in homeroom for losing points for the Panther House.   So I showed up.  

Gradually, I overcame the fear of not winning: of losing in front of friends, girls…. I didn't train myself to lose, but I became adept at handing loss.  This is maybe the most important part of Intramurals: frequent exposure to stuff you're just bad at.  And I was more exposed than anyone, believe me.

There are a thousand years between here and there, spanning different athletic pursuits (racquetball in college, racing mountain bikes afterward, competing at Powerlifting for 4 years after that) but I never felt like an athlete.  The 'team' aspect aside, none of those sports produced the type of well-rounded athlete I desired to be: ready for anything.  Even while I was training on the mountain bike and THEN "working out" for up to 2 hours a day (doing a typical bodybuilding program – useless) I was never really "in shape."    Powerlifters are incredibly strong, and I may never be that strong again; but even at 205lbs, I couldn't run 400m.  Even though I had been a 'personal trainer' for twelve years, I had no appreciation for REAL fitness when I started CrossFit in 2008.

In 2009, we competed at the CrossFit Ontario Challenge.  This was before the 'Sectionals' qualifier for the CrossFit Games. It was NOT a normal athletic competition.  This is form, function, and fear tossed in a blender an set on 'chop.'  Equal parts ballet and bulldozing.  The precise art of the wrecking-ball.

These were honest-to-God athletes.  Kickboxers, rowers…all united by the commonality of CrossFit.  Fitness, stripped down to its rawest form, and pushed into the margins of "too much, too far, too fast." They were strong – a 255lbs deadlift, done 80 times in 10 minutes, is strong.  They were fast – we saw a 400m rip that took around 1:00 flat in a WOD, done in tennis shoes.  We weren't the first ones to ask about the puke bucket.  We weren't last place; thank heaven; we weren't even out of place.

If you've never been a competitive athlete before, you can.  That door is open again.  There's a new opportunity to develop, dream, strive, reach.  There's a whole new playing field.  Best part: we have intramurals three times per day.  Something different every day, but always an event; always an arena, not just a fitness centre.  Catalyst has built me as much as I've built it, and more.

If you could go back…. if you could start over, in a NEW sport, and become a force; would you do it?  Is it enough to push hard in the Mens' Beer League and relive old glory in the changerooms?  Ten years from now, will it be "okay" that you let your youth slip, when you could have maybe run a mile in 5:00, or deadlifted 400lbs, or learned to do a handstand?

Hey, I started late.  If I can do it, you can. I'll prove it to you: if you're doing CrossFit now – even if you've just begun – sign up to do the Intergalactic Throwdown or Defiance in February, and Murph in March. Chances are, you won't finish in first place. But chances are equally good that you won't finish in last place, either. And you'll be hooked.  You'll have cleared a bar that most don't dare approach, and THAT is successful. Showing up an athletic event MAKES you an athlete, not the other way around.

CrossFit Ontario Challenge 2009. The guy in front of me is Cris Cristini, who did 17 rounds of 5 deadlifts (255) and 5 burpees in 10 minutes to win the event.

By the way, our House still wins because we show up with the most people!

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