What's A Hero?

In the age of success, where our kids are routinely rewarded for every tiny bit of effort, it’s hard to define a hero.
The ‘reality’ we present to our kids-complete with heavy glaze and Disney magic-is wrong. We DON’T all win, and winners don’t even win all the time. Today’s top dog was yesterday’s runt with a chip on his shoulder.
We make heroes of bullies, of victims, and even of their storytellers, depending on the angle of the camera’s lens. In sport, we deem the giants ‘heroes’ for success at their chosen pursuit; for the game-winner; for their induction into Halls of Fame.
My definition is a bit different.
Nor is heroism the same as courage, in my book. If courage means being scared but doing the right thing anyway, then heroism does require its share of courage.
But a hero is something more: a hero inspires others to do the same-to take action where they may have chosen to run-because if they can do it, so can I.
If Cam can do the overhead squats unbroken, then so can I. If Philsy ain’t letting go, I’m not either. If Boo can get two full rounds in eight minutes…me too. And if Heather can referee all day without a lunch break…hand me a clipboard.
Last night, still floating in Games afterglow, I stumbled across an article from Salon magazine: “CrossFit Mirrors American Militarism.” It’s well-written, well-titled, and it’s almost correct. CrossFit doesn’t mirror ‘militarism,’ though it has things in common with military training, accountability and structure. It mirrors the pursuit of heroism.
The Catalyst Games is an exercise in “me, too” inspiration. Consider little Annie (short, I’m convinced, for ‘Animal.’) Thirty seconds before the first Gauntlet event, her dad saw an opening in the lineup, snatched her up, and carried her to the starting line. Startled, Annie didn’t think she wanted to play with the other kids in this giant tent full of strangers. She hid her face in his shoulder for a moment. But she’s a CrossFit kid, and these were other CrossFit kids, and she trusts her hero: Daddy.
Annie lined up with the other kids, rowed her heart out, and did burpees until someone told her to stop. Then she grinned and followed the other kids outside to jump on the big tires.
“Every summer, I get these kids together and ask them if they want to do a workout,” her dad, Jon Balfe, told me later. “They all groan. Then I say, ‘Okay. You want to play a game instead?’ and they get excited. The game is squats and burpees. They love it.”
Jon isn’t just letting Annie have fun. He’s teaching her that perspective changes everything; that the hard stuff is sometimes its own reward; that social interaction with other kids doesn’t mean texting. It’s not the easy way to parent, not anymore. But it’s the right way.
That’s CrossFit: an opportunity to do hard stuff with a 100% survival rate and a chance to do better tomorrow. On the flip side, I’m nearing the end of my 24-hour ‘winners’ window’ after my team, the Ginger Ninjas, won first place in the Team division. Tomorrow, that’s gone, and I’ll be working on handstand pushups again. The enemy I face-and you, and them-doesn’t wear a bandito mask and carry a Russian-made firearm. The only enemy we’ll meet tomorrow is the one we already know today: self-doubt, shame, and surrender. The battles fought, learned, and refought in the gym don’t just give us abs ‘n glory; they give us Heroes.