My first job was rink caretaker.

In 1992, any job that paid a fifteen-year-old over $8.00 per hour was a miracle. Working at a rink was just something I did instead of my evening chores on the farm; sometimes, I even forgot to turn in a timesheet for pay, because I forgot that I was working.

After dinner every evening – every evening – I’d pull a hockey jersey over several sweatshirts. I’d wear long underwear under my jeans as a concession to the cold, and hike the powdery trail across my barnyard, down into the ravine, across a frozen creek, and up a snowy scramble to get to the rink. Temperatures ranged between -20 and -30. Throwing my skates over the boards, and heaving myself after them, I’d find may way to the shack by starlight. I’d find the giant switch for the floodlights by feel, and throw them on to an audible ‘pop!’  Then I’d start a fire inside the rink shack.
Within ten minutes, half a dozen other teenaged boys would arrive on noisy old snowmobiles, or by old farm truck, dropped by an older sibling. Competition raged so fiercely among these farmboy friends that it seemed like a loss even to be the last onto the ice. After a lap or two, your cheeks froze and the cold lost its consequence – the opposite of a pre-game warmup – and you played.

With fewer men on the ice, you’re free to dangle. You try things. You become a showman – at least occasionally when the trick is successful. Any deke that worked once would never find success again; we were too young to hide our shifty intent. We’d race, carve, and score, and then retreat back into the shack to press our skates against the woodstove and thaw our feet. More than once, I melted my toepiece before my toes lost their numbness. Once, the temperature was so frigid that my slapshot – hardly worthy of the NHL – shattered a puck when it ricocheted off the crossbar. And in the middle of that year, I got frostbite so severe that the doctor believed I’d need plastic surgery on both ears. My fingertips blistered, and a giant brown blister the size of my thumb formed inside both earlobes. I took a week off that time.

At 10 or 11pm, we’d depart for home. Most had chores the next day; I had to flood the rink. We’d scrape the snow and say our goodbyes – always, “Good game, Ian. Good game, Rich. Good game, Chris.” It WAS a good game, every time, though the final score was never recalled. Midnight wiped the scoreboard clean every night.

Good game, good game.

I wasn’t the first Coach at Catalyst to try CrossFit. Tyler was; and when he added a second month to his one-month ‘trial,’ Mike joined him in the now-infamous Shotgun Wedding project. When, in May, I joined the group that would soon include Whitney, Kubis and Philsy, they were already veterans. I was a “serious powerlifter,” competing with more than twice-bodyweight lifts in several meets per year. I had been doing Personal Training since 1996, almost a decade before Catalyst opened. I was The Owner, and critic of every fitness idea that wasn’t my own.

My second CrossFit workout had deadlifts in it. We yelled at each other, at the bar, at the handstands we tried to stick to the wall. When it was over, I told Mike, “This is what I want to do from now on. I want to coach CrossFit.” We high-fived, I think.
Five years later, I’m coming full-circle: I’m an athlete at Catalyst, enjoying the coaching as often as possible as a participant. Yes, I love to coach. But that high-five with the Mancusos after the noon group takes me back to starry skies and numb cheeks. It’s a good game, a good game. I used to smile so much afterward that I should have had frostbite on the inside of my cheeks. Now, when a batch of thrusters turn me inside out, what propels me to my feet isn’t pride, but the handshake of my co-combatants. After many pullups, it’s a fist-bump in quiet acknowledgement of tender palms. Sometimes, when I’m on my feet first, it’s clapping the shoulder of the others as they wait out ‘the spins.’

It’s a good game, and I’ve found it again. I’m happy to provide that – to the elite, and also to the mediocre who gets to feel like a star when he cracks a puck in half. This is our goal at Catalyst: a good game, every night.