TJ's Gym at the Affiliate Cup

July 15, 2009 5:12 AM

Posted in Affiliate Cup »
34 Comments » on this entry

Games09FridayTJsGym.jpgAllison Belger writes about her experience as part of the TJ's Gym / CrossFit San Rafael team in their quest for the Affiliate Cup.

CrossFit by Overload also made a video of them ... [wmv] [mov]

I am 39 and will turn 40 in October this year. I started CrossFit approximately 15 months ago when my husband decided to convert his personal training gym to a CrossFit Affiliate, TJ's Gym/CrossFit San Rafael.

I was a reluctant participant at first. As with countless others, I eventually became hooked. I had been a soccer player. Like many former competitive athletes, I made great strides early on. But an injury sidelined me from December 08 to April 09. I was frustrated, angry, and bothered. I went to physical therapy and worked with a chiropractor doing Active Release Technique. I rested and rested and went for lots of runs up flights of stairs to keep in shape and stay sane.

All the while, there was talk at our gyms about sending a team to the Games for the Affiliate Cup competition. We have some pretty amazing athletes in our program. The prospect was exciting, but life was busy, our kids were already spending more time than necessary at the gyms, and I was injured.

My husband, TJ, and I decided to postpone the final decision until April. Meanwhile, we needed to focus on running our business, managing my time doing my "real job" as a psychologist, raising our girls, and getting me healthy.

April came, and our potential team roster had changed. I was given the okay to get back into CrossFit, but one of our star women was out due to pregnancy and a broken wrist. We still had some serious contenders, most of whom were parents of young children with busy schedules. Ultimately, we decided to give the Affiliate Cup thing a try, figuring it would be a great experience. We knew we'd be going for fun and not to win. For us, it was all about community.

The details of our team training are simple. We struggled to find even one time each week when we could all get together. By the time the Games came around, we had not had one practice with all team members present.

After stringing together about five partial-team practices, we felt like we were cruising, to the extent that a bunch of older CF parents can. We decided to print "Master's Division" on our team shirts for the Games. We were getting excited, and the team was finally building a bit of cohesion. I was feeling increasingly strong as the Games approached.

Then came more trouble. Our fastest man sprained his ankle two weeks before the Games and was out. Family tragedy struck our strongest overall woman; she was a maybe. Our biggest firebreather, in fact a firefighter, injured his always-vulnerable back, and was nursing himself in hopes of a miraculous recovery. While we had never hoped to place very high, things were now looking quite grim for Team TJ's Gym.

We managed to call in some great and willing alternates and pieced together our team once again. We even had an eleventh-hour roster change when our firefighter simply could not function, and our speed-demon with the sprained ankle said he could go, though he would not be 100%. Our strongest woman, though grieving, stayed in the game.

Again, we told ourselves, we're just going for fun, for the experience, and not to win. Just keep moving forward. So we did...all the way to Aromas. It would have been nice to drive down the night before the competition, but our older daughter was in a play that night, and parental duty called. At 4:30 the morning of the competition, TJ and I were on our way.

Our first workout was the OHS/pullup workout. Our four strongest did a great job, placing us 18th overall. Then came the stadium metcon, right up my alley...except for those #$&!*ing wallballs. My old injury made movements like wallballs and barbell thrusters especially challenging and sometimes painful for me. When I worked with Kelly Starrett for PT earlier this year, he specifically told me to stay away from wallballs. I did so with pleasure, as I have always hated the darn things! I had literally not thrown one wallball in seven months when I decided to try some two days before the Games, just in case. Yikes! I am neither tall nor especially strong overhead, and I was struggling.

After the workouts were announced, I practiced a few more with a 14-pound ball at home the day before the Games. TJ kept reminding me to get closer to the wall. I was working way too hard with too much distance. Having not done wallballs for so long, I had lost the awareness of this important detail.

After my little practice session, I felt pretty good, but I was still nervous as all get up about those freaking wallballs. I did NOT want to let my team members down, especially in such a public forum. Given my nerves, I also didn't quite catch the rule that the entire ball had to land on the black; I was missing reps without understanding how to correct the problem. I was especially intimidated by the fact that the target was higher than 10 feet and we were in the area with no actual wall.

I was extremely frustrated, but I kept going, with my wallball turning slowly into a frantic jump shot. It wasn't until the final 8 reps that I realized moving one step closer to the imaginary wall would make the darn things manageable. It was too little, too late.

When that part of the WOD was over for me, I felt relieved. I could go on without worrying anymore. I told myself again that we weren't really there to compete, we were there to have fun, so what's a couple of extra minutes? Besides, I went on to crank through the deadlifts at a faster-than-expected pace, so I felt I had sort of redeemed myself. Sort of.

By the end of that stadium WOD, we were in 22nd place. Hmm...the run was sure to be our strongest event, and we already were in 22nd place. Although none of us really talked about it, it had become clear that we had a chance to finish in the top 20 of all teams. Prior to all of our injuries and issues, we had hoped to finish in the top third of all teams. Earlier in the day of competition, we had decided top 50 would do, considering our age, our injuries, and our roster shuffles. Suddenly top 20 was a real possibility. All we had to do was run.

And run we did, finishing 6th overall in that event. Our first lap was run by a male team member who will also be 40 in October. He and I were both in our running foursome. Despite an average age that is probably a good ten years older than the average age of the other runners, we placed sixth! Sixth, even though I held back on the downhill of the second lap, because I felt sure I would fall if I sprinted it. We were fired up as we awaited the announcement of team rankings for the day, still hoping for that once unfathomable top-20 finish.

Games Director Dave Castro said he would announce the top five teams, and then changed that to the top 10. We were disappointed, knowing that we wouldn't be announced and would have to find our name on the rankings sheet posted behind the bleachers after the announcements.

Then, out of nowhere, Dave says, "in tenth place...TJ's Gym/CrossFit San Rafael." We erupted as though we had just won the Cup. We jumped up and down, hugged each other, laughed in disbelief.

Who knew that a bunch of older-than-average CrossFitters, who had suffered serious injuries and endured family tragedy, who had left children behind with babysitters, could place in the top ten of all Affiliate teams? We were ecstatic.

The fact that my wallballs had sucked so badly didn't seem to matter any more. The fact that I didn't sprint with abandon down the hill during my second lap on the run, for fear of injury, didn't seem to matter anymore. We were top ten, and that was awesome.

It didn't even matter that when we got home after the Games we noticed that we had been moved into 11th place, due to a scoring error. Or did it? Suddenly, the wallballs plagued me again. Had I only done them faster, we'd still be top ten. Who knows, maybe even top five. If I had only not listened when physical therapists and doctors told me I shouldn't do such a move, if I cared about getting healthy and doing CrossFit longterm. If only...This kind of thinking drives my husband--the eternal optimist who rarely second guesses--crazy, but I couldn't help it. I was wallball-obsessed for a day. Wallball obsessed.

Now, two days later, I have gained some perspective on the whole wallball, turning 40, hanging on for dear life as a respectable CrossFitter thing. If I were in my late 20's, pre-kids, with a younger and stronger body, maybe I wouldn't have listened to the no-wallball prescription. Maybe I would have been better at them at the Games. I probably would have blasted down that hill on my second lap, unafraid of falling and hurting myself. And maybe we would have been top five.

But I'm not in my late 20's, or even my early or mid thirties. I am almost 40, and I am responsible for lives other than my own. I realize that 39 is not old, but for serious CrossFitting, there is undoubtedly a significant difference between the fit 31-year-old and the fit 39-year-old. It's usually the younger ones who question that fact, but you "older" ones reading this know exactly what I am talking about. Sure there are the CrossFit celebs who have been around since the beginning and are aging gracefully, with strength, endurance, and class to spare.

But realistically, it's hard to pick up this sport at age 38 and be great at it at 40. And that's just something I need to accept. Wallballs aside, I did as good a job as I could have on that Friday, and nobody can ever take away the experience we had as Team TJ from TJ's Gym/CrossFit San Rafael. We came out of nowhere and surprised a lot of people, including ourselves. We had a great time doing it, with lots of adrenaline-fueled laughter.

When you become a parent, much about your identity changes. The highs (and lows) in life tend to involve your children or your status as a parent--at least that has been my experience thus far. Competing on our Affiliate team at the Games this year was, by far, the most self-focused endeavor in which I've been engaged since becoming a mom almost seven years ago. When TJ and I returned home on Saturday after the Games, our kids were swimming with my parents. The girls asked us if we won the competition. "We did great," I told them. "Did you win?" they asked. "No, but we came in tenth and we did great," I assured them. "Oh."

I knew there was nothing more I could say to explain the whole thing to them. Sixth on the run, 97 teams, we're older, if it weren't for my wallballs...By the time I had even decided to craft a response, they were back under water, diving for toys in the pool. And that's exactly how it should be. I was back to being a mom, and they were doing what kids do. They didn't care about my wallballs, and at this point, I probably shouldn't either. There's always next year, and it won't be wallballs, but there will surely be something else to overcome. I think I'm going to ask for a new sledge hammer for my 40th birthday.

34 comments on this entry.

1. carrie wrote...

July 15, 2009 6:21 AM

Very well written. I am a mid-30's mom who has been CrossFitting for two months plus. Nothing I have ever done has gotten me as physically strong as rapidly as this program, or really, this lifestyle. I am thrilled for you, and yes, forget the freakin' wallballs. Your performance and cohesion as a box going into the Games not knowing what to expect is huge- it IS a WIN. For me, CF is a total commitment I am making every day for my little girl. That she will know that sweat and strength are power. You have a fabulous perspective- keep up the solid work in the box and at home.

2. Martha Schildknecht wrote...

July 15, 2009 6:28 AM

What a wonderful, poignant, well-written article! I chuckled through much of it, as a new, and already hurting (yeah Active Release Technique!) Crossfitter, 20 years your senior! Keep up the good work, and enjoy the stage of life you're in, as it sounds like you're already doing. With a little age perspective--perhaps 10 years from now--your daughter will appreciate the fact that you went to her play the night before competing, and realize how awesome her parents and their gym members are!

Martha Schildknecht

3. Lisa wrote...

July 15, 2009 7:55 AM

Great article Alison! You are an amazing athlete, mom, wife! Keep up the great work and thank you to you and TJ for a wonderful gym to workout at!!!

4. Patrick wrote...

July 15, 2009 8:01 AM

Very nice article. Nice perspective on a "master's division" team. Being one myself, I know all too well the issues and concerns.

And most importantly, outstanding work! Tenth! Wooot!

5. Kelsi wrote...

July 15, 2009 8:14 AM

Yayyyy TJs Gym!!!! Good job guys! Youre my heros! Im so proud of you all! You crushed those workouts!! I wouldn't have missed it for the world!!! :) Watch out all.. Next year TJs is coming back EVEN STRONGER!!! #1 will be ours!! ;)

6. Wade Smith wrote...

July 15, 2009 8:43 AM

I guess I missed the memo that the "master's division" begins in late 30's. I always thought 50+ yrs.

In any event, strong work all!

7. MarthaB wrote...

July 15, 2009 9:03 AM

Thanks for this article. I can identify with it so much and appreciate your perspective. From another late 30's mom.

8. Ken Smithmier wrote...

July 15, 2009 9:07 AM

Great article. Don't feel too old, I am 54 and started CF 15 months ago. I attended the games and enjoyed every minute of it. My active participation is unlikely but my vicarious participation is unlimited!!

9. James Barnes wrote...

July 15, 2009 9:51 AM

Alison Great Article.
Congratulations to everyone who competed.
Great Job.

10. Greg wrote...

July 15, 2009 10:43 AM

Great write-up! Nice to get the perspective of fellow "older-than-average CrossFitters."

Congratulations on the fantastic showing!

11. Julie Whyte wrote...

July 15, 2009 12:14 PM

Great article! I love hearing the first person perspective. It is wonderful to hear about so many of the "older" Crossfitters finding this great thing later in life and loving it. It looks like CrossFit better get ready for a healthy "Master's" contingent for years to come. From a 46 year-old's perspective it brings so much more than fitness...can't wait for the Games next year! Yeah TJ's!!!

12. Alexa wrote...

July 15, 2009 12:26 PM

I love the spirit and tone in your voice throughout this article and can really feel your sense of accomplishment through the words. Great job. As your former marathon partner, I would never count you out of a top finishing spot in any athletic event. And, thank you for a line of site into the active and fitness oriented life of those in northern California. I miss that attitude and lifestyle now that I am in Boston.

13. Allison wrote...

July 15, 2009 12:50 PM

My injury was, in large part, an exacerbation of a pre-existing "condition" originally caused by being hit by a car while running approx. ten years ago. To my mind, having the symptoms arise via CF was a blessing in disguise, because the work I have done to get healthy, including CF, has surely lessened the likelihood of more serious problems later on.
Thanks for reading my article!

14. allison replied to comment from carrie...

July 15, 2009 12:57 PM

To both Marthas, Carrie, Patrick, and all of the other "older" CFers who commented on my article. First of all, thanks so much for reading it! I feel honored to have my words on the site. I love hearing that my experience resonates with so many of yours. If we all keep at it, 50 really will be the new 30!
Wade, the "Master's Divison" was a little joke, but truly the intensity of CF competition does change the standards of "older," doesn't it?!
Lisa, you are an animal, and we are lucky to have you at TJ's! You can represent us for many years to come! Kelsi, Jim, Julie, thanks for reading and thanks for being a part of our great community.
Thank you to everyone at CF for an amazing weekend I will never forget!

15. TomC replied to comment from Wade Smith...

July 15, 2009 1:29 PM

> I guess I missed the memo that the "master's division" begins
> in late 30's. I always thought 50+ yrs.

In weightlifting, the masters division begins at 35 years old.

16. Peyton Knippel wrote...

July 15, 2009 1:34 PM

Great job, great article, and whoever was drinking PBR in a can....I couldn't be happier. I'm glad to see someone else besides me repping a truly great and under-rated beer!

17. Jo Gleeson wrote...

July 15, 2009 2:44 PM

High five to the Mum's and well done to your team. What a great achievement. You have written an extremely good article and I could sooo relate to it. I am a 40yr old Mum-Crossfitter and a couple of months ago we did our own Crossfit Games to help Tamaryn Venter(our coach) fundraise to get her to the Games. I am so proud to say that I acheived a third place with a 23yr old and a 26yr old taking 1st and 2nd. And here was the Mummy up on the podium with my daughter right by my side. heehee. It is hard to explain to people but our bodies certainly take a hammering over those child bearing years and god dont even get me started on the hormones. heehee. Anyhow - so pleased for you and your team and keep it up and maybe I might meet you one day if I can ever be good enough to get to the Crossfit Games. Maybe by then they might have recognised us older Crossfitters and have a Master Division.

18. Kirstine Jancys wrote...

July 15, 2009 3:16 PM

Well done Allison & thanks so much for sharing your insight. Like Jo (previous comment) I am a 40 something CF'er from Auckland, New Zealand. The difference for me is that I had never ever done anything that would remotely resemble regular exercise in my life (not even at school) that is until I hit 40 & discovered Crossfit. Call it a mid-life crisis!!!! I only wish it had been around 10-15 years ago. To be honest though I don't know if I would have had the determination, fortitude or desire much sooner than 30 to do something like this. Thank god I discovered it when I did as it has literally changed my life on so many levels. I could so relate to your situation with your daughters play. I would have made exactly the same choice as my children are my number one priority. Thanks to CF though I believe I am a better mother & have the much needed energy levels to keep up with 2 busy 3 & 5 year olds. Congratulations!

19. Lori P wrote...

July 15, 2009 3:54 PM

I thoroughly enjoyed your article! I am a 39 yr old Mom of two and have been doing CrossFit for over a year now. When I started, I had aspirations to be among "THE best" -- but have come to realize that "MY best" is what counts more. I love what I am doing. I am proud that I am strong and healthy, and more fit at almost 40, then I was at 30. Thank you for sharing your story that hits close to home for so many of us.

20. Diane replied to comment from allison...

July 15, 2009 4:45 PM

Good news! Because of CrossFit, 50 is becoming something that no one would have ever imagined! Check out the "Over 50 CrossFitters" thread on the Workout Logs section of the Message Board. You will find some remarkable performances, some inspirational stories, and a bunch of folks who won't be "old" any time soon. CrossFit has transformed many of us and we are just a glimpse of what Crossfit can do for people who begin much younger than we have.

21. Barbara & Barry wrote...

July 15, 2009 5:57 PM

We're the grandma & grandpa who babysat for the girls so Allison and TJ could participate in The Games without worry. We're so proud of the individual efforts of all the team members, especially our "aging" daughter, along with the leadership, inspiration and spirit of son-in-law TJ. We've been so impressed with the physical achievements of CrossFitters, but even more with the supportive community created.
This seriously aging Grammy (just turned 65!) works out (modestly) in a gym in suburban NY where I only wish we had a CrossFit affiliate. I've tried a few classes at TJ's Gym and was delighted to see a range of ages and levels working side by side, encouraging each other to be the best they can be. Even though I could not walk down stairs for a week after(!), I was motivated to continue with some of the exercises, and I do think that everyone can benefit from the program, with modifications to be sure.
So Grandma & Grandpa think it's great just to finish -- but 10th Place Plus One is indeed awesome!

22. Jane McClure wrote...

July 15, 2009 6:04 PM

Great article, Allison. All that time you worked here in our office, I had no idea you were such a jock! Good for all of you on your team for competing. You DID win, in my opinion.

23. Denise F. wrote...

July 15, 2009 10:04 PM


You are an inspiration to us all. I have watched the video and you all did an amazing job. I know those wall balls got the best of you but you still came out on top!

Congratulations to you and your team on such an accomplishment.

24. Cory Boyd wrote...

July 15, 2009 10:06 PM

As a PROUD member of the TJ's Gym community, at a green 28 years of age, I can honestly say that WODing with our "master's division" athletes every week is an absolute honor. At the risk of sounding cliche', I really look up to them, and aspire to be more like them. They are all great, honest, hard-working people. Through all my athletic endeavors in my life (High School sports, College football and wrestling, semi-pro football), The TJ's Gym Community is far and away my most favorite team I have ever been a part of. TJ and Allison run a tremendous program, where the foresight, dedication, caring, and LOVE they put into what they do shows very clearly every time you enter their facility. I only have 360 days to get myself ready to hopefully represent TJ's at next summer's Cup...and I have complete faith that I will be executing a well programmed routine full of constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity that will have me prepared to move large loads over long distances quickly. Thank you TJ and Allison, and the rest of the TJ's Gym Community.

25. Deirdra Rogers wrote...

July 15, 2009 10:20 PM

Thanks for the blow by blow coverage...I loved reading about it and only wish I could have been there! Your skill and determination are enviable. I did not realize how much tragedy and injury the team had to contend with (except Yago's ankle) What a team!

26. James CFAddiction wrote...

July 16, 2009 3:22 AM

Nice article, great video. The Masters division in CrossFit is getting stronger every year. I'd love to see an "Over 40 Games" if even just regional. Well done TJ. Hopefully I'll still be banging it out at 50 yrs old!

27. maryellen healy wrote...

July 16, 2009 6:52 AM

Great article - great job - Keep up all the good work and most of all- thanks for sharing!!!!!! MEH

28. Tony Patterson wrote...

July 16, 2009 8:29 AM

Allison, thanks for taking the time to so eloquently share your thoughts and perspectives with the CrossFit community. As a parent (in fact a grandparent) who began CrossFit at age 51, I identify with the perspective of wondering "what might have been" had I found this program a decade earlier. I would assume that there are 29-year-olds who have similar "if only I had . . ." thoughts. I suppose that a 19-year-old or two wish they would have had CrossFit kids as a foundation as well!

For me, over and above the specific and measurable successes of our program, I am amazed at the quality and caliber of people who seem to be attracted to what we do for the long run. From the magnificent CrossFit level three training athletes with whom I've interacted (I recently completed a Level 1 Certification), to the elite athletes and coaches in our box in East County San Diego, and to the middle-aged men and soccer moms with whom I share an hour or so 5 or 6 days a week, I'm always supported and encouraged and reminded that we are a team, and I am a contributor.

Even with all of the science and logic inherent in CrossFit, it would fail without the many people of great character that comprise this community and share their life-changing CrossFitting experiences with others.

Thanks again for sharing yours.

Tony Patterson

29. Patty wrote...

July 16, 2009 10:23 AM

Great article, Allison. Articulate and inspiring. You are amazing and I am proud and fortunate to be part of your TJ's Gym community.
GREAT job, my friends!

30. Kari U wrote...

July 16, 2009 12:10 PM

When I read the first section, I had to stop and collect my thoughts because I wondered for a second if I was having deja vu or had forgotten that I'd submitted a comment for the article -- your story is so similar to my own situation.
I can totally relate to the age thing and the injury. I too am 39 and sustained an injury last year that sent me to an ART specialist for the past 6 months.
I can't believe it's taken 1 year for a shoulder injury to heal...but more importantly - you make a great point about age. It takes us longer to recovery. We just need to accept that, hard as it is.
Great article and great performance at the games! I was hoping to be there myself, but my shoulder just wasnt strong enough yet to advance me thru the Mid-Atlantic qualifiers that were very OH intensive w/ OH squats and snatches.

31. Jessica Woodall wrote...

July 17, 2009 10:25 AM

TJS Gym is a place that I am so proud to be a part of! Allison your article was beautiful - such a clear representation of your journey! You are awesome and as Cory Boyd said - everyone that competed that day is definitely someone that I look to for inspiration - always wanting to know what Lisa or Meshelle's times were - and what weight they were using - and seeing how I measured up! You are all great and I am soo proud of all of you- Next year the team is going to rock it and I would be soo honored to be apart of that team

32. Janice wrote...

July 17, 2009 3:38 PM

What a tremendously introspective article Allison! It carried me through your entire journey as if I was there. Age is a funny animal and can play on our psyche. Our brains do not know how old we are, it only knows what we tell it. Being way beyond the ripe age of 39, I just started CrossFit this year. I do not tend to think about what I can't do, but rather what can I do. I admire and use you and the other fit, fit, fit women in the gym as role models and intend on changing my body even at my age. You deserve to be very proud of yourself and continue to be a role model as you move forward in this wonderful life. You and TJ have a really good thing going - helping all of us be fit for life!

33. alan wrote...

July 20, 2009 10:38 AM

We were Alison's neighbors when she was growing up and if she's 40, we're ancient. But it's good to see that at least someone is excercizing, since we're certainly not.

34. SANDY MILLER wrote...

July 20, 2009 5:11 PM

I was charmed and delighted to read your blog and the many comments following. Your persistence and perseverence since you were a child continue to amaze me. How I wish that you and T.J.were in the East with a Senior Division! I will continue to follow the tales of your adventures as I love hearing of your accomplishments and of "listening" to your charming style of writing. What a wonderful example you are setting for your daughters and for all those other young Moms out there who may be inspired by what you have done!