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.