Every few years I rehash this story because I think it is important.

CrossFit is challenging.  It will expose your weaknesses.  Sometimes you will demonstrate grace in the face of overwhelming challenges.  Some days you will be overcome.  Almost every athlete I coach has had a meltdown at some point.  There have been tears.  And worse.  Some days you have hated me.  And the same is true for your Empower coaches, some days they have meltdowns too.  Myself included.  In fact, my first CrossFit meltdown marked a critical, character-defining turning point in my life.

My veterans will recall the story of my first encounter with the 20-minute Dumbbell Bear.  If you’ve heard it before, please feel free to skip this retelling.  If the story is new to you, here I will bare my soul:

I started CrossFitting in 2005 in my garage gym at home.  I completed my 10-sessions Personal Training with a certified coach at CrossFit Vancouver May 2008 and attended my CrossFit Level 1 course at the end of that month.  By autumn 2008 I was coaching athletes but still felt I had more to learn so I attended CrossFit Vancouver’s first Affiliate Training seminar weekend run by owner Craig “Patty” Patterson, Canada’s first CrossFit affiliate, and his experienced coaching team: T-Bear, Shep, Charlie, Andy, Kelly, Kermit and Joel.  I was one of 3 attendees.  3 attendees, 8 knowledgeable coaches, we were getting our money’s worth!

At the end of Saturday’s training day, we finished with the 20-minute Dumbbell Bear, a 20 minute EMOM (every minute on the minute) of 5 DB deadlifts, 5 DB hang power cleans & 5 DB thrusters (that’s 15 reps per minute).  They gave us 35lb dumbbells.  By round 12 I was breaking.  I wasn’t fit enough.  Physically or mentally.  I quit.  But the coaches encouraged me to get back in there and not give up.  They coerced me back in but a round or two later I was quitting again.  Once more they berated me to get back in there and fight through the pain.  It was humiliating.  The other two were not quitting.  Suddenly inane excuses and complaints were gushing forth as the team tried to get me back into the WOD.  I believe I quit once more, all the while making embarrassing excuses for my sorry performance.

I went home humiliated and defeated wondering how I was going to face everyone the next day after my pathetic display.   I began drafting Patty a long email justifying my excuses and explaining that I was not, despite today’s evidence to the contrary, the type of person who complained or quit in the face of challenge.  But as I wrote it, I wondered if that was in fact true.  It occurred to me in that moment that perhaps I had been doing that my whole life: quitting and complaining and making excuses whenever the going got too tough.  (It would be interesting to ask people who knew me before like Magnum, Smooth Criminal, Bruiser and Dr. T, if I really was a whiny, excuse-making quitter).  I felt sudden shame to consider that this is perhaps how my friends and family saw me, as that guy who quit and made excuses whenever things got tough.

I redrafted that email acknowledging that I had been broken by the bear and had quit in the face of hardship, hiding behind excuses and I vowed to not be that person again knowing that no one would believe it until I had proven it.  I returned Sunday determined to be better, knowing how the CrossFit Vancouver coaches (and other attendees) must see me and knowing I had earned their poor evaluation of me.

Shortly after, I closed my coaching practice and joined CrossFit Vancouver full time, my eyes set on their apprenticeship program.  Training in my own garage, I realized, no one was going to hold me to a higher standard.  At CrossFit Vancouver, I knew, I would be held to account every day by coaches who knew me as a quitter and an excuse maker.  Every day I would be forced to prove to them by my actions that their first impression of me was wrong.  I would become the guy who would not quit.  I might not be fast, I might not be graceful, I might not be good, but I would get the workout done, no excuses.

And by forging that discipline and mindset in the gym, I stopped making excuses in my daily life and I stopped being a quitter when life grew challenging.  I started becoming a better version of myself, the version I’d always imagined myself to be.  It changed me and how I operated in the world on a fundamental level creating the foundation to accomplish dreams I’d long feared to pursue.

I owe my wonderful today to that terrible yesterday and I hope for everyone of my athletes to experience a similar life-altering CrossFit meltdown.  I’ll coach you through the tears, the excuses and the self-recriminations.  I’ve been there too.  From breakdowns come breakthroughs!

Next time the 20-minute bear was programmed, I failed to complete it.  So I came between classes and forced myself to get through it again until I had finally conquered it.  It was my most defining CrossFit WOD.  It took me 3 tries but finally I completed my bear.  I hope to never do it again;)