Friday, November 28, 2014

CrossFit Allows Ordinary People to be Extraordinary

The event was in an agriculture showcase pavilion. The walls were covered by blue and gold panels, centering a slightly off center banner with a faded Tennessee Tech golden eagle. A carpet of artificial turf covered the uneven ground, leaving mounds and valleys like a fourth grade geography project. There was a cold draft running through the building in a way that’s probably perfect for showcasing livestock. A sign over the normal concessions area reminded me of a the concessions at my little league games. Suckers for a quarter. Hotdogs and Cokes for a dollar. “Popcrn” was fifty cents.

Everything about the facility was very functional, outdated, and ordinary. This was hardly the place where one could expect to see the greatest athlete in the brief history of competitive CrossFit, but everyone in the audience at the Hyder Burks Pavilion for the Iron Eagle Challenge was there to see someone extraordinary. Whether he was there to legitimately compete or he wanted to do his hometown a solid, Rich Froning was there as a competitor.

Now I didn’t expect him to ride in on a winged lion holding a scepter. But to my surprise, he was surprisingly ordinary. 

Not his competing, of course. He was a marvel to watch. But he, himself, Rich Froning, was someone I could easily pass on the street and not notice. He hung around waiting for his turn on the bumpy surface, chatting with other competitors. A couple of my friends snapped pictures with him. He occasionally hung around in the back to look at his phone.

This didn't seem right. I’d seen this man dominate the fittest on Earth. He did it almost effortlessly. Why didn’t he seem… different?

This is the secret of CrossFit. This is why it’s become a national phenomenon. CrossFit is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. 

The major sports in America are all inaccessible to 99 percent of us. I can play basketball, but I’ll never play with Kevin Durant. I can go to a football game, but I’ll never have access to talk to Peyton Manning. The stars and their abilities are separated from us because they are elite and we’re not. There are a lot of factors that contribute to this divide (namely money), but it doesn't change the fact that my inability to run a 4.2 second 40 yard time or dribble past LeBron James prevents me from having access to that world.

In CrossFit, however, this is a real possibility. My friends, who are everyday normal people, competed against the best. Literally. The best. They got smoked, but it was awesome.

This might come across as living out some childhood fantasy of being a sports hero, and maybe it is. But this is the same feeling that makes fantasy football a $70 Billion industry (that’s billion with a “buh”) and the World Cup the most significant, cultural event on Earth. We all want to be a part of something amazing. You might be above experiencing the dreams you had when you were ten, (ahem… snarky NY Times writer…) but for the rest of us its a heck of a lot of fun. 

Froning didn't actually win the Iron Eagle Challenge. It was a partner competition, and his other half couldn’t finish the last lift of the hang clean ladder. This, however, made him even more endearing and likable. I’m just speculating, but winning didn’t seem like the most important part of the day to him. It was the joy of competing, and that’s something we can all share.

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