A Journey to Retirement

CrossFitters fall into one of two main categories: the normal ones — who use CrossFit as a way to stay in shape, challenge themselves, and make new friends in a supportive community.  And then there are the crazy people — the ones who eat, sleep, live, breathe, and bleed CrossFit to try to compete at the highest level. Most people that walk into the gym fall in the first category and very few will ever reach that pinnacle of competition, (less than one percent of the Open competitors will move on to the regional level). Even though most will never compete outside of a local competition or the Open, the competitive drive lies within a good chunk us. In fact, it is the friendly competition that keeps many people interested and coming back for more.

When I first started CrossFit just over 4 years ago, I was an out-of-shape smoker whose idea of fitness was running a mile with my dog once or twice each week. I didn’t play any sanctioned sports in school, but I was still rather athletic and very much a tomboy. I became hooked after my first overhead squat went surprisingly well. I came 3 days a week and never missed a class. The challenge, the competition, the barbell, being really great at some movements, and the changes I was seeing & feeling in my body were what kept my fire burning. In 2012, I took a risk and tried the Open, getting my first chest to bar pull up and finishing 589th. Just a few months later, in the middle of my first Paleo Challenge, I attended Regionals in Cincinnati, Ohio. I watched the CrossFit NapTown Team throw down in the most incredible athletic display I had ever seen. I was in awe. I was inspired. I had a new dream…but I had no idea how much work is was going to take to get to that level of fitness.

2012 Open

With my new goal in sight, I bumped up my membership to unlimited, continued to make steady progress, was PR’ing every other week, still learning new skills, and moving faster and more efficiently. I was in the best shape of my life. I asked if I could start doing more volume on top of just classes and the real sacrifice started. I woke up at 5am, trained for an hour or two, went to work, then came in after work for more training or took a class. Sometimes I had to train alone and sometimes teammates joined me. We trained on Saturdays at 7:00am and Sunday afternoons. This pattern continued through the winter and into the Spring of 2013. I was sore all the time. I was hungry all the time. I was tired constantly. I cried a lot. I was grouchy some of the time from being sore and hungry and tired…but I loved it. I completed my second Open and placed 121st and competed on the 2013 CrossFit NapTown Regional Team. I had achieved my dream within one year’s time but it wasn’t without an immense amount of personal sacrifice.

2013 Regional Team

Later that year I got married, went on a honeymoon and took a short break from intense training. In 2014 when the Open came around again, that break was glaringly evident. It took a long time for me to get back to where I had been. I placed 127th in the Open, but ended up taking on the Alternate position in order to give us the best shot at qualifying for the Games. And we did it! We went to California and I watched from the stands as my teammates placed 31st in the WORLD! It was incredible and heartbreaking all at the same time. I should have been on that field. I should have put in more work to deserve to be on that field. I knew exactly what it took to get there, but I didn’t do enough. I will always regret that decision. However, I knew that the blame rested squarely on my shoulders. So the fire kept burning…

Just a few weeks later, I made a life-altering decision to quit my job as Event & Marketing Manager at a restaurant and began working hard to become a full-time CrossFit Coach. In addition to my work-load, I began training again. I wanted to be back out on that Regional floor and I wanted another shot at going to the Games. I set a goal for myself, I wanted to be on the first page of the Leaderboard. I wanted a Top 50 Open finish. I trained harder than ever and placed 42nd in the 2015 Open. Achieving this goal is the crowning glory of my competitive days, because although we went on to compete at Regionals with an incredible team of athletes, we did not qualify for the Games.

This year, I have signed up for my 5th Open. And 2016 will be unlike any year before because I have finally made the decision to ‘hang my competitive hat.’ The last several months have been full of emotion for me. Watching some my peers still training hard gives me really mixed feelings; part of me wants to join them and push myself and get better because I know I could, but another part of me is content with cheering them on and watching them shine without worrying about if I’m doing enough. It’s hard to explain this tug-of-war in my head and even harder to be okay with where I am right now athletically. While this isn’t the first time I’ve taken some steps backward in my fitness, it is certainly the first time I have worked at the gym full-time and have not been seriously training. I can honestly say I’m a better coach and employee now, but that comes at the price of being a less proficient athlete.

2015 Regional Team

Most people don’t consider just how much time & effort is spent honing in skills and maintaining metabolic conditioning for upper-level athletes. “Use it, or lose it” is a completely accurate statement. My muscle ups are inconsistent, my grip is weaker, my conditioning is well below where I was, and my core strength is noticeably lower. As it turns out, doing class 4 to 5 times a week is great, but it is less than half of the volume I was doing. My body is also visibly changing because for the first time in over 3 years I’m not depriving myself of the occasional Girl Scout cookie or donut. Believe me, you willingly spare yourself of everything even slightly unhealthy when you have 5 other people depending on you. I’ve got a little more “insulation” around my abs now, but at this point I’ll trade that for some guilt-free fries & wine.

The real kicker is despite all these seemingly negative results, it’s almost like my body is thankful for the break, for the chance to heal a little. I’m still setting PRs on my lifts. I’m still able to complete intense WODs and get great scores. I’m working to make peace with being where I am and find balance again in my life. My incredibly supportive husband is finally able to breathe without me constantly begging him to massage my sore muscles. I’m finally able to relax with him and be a more present wife. I’m also able to focus more on my work. I have the world’s most rewarding and best career. I get to spend my workday wearing stretchy pants and helping people become healthier, fitter versions of themselves. I get to help build a business that I truly believe is making a difference in this world. I get immediate gratification when my coaching cues click for someone. There is no shortage of positive reinforcement in my workplace and I get to work with my best friends. The last 3+ years of athletic sacrifice have all lead to this place. I still get small doses of competition when I take a class and I still want to out-lift any dude, but I am content here on the other side of competition for now. This year’s Open goal: to have as much fun as possible and NOT redo a single workout in hope of a better score.

Cheers to finally being (or at least striving to be) one of the normal CrossFitters!

 

Rachel Barr