"I'm delicate"

I’ve come to the realization that I don’t try hard enough.  I know this is not an admirable trait, but the first step to recovery is acknowledging you have a problem.  This unfortunate characteristic came to light during my first Crossfit Total.  Prior to Crossfit I had never done any max lifting.  I would do reps for days- my old leg routine included 160 reps of squats at about 50-60% of what I now know is my 1 rep max.  Light weight much?  I doubt that’s enough weight to result in any actual strength gains.  I never maxed anything, and when the Total came up in our programming my lame-ness when it comes to fighting for things was exposed, particularly on the deadlift.  My coach made me attempt the same weight repeatedly even though in my head I just knew I couldn’t lift the weight.  I couldn’t even get it off the ground.  I eventually did get the lift, but that was secondary to the lesson- I need to know how to fight!  So I thought I had checked that lesson off my list, but turns out, not so much.  This issue came up again recently in my always interesting relationship with muscle ups (MU).   Anyone who has watched me compete would probably identify these as one of my primary weaknesses in Crossfit.  In last year’s Reebok Crossfit Open I hadn’t even learned them yet.  I DNF’d Amanda at Regionals.  I DNF’d the MU workout at the Games.  Needless to say, improving in this area is incredibly important to me.  At some point after the Games my strict MUs disappeared.  Day after day after day (literally everyday) I would work on MUs with no observable results.  My coach kept telling me I was giving up too easily, but for some reason my brain and body couldn’t apply that to changing what I was doing.  Then one day I stumbled upon a video of (what happened to be a Games athlete) fighting through the transition on a strict MU.  Something mentally clicked and all the doubts about whether I had somehow lost the strength to do it became irrelevant.  I had a visual of what it looked like to really fight for it and I went in the next day and made 4 out of 5 attempts.  This might not seem like much, but after working on them daily unsuccessfully for about two months it was a huge break through.  That was a few weeks ago and they’ve been consistent ever since.  Here’s the very first one after a  months long hiatus-super ugly and frankly kind of embarrassing, but I’ll share anyway because at least I didn’t give up.

Just like the deadlift, I am left assessing myself and my ability to fight for things that don’t come as easily.  It reminded me of a chapter in a book called Nurtureshock that discusses the inverse power of praise with children.  The basic idea, and this is backed by research, is that offering non-specific praise to kids about how smart they are actually undermines their confidence and willingness to put forth effort on intellectual tasks that challenge them.  When kids think that success results from innate intelligence as opposed to effort they don’t try as hard and don’t learn to be resilient in the face of failure.

I wonder if the same idea holds true in sports.   Not so much the praise part, (yeah, my coach doesn’t do praise) but more so perception of effort vs. innate ability and the need for reinforcement in the way of actually succeeding at a task.  Since I started Crossfitting there have been a number of things that I’ve picked up relatively quickly.   The down side of having the experience of picking things up quickly is that you don’t learn to be a fighter.  You don’t learn to push back against frustration and keep plugging away at goals despite having no perceptible progress towards goal attainment.  Frankly, being this new to Crossfit I feel a bit spoiled because I’m still in that stage where gains are coming pretty consistently just by getting more experience under my belt.  But what happens when those improvements start to slow down?  Without that fight and persistence you can’t get anywhere in Crossfit in the long term.

As I was pondering the role of persistence and fighting spirit in sports I just happened to stumble upon a picture of an athlete named Tatyana McFadden (www.tatyanamcfadden.com) on an advertisement at the gas station.  This athlete was born without the use of her legs due to spina bifida and was left in a substandard orphanage with no access to a wheelchair.  She learned to get around using her hands.  Having overcome that adversity, she is now a college student, a multi-sport athlete and an insanely accomplished wheelchair racer with multiple Olympic medals, as well as an advocate for disabled access to sports (http://espn.go.com/espnw/more-sports/7178926/tatyana-mcfadden-outraces-fate). 

“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.”- William Arthur Ward

While searching for information about McFadden I came across the US Paralympic Team website, which profiled my new favorite, Jerome Singleton, the fastest amputee on the planet.  This man’s leg was amputated at the age of 18 months as a result of a birth defect.  He spent his high school years playing varsity able-bodied sports and stumbled upon Paralympic athletics while studying at Morehouse (the kid has earned three degrees from Morehouse and University of Michigan, check out his wiki page to see his insane academic accomplishments).  Here’s an interview with Singleton, he seems like an incredibly humble and hard working person, very inspirational.   http://www.oandp.com/articles/2008-11_17.asp 

I think you see so many remarkable accomplishments by people with physical disabilities because they have no choice but to be fighters, sometimes from day one.  As is expressed in the quote below, they don’t take the gifts they do have for granted.  Do you maximize the gifts you’ve been given?

“If a person has been blessed with the capabilities to reach heights unfathomed, and does not, they are committing a disservice to themselves as well as their community.”- Jerome Singleton’s favorite quote

Author: Elisabeth Akinwale

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  • Once again you’ve surprised me and at the same time inspired me with your blog. Surprising to believe that you think you don’t try hard enough when I see you pushing through so much during your workouts, but it shows that the mental toughness is such a huge part of you as an athlete to realize there is more in you. This is what’s so inspiring and I hope to use this to push myself a little harder next time in the box (and I’m gonna try a strict MU too). This is also great timing for me to evaluate myself in starting my new career, and basically my own company now, so there will be plenty of times I’ll need to keep pushing through some difficult times, knowing now that there are good things waiting on the other side of perseverance.

    • Hell yeah, there’s always more in us, isn’t there? 😉 Thank you so much for commenting JK, now you’ve got me thinking and just gave me something I want to blog about. I for one am excited about you starting your new career and all the things you can create for yourself.

  • Outstanding and timely article.

    It sounds like I am in the same place you were lately. I’ve come so far but have been struggling to get even one muscle-ups. I had all but given up trying.

    Thanks for the wake up call to go fight for it.

  • Great article! I don’t think that it’s a matter that people don’t fight as much as it is learning what “fight” really means. The more you get to know what fighting for it is, the longer you can sustain and “work for it” and truly fight. Semantics… maybe. Maybe defining “fight” as putting in maximal effort with little or no immediate noticeable return?

    BTW You make me sound so mean.

  • I don’t think it’s just semantics- actually a critical distinction because if you don’t understand what it is to really fight you will think, “hey, I’m doing all the right things and getting no result,” which is even more detrimental. It’s like someone riding on an elliptical machine for 30 minutes and wondering why, with working out and all, they’re not getting results. A fundamental lack of understanding.

    Make you sound mean? All I do is report the facts, interpret them as you will.

  • I just like the helpful info you supply for your articles. I will bookmark your blog and check once more right here frequently. I am relatively sure I will learn plenty of new stuff proper right here! Best of luck for the following!

  • I know you wrote this in 2011 but it has proved to me to be very inspiring in 2013. I don’t yet Crossfit but this blog has helped me to put in perspective how I need to pull more out of myself because I see there is more that I can do. My goal is to become a physical theapist and I have had difficulties to arise that make me feel like I do what is required but I have learned that I need to push through to see what the end is going to be because if I don’t I’ll never know. Your blog reinforced that. Thank you!