How My Son Helped Me Win a CrossFit Games Event

There’s a moment in my CrossFit Games life that always seems to come up, no matter how many years pass…the 2011 Killer Kage. I’m not mad when it comes up. It’s a lovely memory. Recently I was chatting with one of my personal coaching clients after she had returned from her holiday travel. She has transformed her body over the past year, and the subject of her training came up with her family. In the course of telling her family about her work with me, she showed them a video of the Killer Kage. Now this client has an incredibly vibrant personality, so when she describes something her excitement really comes through. She can makes things sound pretty damn amazing. She had me walking away from the conversation thinking, “dang, I need to watch that video!”

photo crossfit.com

I don’t generally have occasion to watch videos from the CrossFit Games, although I have, at times, made a specific effort to do so. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t really have a strong connection or identification with my Games experiences. Something I’ve done within a life of many somethings. I also push back against some of the culture around being a “Games Athlete” as a status symbol. However, it’s important for me to acknowledge that these are special and unique experiences in my life, and I haven’t always allowed myself that. Additionally as a competitor, successful experiences such as the Killer Kage are so important to being mentally prepared to compete, to keep the motivation high in training on a daily basis, to run through my personal highlight reel and maintain a connection to what it feels like to be in flow. Being in flow, as one of my absolute favorites George Mumford explains,

“Flow is your ability to stay in the present moment. It’s a very particular state of mind. The ability to stay present is what fosters the Zone experiences. There’s no denying that strength and skill are a big factor in achieving high performance in sports, but many players have extraordinary strength and skills. The real key to high performance and tapping into flow is the ability to direct and channel these strengths and skills fully in the present moment—and that starts with your mind.”

Preach.

About a week after my client was downright gushing about this supposedly awesome Killer Kage video, I posted a couple videos on Instagram that brought the workout back to the surface once again. The first was a demo video of some movements for a 12 Week Strength & Condiitoning Program I’m offering. In the background of the video you can see my son swinging and playing around in the gym. This is so commonplace, I didn’t even notice it, but the majority of the comments on the video were about his little antics. I posted another clip where he was the undisputed center of attention, doing the swinging, playing and tricks that gym kids do. A number of people mentioned the Killer Kage event in their comments.

I decided to show my son the Killer Kage footage from the Games. It may surprise people to know that in five years of CrossFit Games appearances my son has never been to the Games with me, nor even seen much, if any of the coverage of it. His exposure has been limited to being present at the final workout of both the 2013 and 2014 Regional competitions. The ‘why’ behind that is a story for another day. In short, it largely goes back to me not wanting to make a big focus for him of me being in the Games. At any rate, I showed him the video and his reaction was awesome! I wish I had that on video! It was so fascinasting and fun for me to see his response to it.

The first thing he said was hilarious, because he noticed something that’s been a thorn in my side for my entire life, and most certainly for the duration of my competitive CrossFit career; the pronounciation of my name. After listening to the commentators he said, “Ackinwalee?” That misspelling is a pretty representation of the way my name has been consistently mispronounced in the years I’ve been doing CrossFit. There’s even a Games site video out there from the 2013 Regionals (when I completely smashed the weekend’s events, winning five of seven of them decisively) and they spelled my name “Ackinwale,” reflecting how thoroughly convinced people are that this is the way my name is pronounced. No. Ah-keen-wah-lay. In Luvvie Ajayi’s book, I’m Judging You: A Do-Better Manual, this passage resonated:

“How African names are approached by many Americans and the barrier of entry to even saying them feels like more othering. We have learned to say much harder names. We have learned phonetic rules of other tongues while ignoring the fact that a lot of African names still follow English pronounciation rules. By doing this, we’re telling people that their African names are too difficult and not worth learning how to say correctly. We tell them that their culture is a nuisance to our Western tongues and we force people to either abandon their real monikers or be faced with people who are annoyed at having to make an effort. It’s disrespectful.” –Luvvie Ajayi

Blank. Stare.

His next observation was, “It was your first year and you did something no one else did!?” in reference to the commentating on the “no-drop turn around.” I’m sure most parents feel good when their child is proud of them, and seeing his face as he made that exclaimation was truly priceless. I was thinking, “see, your mommy is cool!” Seriously though, his comment is a big part of what this is all about for me. Demonstrating for my son that there are no limitations. Showing him how hard work–something that he’s seen me put in through the countless times he’s accompanied me to the gym, or watched me stretch or ice or stim or compress at home, or listened to me discuss programming or mindset—translate into outcome and performance. We can preach or lecture all we want, but showing and allowing our children opportunities to try things out for themselves is exponentially more authentic and effective parenting.

Little did my son know that he was a huge part of my being successful in that workout. I’m not exaggerating one iota when I say that. The CrossFit Games is notorious for presenting athletes with tests each year that are elements they may not have experienced before, or at least are not commonly trained. This is the part of the Games that I absolutely love! I adore the challenge of responding and adapting on the spot. Most people will never have access to a colossal “Killer Kage” sized rig (which my son errantly called the “danger cage”). While I had never played on a giant set of monkey bars, I had most definetly spent time on the regular playground monkey bars with my son, including right before I traveled from Chicago for those Games. I had also done years of Spin classes and plenty of squatting, so pairing those elements together made the perfect set up for experiencing Flow. Those Flow experiences are something I deeply cherish, and I consistently work to set the stage for more of those to occur. I went into the workout with a simple mindset—keep moving. My sister was immediately behind me in the stands. My gym mates were there. My son was three at the time, at home and unaware that I was competing at all.

The combination of factors that lead to one of the most pure experiences I’ve ever had as an athlete reminds me of one of my favorite quotes when it comes to preparation and performance:

“The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement; you ought not to be thinking of whether it ends in victory or defeat. Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment.” –Bruce Lee

A concept I go around about in my head, because I like to overanalyze things, is the popular idea of not caring what anyone thinks. I see this all over the place as a phrase of empowerment, and I understand the intent. However there are people whose opinion and perception I most definely care about, little boy is tops on that list. The example I set for him and the images I represent to him mean everything to me.

Author: Elisabeth Akinwale

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  • Ok, I am going to read this after I finish my coffee…. but I just have to say that it was seeing you in THIS exact event that made me fall in love with Crossfit and you.

    • I second Maggi’s comment. This event to date is my favorite games moment.
      As a mom of two daughters I can say it is females like Elisabeth, that inspire and set the example for us.

  • This read was so awesome, and to your comment about the idea of not caring what others think. I see that as to everything…there is context. When I think about my CrossFit journey, I had to learn who I wanted to be as an athlete and that development has become one in which, I had to stop caring about what others thought. Worrying about everyone else would have me cheating myself. I just want(ed) to be better than the day, week, month, before, and that has nothing to do with others. In the same breath, I too, care a lot about my son’s perception of me. At the end of the day, they watch everything we do and those actions are what they walk away with. Thank you!

  • yup, first came Killer Kage. Then came the writing and social media presence as mom and social justice seeker that made me a fan for life. Keep being you.

  • I first saw yon on ESPN and became a fan. Later I made a wrong comment based on your personal preferences and left your circle only to return again as you have evolved as an athlete mother and a person. I way past my athletic prime have no problem appreciating in awe the work you do, as I consider you a superstar.

  • I love reading your writing, Elisabeth. Your personality shines through. Thanks for being so gracious when I bother you with questions for various CrossFit articles. You have such interesting things to say about athletics, feminism, competing, motherhood — just about anything!