On November 18, 1978, over 900 members of the People’s Temple organization committed mass suicide by drinking grape Flavor-Aid laced with cyanide. Since then, anyone who is perceived as buying into a crazy or cultish belief system or group is often referred to as being “Kool-Aid drinkers” or having “drunk the Kool-Aid”. It’s probably one of the few times the Kool-Aid people have wished that their brand wasn’t automatically identified with every kind of flavored drink powder like Kleenex is identified with every facial tissue product in the known universe.
I have been called a Kool-Aid drinker myself. You see, I am a CrossFitter. Given that I never worked out voluntarily until I was 35 years old, I am utterly surprised by this, but there it is. I am a CrossFitter, and millions of people who think CrossFit is cultish, crazy, a bad way to train, or a variety of other things will refer to my kind as Kool-Aid drinkers and act as if we’re supposed to be insulted by that. Instead, I embrace it. Why the heck wouldn’t I embrace something that encourages health, fitness, and community and has changed my life for the better?
Three years ago, in a fog after the death of my husband, I decided that if I didn’t start taking care of my health, I was going to go farther down the path of obesity and directly onto the train of heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other health problems. Given that I lost Andy to a brain tumor that most certainly wasn’t his fault, I decided that continuing to be so careless about my was disrespectful and no longer acceptable. I joined Weight Watchers and started dropping some weight. A few weeks later I joined Prairie Life Fitness and decided to hire a personal trainer, because I darn sure didn’t know what I was doing.
On the first day I was supposed to work out with my new trainer, I met Brian Stites. It should be noted that Brian was *not* the trainer I had hired. On that first day, my trainer didn’t show up at the time I expected her because I had gotten our appointment time wrong. Brian saw me looking scared and lost at the gym, and introduced himself. He made me feel welcome that day, spent a half hour talking to me and giving me a little mini-session, and always gave me a friendly greeting when he saw me at the gym thereafter.
As I worked on my very introductory level training with my first trainer Carissa, and saw what Brian was doing for his own workouts and with his clients when I was at the gym, I concluded that he was a crazy person. Who in the right mind jumps up onto a sixteen inch tall box eleventy-billion times at 6 o’clock in the morning? I thought that alone was grounds for the men in white coats to come take you away.
Over the next several months, I faithfully worked out with Carissa twice a week, and even managed to work out a little on my own from time to time. I discovered that I was right in 7th grade, running DOES suck, and that lifting heavy things was awesome. I walked my first 5K. I lost pounds and inches.
After about 6 months, Carissa told me the unfortunate news that she was moving away. I told her that I wasn’t ready to do this fitness thing without a trainer and somewhat desperately asked her to suggest another trainer. I told her I was more interested in a Bob personality than a Jillian personality (referring to the famous trainers from The Biggest Loser) and she suggested Brian as a great trainer who would be encouraging and supportive.
And thus, my training with Brian began. While he was training me twice a week, he was also running the CrossFit program at Prairie Life. He led entire classes of people who I thought deserved to be carted away for jumping on boxes. He told me about WODs and I looked at him like he was nuts and told him I could never, ever do any of that and could we work on the leg press and the bench press instead, please?
Over time, CrossFit became more and more a part of Brian’s training. More and more frequently, we would have a session and at some point he’d say “You know you’re basically doing CrossFit, right?”. I’d say “Sure”, kind of roll my eyes because I saw myself as someone who wasn’t fit enough to do CrossFit, and just keep on trucking with whatever he gave me. I remember one week, right after he attended a Level 1 Certification class, he came back to the gym and made the sweeping declaration that he was never,ever going to have another client to a hamstring curl again because it’s not a functional movement. After all, what real-life situation involves strapping a fifty pound weight to your ankle and lifting it up and down?
One day, he told me he and his wife Amanda were going to open a CrossFit box. That was a hard day. CrossFit scared the hell out of me, but the notion of continuing to pursue fitness without the trainer I trusted was crushing. I realized I was either going to have to find another trainer or try this CrossFit stuff.
I chose CrossFit. I paid up-front for a one-year charter membership to CrossFit On Track so that it would be harder for me to quit. Brian stopped being my personal trainer, and started being my coach. I got a shiny new coach in Amanda as well. I went to CrossFit classes before the box was even officially open. At first I didn’t like it much, but something kept pushing me back there. Over the next few months, I had good times, great times, and horrible times with CrossFit. I alternated between wanting to quit and wanting to become Annie Thorisdottir.
I haven’t lost a ton of weight the last year or so, though I am down 55 pounds from when I started my fitness journey. I scale darn near every workout that we do because I’m not strong enough yet to do a lot of things. And over the past few months, I realized the value of CrossFit was not just in the coaching or the workout methodology itself – it is in the community.
The three people who ever read this blog will probably get sick of hearing about CrossFit eventually. That won’t shut me up though. Because really, community is everything.
Ask yourself these questions:
- When is the last time someone at your big-box globo gym cheered you one while you finished a beastly hard workout that they already completed five minutes earlier? Happens all the time at the box.
- When is the last time you had a coach that you would give a kidney to if he needed it? I have one.
- And when is the last time you went to happy hour on a Friday night with forty people from your gym? I did that *tonight*, and I cancelled other plans to do it.
Community is why I drink the CrossFit Kool-Aid. And man, it tastes good.