Why I probably won’t be going back to CrossFit…at least not in South Africa

Integrity. It’s one of the first things that people mentioned when I first heard about CrossFit almost six years ago. A sport where you’re given crazy workouts, where regardless of how long it takes you to finish the wod (workout of the day) your pride is in the honest effort you gave. I drank the CrossFit Kool-aid and I loveeeed it!!! It was refreshing to be part of a sport where women were encouraged to be strong. A sport that on a larger scale, pays female athletes just as much as male athletes. Equality in almost every sense of the word, I say almost because until recently there was very little representation from minority groups in CrossFit but slowly, I do believe it’s going to get better.

This post is inspired by a blood boiling moment I’ve just had at this lovely hour of the night, 23:54 to be precise, triggered by suddenly noticing that a few members from my old box who in truth were more the owners friends than mine, suddenly unfollowed me on insta. Meanwhile I was there merrily tagging them in posts 😂 These individuals for me have tarnished the love I once had for CrossFit as a community sport. In a South African context, I am about 99% sure that I will not be returning to a CrossFit box anytime soon…covid-19 lockdown or not!

About six or so months ago, the box that I was training at suddenly closed. The worst part about it was hearing from other members that the owners didn’t want to say anything because they didn’t want to lose people’s money. The timing of it was horrid for us as members who now had to scramble to find a box that felt like the home we thought we had. In addition to that, being billed for membership when you haven’t been to the box for 3 months while nursing your injury, is the d*ck move that I just didn’t see coming. As members, it left a bad taste in our mouths. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I’m over the drama but I’m also not, you feel me?

Here’s the thing that’s unique about CrossFit, you’re encouraged more than any other sport that I’ve ever watched, or partaken in, to make connections with the people who will see you shed blood, sweat, and tears, for the 5, sometimes 6 days that you’re there. How real those connections are varies, I know people who’ve met their partners through CrossFit. I also know people who have had their hearts broken through CrossFit. When you really buy into a box, and (sadly) believe the owners care as much as you do, it’s as though you’re seeing ‘la vie en rose,’ a little bit of naïvety, blind faith, and trust in your coach, that the box will always be there.

I think those three traits are reasons why a lot of members are blindsided when they’re kept in the dark about major changes or say in my case, the closure of a box that had become such an integral part of their life. As I detox from this CrossFit breakup I realise now why I can never again join a box in South Africa, I will always see every box owner as more interested in having my money in their back pocket, as opposed to wanting to improve my health markers. I kinda understand the shakeup at CrossFit HQ that Greg Glassman did. It was to remind boxes of what the purpose of CrossFit is, not just forging elite fitness but forging elite health as well. The CrossFit formula only works if you have a coach who is more passionate about improving health markers of his members, than enriching the health markers of his back pocket. It’s always interesting to me how a lot of people will forget to keep the main thing, the main thing when money is involved. It’s not to say that you can live on passion alone because Lord knows if I was just passionate about my job but never pursued excellence in it, I’d never be able to afford my favourite NARS and Chanel makeup items 😂(silly moment there!)

For a long time I held my tongue on writing about this issue because y’all I am trying to be a great Christian, you know: love God, love people? But the people, Lord your people are making it so darn hard for this girl to stay on the narrow road that leads to heaven 🤦🏽‍♀️ I’ve always said that my blog would be reflective of all seasons of my life, and I didn’t think I wanted to post on this issue because of how messy and unresolved it still is, but as I continue to be confronted with duplicitous behaviour from people who are so far from having integrity, it is truly all I can do to write this post and not put any names in. Even though the petty Patty in me wants to put names in… I won’t and trust me it’s not because I don’t want to 🙈🙉🙊

The moral of the story is this: think twice, and then a third time before you join a box started by a friend 😂 it’s not that I’m saying don’t support your friends’ new ventures, I’m just saying if it’s a box, girl!!! You better stay away because you’d be surprised at how much mediocre coaching you’ll put up with when it’s your ‘friends’ box! 🙈

Shout out to Fit 5ive/CrossFit 4E for giving me some really good years of CrossFit before this doozy. Most importantly, shout out to my sister who is less petty than I am, I have zero respect for people who mess with someone else’s hustle. You know who you are. Anyhoo you live and you learn peeps! #throwingshade.

Pregnant or Fat?

I’m going through a crappy period with my weight and it’s hard not to get down on myself, especially when everyone keeps asking if I’m pregnant 🤰🏽 I’m not, I’ve just gained weight. I’m on a solid reset plan that involves zero sugar and mostly veg. So far so good, BUT it’s tough. I looked at my body today and I wasn’t happy with what I saw. There’s the quiet voice from my bulimic days that sometimes taunts me. My plan is to see a nutritionist and find out how I can potentially do plant based eating alongside long distance running and CrossFit. Right now I am being as gentle as I can be with myself while on this new journey of bettering myself and shedding a few kilos. Choosing to go on a health kick during the festive season is probably not the best idea 🤦🏾‍♀️.

The Struggle Is Real…Isn’t It Always?

Knowing things will go wrong is what keeps most people on the sidelines. Most people seek to avoid the struggle. But we are not most people. When the fists fly, we charge headlong into the fray. Because we saw the struggle coming. Because we want what’s on the other side more than we want to stay comfortable. Because we know a secret. That adversity is the only shortcut to greatness. CompTrain.

I have a confession to make. One that I’m hoping I won’t be stoned for. Lately I’ve hated CrossFit. I love watching it, the Games this year was one of the best in my opinion, I love the athletes (Bethany Shadburne is my new face,) but I started to notice that whenever I walked into the box, I would feel ‘meh’ about the wod before it even started. I didn’t say anything to my coach at first but eventually my face began to betray me. I have quite an honest relationship with my coach and on that day when my stank face was in full force, I told him about how I had been feeling. I’ve now come to the realisation that it isn’t CrossFit that I hate, it’s the pressure that I’ve piled on myself, it’s the little niggles creeping up whenever I improve a little bit more that I hate. The tiredness and crankiness from a life lived saying yes to far more than I should have been, was what I hated.  To me, everything felt like it was a test to break me. The reality was that I had begun to view adversity as an enemy as opposed to the friend that it could be to get me closer to the goals I have for myself.

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‘The fastest way to get in the way of your own potential is to view everything as a test. If you look at something as a test, then you will focus only on passing the test instead of maximizing your growth through the experience. – The secret is to understand that nothing is a test, but only an opportunity to learn and grow. Over time, the person who is simply focused on maximizing what they can learn and how they can grow will become much greater than the person who sees life as one continual test to prove themselves.’ CompTrain

Right now I’m nursing an oblique strain and while I am annoyed at how it has derailed my ‘8 pack by summer’ plan. This temporary setback has provided me with time to reflect on what I’m doing well, and plan and execute what I could be doing better. The niggles that I seem to constantly be plagued with was the first thing that came to my mind. Injury is something that I’ve been battling with since last year injuring my lower back. Now that I’m developing a better relationship with my body, I know that the reason why I keep getting these niggles is because I can be neglectful when it comes to stretching especially on days when I’ve lifted heavy. It’s not that no fudges are given, I just struggle to slow down and have often found myself yawning mid-stretch. In order to maximize my athletic potential, this life of not stretching is no longer a luxury that I can afford, and speaking about afford, if you can I would recommend a ROMWOD subscription if you’re all swole and not yet flexy!

The first three days of this oblique strain were painful as fudge: standing sucked, sitting sucked, breathing sucked. In fact just being alive on these three days sucked. There wasn’t a single movement that didn’t hurt. Anti-inflammatory medication, deep freeze and my hot water bottle were my best friends.  On Monday I could finally walk without feeling too much pain and began my ROMWOD journey. It honestly hasn’t been that long, 2 days to be precise BUT my hips feel so much better and there’s tension in my lower back that eases up after each session. My body feels better already, and I’m excited to see where I’ll be in a couple of months. There are some stretches like the saddle eagle and the more obscurely named fragon, that remind me of just how much mobility I’ve lost due to being neglectful but remember how I said we’ve gotta learn to look at the opportunity in every occasion as opposed to the failure that may lay in it? I’m doing that. It’s healthier for your mind and body to focus on what you can improve, celebrate those improvements and restart the cycle again. If you’re getting 1% better each day, that’s still something to celebrate.

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Going through the struggle? Here’s a few things to remember:

  1. The struggle isn’t permanent, on the other side of it should you persevere, is your goal.
  2. Smile. Don’t allow the adversity you’re facing to take away the joy and love you have for the sport.
  3. Rehab that injury properly. Do your stretches, do your strengthening exercises and don’t neglect your nutrition.
  4. Listen to your coach, sometimes he knows what he’s doing 😉

Mesmerizing

For as long as I can remember, I have always been part of the club of women that put on muscle (and unfortunately fat,) very quickly. This has meant that even if I go without doing things like push ups (who wants to do those anyway?) my arms are always defined, T-Rex and I are one in the same! The fact that my arms are so defined used to bother me. You’d find me covering up my arms, even on the hottest days. For a long time, I wished that there was a deflate button hidden somewhere in a vein. On those very rare occasions when I’d go on a date, (real ones, not the imaginary ones with James Franco,) and I find myself sitting across the table from a guy with arms smaller than mine, I would feel like Batman, and was there anyone who wanted to date Batman in a dress? I didn’t think so, and for a long time that was the lie that I believed. The lie that somehow in order to make others (in this case, men,) feel secure about themselves, I had to downplay my strength and be the damsel in distress, and I had to have smaller arms…that was until I found CrossFit.

You’ll do the toughest wods, most with female names… Perhaps in acknowledgment to the unrivalled strength and indomitable spirit that every woman possesses, and a nod to the phrase ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ There’s a great sense of empowerment in every class, in the very best boxes (mine,) you’ll have a coach that pushes you regardless of your gender, and you’re not handled with kiddie gloves because you’re a girl. Being a girl means nothing in terms of how hard you’re pushed. In fact what I’ve come to learn is that in the world of CrossFit, if someone tells you to lift like a girl, well Jim* you better be scared of what you’re gonna have to load on that bar! The women of CrossFit are strong; we’ll paint our nails (sometimes,) and then ruin that fresh manicure landing a PR in our squat snatch (that’s the lift I want to PR!)

When I first started CrossFit in 2014, I wore the baggiest t-shirts. I still do now but usually with shorts because I like tricking people with the whole pants, no pants question. In those days I wore the baggy t-shirts because I hated my body. I felt like I needed to hide the way I looked. The fact that I had been vegetarian for two years (vegan for a mere five months,) and still hadn’t whittled down to a size 4, infuriated me. I guess some people are just meant to be built like elephants, or gorillas? I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. Fast forward to three years later, we’re in 2018 now and I’ve come to prize function over aesthetic…on most days at least. I haven’t completely thrown caution to the wind. I still have my periods where if I feel a little bit chunkier than usual, I’ll either train more or eat a lot less of my kryptonite…bread, potatoes, pizza…gosh I looooove pizza and anything that has sugar in it.

The best thing I’ve heard all year was that my body is mesmerizing. Now I will say, said person was a bit of a creep but there’s no reason to discount the truth that came from him. Mesmerizing.

Mesmerizing: capture the complete attention of (someone) or to hypnotize someone.

When was the last time you thought of your body that way? Have you ever thought of your body that way? Guess what, your body IS mesmerizing. Your body is strong. Your body is beautiful and I don’t just mean in an aesthetic way but physiologically as well. Have you ever thought of the work that goes into keeping you alive? Little things like being able to breathe, your heart pumping blood around your body without you having to remind it, being able to walk without having to consciously send a message to your brain to put the left foot forward now.

As the years that I have been fitness-ing add up, my nutrition and training habits are starting to get better, and each day I learn to love this body that is doing its best to function and perform as I want it to. Discipline tempered with kindness. Kindness to remember that my body (and yours,) is mesmerizing.

I’ve had people look down on me, put me down because I didn’t look like them- I look stronger. Serena Williams

*Jim is the generic name that I use for any man that dares to think women are the weaker sex.

Athletes’ Corner: Chloë Hillier

I love social media; Instagram, Twitter, Facebook eh…not so much (how are we still using it?) I love that it’s provided for individuals to connect regardless of where they live. My favourite thing about social media? Connecting with other CrossFitters. That’s not a statement that should come as a surprise; I have said before that CrossFitters are the best humans on earth. It’s best you don’t try to argue on that point haha!

When I first saw Chloë’s account on insta, it was an immediate follow from me. She’s a total badass, and I don’t know about you guys but I love badass people, whether that’s on social media or in real life, they’re great to have around!  So before you even dig into this piece with my bestie from across the pond, do something smart. Go on instagram, (I know you have the app, it’s 2018 people!) and give my girl (c.hills) a follow. You won’t regret it! This year I would love to travel to the UK…return to the UK, and get to train with so many of the lovely people that I’ve had the opportunity to connect with. Chloë is one of those people; it’s probably what fuels my training session’s #mustbeBADASSlikeChloë. On a more serious note, the narrative that CrossFit allows female CrossFitters to partake in is one that is largely positive. One where we’re all rooting for each other, sometimes even shouting at each other to squeeze that last rep in, all because we genuinely want to see each other succeed. We honestly all just want to be faster, stronger and better, don’t we? When I reached out to Chloë for this interview, I was thrilled that she accepted. I know you’ll enjoy reading this!

Welcome to the Athletes’ Corner Chloë!

  • Hey Chloë, so give us an intro on who you are and what you do?

CH: Hey Aurélie! Thanks so much for asking me to feature on your blog – what a privilege! So a little about me… I’m a 27 year-old CrossFit-loving dogmum from the UK! I live with my partner and our dog in Old Basing, in Hampshire. For those unfamiliar with UK geography it’s about 45mins west of London by car. At work I’m a full-time communications manager for a security company, but outside of work is where my passions are! Namely my 2 year-old cocker-spaniel called Roxy (those who follow me will know her well!) and CrossFit. I’ve been doing CrossFit for 4 and half years now (time flies!!) and I love it just as much as I did when I first started…perhaps even more!

One thing I love about your account is that the things you post are a genuine reflection of who you are. Fun posts; CrossFit, holidays, work, and my favourite-doggy posts!!! In the age of carefully curated instagram accounts that seem ingenious, yours is amongst those that aren’t contrived. You keep it real (…that phrase is sooo played out!)

  • It’s easy to start doing/posting things for the ‘gram, but you don’t.  What or who keeps you grounded?

CH: Thank you so much! In all honesty, for me social media is about having fun and showing others what you’re all about. Let’s be honest, most of us will never have more than a few followers so what’s the point in being anything other than true to yourself?!  As long as my account is providing a bit of inspiration, happiness and humour to those who have chosen to follow me then it’s all good for me J Although I’m sure I’ve lost a few followers due to excessive CrossFit posts…their loss. Some people just don’t get it 😉

I’m obsessed with deadlifts. High rep, low volume or high volume, low reps. Whatever the combination is, that’s the move that I would do for the rest of my life…big statement to make. In fact I would even go as far as calling it the world’s most perfect lift/move. Firstly I’m not the tallest person in the world so I don’t have to get that far off the ground haha, and also thigh power!

  • What’s your favourite move/wod?

CH: As much as we get on Aurélie I could not disagree more! Haha! I HATE deadlifts with a passion – I think it’s something to do with my long legs but oh man they always seem so hard. For me, I have two favourite movements…HSPUs and snatches! I just think there is something so great about being able to compete in a sport where one minute you’re performing a heavy Olympic lift and the next you’re upside down doing handstands against a wall! Name one other sport with that level of variety…nope, didn’t think so!

  • What’s one move that you can think of that didn’t look the best when you first started, and now after a lot of discipline and consistency, you’ve improved in?

CH: Funnily enough this is the one I hate the most…deadlifts! A lot of people would argue that this is one of the easiest movements in CrossFit but for me it’s one of the hardest. I really struggle to keep good form with a flat back when the bar gets heavy. I tend to round my lower back and cause unnecessary stress on it. Whilst it has never hurt me, I know it isn’t the right way to be lifting…especially as it also translates into the initial ‘pull’ phase of my Olympic lifts, thus giving them bad form too. It has taken a LOT of frustration and drilling good form at lighter weights but I feel like I’ve started to crack it. My instinct is still to pull from my lower back so it’s something that I will always have to work on but I feel that it’s so much better than when I first started CrossFit and I’m proud of that.

There’s a misconception that exists that in order to excel at CrossFit, you have to quit your day job…the temptation is great right? You haven’t quit your day job, you’re enjoying it and you’re KILLING it at comps. We’ve seen it with Brent Fikowski, he’s a financial controller, and he’s the second fittest man on earth. It can be done!

  • A: You’ve gotta share your secret with us, how do you find that balance between work and play?

CH: Don’t get me wrong, if someone said to me ‘hey Chloë, quit your job and I’ll cover all your costs while you train all day everyday’ of course I would bite their arm off! But, let’s be real here, that’s never going to happen! So for me it’s all about finding a routine which works and sticking to it. My typical day is…get up, walk Roxy, spend the day at work, get home and walk her again, train at the gym and then by the time I’m home in the evening I usually have a couple of hours to have dinner, relax and unwind for bed. It does sometimes seem like these days are very full on, but that’s why it’s important to make sure you have rest days! BALANCE IS KEY!

  • I’m pretty notorious at packing EVERY thing in my sports bag. At one stage I had two skipping ropes, different colours because hey, on Wednesdays I like to use a pink skipping rope. It got to a point where even if I wasn’t going to work after the box, I’d have things like 3 different shower gels, 2 different training tops. It is RIDICULOUS, and I can’t be the only one that crazy! What do you pack in your sports bag?

CH: I think this is a girl thing! My gym bag is usually pretty full too! I tend to train in the evenings so fortunately I don’t need to pack all of the shower and work stuff but somehow I still manage to fill up a bag! In mine you’ll find the ‘CrossFit essentials’ like wrist straps, lifters, skipping rope, etc, but then you’ll find what others may describe as ‘a lot of unnecessary crap’ too! This often includes things like running trainers (as much as I adore Metcons they aren’t the best if you’ve got a WOD with 5x800m runs!), about a million hair ties (if you know, you know) and a variety of snacks (because, duh, food). Obviously I think it’s ALL essential but there you go…

  • My power song is Beyoncé ‘who run the world.’ Scratch that, my power artist is Beyoncé haha. If I think of training that I’ve done to the tune of Beyoncé, they’ve always been great. What/ who do you like to listen to while you’re training?

CH: This is why we need to train together one day! I love Beyoncé more than life itself. If ever I’m allowed to be gym DJ then I head straight for the Queen Bey playlists. I would have her on repeat all day, every day if I could…

In an interview with the CrossFit Games media team, Brent Fikowski said: ‘training yourself on a daily basis to deal with a little bit of failure will definitely help when it comes to competition because how you dealt with adversity the entire year-inside and outside the gym-is going to determine how you deal with adversity. You can’t be situationally mentally tough.’  I will go on record with calling myself the CrossFit drama queen, I learn my mental toughness through tantrums, and while tantrums are great haha, a great thing that my amazing coach taught me is to never throw a tantrum so great and (let’s call it what it is,) so childish that it gets into your head, ruins your game plan and negatively impacts your performance, i.e. save the (physical,) bucket kicking for when you’re at the Games. I have a rubber band that I wear, and should I complain, I have to switch wrists.

  • Do you have any practices that you adopt in terms of being mentally tough not just in the box, but outside of training as well, and how does that filter through to the mindset that you have when it comes to competitions?

CH: I think I’ve always considered myself as quite a tough person. I’ve always been up for a challenge. But CrossFit has definitely helped to develop that even more. There’s something very special about doing a sport which educates you about what your body is capable of (especially as a woman). It’s extremely empowering and a mindset which translate into every walk of life, not just in the gym.

QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS

Fran or Cindy? Cindy. Fran is the work of the devil.

Cleans or snatches? Snatches all day everyday

When I’m not at the box, I can be found… Out and about walking with Roxy

Dream escape? I’d love to spend some time exploring South East Asia.

IN THE FRIDGE:

The tastiest thing in there is… Either chocolate or cheese, depending on the mood!

The best superfood in there is… Water. Does that even count? If it doesn’t then it should!

Every week I need to buy more… Bananas…because I use them in everything! Pancakes, smoothies, just on their own…

You won’t find… Fish or seafood of any sort. I wish I liked it because it’s so healthy but I just can’t stand it.

  • In closing Chloë, what’s the legacy that you want to leave behind?

CH: To have made at least one person (or doggy!) smile every day of my life J

P is for positive!

‘Change can be powerful, if we are brave enough to evolve with it.’

The hardest part of CrossFit is finding a box. Finding a coach that you connect with and people that are on the same wavelength as you are. A place where positivity is felt the minute you step in!

In the wake of my sister’s death, I did not want to train AT ALL! When you lose someone you love so dearly, everything reminds you of them. Fitness in particular, was one of the things that my older sister and I had in common. Whenever we trained together, my sister would be the one yapping away and I’d be thinking, ‘shut up and train.’ Now whenever I’m at the box, I’m the one that a lot of people wish would just shut up and train 😂 Her death left me crippled. The first time I stepped into the box following her death, I’d well up and not train. A week turned into a month, a month turned into four 😳

I went into hibernation after my sister passed, it was made easier by the fact that I had resigned from my job as a support trainer for Lush South Africa. Burpees can be scary I suppose, but it wasn’t the thought of getting back to training that filled me with anxiety. It was the thought of having to face people, CrossFit is known for its community aspect and I didn’t know whether I was ready for that. I didn’t know whether I was ready to move on with my life and participate in anything!

I thought about kitting out the garage with equipment and never stepping into a box again, but then I remembered that when Bruno first spoke about his box, I told him that I would 100 percent support him. And if you’re going to call yourself a friend then you might as well put some action to your talk and REALLY support your friends! I’ve had many conversations with Bruno about…well everything, what are coaches for? A topic that always seems to creep up is positivity and how the energy you surround yourself with is just as important as the energy that you’re breeding within you. If you’re around people who complain 100% of your free time, guess what? You’re going to become exactly like them.

The opposite is true. As a Christian, I am very familiar with verses like Philippians 4:13 that states I can do all things through Christ. However, if I’m being honest I never took that verse to heart. In my head, I’d still be playing scenarios of all that could go wrong and how I’d fail. I wasn’t putting in any physical and indeed, mental effort into cultivating an environment that would create and nurture growth. My internal environment was the perfect breeding ground for negativity, mediocrity and a fear of trying anything new.It’s important to note that having a positive mindset doesn’t automatically make things easier or mean that you’ll always win. It does mean that in every situation, you are able to look on the bright side of life and assess whether opportunity for improvement exists as well as better strategy on how to isolate those areas and make it better. On top of that, it allows you to focus your energy and your efforts on completing the task at hand with all that you’ve got! You learn how to chase excellence every damn day.

I’m two months in at Evolve and I am all the more hopeful and excited about CrossFit, about life. I’ve even gotten my younger sister to join the CrossFit cult. That in itself is a victory that deserves its own blogpost! My physical circle of friends (family not included 😂) has whittled down and as this happens, I find that more good things are happening because I now operate in a negativity free zone and the bonus is that it’s with people who want to do life the same way!

What does it help focusing on the negative anyway, to paraphrase this gem in Luke 12:25-26, what do you add to your life by worrying about tomorrow, today?

Nothing.

25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[a]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? 27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!

Luke 12:25-28 (NIV)

The Black CrossFitter & Her Hair (Mishaps)

I am a black girl.

Oh you noticed.

Yay! We can proceed.

Black girls unfortunately have a reputation for choosing to preserve their hairstyle over working out. I have never really been that girl, except for when I got my eyebrows microbladed. Those two weeks of very minimal sweating was SO worth it because I have eyebrows that anyone would be (and rightly so,) should be, jealous of.

Microblading incident aside, I am a huge proponent of health over everything. When my hair was longer, I would rock up to the box with the dodgiest looking cornrows, twists, looking crusty as anything, and I must be honest I didn’t really care. It’s easy now, to stand on this pedestal, preaching to all who will read this blog that health should be a priority over everything, however (remember how I wrote in this post, that there is ALWAYS a ‘however’ in life!) when I first started CrossFit, I foolishly believed that I could look cute while working out.

The year was 2013, I had just moved back to South Africa from the UK and after watching a RIDICULOUS amount of CrossFit videos on YouTube, I bit the bullet and joined a box that was a stone’s throw away from home. I had no idea what a black female CrossFitter was supposed to look like, (do you see why representation is important?) I hadn’t yet discovered Elisabeth Akinwale, Quiana Welch or Deborah Cordner-Carson.

The funny thing about being the only black person anywhere is that sometimes you feel as though you’re there as a delegate to represent all black people and naturally you have to be good at everything AND look the part.

On that day I decided that I would wear the new silky black and stupidly long wig that my sister had bought for me. I had just chopped off all my hair for the umpteenth time so while there was nothing to secure that wig to, I had tied a headband around the perimeter to sort of secure the wig. I’ve never been one to cherry pick my wods, so on that day I rocked up to the box ready (or so I thought,) for whatever would be thrown at me. I’ve been active my whole life, not as much as I am now, so I foolishly believed that I had encountered every move possible in the world of what my narrow definition of fitness was. On that fateful day, in the elements class, we would be learning how to do handstands. I was excited until the coach began to demonstrate the warm up. It involved forward rolls. I only really started to panic when I crouched down, attempted to roll forward and as I did, felt my wig start to shift. That wig shifted all the way off my big ol’ head. I had just revealed a black girl secret. After that day, I would love to say that I learnt my lesson but I didn’t…I haven’t! When my hair grew long enough, I dipped in the box braid trend, (thanks Solange,) only to get the worst neck ache from the weight of the braids whipping back and forth whenever I did pull ups, and I’ll never forget 16.4, where I hoped to never get to the HSPU. How would I be able to do those with the weight of these insanely long braids?

I’ve had wods where my braids have flipped in front of me, blocking my vision and effectively ruining my life. Wods where all I could think about was the pain of those fresh braids. I’ve even suffered from slight chafing on my back from the friction caused by having the bar on my weave. You’d think all these things would cause me to call it quits on looking cute while working out, but they haven’t deterred me. I am on an eternal quest to work hard without looking like I’m working hard and I have learnt a few things from these hair mishaps and luckily (unless you want to,) you don’t have to go through what I did, to find out what works best for a black female CrossFitter.

Tip #1: Box braids will never be your friend! The sooner you accept this, the better. In last years Open, I (still being ever so brave, foolish perhaps, and not willing to accept this,) had box braids. They made everything that much harder, annoying, and hotter. The amount of times my rope got caught in my braids during 17.5, wasn’t that high but in a wod where you’re racing against the clock, that second spent on re-adjusting a stray braid was one second too long. At least I looked cute right?

img_3919

Tip #2: Go natural. I’ve worried the least about how my hair is going to surprise me, or what it’ll do during a wod, when I’ve worn it in its natural state. There are no movement restrictions and I know for a fact that I don’t have to worry about whether my hair will get caught on my rope, chafe my back, or block my vision. Afros are a beautiful thing, they defy gravity, it’s part of that black girl magic.

my face of disbelief during 17.1

Tip #3: Remember to cleanse and moisturize. If you’re anything like me and you sweat when you work out, this is an important (and obvious,) one to remember. Natural hair  gets dry quickly and because sweat contains salt, it can cause further dryness. You’ll want to use products that inject moisture every step of the way. I wash my hair once a week, and will use shampoo every second wash. My choice of shampoo is the Aussie Moisture Frizz Miracle shampoo, and more recently Shea Moisture’s Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen, Grow & Restore Shampoo. On the days that I don’t wash my hair, I make sure to rinse it with lukewarm water and apply a leave in conditioner like my absolute favorite again by Shea Moisture, the Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen, Grow and Restore leave in conditioner. Firstly, it smells like vanilla cookies (SO IMPORTANT!) and with water as its first ingredient, it provides maximum hydration and softness to your hair because of the shea butter & coconut oil in it. A great bonus to this product is the addition of the Jamaican black castor oil and peppermint oil which are helpful in stimulating blood circulation and in turn boosts your hair growth. I should really do a review on this…

Tip #4: If you’re gonna fake it out with hair that’s not your own, make sure that your cornrows aren’t so tight that they give you a facelift. You’re black. You’re not gonna crack, so your cornrows don’t have to feature in your anti-ageing regimen. You’re just gonna end up bald 😂 #realtalk. Cornrows done in a circular pattern help in alleviating the strain on those precious edges, and if done neatly, you can even rock that as your protective style. If you decide to go the wig route, PLEASE for the love of preserving all black girl hair secrets, secure that bad boy correctly!

Tip #5: Accept that it’s a losing battle. If you’re going to choose your health over your workout, you will have days where your hair is going to look like a hot mess, you will have days where because your hair looks like a hot mess, you’ll look like a hot mess, BUT that’s okay because at least you’ve got a bangin’ body!

Mindfulness, what’s it all about?

In my efforts to be the best athlete I can be, I have explored different things that can help in legally enhancing your mental and physical capacities during a wod, and especially for the competitive athletes, during a competition, one of these things or techniques, is mindfulness. Due to a back injury, 2017 was a year that I had to rule out competing. When I started my rehab,  in the back of my head, I had the memory of what had happened when I last competed in 2016. It was at Last Man Standing, a 2 day CrossFit competition, and that year the wods favoured what I excelled in, or at least what I thought I excelled in : short quick wods with heavier weights. My training was consistent, however (isn’t it horrible that there is always a ‘however,’)  coupled with an erratic work schedule…hmmm that’s probably why I resigned (that’s a post for another day!) I fell sick with the worst flu virus that took me until the day of the competition to shake off. I suffered with feelings of nausea throughout the day but I chalked some of it up to nerves. The highlight of that weekend was throwing up on someones car, I’m sorry whoever you are. During that weekend, one of the wods we had involved pulling a sled with a rope, and an odd object overhead carry.  I was ahead with the sled pull until my rope got tangled on the sled and the very temperamental CrossFit diva that I was at that time, threw the towel in. I remember crying after that wod, hating CrossFit for about a minute and then having that mood trickle into all the other wods that weekend.

A couple of months later while taking inventory of the things that I could have changed prior, during and after the competition, I came across a post on social media where Ben Bergeron, owner of CrossFit New England, and coach of 2X Fittest Woman on Earth, Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir,  wrote about the technique of mindfulness that he uses with his athletes to keep them focussed during wods/competions on giving their very best effort, focusing on the things that they have control over and not variables that are subject to change. On that fateful day in September, I had no control on my rope getting tangled on the sled, but I could have controlled the trajectory of my thoughts, instead using that experience to fuel me to push harder and pace myself in a smarter way in the following wods, as opposed to having thrown a hissy fit, shedding a few tears, thereby  sabotaging myself for that weekend.

Mindfulness can best be described as the art of being present in the moment, it’s a training and disciplining of your thoughts so as to not allow them to wander off into thoughts of past efforts or future efforts. Mindfulness is focussing on the here and now. Being present, mind, body and soul, in the activity that you are partaking in. Mindfulness is an awareness of everything that is going on in your body. It’s a shift from doing things in response to what others are doing, and instead doing things in response to what will work out best for you. I’ve found that as I practice mindfulness, I care less about measuring myself up to other people victories and instead, I’m focussed on my path, my victories and my effort/s.

‘Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally.’  Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness is not only learning how to perform anything and everything with purpose and joy, but the idea behind it is to cultivate attention on the body and mind as it is, moment to moment, and so help with pain or moments of discomfort, both physical and emotional.  In those moments you are, (as you can probably guess,) mindful and acutely aware of everything that is going on around you, but most importantly in you. Mindfulness can be helpful in positively changing the perception you have of the world and yourself. In these moments of self-evaluation, you are able to pay attention to your why and (hopefully,) find the good, no matter how small it is, in whatever you’re doing.

Genetically, I consider myself exceptionally lucky to be able to build strength as easily as I do. Squats, deadlifts and donuts, that’s all that makes me happy. However (ooh there’s that word again,) ask me to do a wod that has running AND strength, and my mind immediately runs to the worst case scenario, where I’m left completely destroyed by Helen…that’s the wod that fills me with fear haha! In an effort to have and sustain the joy and gratitude that exists whenever I have a bar, kettlebell or dumbbells in my hands, I began to explore mindfulness as a means of learning how to transfer these happy emotions to any wod that has running.

Mindfulness & CrossFit, match made in heaven?

CrossFit is great for developing attributes such as endurance, strength and metabolic fitness, but in order to become a great athlete, when you’re taking stock of your progress (which we should all be doing,) you’ll discover that it is important to pay some attention to the external factors that can impact your training and therefore your performance on the comp floor. We’ve often heard it before that your mind is the most powerful weapon you have. Mindfulness is a way to make this muscle stronger. I’m a firm believer that an empty mind, very easily becomes the devils playground. An empty mind is easier to fill with junk. These junky thoughts start off with negative thoughts that you believe about yourself, and then eventually they become thoughts that you believe about other people. This highlights how important it is to be aware of what you’re choosing to focus on and giving your energy to. Mindfulness can form part of ones meditation practice in that for an extended period of time, using techniques such as journaling or deep breathing, you are aware of what’s going on with yourself. This technique of mindfulness is one that sports psychologists have studied and confirmed as a contributing factor to excelling in your training and competitive performances. In honing in your thoughts you become someone who will constantly show up at the box to be first. The definition of what it means to be first is that you’re an athlete who shows up to give their all. An athlete who as frustrated as they are at their rope getting tangled on the sled, is able to push those feelings of frustration aside because she realises that right now giving into that particular feeling will sabotage and not fuel her efforts when not harness correctly.

Ready to get mindful about what’s in your head?

Next time you’re headed to the box, aim to get there five minutes earlier. Pick a spot, put the timer on for five minutes, alternatively you can use a meditation app, I’ve listed my favourites at the end of this article. As you lay on the floor, allow your eyes to gently close, taking a few deep inhalations and exhalations, hands on your stomach, focussing on the movement of your stomach up and down with each breath. Your ribcage taking in that precious oxygen that is going to fuel you during that wod that you’re going to crush, think of a positive event that happened during the course of the day. It doesn’t have to anything grand, although if it is, that’s great! It can even be the fact that you woke up this morning. Focus on the emotions that you experienced when that event happened, reliving that moment in your mind, allowing it to vividly remember every aspect of that moment. At the end of your five minutes,  focus on holding on to those positive emotion through every movement that your wod will consist of.

A different way of practicing mindfulness is through something that I’ve learnt from Katrin Davidsdottir, she wears a white rubber band on her right wrist that she has to move to her left wrist anytime she has a negative thought or complains about a movement or wod. The goal is to keep it on the same wrist; it’s a lot harder than anyone would think!  This practice will create in you an increased awareness of the words that come out of your mouth and forces you to focus on the conversation going on in your head. The interesting thing is that even though I sought out mindfulness to improve my sports performance, eventually it trickled into my everyday life where I have been able to remove myself from people and surroundings that were adding to the strain that I was under mentally.

Favourite meditation apps:

Simple Habit

Zensong

Rain Rain

A few good reads to hone in your thoughts:

 The Champions Mind by Jim Afremo

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Soul Detox by Craig Groeschel

The fear 

Five months ago, on a day that should be declared an international holiday (my birthday,) I lost focus for a split second at a first attempt of a push jerk at 60kg and as I dropped the bar, I did some kind of a weird backward bend that clicked something in my back. I was in mild discomfort, a little bit of pain, and from that day I’ve been fearful of anything overhead, and because the weight I failed at was 60kg, that’s the weight that I have for the last few months unable to get past. 

So a couple of weeks ago, when coach programmed 1 rep maxes and a few benchmark wods, I was anything but thrilled. The day came when it was time to test our 1 rep maxes for the squat clean & jerk. 

I have big thighs so lifting is easy peasy, lemon squeezy. I get to 55kg, clean that with ease and then completely freeze when it comes to jerking it. At that point I gave up and now as I think back on that experience, I regret having allowed fear to win. A few things were comforting on that day; the first was how coach #1, Nuno handled that moment. He didn’t bark and shout at me to pick up the bar, but in that moment he understood that I needed to take a step back from the lift today, and get over myself and in particular that past event that had been a swift catalyst in my back injury. 

Fear makes things appear a lot worse than they actually are. Fear puts a magnifying glass on all the things you haven’t yet mastered and when you let it get to your head, like I had on that day, it can and it will cripple you. It stops you from trying, and trying is what needs to happen if you’re ever going to master anything. 

I left the box feeling defeated, disappointed in myself and I cried, the crying is standard for me, I’m a CrossFit drama queen haha. Later that day, I spoke to coach #2, my best franddd Bruno and felt challenged and a touch better. I came to the conclusion that at one stage or another, in life…well CrossFit is life, we’re all scared of something. We all have those moments where fear cripples us and we feel frozen whether physically or mentally. I can’t remember what movie it was that I watched that said the thing you fear is the thing you cherish the most and are most scared of losing (it was ‘The Bodyguard’) While that does make sense logically, on the flip side, as a Christian I’ve also come to realize that the thing that you fear the most, or the thing that you fear losing, highlights that area in which you trust Jesus the least. An area that you think God in all His sovereignty, is unable to protect should life i.e. unfavorable circumstance, should happen to you. An area that He can’t fill with His bravery, His strength and His spirit. 

As I thought of it a little bit more, I felt a little bit of a stir of annoyance: ‘you can’t possibly be telling me that I don’t trust God. Besides it’s CrossFit, what does that have to do with not trusting God?’ and then sweet Holy Spirit reminds me of this verse: 

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control]. 

2 Timothy 1:7 (AMP)

I’m grateful for those moments where my faith and my fitness intersect. Regardless of whether it’s a wod at the box, or any other  facet of our lives; God has not given us a spirit of fear. A spirit of cowardice that does not try.  A spirit that does not trust in what or indeed who she/he knows. The fear I felt in that moment may have been validated by past experience, but just like in our faith walk where God doesn’t want us to re-live past experience/s of failure, it’s the same with CrossFit. You can’t dwell on the failed attempts. You will come face to face with fear that can be crippling. What you can’t do is allow yourself to be defeated, to be knocked out, to stop trying. We allow ourselves to be defeated when we allow the fear of a moment, or indeed a past event, to stop us from moving forward: and to get better in anything, we have to move forward, we have to keep trying. A fear filled response is void of calm, it’s void of a well balanced mind because in that moment, it is the fear that’s driving you. 

So next time I have a moment where I’m confronted with fear, what do I do? I want to be calm, I want a well balanced mind, I want self-control. 

Taking tips from my bestie, Brunzzz, in those moments you just have to do it. Decide to be a person that will go for it all the time! Give yourself a pep talk if you have to, psych yourself up to try. Psych yourself up to succeed. The worst thing that could happen is you fail that attempt, but it doesn’t make you a failure. The thing that is worse than failing, is not trying. A person who fails is not defeated. A person who doesn’t try, is. To echo what Nuno said, it truly does become a case of ‘getting over yourself.’ Forget your ego, forget the doubt and focus on the heat and now (here’s where you practice that mindfulness,) Focus on executing that lift, or movement using good technique. For a while after I injured my back, I had to strip back the weights, scale movement and work on my technique. Technique is what I had to remember in that moment, not how I had failed that attempt on international Aurélie day…which to be fair was because of shoddy technique 🙈 

I have to trust in what my coaches have taught me, so now I can honestly say that I am ready to PR my jerk. I’m no longer acting in response to fear, and there’s something about the word ‘cowardice’ that has added an extra ounce of bravery, strength and calm in me to try in CrossFit, and in life. 

I have learnt from experience that fear gets you absolutely nowhere.

Serena Williams

Integrity: doing what you say you’ll do 

This morning (and every morning for the past two months,) I have made it a daily habit to listen to podcasts that start my day off with either laughter, (Russell Brand on Radio X) or aligns my focus so that I can get the maximum benefit from tasks that I get to complete. I’ll be honest, when you wake up at 4:15 every single morning to make it in time for the 5am class, you have to coax you brain into deciding that you will apply the same (if not greater,) level of focus, determination and joy that early, as you would for a later time when you’re slightly more awake and pleasant to be around without the need of caffeine. 
When you train that early, you have to be mindful in every single thing that you get to do. In previous posts, I’ve touched on how practicing mindfulness, (i.e. changing my mindset) has helped in improving my performance as an athlete and recently my quality of life. As I progress on this journey, developing a healthy mindset (not just for sports performance,) is becoming increasingly important. This morning I was listening to a podcast by Brute Strength on ‘mindsets and gaining the edge,’ with 2nd fittest woman in the world, Kara Webb and there was so much gold in this podcast that I found myself having to do more reining in than I typically do, to my ridiculously ADHD brain that wants to spew out everything all at once! 

A word that came up in this podcast, and stuck with me, is the word  ‘integrity.’

integrity

– The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. 

– The state of being whole and undivided. 

It’s a word we use to describe people that we respect, admire or simply want to be like! I am very blessed to have coaches (and people,) who are loaded with this trait, and I’ve learnt (and continue to learn,) so much from them. If you have people like these in your life, treasure them. These people are great! These people are important, make sure to high 5 them next time you see them! Do you know what else is great & even more important? Personal integrity to yourself (comes in at about 35:02 minutes in the podcast…I’m on my third listen of this 🙈)
What you tell yourself you’re going to do AND then carrying out that action, speaks volumes about the person that you are to yourself. Are you undivided, honest and steadfast to the word or promises that you make to yourself? Are you a person of integrity to yourself? Do you honor the promises you make to yourself whether health wise or (for me especially,) in your faith walk? 

When you honor the promises that you make to yourself, and do them CONSISTENTLY, you begin to build personal trust in yourself, in your efforts, in your entirety as a living being. 

I had to ask myself this question: 

‘Do you trust yourself? Are you a person of integrity to Aurélie?’



Here’s the thing that I discovered as I attempted to answer this question; I couldn’t come up with a solid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. In my head these two answers were swirling around : ‘sometimes when I know I’m good at something, yeah then I definitely trust myself’ or ‘yeah when things are going well and usually when I feel like it, I’d say I have good personal integrity to myself.’  The goal is to get to a place where you can say: ‘YES I am a person of integrity to [insert your name over here] all the damn time!’ 

Life will offer you a multitude of situations (and people too haha,) to test the mettle of your character. Who is the person that rises up when demands are made on the moral fabric that ties you together? A great question to ask yourself when these situations (or people crop up,) occur: ‘is this true to the person that I want to be to myself? Will this enhance the relationship that I have with myself as a person of integrity?’ If it doesn’t fulfill that criteria, don’t compromise, no dilly dallying over here, say no! 

I am at a beautiful stage in my life where (slowly…slow doesn’t mean it isn’t happening,) I’m cutting off all the things that don’t align with the person I want to be (firstly) to myself, and then to others. I’m learning to match every moment of my existence to the purposes that I would most like to pursue. It’s what we all need to do, not the purposes that have been assigned to us based on gender, race and/or socio-economic status, not the purposes that people would like you to pursue. You have to be the one that decides these purposes. 
I’ll be honest, I don’t always get it right, habits take time to change (don’t make that your excuse/crutch though,) but I’m chasing greater personal integrity & excellence to myself and that’s something that should never stop. 
Not for me. Definitely not for you! 

The aftermath of listening to this podcast was a 5K run that I had half-heartedly planned 🙃, hence the post- run image for this post. Only subscribe to the Brute Strength podcast if you’re serious about bettering yourself; you just might end up going for a 10K run 😉 

Recommended reading: ‘Getting things done: the art of stress-free productivity.’ David Allen 

‘A champion is not the winner. A champion is a person who comes through in the final hour.’