CrossFit: Preparing for Imagined Moments of Heroism

HeroismLet’s hope that Virginia Heffernan is right and we’re wrong. Let’s hope, like she writes in her New York Times article (God’s Workout), that we CrossFitters are preparing for “an imagined moment of heroism that may never come.” May all of our efforts at achieving a fighting level of General Physical Preparedness (GPP) just be the result of succumbing to ridiculous hyperbole designed to make us buy into Greg Glassman’s crazy dream of bringing people home alive. Let’s hope (outside of the military, fire, and law enforcement personnel among us) that we civilians and desk jockeys never once have to use physical strength to survive in this world.

That’s a big hope.

It’s as big as the hope I have every time I board an airplane with my family: I hope that the airplane doesn’t crash. I know mentally that the chances of fiery devastation are slim but, still, my husband and I have the Conversation. It’s always the same: count the seat-backs to touch between our row and the closest exit (as experienced aircraft crash investigators, we know that smoke will obscure our vision so it’s best to count the seats because we will feel, not see, our way out of a smoky wreck) and divvy up the kids. Maybe it’s the years in the military that trained us to think this way: to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Maybe Heffernan has only ever had the best and never seen the worst: that would explain why she has the privilege of believing that physical strength doesn’t really matter in our everyday lives.  We should all be so lucky.

But, outside of the cocoon of the New York Times, the world is a dark and dirty place and everyday life is fraught with physical challenges. If you’re a Marine, you need GPP to live, and to help your fellow Marines stay alive. If you’re a mom, you need GPP to tote your sick 2-year-old to the doctor’s and to chase your 4-year-old away from the speeding car in a parking lot. If you’re a guy with weekend work to do around the house, you need GPP to tote sheetrock and toss mulch. And if you’re 74 and old age is knocking at your door, you need GPP just to get up from the chair, stay mobile, and keep out of the damned nursing home for as long as possible.

Maybe the problem is that Heffernan’s idea of heroism is limited to what you would see on television or YouTube (her specialty is television and media, after all.) The problem with this myopic view is that heroism, like ice cream, comes in many flavors and sizes. There’s the heroic Navy SEAL using his GPP to scale a mountain in Afghanistan as he fights Taliban: most of us will never be that person. But then there’s the Physical Therapist using her deadlift skills to lower a collapsing patient to the floor so that he doesn’t get hurt: an argument could also be made for the heroic nature of this act. If, as Joseph Campbell says, “The hero sacrifices himself for something – that’s the morality of it,” then both acts would qualify: they differ in scope but not intention.

Still, we can put definitions to the side and agree with Heffernan. In CrossFit, we are preparing for a moment of heroism that may never come — and that’s okay. So, we are Quixotes tilting at windmills. But what of the others? What are the implications for those who are unprepared when the moment for heroics does arrive?

Hopefully, that moment of life-or-death decision, like the necessity of dying in battle for the country you love, never comes. But still the question remains: what would be the greater sin in this life? To waste our time improving our fitness in preparation for a moment that never arrives . . . or to be lazy and ill-equipped when others need our physical strength the most? In the first instance, we find honor and nobility in what could ultimately be merely a healthy folly, but, in the second instance, we find selfishness and injury or death. I don’t know which answer is right but I know we all have choices. Heffernan seems to have made hers. I’ve made mine. You decide which one of us you want as a seatmate in that burning aircraft and let me know. I’ll be the one carrying two kids at a time to safety because I can, and then I’m heading back in to look for more. Heffernan will be easier to find, huddled in her seat, weeping and waiting for me to save her . . .

(Text by Lisbeth Darsh/CrossFit Watertown in Connecticut.)

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