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I Didn’t Die – Reflections On My First CrossFit Competition

Below is a guest post by Strong Tower Athlete, Angela Papay. These are her reflections on her first ever CrossFit competition, New Wods On The Block – Happy WODsgiving. We’re kinda stinkin proud of her.

When I first walked into Strong Tower, I was nervous. I had shown up for my interview with Olga, one of the coaches, to see if I would qualify for the Six Weeks to a New You Challenge. I was in desperate need of a lifestyle change. I was very overweight and lived a pretty sedentary life. I worked on a computer all day and by the end of the day, I’d be mentally exhausted, so the couch became my refuge in front of the television.

RXing the warmup

I saw an ad on Facebook talking about the challenge. I looked through it and I watched the video promoting the idea. I have never considered myself to be particularly strong or athletic. I generally rode the bench in team sports and while I won several medals in college on the rowing team, I was the coxswain. My mom joked that I found a way to be on the rowing team and not row.

The video showed crossfit workouts. But it didn’t show world class athletes absolutely killing it. It showed women like me who wanted to get in better shape and live a healthier life.

There was one part of the video that struck me – there was a woman doing pullups… from her knees. I thought, “I can do that.” So I signed up, got my interview appointment, and drove to the gym.

Olga was welcoming and forthcoming. She told me I was going to work hard. I told her I was looking for an abrupt change in my life. That was what always seemed to work for me in the past. By the end of the conversation, I had a place in the challenge and I was officially signed up. Things were about to get very real for me.

That was six months ago. I have come regularly to the gym and I’ve seen improvements in my fitness that I wouldn’t have thought possible when I first walked in the door. There have been times when I balked at a workout and skipped, only to feel guilty and defeated afterward. Pretty soon I was knocking things off of my goal list:

  1. I made the leader board in strict press.
  2. I was able to complete a 20” box jump.
  3. I began to Rx workouts.
  4. I was getting faster. And stronger.

So when the gym announced that they were going to be hosting a scaled competition, my first reaction was, “hell yeah!”

Then I froze. Here’s the thing: I don’t particularly enjoy working out in front of other people. I surprised even myself when I actively recruited my husband to come join me at a workout (meaning I had to work out in front of him…. The horror). Doing classes isn’t too bad because I know everyone is focused on their own workout and not really paying attention to me. But when coaches are watching me, I have to take a deeper breath than normal because I get anxious.

CrossFit competitions happen in front of other athletes. And spectators. People would be watching me. The idea was completely overwhelming. So I didn’t sign up. My husband did. I watched others announce their teams and throw themselves into the fray with a great deal of envy.

Signing up was going to take some courage. One night, one of the other gym members noted that she needed a partner for the competition. In a moment of insane bravery, I told her I would do it with her.

Partner competitions are great because it’s harder for me to back out. I had a nagging left arm injury that I was dealing with and while I was getting faster and stronger, my body had a way of reminding me that I was almost 40 years old. I got into my head on a regular basis, thinking about all the ways I could embarrass myself. But I had a partner counting on me. So I was in it until the end.

The day of the competition came and my partner and I showed up, ready for whatever was about to be thrown our way. The waiting was the hardest part. The hour between check-in and the first heat was agonizingly slow. I kept reminding myself of the two goals I had that day:

  1. Don’t come in last.
  2. Don’t die.

My kids do sports and none of them are particularly gifted at athletics. I always tell them there are two rules: Do your best and have a good attitude. The rest is what it is. I adopted my own mantra and stepped into my lane for the first event. And we were off.

I’m proud of how my partner and I did. We completed all of the workouts and in decent time. We were competitive. There was one event where we came in last in our heat, but the cheers for us at the end were so uplifting and motivating. I love a sport where the cheers for last place are just as loud as they are for first place. Maybe even louder.

Afterward, I was a little sulky about my performance. We didn’t come in last. But we were pretty close. My partner did amazing, and I felt that I slowed her down. After about an hour or two, though I realized something. There is NO WAY I could have done all of that six months ago in one day. Compete in four different events over the course of just a couple hours. I would have tapped out before I was halfway through.

I also realized something else the next day. I wasn’t sore. I was tired, yes. But not achy and stiff. Clearly my fitness was improving.

Immediately after the competition, I had it in my head that I wouldn’t do another one. That I was grateful for the experience, but competing didn’t need to be part of my fitness. Now that I’m a couple of days out, I am realizing that I will absolutely do another one. And another one after that. That I’ve missed competing like this. I have set the bar in terms of my fitness with this first CrossFit competition and this will be the level I look to beat going forward.

The greatest competitor I have is myself. And it took a competition against 25 other teams to realize it. So, put me in coach. I’m ready to play.

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