After the 2008 Olympic Games, men’s rowing Olympic gold medalist Adam Kreek came a spoke to my varsity rowing team at the University of Western Ontario.
Something he said has always stuck with me.
When someone asked him the always cliché, but necessary to ask, question about how winning a gold felt, he essentially said that it felt pretty much the same as any other big accomplishment.
Be it winning a national title with your university team or winning the Olympic Games, “The feeling is the same,” Kreek said.
I remember sitting there being confused. I’ve always been confused about that statement, and it has carried me into CrossFit and has created a sort of “never satisfied with where I’m at” kind of feeling that lingers within me.
But the other day, I experienced a moment – a moment that could just as easily come and gone insignificantly – where I stopped to appreciate the experience in front of me.
I was coaching two newbies – a man and woman couple - during their 14th personal training session. This couple came to me about about 6 weeks ago with a relatively low fitness level, to say the least. They’re the academic type who spend most of their time at computers, and now in their late twenties have become totally committed to improving their strength and conditioning and mobility. I should add that one of the two of them -the man - might be the stiffest, most immobile client I’ve ever coached, but he’s also one of the most committed and best listeners I’ve ever coached, so he instantly became one of my all time favourite clients. I digress.
The first time his girlfriend arrived, I put her through Tabata squats at the end of the hour session, where 30 of those minutes were simply spent talking to her.
She was terrified and complained about how tired she was after the dynamic warm-up. Round one of Tabata squats, she banged out 7 super slow squats, her legs almost shaking. I told her to drop her number to 5 and try to hold that for 7 more sets. The next two rounds, she hit 5, but fatigue was kicking in quickly.
“No, no. I can’t, I can’t. I think I’m done,” she whimpered, out of breath and overwhelmed by the pain in her lungs and legs.
“You got it. Just do 4,” I said. “Only 4 more rounds of 4.”
She listened and did 4. And another 4.
“I can’t, I can’t,” she moaned, but continued to squat even through her sobbing, and completed the last four rounds, although barely.
After she finished, I remember looking her in the eye saying, “It will never be this bad again. Your first day is always the hardest day.”
She nodded and the confidence that told her "I can and will" was restored into her face.
After that session, she not only signed up for 15 personal training sessions, but she also brought her boyfriend with her the next time. The two of them showed up ready for the challenge, committed to doing what it takes to become fit.
Fast forward a few painful early sessions, they’re now about the wrap up their 15 sessions. Aside from coming to CrossFit twice or three times a week, they’ve also been running a couple days a week. And the other day, we repeated the Tabata squats.
I wish, I wish, I wish I had taken a video of her first day, because there she was 6 weeks later, a completely changed athlete.
Before she began, I reminded her of what happened on this workout a month and a half ago. She smiled at the thought, well aware this wasn’t going to be the case now. And sure enough, she easily held 8 Tabata squats for all 8 rounds, even having the energy to revel in her newfound fitness and dance around happily during the rest period.
She finished her Tabata squats, eyes lit up with excitement, and high-fived three people who happened to be in the area.
I, too, couldn’t help but smile – her energy was contagious.
Later that morning, I took a moment to reflect.
Juxtaposed in my mind were two vivid images. One was seeing Lindsey Valenzuela burst into tears and run through the tunnel at the Stub Hub Center into her husband’s arms at last year’s CrossFit Games. The other image was my client beaming, high-fiving anyone she could. While she avoided tears, her excitement over 8 Tabata squats was the same feeling Lindsay felt when she earned a podium finish at the CrossFit Games.
“The feeling is the same,” I whispered to myself.