I do something called Crossfit five or six days a week.
You wouldn’t really know this to look at me. In fact, one of the trainers sort of suggested maybe I should stop telling people about Crossfit all the time. I’m not exactly the poster child for fitness.
Every morning, the WOD, or the Workout of the Day, is written on a large whiteboard in the front of the room. If you’re really lucky, your gym also posts it on Facebook the night before, so you can read it right before you go to bed and toss and turn all night long wondering how you are ever going to do a hundred double-unders without peeing yourself.
But maybe that’s just me.
A lot of the workouts are named after women: Elizabeth, Nancy, Annie, Jackie. They have yet to name one “Carrie,” but I think that’s because it would mostly include standing around and chatting, or occasionally dancing to the music. None of this is very Crossfit-y.
There’s also a lot of other jargon, like AMRAP and EMOM and PR and RX.
AMRAP stands for As Many Rounds As Possible, until your heart feels like it might explode. EMOM is Every Minute On the Minute, until you pass out on the floor. PR is Personal Record, meaning you did the workout faster or heavier than you’ve ever done it before, and RX means you lifted the awkward, unwieldy bar or kettlebell at the weight the maniacs responsible for the workout recommend.
Timing is everything.
Crossfit is ruled by the clock—how long it takes you to finish your rounds in an AMPRAP WOD, or a two-thousand meter row, or seventy-five power snatches with an RX of fifty-five pounds.
(That workout is called Randy.)
(Power snatches are a weird move where you to lift the barbell from the floor over your head with your hands really wide on the bar.)
At the start of the workout, we all stand behind the bars or grip our jump ropes or sit up straight on the rowers. When the clock counts down from ten, we take off like racehorses without a jockey.
Just in case you’re too focused on how deep your squat is or how high you can swing your kettlebell, our gym is kind enough to provide poker chips you can pile up to keep track of your rounds. I never use them. I never lose track of my rounds, because believe me you, I am counting those rounds down the way a prisoner counts down the days to release.
Once we’re finished, we note our time or rounds and enter it into a computer so the next time we have to do Fran or Annie, we can try to beat it. If you do beat it, then a little gold star pops up next to your name.
Some people are good at lifting a lot of heavy weight, while others are more skilled at body weight movements like pull-ups and burpees. I am good at neither.
In fact, I’m what you might call an everyday Crossfitter. I’m never going to compete, or go to the Crossfit games, or even come in first in the class.
This is my truth, and I am just fine with it.
My other truth is this: I have five kids, and my second son, Jack, has autism. He is eleven. I struggle every single day to make sense of this boy and his diagnosis and his slippery spectrum disorder.
See, with autism, there is no RX. I don’t know how to set a personal record, and I wish someone would use a dry-erase marker to write some instructions on a whiteboard for me because many times, I am very, very lost.
You know, like when we were in the grocery store last week and Jack demanded we buy sixteen Renuzit air fresheners because all of a sudden he is obsessed with air fresheners.
I said no and he screamed yes, and before I knew it he was piling all these air fresheners into the cart and screeching that he had to have them. I just stood there, watching, while he frantically snatched a blue one and a green one and then another blue one from the shelf, cradling them in his arms like small babies.
I guess you could say I have the same relationship with autism that I have with Crossfit; I love it and I hate it and I work hard at it but sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing. It makes my heart race and my stomach clench and, if we’re in the grocery store and Jack is piling up air fresheners, it makes me sweat.
But I show up, and I give it all I have. And at the end of some days—the days where the tantrums are really, really loud and he’s obsessing about what time he has to take a shower and it’s all I can do not to scream in his face that he doesn’t have to take it at exactly 7:00 he can take it at 7:02, it doesn’t matter—well, on those days, I just want someone to put a little gold star next to my name.
I usually go to the gym for the 6:30 morning class, and for a while now I’ve been working out with a guy named Matt.
Matt is very quiet. He’s serious. He rarely cheers or claps, and I have never seen him dance, not even once. He is soft-spoken, and if you don’t pay attention you’ll miss his quick comments.
Over the past few months, this is what I’ve learned:
His wife is a Yankees fan.
He is terrible at sit-ups.
He has a four-year old son named Sebastian.
Sebastian has cerebral palsy. He doesn’t walk or talk. But he giggles. He laughs and smiles and he loves to lick the salt off of tortilla chips.
Every evening after work, Matt lifts Sebastian from his wheelchair. He puts him in a walker, and coaxes him to step forward, one foot at a time, until his son takes two hundred steps.
Last week we had to do the workout named Cindy. The whiteboard looked like this:
20 min AMPRAP
15 air squats
Basically, the idea was to get through as many rounds of pull-ups, push-ups and squats in the twenty-minute timeframe.
When I got to the gym, the 5:30 am class was filtering out. They looked sweaty and disheveled, and everyone was comparing how many rounds they got. The chatter turned to Matt, who is a master at the Cindy WOD.
Everyone started comparing notes and guessing how he would do. Twenty rounds? Twenty-five? Just as we were about to start, a guy named Andrew poked his head back in the door and said, “Good luck, Matt!”
All of a sudden, there was a quiet static to the air. Carefully, Matt laid his poker chips in a grid on the floor. The clock counted down and we jumped to the pull-up bars.
I watched Matt out of the corner of my eye. His sinewy limbs blurred as he transitioned from the bar to the floor and up again; pull-ups, push-ups, squats. Over and over, he passed me with another round, and another.
Timing is everything.
A few seconds might get you another pull-up, or enough time for one more squat.
Two minutes can earn you another round and another chance to add a poker chip.
Five extra minutes in the grocery store can turn into a huge meltdown over air fresheners.
In the space of a single moment, the littlest baby can feel as though the air around him has disappeared. And as he fights to fill his tiny lungs, the landscape of a family is forever changed.
After a few minutes, I stopped thinking about rounds and pull-ups and push-ups and squats. With the music pounding in my ears, I thought about salty tortilla chips piled high in a bowl.
I thought about tenacity and fear and love and determination and truth and hope. I thought about gold stars.
I thought about a dark-haired boy taking two hundred wobbly steps across the room, slowly propelling himself towards his father’s outstretched arms.
I let Jack get three air fresheners in the grocery store that day. When we got home, he unpacked them from the bag one at a time. Then he marched upstairs into my closet with the green one in his hands. He put it down on the floor next to my sneakers.
“Here. I wanted to have these. For near your shoes. So they smell good after the gym.”