Becoming a CrossFit Evangelist
May 24 of this year was the day of the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. I felt sick reading about the details of that event. At the time I was solo parenting for most of a week with our younger kid; I knew I needed to find some way to positively channel all my upset energy.
Prior to moving to Delaware in summer 2021 with my spouse Cathy and our two young kids, I’d done many different physical activities over the years—yoga, hiking, bicycling, and something called “super-slow high-intensity strength training” (see: Google). And I’d also had long periods of not being as physically active as I probably should have be (mid-March 2020 through May 2022, for example). Since most of the activities I’d enjoyed in the past aren’t options here in southern Delaware—or aren’t doable in my current parenting-working-life schedule—I finally took the plunge…and looked up the local CrossFit gym.
Five months later, I’m willing to acknowledge that I’ve become one of those people I used to raise my eyebrows about: a CrossFit evangelist. I even find myself spontaneously doing squats when telling someone about what CrossFit has done for me. I couldn’t do a squat at all when I showed up at the gym at the end of May 2022. And now I can begrudgingly do squats for 10 minutes or more if Brett says that “that’s the workout today.”
Brett Gibson is the co-owner and coach at Kal-El CrossFit in Milton, Delaware. (Other CrossFit locations can be found at crossfit.com/affiliate-list.) Brett is a wizard at “scaling” every exercise to be just hard enough to literally—and psychologically—challenge one’s sense of what one is capable of, yet still have it be safe and doable for each of us at whatever level we’re at.
What I’ve learned about CrossFit is that this is not a gym where most of us go and spend an hour on an elliptical or treadmill and then go home. This is a group activity that is coach-led.
I have come to love the fact that there is a group of people there every time I go who will provide peer motivation and inspiration. For me, getting to see some of these amazing women (there are men there too, and probably some non-binary folks as well) do Handstand Pushups not only blows my mind but truly gives me a new and up-close image of feminine strength (what my five-year-old calls “Girl Power!”).
There are also several inspirational gym members who are years older than I am, and they inspire me about what is possible even as I, too, grow to accept the realities of age. My peers there are coping with getting through cancer, divorce, post-partum recovery, job changes, and more. But at the gym we tune all that out for an hour and do the WOD (Workout of the Day). Brett is always right there making sure that we are each doing the exercises safely and appropriate to our physical abilities.
Honestly, one of the hardest parts for me about CrossFit is also the reason that it works for me: at Kal-El, at least, the sessions are either at 5:00, 6:00, or 7:00 a.m., or 4:00, 5:00, or 6:00 p.m., every weekday. (There are slightly different times on Fridays and Saturdays, and no scheduled sessions on Sundays.) I have laughed as I’ve acknowledged that what works for me about CrossFit is that I have no scheduling conflicts at 6:00 a.m., and—it’s true! As long as I can get myself out of bed by 5:40 a.m., I can get there in time to hear Brett go over the day’s workout.
And what a feeling it is to have pushed through and done something I didn’t think possible—by 7:15 a.m. No matter what happens after that, that day, I did a super-challenging workout that I couldn’t have imagined I could complete—and everything else in life seems a little more manageable.
CrossFit really has given me a greater sense of confidence in myself, a greater ability to focus and “just do the thing,” a connection with a whole community of people who inspire me and who I would be unlikely to hang out with otherwise. And there have been countless physical benefits, too. I notice the difference every time I go to pick up my five-year-old, lug my 10-year-old’s saxophone to school, or even just run up the stairs or unload groceries from the car.
I am an all-around better version of myself these days. CrossFit has given me a way to channel my fury over our hurting world. And when Kal-El moves to Milford in January, I’ll get up even 10 minutes earlier because that’s just what I do now: I do CrossFit. ▼
Rev. Heather Rion Starr is the minister for the Unitarian Universalists of Southern Delaware. She is working on doing a Handstand Pushup by the time she turns 50—and it just may happen!