I remember when I first heard of CrossFit, I was initially put off by what I thought was a culture deeply rooted in things that I had been trying to actively distance myself from, or quite frankly had actively tried to oppress me. I imagined the typical member would have “Don’t Tread on Me” tattooed on their massive bicep as they squatted 700lbs, while all around the walls of the box would be bald-eagles and hyper patriotic paraphernalia with Metallica playing in the background. Quite an image right? You see, while I have a nostalgic fondness of some of Metallica’s hits, I’m more of a vogueing Diva, that likes high intensity workouts while listening to Cardi B and Whitney–with a cool down comprised of ruminating about community organizing and subversive political happenings in the Twin Cities. So, in my head, this CrossFit thing was going to be like holiday dinners with the less than politically ideal members of my family–awkward ‘af’. I really held onto this perspective until, one day, my good friend and colleague Filiberto told me about his workout experience at Solcana. Knowing I enjoyed exercising regularly and was very conscientious of health and wellness, he encouraged me to try a class, praising how awesome the space was and how much he had personally developed. As if the universe was conspiring against me, within that same week, my mother, 20 years my age, called me glowing about her own CrossFit experience. She said, “You know that thing called ‘community’ you always speak of? I think I finally understand what you’re talking about–people are actually supporting each other and encourage each other. It’s awesome!” Shocked by her statement, and a subsequent text message that included video of her and my sister doing a pretty heavy clean and jerk, I decided I had nothing to lose. I thought, “If these amazing people could enjoy working out in spaces like this, then there has to be something there for me…hopefully.”
I’ll never forget how intense that first metcon was. My chest burned, my legs were on fire, my head was spinning, and I was reminded how difficult simply picking yourself up off the ground multiple times in a row could be. To be honest, it had been a hot minute since I had found that kind of challenge in my own personal fitness. Besides enduring this exhausting WOD, I witnessed something wildly different from my expectations: the culture of the space was the complete opposite of the brotastic ‘Merican voyage I had conjured up in my mind. We started off in a circle asking for each other’s pronouns and answering a silly question of the day as an icebreaker. Excited, I felt like the little kid in Sixth Sense except I saw queer and trans people everywhere! As I performed warm up exercises, giant murals of silhouettes featuring badass womyn weightlifting towered over me on the sides of the main room. Signs affirming that Black Lives Matter, and rainbow Pride flags hanging over the garage door pushed back against the anxiety I held of even entering the space. The rest of the folks walking around were both younger and older, of all different body sizes, and yes there were even other people of color, which given the level of segregation and gentrification here in Minneapolis, can be quite a challenge to accomplish. My jaw would have hit the floor had I not been so conscious of maintaining my breathing as I gasped for air in the metcon.
After we finished the workout of the day, we laid splayed on the floor, dripping in sweat pools, catching our breath and whatever semblance of our sanity we held. Folks helped each other up, helped put weights away and high fived each other saying, “Great job!” And it was genuine! I could have cried–what was this utopia I had found? Their positive reinforcement felt like an acknowledgment of surviving and an affirmation of thriving. I hadn’t felt that type of camaraderie, acceptance, and support in a fitness space ever. In fact I was used to the complete opposite–everyone was competing, no one was supportive of each other, and if they were it was usually obligatory and short lived because it was for attention and their duty as a “captain” not necessarily because they meant it. Even in my later adult life when I took drop in classes or would go to the gym on my own, my experience was you literally drop in and then you leave, with no connection to the space, and no connection to the people in it. Certainly, there was no one really invested in helping you out. This felt radically different and I was hooked! Nothing I had been doing on my own at the YMCA, regardless of literally how diverse it was, could ever come close to that unique recipe I encountered of equal parts challenge with equal parts support, radical inclusivity, and community. That intentionality was only affirmed, when afterward, I had further conversations about my access to the space with Hannah and her reassurance and willingness to work with me. It was then that I knew I could stop pinching myself; this Sister of Dorothy had found her little fitness home! While my heart and spirit was there, the movements and workouts had not come to me easily. I was initially frustrated and impatient with everything. Being a former smoker, a Virgo perfectionist, while also having been a pretty awesome young athlete, I had these moments where all those realities would collide and I would get way ahead of my own physical and mental capacity. It was reflected in my goals which were all over the place: I wanted to have the most powerful snatch ever, I wanted to figure out what the hell my coaches meant by “hip extension,” I wanted to stop less often to catch my breath, I wanted to do more weight with everything, and I wanted to do butterfly pull ups like yesterday followed by a full ring muscle up; and I wanted it all to happen at the same time.
I was starting to realize, fairly quickly, that there’s a difference between being ambitious, and just being unrealistic. As months progressed, my goals began to shift–they sounded more like, “So you clearly got a hang on those single unders, how about putting a couple of double unders in this metcon this time?” or “Your mobility is less than ideal in your hips and thighs–lets roll that sucker out this week!” or even, “You feel some uneasiness in that bar over your head this week, lets run through that a couple times real slow with just the PVC during open gym to find out why that’s happening.” I definitely still have this urge to focus on getting a couple bar muscle ups in a row this year (which I don’t think is unreasonable), but my attention and intention has shifted to focus more on what’s directly in front of me at every class I attend. Staying present with the work I have already accomplished while holding a long term orientation toward growth is not an easy task for me personally, especially when you’re surrounded by such inspiring people who are just killin’ it at every workout. But, it was cultivated through the reassurance of my peers and coaches that learning these complex weightlifting movements and developing skill and technique in other arenas simply takes time. They were vulnerable and honest: “I have been doing this for 5 years and I’m still figuring out how to snatch!” Had it not been for these folks, their gentle reminders, and sharing their own personal journeys, as well as their badassery in the gym, I am not sure I would have embraced patience in the way I needed to. Arguably though if it wasn’t for the radical inclusivity I experienced, I wouldn’t have even considered being open to so much personal growth beyond the physical growth.
And I really have learned so much from others at Solcana! Embracing that long term perspective while simultaneously being present in every moment is modeled by most folks in the space. Coupled with practice, I have been able to tackle some of my biggest achievements in my own fitness experiences since joining Solcana, which have included, but certainly aren’t limited to, significant strength gains and more solid weightlifting mechanics. Every moment that I struggled with initially has improved tenfold. With this new orientation toward my gym experience I have also shifted in my overall consistency and persistence. I used to beat myself up over missing my “gym time,” or messing up in a workout, plummeting fairly easily into a spiral downward of anxiety and shame. All of that was unnecessary urgency of: getting to it, getting “fit”, getting it it right and getting it right to prove myself to others. This always culminated in a huge desperate feeling of being disappointed in myself whenever I ‘failed’. However, in Solcana’s space, failing is a regular occurrence, and valued just as much as a getting right the first time. So many of us, as I learned in talking with other members and coaches, have stories of moments where we tried for a long time to learn some new movement and then all of a sudden it clicked. And no one acts like they have it perfectly, not even those of us who are competitive. There is a shared humility within the space that makes it easier to embrace patience. Because of this, I hold more grace and understanding with myself, because my baseline expectations have changed. When I miss my workouts, when I struggle with a movement, instead of throwing my hands up in the air, I just take a breath, I accept the situation–surrender if you will–and stay committed to try and find a way to show up that day or the next. And I continue to surprise myself in my own capacity; I never thought I would be able to deadlift and back squat the weight that I have been doing or even consider performing Olympic weightlifting moves.
It’s clear to me my expectations of CrossFit were completely challenged by Solcana, and through its unique culture I was invited to grow in my own understanding of myself as well as my own approach to fitness. It’s that depth of learning beyond (but most certainly attached to) physical development that I’m excited to help facilitate through becoming a coach at the gym. I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to even consider such a role had I not been immersed in such a radically inclusive space with such supportive people. I can’t underscore enough how important it is to have a fitness space that is explicitly committed to supporting those who are often marginalized from such spaces and to do it differently. When I was approached to become a coach, I really took it as an honor. To be a part of a community to hold this special kind of space is such a rare opportunity, and it came in the same nurturing way I experienced this gym: you are great as you are, you will learn, you will grow, you will be challenged, you will be out of breath, you will mess up, and we will be here to support you figuring out your way through it all. I hope to carry that ethic with me as I start coaching so that members can grow and develop in ways that don’t come at the expense of their personhood but instead embrace it wholeheartedly as a solid starting point where we will build personal strength and that thing I’m apparently always talking about: community.