Playing With The Hand You’re Dealt

“Poker is a combination of luck and skill. People think mastering the skill part is hard, but they’re wrong. The trick to poker is mastering the luck.”

Tonight was workout number 2 of the CrossFit Games Open, affectionately named 14.2 by those of us in the know. Last week, we had to do as many rounds as possible in 10 minutes of 30 double unders and 15 75 lb power snatch. For those not in the know, that means you had to jump a bunch of rope except every time the rope had to pass under your feet twice instead of once to be counted and you had to throw 75lbs over your head 15 times.

This week was a little more complex. The exercises were 95 lb overhead squats and chest to bar pullups. An overhead squat involves holding weight on a bar over your head, in this case 95 pounds, and doing squats with it. It is the ultimate core exercise as any weakness in your midline (read: abs) causes the bar to get all wobbly (which is the scientific term) and tends to come back to earth. Chest to bar pullups involve regular pullups except some part of your chest below your collarbone has to actually touch the bar.

This post started out in my head as a manifesto on how CrossFit, while a meritocracy, has become unbalanced in favor of those who are genetically gifted. That post may still happen (because I believe it’s true) but instead, I think it’s more important to talk about what CrossFit is on an individual level apart from any Games hyperbole or fluff. For most of the year, CrossFit is without a doubt the most effective way to increased health and fitness. The Games is a special time when we focus on the best in the world and that’s good. But the real story is how CrossFit makes you a stronger, healthier human being.

Last week, I wrote about my experience with 14.1. In that post, I complained about not bringing my own rope, about the gym being crowded making a warm up hard and about the fact that people who were more genetically gifted had a better chance at workouts involving weights. Tonight, I started to write about how the bar was wobbly and that 95 lbs was almost half my body weight which put me at a disadvantage. However, what I realized before I wrote that post (thankfully) was that CrossFit generally and the Open in particular aren’t about a level playing field. They aren’t about equal competition or fair play or any of that. CrossFit is about being stronger and healthier in the most effective way possible. On top of that, CrossFit allows me and other athletes (and we’re all athletes, regardless of skill level) to achieve things we never thought possible on an INDIVIDUAL level. That’s what’s important.

I wrote last week that 3 years ago, I did the same workout and managed 125 reps. This year, 3 years older and at an age when lots of people feel like the best is behind them, I did 165 reps. That’s a 32% improvement. It’s the opposite of the idea of aging we have been taught to believe in. It’s proof that no matter where you start, it’s possible to heal the things that afflict you and grow stronger and healthier.

While at this time of year, the Open causes many of us to focus on the competition of CrossFit, the real benefit of CrossFit is the improvement in health and well being of individuals across the world. While I could complain about being smaller than most people and thus at a disadvantage, it misses the very important point that without CrossFit, I would be a weaker individual physically, mentally and emotionally. We aren’t guaranteed to be dealt a fair hand in life. We have afflictions, we have shitty bosses, we have distant families, we have pain and anguish and sorrow. The hand itself isn’t what is important. It’s what we choose to do with that hand. We all make decisions every single day as to how we face life. Most of us choose to complain and wish for something better. That’s the path I started down tonight when I was disappointed in my performance on 14.2. I didn’t want to think that instead of wishing everything was just right, I made the most of what I had. I wanted it all to be equal. But that’s not how life works. And the happiest people in the world are those that realize that and refuse to let it affect them.

That quote in the beginning is hard to understand for lots of people. How do you master the luck? Some people are lucky and some people are unlucky. But almost everyone can take the luck they have and turn it into something. We worry about jobs and bosses and spouses and fortune when we should worry about taking the cards we’re dealt and playing the absolute best way we can. Tonight, I didn’t do nearly as many reps as I wanted to. If I’m honest with myself, that’s because I wanted more than I was capable given the amount of work I had put in. Instead of having expectations, take what you have and do the very best with it. And then do what you can between performances, whether it’s CrossFit or work or whatever and concentrate on getting better individually. Because it’s not about what you did compared to everyone else. It’s about what you made out of the abilities you had. That’s what CrossFit is about.