My decision to try CrossFit happened before I realized that I actually was going to try the program. Things came to a head on a spring morning in Arizona when I walked into a cold gymnasium to participate in a wellness examination offered by my employer through our health insurance company. The gym felt like an ice box and I shivered while I waited in line to be poked and prodded.
I noticed that the nurses were drawing blood at the first station and my pulse quickened. The anticipation of the needle made my blood thump in my ears and I was light headed by the time they finished with me. When I finally sat down at the blood pressure station I was a candidate for a 911 evacuation. As the attendant pumped up the cuff and released the pressure her eyebrows arched up and she lectured me about leaving high blood pressure untreated. I left the gym in a state of depression about my fitness and immediately scheduled a physical examination with my doctor.
I was angry. Work life had slowly manifested itself as a massive time vacuum and pushed back on my ability to stay in shape. Slowly I had succumbed to 10-12 hour days of teaching which had metaphorically kept me on the couch. After a decade of this lifestyle my weight, blood pressure, and heart rate had steadily increased with my age. And then perhaps a week after my experience in the gym I came down with a case of gout in my foot. The pain was so intense I thought I’d broken my big toe. When the doctor met me in the examination room and gave me the news about the gout I was slack-jawed. I felt like I was standing on a precipice of chronic disease and the last thing I wanted to do was to start on a regime of pills…for my toe…for my blood pressure…for whatever was next…
We’ve all seen the pill boxes with Monday through Sunday stenciled on the lid. Next comes the oxygen bottle and a little cart to pull it after you in the super market. Then comes the triple by-pass and a bar stool where you drown your sorrows and tell stories about how things used to be. It was time for a change in my life. But what exactly? In the last decade I had hiked on the weekends, swung kettle bells, and bought a gym membership yet none of that business had made a change in my fitness.
In my younger years I was active. I started rock climbing when I was eleven years old and practiced the sport at a high level until I was in my late forties. For nearly two decades I climbed at the cutting edge and authored close to four hundred first ascents in the western USA but mainly at the Wild Iris, Wyoming, Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota, and the Black Hills Needles of South Dakota. In my forties I worked as a full time guide for Exum Mountain Guides and routinely guided clients up the Grand Teton near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I even guided the Grand Teton in a single day from the Lupine Meadows parking lot—a seven thousand foot elevation gain and loss and a twenty-two mile round trip.
Things were different in my fifties. I was teaching chemistry in a charter school and settled into a massive teaching schedule. Urban living took a toll on me even though I tried to stay active when I could. I took up SCUBA diving in 2008 and traveled outside the USA for reef diving and in 2010 I became a cave diver. I literally went from the couch into the water and managed the intense training that I needed for the cave diving on my breaks. Cave diving is an extreme version of SCUBA and involves a high degree of athleticism to navigate into submerged caves where any catastrophic event is certain death. Cave diving is considered by many to represent the highest art form of technical diving.
In 2014 I trained with one of the top cave divers in the world, Patrick Widmann, and was barely able to complete the training that involved techniques to navigate small confined spaces where sometimes the diver must remove gear in order to squeeze through submerged passages. I know that Patrick was frustrated with me because of the rest days I needed to complete the program.
All these issues weighed heavily on me as I limped out of the doctors office with a severe case of gout. There was no way I was ready to accept the recommendations of the doctors which was to reduce my activity and to medicate. When I arrived home I started investigating exercise programs on the internet. Over and over again I found myself watching CrossFit videos. I was intrigued by the appearance of diversity and intensity in the workouts and so I searched for gyms near my house and that’s how I found my way to Octane CrossFit.
I remember the day when I visited Octane CrossFit and met one of the owners, Regan Doele. I was anxious and tried not to limp since the gout hadn’t yet cleared from my foot. I spoke with him about my background. My career as a climber, the fact that my shoulders were a train wreck, and that I cave dived in some of the most extreme caves in the world. He assured me that CrossFit was something anyone could do and that I could scale in the workouts. “It’s a matter of progression,” he said. Moreover, he claimed that if I was willing to make the commitment to the program then my numbers would improve—in this he was emphatic.
To be clear I am going to turn sixty years old in three months and have been with CrossFit now for almost two years. During the first six months I rarely finished a WOD and even now I scale often. But here’s the deal: my numbers have indeed changed for the better. My cholesterol is down along with the other related values, my heart rate is in the mid-fifties from the low seventies, and my blood pressure measured in the mid-130’s (down from the high 140’s) in a doctors office a few months ago for the first time in over a decade.
After my first year in CrossFit I returned to the Yucatan, Mexico, for two months of cave diving with remarkable results. My stamina was greatly improved and my gas consumption was better than ever. I could dive five days straight and sherpa my tanks (106 pounds) over a kilometer through the tropical forest. But by far the best aspect of my health was the fact that I could keep up with my mentors who are in their thirties and diving the most extreme caves in the world.
CrossFit has made a major difference in my life and as I age into my sixties I have yet to go on any medications. The WODS are extreme but if you want to be healthy you need the intensity and the diversity that CrossFit has to offer as well as the benefits of belonging to a community of like-minded people. People that come together and share in the art of the movement and athleticism that the WODS require. CrossFit is hard and you will experience pain but fitness is a choice and nothing is free. If we ever meet on a bar stool I’ll be telling you stories about my latest adventure in the caves not pontificating about the latest technology in walker design. Like I said, fitness is a choice and I choose CrossFit.
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