Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Crossfit: The Athlete I Am Today

Crossfit. Constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. At 49 years of age I am nearly the athlete I was in my twenties. How can that be, you might ask? Well, while I am not truly as athletic as I once was, I believe that I am more FIT than I ever have been. This is allowing me to participate in athletic and other physical endeavors that I really have no business thinking about at my age. What kind of athlete might I have been if I trained in my teens and twenties the way I train in my forties?

All sports came easily to me in my youth. Blessed with the genetic gifts of eye-hand coordination, speed, and quickness there was literally no sport that I tried in which I didn’t excel. Couple this with the fact that I was a very early grower (I was the center on my Jr. High JV hoops team) and I was the classic local sports prodigy for that era. In addition to pulling me out of the deep end of the athletic gene pool my parents also provided a home environment that was bathed in competition. Heck, blood might be drawn when my siblings and I tried to make the first mark in a new jar of peanut butter! I was far from special in my family; all four White kids were All-State in something, and my brother might still be the best natural athlete I’ve ever met.

The first time I “peaked” as an athlete was freshman year in High School. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but I would never be a better High School athlete than I was that year. I had stopped growing (I was now the point guard on the High School JV hoops team), and I continued to depend solely on my natural ability. I was still skilled, fast, and quick, but I was not terribly FIT. Under-strong. Not a ton of stamina. Typical teen diet. Add in a couple of injuries and a family move and I really didn’t return to that freshman year peak until my senior year.

My next peak as an athlete came in my sophomore year in college. As a freshman Division III tailback I did well enough, but the head coach was rather underwhelmed by my size and suggested a switch to defense. Stung, I set about proving him wrong (credit that family competitive gene) and got stronger, bigger, and tried to get faster (oops…better not get THAT much bigger). For the only time in my athletic career I trained to be a better athlete, a better football player. It helped immensely that my position coach, Dick Farley, turned out to be the best coach I ever had, and that he cared more about results than size. I started a bunch of games as a sophomore and really played rather well.

I then reverted to my tried and true, relying on whatever remained of those original genetic gifts from my parents. I never got better. Not one little bit. Given the opportunity to play tons of football over the next two years, to receive the benefit of magnificent coaching and possibly become a player to remember, I coasted. In the end I was nothing but a middle of the Bell Curve DIII cornerback, an averageĀ  Division III athlete. I wasn’t fit enough to do the work necessary to continue to get better and along the way I let both myself (and my teammates) and Coach Farley down.

If only I knew then what I know now. If only I had then what I have now. Bored and lonely in the gym, watching the ever outward creep of my waistline and the ever upward creep of my cholesterol, I stumbled upon Crossfit in the periodical Men’s Journal in December 2005. As a doctor who made it through Williams College, med school, and a residency I had long since learned that I wasn’t really THAT gifted. Hard work was now an intellectual and life habit, but until IĀ  discovered Crossfit I had yet to do the same thing as an athlete. Whoa! This stuff turns out to be pretty powerful medicine!

“Practice and train the major lifts: deadlift, clean, squat, presses. Master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, push-ups, sit-ups. Bike, run, swim, and row hard and fast. Mix these elements in as many combinations as creativety will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts SHORT AND INTENSE. Keep food intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.”–Greg Glassman.

On January 1st, 2006 I began the Zone diet and I did my first Crossfit workout, “Angie”. Crossfitters name their benchmark workouts after women. You know…like hurricanes. 100 pull-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 push-ups, and 100 air squats. For time. For, like, as fast as you can. Seriously. It took me 45 minutes to complete and it took me 45 minutes to get up off the floor. All 100 of the pull-ups were assisted and 80 of the push-ups were from my knees (word of warning: don’t call ‘em girlie push-ups. Most Crossfit women are scary fit and NEVER do push-ups from their knees).

I was hooked! My fitness went through the roof. My waist size shrank. My cholesterol plummeted. Three days on and one day off for 3 1/2 years and I am as fit as the day I graduated from med school at age 26. World class fitness based on workouts that typically last 20 minutes or less utilizing functional movements performed at high intensity. Competition? Yup. Me vs. me. Every day is a competition in which the opponent is yesterday’s version of Darrell, and victory is achieved if tomorrow’s version is just a little bit better than today’s.

So why now? Why at age 46? I confess that I just don’t know. I was certainly ready for Crossfit at 46, but I would probably have been ready for it at 36, too. I’m just very happy to have found it at all, frankly. Very happy to be more physically fit today than I was yesterday, with the hope that I will be able to continue to say that for years to come. Coach Glassman thinks most athletes can hope for 10 full years of improvement no matter when they start. Man, wouldn’t it be great if he was right!

Yet I do wonder, every now and again. I can’t help but wonder, what kind of athlete might I have been if I had Crossfit as a young man? If I could have been ready for Crossfit as a young athlete. When I had Dick Farley as a coach.

How many more peaks might I have reached?

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