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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Hubris and Humility

“You want to shine but not so bright that you burn everyone in the room.” –Pharrell Williams

The hubris/humility axis an interesting ride, isn’t it? Like you I am watching Matt Frasier run away with this year’s CrossFit Games men’s competition. How will he respond when he is interviewed after his victory/coronation? Where will he land on that H&H line? It’s fascinating to watch someone who is truly extraordinary at what it is that they do walk the line. Indeed, it’s probably not possible to stand out if you don’t stand way to the ‘hubris’ side at some point, at least while you are at whatever it is you do.

This year marked the 26th annual White Family visit to Cape Cod. Like so many of our recent trips this one was filled with talk of illness and cures. We told stories from my Dad’s past (the world’s most arrogant heart surgeon was a favorite) and sadly from my mother-in-law’s present. The morning of my departure was spent seeing patients for whom I’d done surgery, alternately sharing in their delight at vision re-discovered and fending off what felt like over-enthusiastic praise. Like Matt, I’m really good at what I do, and quite frankly when I am about doing what I do I literally go into each “contest” convinced that there is no one in the world better than I am at that particular time.

Is that hubris, or just the confidence that any “athlete” must take into the arena at game time?

The difference probably rests on a couple of things. One must be ever aware that everyone has limits. True, if you are very, very good at what you do your limits may be so far to the right of the Bell Curve that it can seem like they don’t exist. Succumbing to that sense is precisely when confidence becomes arrogance; someone or something is going to break, eventually. One wonders how that arrogant heart surgeon handled the inevitable defeats in the OR.

Pharrell’s quote likely points us to what it is that separates the arrogant from the humble, the realization that what you do well does not necessarily elevate you above those for whom you do it. One who allows himself to bathe too long or too often in the reflected light of his excellence gets burned just as surely as everyone and everything else.

Frasier, like Froning before him in the CrossFit world, will quite likely acquit himself well in his victory interview. He will allow that he worked very hard at his craft, and that his hard work paid off handsomely. His humility will show in that he will also point out that he was given many gifts, born with certain skills that he could then hone through his work and thus produce this singular achievement.

In the end what humility means is the difference between thankfulness and self-satisfaction. Again, Pharrell Williams: “As long as you’ve got your light, people will see you.”

Sunday musings 8/10/14

Sunday musings…

1) Blondetourage. Should be a word.

2) Donovan. Landon Donovan has announced that he will retire at the end of this MSL season.

In other news, Johnny Manziel.

3) Burpee. “Talk Burpee to Me”, a full length article in today’s NYT on CrossFit and CrossFitters socializing. All in all very positive.

End of the beginning, or beginning of the end?

4) Rank. In a similar vein, Sports Illustrated and Men’s Health magazines published Top 50 lists of the fittest athletes in the world. Kinda funny that they would publish them in the same week. Perhaps this whole CrossFit Games thing really is breaking through into the main stream.

Neither list is as outrageous as the Outside list of a couple years ago that ranked only endurance athletes; both lists include our own Rich Froning at 19 (SI) and 4 (MH). As with all such lists (50 greatest MLB players, etc) one should never discuss these lists without proper preparation.

Start with beer.

5) Villain. While I’m thinking about magazine articles, SI posited that MLB is less interesting and less compelling because it is without a single villain in its ranks. No A-Rod orRoger Clemmens, not even a Reggie Jackson to love/hate. It’s an interesting proposition, and one which naturally prompts me to turn to our CrossFit world (shocking, I know). Try as I might, at least in the competitive arena we, too, are notably lacking for a villain. Heck, we barely even have any intramural enmity among the competitors. What passes for anything like this is a single couple of Games athletes who ignored each other on the field, and the only reason this was evident at all is because everybody else was so busy cheering for each other.

What do you think? Is Sports Illustrated correct? Is it necessary to have someone to cheer AGAINST in order to have competition that maintains its interest?

6) Mission. As we exit our Games Season and enter the 8 months between the Games and the Open, this is a good time to remember the true mission of CrossFit, the program. Now is the time that we quietly go about the work of making ourselves, and others, better. Even for the 250,000 or so of us who signed up for the Open and made neither The Games nor Regionals, it’s not about 8 months to prep for Open 15.1, it’s 8 months to quietly go about the business of mechanics, then consistency, and then intensity. These are the months when those of us who coach do our most important work, helping people become better versions of themselves for no reason other than that, to become better.

The CrossFit Games are a spectacle, one meant to show the world that a wholly different level of physical and mental fitness is possible. They are an advertising vehicle meant to let the world at large know that it is CrossFit, the program, that best allows the creation and expression of this level of fitness. The Games and their run-up, like other fitness competitions in which CrossFitters participate, are also ways for us to commune with like-minded souls, to foster our rather uniquely positive community on a scale much larger than that to be found in a Box or a garage or the corner of a commercial gym.

For almost all of us, though, the competitive aspect of the Games season is not what CrossFit is about at all. The Sport of Fitness is our spectator sport, and for some it is our weekend warrior pursuit, but these 8 months of the “Quiet Season” are what CrossFit “the program” is really all about. Now, without the siren song of The Games or The Open, we quietly and not so quietly go about the business of the core, essential competition that speaks to the mission of CrossFit laid out so eloquently so many years ago in “What is Fitness?”: you vs. you. The daily effort to move along the health/wellness/fitness curve as we strive to become a better version of ourselves tomorrow than we were yesterday through the toil and effort we endure today.

The Games are over for 2014, but you and I are still in season. We are always in season, always competing. It’s you vs. you. Still. The most important mission for CrossFit, the program, is to help you win.

I’ll see you next week…

Posted by bingo at August 10, 2014 6:02 AM

Open Season 2014

It’s Open Season both in and on CrossFit. We are now as “In Season” as we ever get as athletes as we prepare to begin the CrossFit Open, the largest, most inclusive athletic event in the world. This is the time of year when more of us extend our competition beyond “you vs. you” and put our numbers out there, up against anyone and everyone else. The CrossFit Open is when we spend a little bit of time pursuing the “Sport of Fitness”, even if, like me, one is principally concerned with Fitness as a pursuit worthy of a singular focus all its own.

Since this is competition we will necessarily push ourselves in the same manner that all other competitive athletes do. During “Open Season” we will behave like runners, powerlifters, weightlifters, and all manner of people who train for a specific event or season. There will be evidence of overreaching, of overextending, and we will undoubtedly hear of injuries in the process. Hence my opening: it will be “Open Season” on CrossFitters and CrossFit. The CrossFit Open is gonna place a big ‘ol target in the middle of your back, as well as one right smack on the front door of CrossFit HQ.

Should you care? Not surprisingly the answer is “yes and no”. There’s no question you should care enough to sign up and then care about your own CrossFit Open. The cyber-gym opens up to the world and for 5 weeks includes everyone who belongs to an Affiliate gym, too. We’re all together as one. Yes, you care about that. You are part of a community now, and this is our annual family reunion, so to speak.

Your own Open is all about caring. You need to care enough to look objectively at your level of fitness, your collection of strengths and weaknesses, and plan on how you will address the tasks we are given. Will you taper into 14.1-5 or will you do them as simply the next WOD to come out of the Hopper? How about test driving the WODs, doing them to “get a feel” rather than just going for it? What if you don’t do as well as you expected? What kind of schedule will you create if you plan on doing each one more than once? Yes, indeed, you should care about your own CrossFit Open.

Everyone else is in the Open, too! All over the world we’ll be doing the same thing at the same time. Every Thursday for 5 weeks it’s all you’ll be thinking about. That, and where are you going to be at 5:00 PDT and how will you see the announcement of 14-point-whatever that week. Oh yeah, you care about everyone’s Open because you are just as much a part of the Open as everyone else. Yup, just like Rich and Sam, Jason and Annie. Heck, you might luck out and get to watch the announcement of the Open WOD with one of the Games athletes. It may surprise you to learn, but they react to each announcement just like you do! Yes, you should care about everyone else’s Open because their Open is your Open.

Now, about that target on your back. Once we go “live” on February 27th there will be all sorts of folks out there aiming at you, at us, at CrossFit. In a world filled with regular people who day in and day out push themselves in the gym harder than all but the tiniest percentage of competitive athletes, for 5 weeks we will likely push just a little bit harder, and there will be just a few more of us who end up “off the rails” as it were. There will be a barrage, a deluge of all manner of invective spewed at our world. “CrossFit is dangerous.” “High rep [you-name-it] should not be done.” “CrossFit programming is this-or-that,” where both this and that are bad.

Should you care?

For the most part I’m going with “no”. If your Mom is concerned, or perhaps your POOSSLQ, then maybe you need to pay a little attention to the haters, the attention grabbers, and the sensationalists so that you can reassure your loved ones that you are OK. Otherwise I’m going with “no”, there’s no reason you should care about the various and sundry sticks and stones being hurled at you and CrossFit. Seriously, why bother? Why help someone make a non-story (there are injuries in competitions) into a big story? Why worry that something you KNOW to be false (eg. “CrossFit is dangerous”) might be true just because it’s posted on the internet by someone who has no idea what CrossFit is, let alone the Open? Why provide credibility by caring to commentators who have none to start with?

What matters is this: it’s Open Season here IN the CrossFit world. What we have is measurable, observable, and repeatable, and we’re going to do just that over 5 weeks. You and I will push just a little harder, even if you, like me, have exactly zero chance of moving on to Regionals. There will be more precision, more perspicacity, more virtuosity. We will be drawn even closer to one another, with or without any targeting from those outside our community. For 5 weeks we will demonstrate that what we do and what we have is both very real and very good.

Yes, you care about that.


Sunday musings 3/7/13: Final Open Thoughts

1) Mongo. A person who salvages treasures from trash. Funny, I always think of Alex Karras when I see “Mongo”, don’t you?

2) Impression. “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” Twain, I think.

“The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Maya Angelou (who recently had a birthday).

I always thought Angelou was a little soft. A bit too touch-feely for my tastes. Uh uh, not that quote. That’s some fine advice. People change and they grow and all, but who and what they are at any given point in time is quite likely to be who and what they will be for some time to come. Best to believe them.

Think of this quote as inter-personal situational awareness and act accordingly.

3) Spirit. Lil’bingo and I were guests at the 13.5 “coming out party” in Santa Cruz. Man, I could spend several Sundays just musing about walking around downtown Santa Cruz (thanks for the tour, Gabby!), but that would be too easy. Nope, howsabout I point out some of the tiny details about our CrossFit world as expressed by a couple or our most famous athletes.

Did you know, for example, that Rich Froning was the houseguest of the Jason Khalipa family this week? The boys did all kinds of off-the-charts workouts and training, then broke bread with Clan Khalipa. How about the shirts Rich and Jason were sporting for their 13.5 duel? Rich had on the latest t-shirt statement from the fashionistas at NorCal CrossFit (owned by Jason), while Jason was repping CrossFit Mayhem with his shirt (owned by Rich). Hardcore, cutthroats these two, eh?

CrossFit the competitive sport is one of the 3 pillars of CrossFit as we know it (more in a bit), and the friendly, supportive ethic so well demonstrated by Froning and Khalipa has long been a part of our competitive DNA. I remember standing about 5 feet from the rowers at The Ranch and marveling as an earlier finisher slumped off his C2 and literally crawled over to urge on his neighbor, his competitor. How about all of the teams that finished the final event 2 years ago rallying around the team that pushed on through the time cap, unwilling to surrender? This competitive spirit, the realization that we are really competing against ourselves and need not wish anything but the best effort from our foes on the pitch is so ingrained in us that the failure to do this stands out like a zebra in a kennel. CrossFitters simply compete differently.

There’s a boatload of money in the game now. Prize money. Endorsement money. Money for on-air “talent”. Despite that, we have managed to retain this very special part of who we are as CrossFitters. The biggest cheers still come for the person who is DFL.

It’s up to all of us to preserve this.

4) Soul. Open 2013 is completed. 13.1 through 13.5 is in the books. We’ve survived our Wednesday night OCD and we are about to finish our 2013 version of Scoreboard obsession. The biggest deal in the calendar of the regular CrossFitter is over for 2013 and now we all step back and watch. Right?

Of course not. The spirit of CrossFit lives on through the competition you may or may not have engaged in during the Open, but the SOUL of CrossFit lives wherever people are actually doing CrossFit in the never-ending quest for a better version of themselves. It’s a personal quest, a kind of walkabout of the mind and body, whether it takes place in a lonely corner of a commercial gym or garage, or along with a couple dozen like-minded folks in the 5:00 class at CrossFit Somewhere. The soul of CrossFit is the Newbie in front of a mirror working with an old, frazzled broom to parse the secrets of the push-jerk. It’s Rich Froning, hours after that outlandish training session, being “caught” by Jason Khalipa in the garage doing front squats.

The soul of CrossFit lives in each person who takes CrossFit–the fitness program–and uses it to explore the ultimate competition, to best the only foe that really matters: yesterday’s version of you.

I’ll see you next week…