by Lauren

This weekend at Elm City Crossfit was bittersweet. Coach Joe created a gruesome workout called “The Graduate” to celebrate all the accomplishments of the Crossfitters who would be graduating, moving away, and saying goodbye to the box. This workout was followed by a huge barbeque for the whole community, filled with food, friends, and family. After the workout, as I reflected on the past 1.5 years I’ve spent at Elm City Crossfit, I realized something: I thought the reason I fell in love with Crossfit was the challenge, but really it was much more than that motivating me every day. The physical challenge brought me to Crossfit. But the sense of community kept me coming back.

I joined Elm City Crossfit for the challenge when I was a law student at Yale University. I needed to push myself physically in a safe and efficient workout program. I was active before and enjoyed working out, but I was not motivated at the school fitness center that was lacking a lot of equipment and quality classes. As a law student, I found I also didn’t have as much time to dedicate to working out as I did when I was in college. The pounds were slowly creeping on and the muscle mass was depleting. That is where Crossfit came in: I would be able to get an intense workout in only an hour a day.

When I first arrived I was intimidated by the athletes around me. They were strong, fast, and had endurance I could only dream of. If I wanted a challenge, I was in the right place. I watched them in awe do pull-ups, upside down handstand pushups, ropes climbs, and lift their body weight multiple times in a row. I set goals for myself to one day do these movements too, and slowly I started reaching the goals. I was able to jump rope “double unders,” add more weight to my lifts, get upside down in handstand holds, and even compete at local Crossfit tournaments. I took part in Coach Joe’s “OPP” special programming, which prepared me to complete the 2014 Crossfit Open at the Rx weights. When I arrived I couldn’t even lift the weights the athletes were using in the Crossfit Open competition once – and now I was doing it repeatedly for five weeks in a row. As I met each small goal I felt for myself, I felt confident in my performance. The last Crossfit milestone I reached just before leaving the box – completing a rope climb to the top of the rope and ringing the bell – was especially satisfying.

But this last week, after climbing the rope for the first time and completing the “Graduate” workout, I realized that these milestones didn’t represent how good of an athlete I was. Instead, they represented all the support, coaching, and community encouragement and love I’d received over the past year and a half. Without them, I could have never have done any it. I told myself I would never be able to do a rope climb because I wasn’t strong enough – and it was only through the patience of multiple long coaching sessions that I realized I could. I would have never believed in myself enough to compete in the Crossfit Open or local tournaments without the encouragement (or nagging) of Coach Joe and his belief in me as an athlete. I would have never been able to force myself out of bed early on weekends in the cold winter months without my teammates and girlfriends – I knew if I missed a workout I said I would attend, they would message me on Facebook wondering why I wasn’t there. I would have given up and set the bar down in a local competition where we performed a workout for charity called “Grace” without Coach Mark screaming at me and cheering me on when the last reps got tough. These coaches and fellow athletes defined my experience as a Crossfitter, and pushed me to new levels of fitness I did not know I was capable of achieving.

The hardest part about leaving Connecticut won’t be leaving Elm City Crossfit and the daily workouts. It will be leaving the people of ECC. They became mentors and teammates inside the gym, and friends outside. Together we laughed, cried, celebrated personal records, and got through injuries and serious illnesses. On “Team Thursdays” I completed the workouts with other members I had never spoken to before, performing as a team, making new friends, and forging the bonds of community in workouts, and in barbeques and potlucks after.  When I was all alone on Thanksgiving, they invited me to share the holiday with their families. We supported each other inside and outside the gym. The gym became my second home, and the people my extended family here.

I know when I move I will be able to find another Crossfit box filled with barbells, kettlebells, jump ropes, and pull-up bars and lots of hard workouts to fill my days. That is why my last week at ECC has been so bittersweet. I realized what I love so much about Crossfit isn’t the challenge – it’s the community. And I’m afraid that I’ll never find another community as strong, loving, accepting, and encouraging as Elm City Crossfit.