The Feels: Why Robin Williams’ Death Stings

The late Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

And this happened in Boston. Oh man. This bench was in a scene in Good Will Hunting. Photo shared by Craig Martin

And this happened in Boston. Oh man. This bench was in a scene in Good Will Hunting. Photo shared by Craig Martin. Williams made people feel all the feels.

This one hit close to home. Celebrities and artists die every week. Sometimes withfantastical, dramatic flair. Robin Williams seemingly slipped into the great beyond quietly, and by his own hand. The loss of his larger-than-life footprint on this moral coil rings louder than most because of the affect he had on us.

All great art makes people feel something strongly. Williams’ career is one long string of that kind of art.

He wasn’t someone most people thought about every day. He wasn’t constantly embroiled in scandal or grandiose events the news felt compelled to report. He never stopped though. With 0ver 100 films to his credit, a well respected involvement with the USO, and famously putting Jessica Chastain through his alma mater of Julliard on his own dime. He touched so many lives. But it’s how he did it which made him special.

People remember Robin Williams for his flurried, exhausting comic flair and a blue-collar acting style that made every one of the characters he brought to life seem as real as the person sitting next to you. He had so many great quotes; but it’s not the soundbite he’s remembered for.

When I learned of his death I felt grief, sharply. I realized just how culturally pervasive the man was–at least in my world. He was in a good number of my all-time favorite movies and now it makes perfect sense to me. He was a robustly, artfully emotional actor, which appeals to my extreme empathetic nature. He created characters you could feel–and I felt them. That’s why we’ll miss him the way we do, and why his passing affected us so strongly.

The scene actually filmed on the aforementioned bench, in Boston. This image was part of the inspiration for "Choose The Wrench."

The scene filmed on the aforementioned bench, in Boston. This image was part of the inspiration for “Choose The Wrench” because its performance created a deeply empathetic experience.

Many of his most memorable roles were deeply emotional performances. Good Will Hunting, Patch Adams, Dead Poet’s Society, Awakenings, The Fisher King, What Dreams May Come. He made us feel with every one of these characters in ways vulnerable, expressive and often bittersweet. “O’ Captain! My Captain!” anyone?

All great art makes people feel something strongly. Williams’ career is one long string of that kind of art. I can’t forget his performances or his humor. I might not remember what he said or even the things he did. I will always remember how he made me feel.

The people who make us laugh the hardest, the loudest, feel the deepest, and appreciate the most are often the saddest, most tormented, and silently incapable of seeing themselves as we see them. That’s a goddamn Greek tragedy. But thank the deity of your choosing Robin Williams graced us with his presence, and left us with his legacy.

“Your move, chief.”

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Taking It Easy: F*** That

Challenges, ailments, illnesses, injuries, even surgical procedures cannot destroy your fitness on their own–they need your help.

Pimp your sling. Yes, that's a mil-spec green laser.

Pimp your sling. Yes, that’s a mil-spec green laser.

On June 11th, I had arthroscopic shoulder surgery to begin my transformation into a homicidal cyborg. Or to repair a type-2 tear in my labrum, an rotator cuff debridement, and a sub-acromial decompression (that’s scooping out decades of shit collected under the AC joint), whichever. It was the result of eight years of high school/college football, multiple injuries back then, not taking care of it like an ass, and abusing it recklessly for years afterwards.

Then, I was faced with a question; how do I fix this? What do I do now? This is the only time I’ve been completely sidelined in my entire life.

Just how bad could it really be? If you tuck tail and make an excuse about why

You have to start someplace. Log. Everything.

You have to start someplace. Log. Everything.

you can’t train today? Well, if it’s just today; not that bad. But it’s not just today. It’s the insidious attitude and permissiveness you’re allowing into your life that’s problematic.

The second day is easier. The third even more so. Suddenly, it’s harder to come back and face the work than to stay on the couch. We’ve all felt it before. Don’t be a bitch and go there. It’s easy to realize how good you’re going to feel when it’s over. You know you’re going to be pleased with yourself when you slog through those burpees instead of sitting on the couch and watching MacGyver on Netflix.

Get off you’re fucking candy ass, and move some heavy shit. Rapidly.

Rationalizing doing nothing after a serious injury (or in my case, a surgery) is astonishingly easy. You will hear, incessantly, “Take it easy, take a load off, heal up.” If your doctor sucks, you’ll hear it from them, and then it reads like gospel. Thankfully, I didn’t have that problem. I was fortunate to be surrounded by sports specific medical professionals, many of whom are CrossFitters. Like most things, surgical repairs (within reason) are healed by moving them, intelligently, in ways that do not re-damage them.

That’s why they have physical therapy.

The thought of sitting on the couch with a limitless supply of cookies and peanut butter cups is thrilling when you can’t see the barbells through the percocet-induced funk.

One of the beautiful things about the diversity of movement we have in CrossFit, is we can train around anything. There is always a way, motherfucker. You can intelligently and safely work on your fitness with an impediment. Don’t make me show you videos of adaptive athletes making you look like a pussoir.

Just taking it easy is such a terrible fucking idea North Korea won’t even do it. I’ll show you why, visually, in a moment. Of course, you’re not going to jump off the fucking operating table and hit some tabata squats before you go home to sleep off the anesthesia. I took one week off after my shoulder repair. It was a struggle just to get off the couch (I had to sleep in a recliner for about a month to not compromise my slinged arm). If not for friends and coworkers bringing me amazing food, I’d probably look like Paul from the Wonder Years right now. After a week I felt OK, I wasn’t on any pain medication and I wasn’t in any pain at all, really.

What’s the greater risk? Hurting something, or ruining everything?

It was time to man-up and fucking rock. I headed down to the HQ gym, and slowly started messing around with stuff until I found things I could do. Occasionally, a frustrated observer (Mr. Sherwood) would get sick of watching me engineer things and just move plates around for me. Thanks buddy.

So, I set forth at doing the work of the fitness. Here is the body of work I’ve collected in the last eight weeks since surgery:

This could very easily read "Shoulder Surgery" then a smattering of cupcakes, cookies, and porn hub. But instead: Fitness.

This could very easily read “Shoulder Surgery” then a smattering of cupcakes, cookies, and porn hub. But instead: Fitness.

That’s a lot of work. Or, if I had pulled the ‘chute, it’d look like this:

The alternatives are not acceptable.

The alternatives are not acceptable. Unless you’re the Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons.”

I’ve been on about the same protocol from then to now:

  • Don’t fuck up the shoulder.
  • Don’t use the left arm.
  • Don’t fall on it.
  • Don’t do things that hurt (the shoulder).

Right now I program (or not, as it were) for myself Rich Froning style. I come into the gym, and extemporaneously create a workout. What did I do yesterday? What haven’t I done in awhile? What energy systems have I been working the last week or two? What movements can I physically do? And then boom, come up with a workout and do it. There’s been lots of one-arm dumbbell snatching, jerking, thrustering, rowing, ring rows, box jumps, and recently even burpees (regretting figuring out how to do these with 1-arm), barbell snatches and enough GHD sit-ups to give Jesus Christ Rhabdo.

“What about imbalances?”

Are you alive? Do you move? Congrats, you have imbalances. Let me watch you perform the nine foundational movements and I’ll show you all sorts of imbalances; we’ve all got them. If you have two arms and only use one in training, your imbalance is going to be more obvious, but it’s temporary. The choice is simple:

  • Possibly develop somewhat of an imbalance on one side.
  • Definitely get weak, fat and out of shape on both sides.

“You should take it easy,” they say. Fuck y’all motherfuckers. The alternatives speak for themselves. How fucking out of shape, miserable, and depressed would I be right now if I had done nothing? I’d be as frustratingly, infuriatingly wrapped in my own myopic Hell as Robin Williams’ wife in What Dreams May Come. Risk is perceived and relative. What’s the greater risk? Hurting something, or ruining everything? The decisions is black and white.

Move what you can, how you can. Constantly varied is relative, just like intensity. Work through movements you can do; don’t worry about the ones you can’t. Mechanics, consistency, intensity.

Fuck taking it easy. 

1arm_Deadlift

One of the beautiful things about the diversity of movement we have in CrossFit, is we can train around anything. There is always a way, motherfucker.

 

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The Best Yet

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Iphones suck in the dark. The soccer stadium is rather peaceful at night.

The Games are a time for reaffirmation of who we are, and why we’re here. It’s a celebration of the CrossFit lifestyle. A time to see old friends and make new ones. A time to marvel at the ridiculous, super-hero shit that these weapons-grade-human Games athletes are capable of; Ya’ll motherfuckers are crazy.

You’ll always learn something new at the CrossFit Games. You’ll relearn a lot of shit you knew, but may have taken for granted. This was my sixth, and I can say without reservation that each subsequent year has been orders of magnitude bigger, better, more exciting, more rewarding and infinitely more work.

The presence at the StubHub center begins growing like a giant, shredded, fitness tumor weeks before the first athlete checks in. For most people the Games are a three (or four or five) day experience. For those on staff, behind the scenes, and hundreds of volunteers they’re at least nine days. For some they’re much longer than that.

All of the metrics I’ve ever thought of for the Games have vertical graphs. One though, is moving in the opposite direction.

Stress.

I think we’re starting to figure this thing out. This year I saw the happiest, most well-adjusted, even-keeled, team ever. The professionalism and level-headed handling of every problem–and there are always problems–was remarkable. The media crew (where I work), Athlete Control, Team Judgement, and many more groups functioned like well-oiled machines. N0 one freaked out. No one panicked (in relative terms). We said fuck a lot, but then shit got done.

Working at the Games there are two things you do every chance you get, because you might not get another one: Shower and Work out.

Working at the Games there are two things you do every chance you get, because you might not get another one: Shower and work out.

This time, it wasn’t just hard; it was really fun. Perhaps that’s not a fair statement, as it’s always been fun. This time, though, there was levity among the chaos. Jokes and laughter permeated the intense focus. Personally, and I think others share this sentiment, emotional exhaustion was never reached–even at the tail end of a 100-hour work week.

It seems almost symbolic, with our group moving from last year’s spot under the bowels of the stadium up to the press box, center-field in the soccer stadium. I was still glued to a computer screen most of the time, but was able to look out the window and see the event. The most exceptional part was the crowd.

Smooth and easy.

Smooth and easy.

That roar, though. The crowd was really something. It was an instant, warm, visceral feeling of “here we are. This is where we should be.”

 

 

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Purpose

 

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At my sixth CrossFit Games I’ll get my fifth of these, because I found purpose at my first.

Purpose.

Not a dolphin-like sea creature, a raison d’etre–the reason we’re here.

That warm, fuzzy, the-world-is-beautiful-and-amazing-and-I-love-puppies-and-flowers feeling we get from our toils in CrossFit are certainly tied to results. Increased fitness, a sense of well being and accomplishment, and the oft touted but nebulous “community” which seems to defy explanation.

 

It is the ultimate justification for your own existence.

There is in fact a unifying agent tying this all together. From the new athlete to the Games competitor, the affiliate owner, and the worker bees here at CrossFit HQ:

We have purpose.

It is the ultimate justification for your own existence. Surely as having purpose smooths over the bumps, (seemingly) its loss tears our worlds asunder. Having a purpose–whether you’re consciously aware of it or not–trumps wealth, relationships, and physical comfort.

 “We’re here to take from you what you tried to take from us; purpose.” In The Matrix: Revolutions we see a visceral, perceived loss of purpose when the insidious, vengeful Agent Smith seeks retribution from Neo. This illustrates the necessity and attachment to purpose we experience as human beings.

Purpose is what separates CrossFit from everything else. Not that CrossFit is the only place or way to find purpose, but purpose is the element making it different from everything you tried in the past that “wasn’t this.” It’s not always obvious what that purpose is, though. Not everyone’s purpose is CrossFit. It’s mine and many of your’s, but for some it’s being a mother or a teacher.

CrossFit’s ability to surface and lay bare character is uniquely effective at clarifying purpose. The difficult things we endure in the name of fitness–the ethos of physicality–underpins and is revelatory of these things. It is the sole means by which austere, arduous experiences are made not just survivable, but pleasurable.

Purpose gives form to the indescribable feelings washing over us in CrossFit boxes since forever. Where high school kids and retirees, veterans and conscientious objectors, doctors, lawyers, garbage men, carpenters, ditch diggers, students, professors, parents, party animals and teetotalers–even Democrats and Republicans–fit together like chocolate and peanut butter. Purpose is a solvent which dissolves class, erases party lines, and is the means by which the most “different” of people become the best of friends, brothers and sisters-in-arms of fitness.

Purpose.

People with a reason are agreeable, positive, hard-working, nearly unstoppable and drawn to other people who have purpose. That purpose needn’t be the same. As long as everyone knows his or hers, this all works on it’s own.

Purpose is what drives us. It’s what brings us together (LOTR moment), and in the light binds us.

See you in Carson, motherfuckers.

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Stay The Course

Every now and then you need a course correction. After a raucous holiday season, a stretch of weekends out on the town or a big life changing event. Sometimes focus on being fit and healthy gets a little blurry. Although we stray, we always tack around to the right course.

It’ll happen. Sure as the bomb I drop at work every morning, which recently resulted in a team of plumbers being called to deal with the damage. Each of us will go off course. What makes those of us who are dedicated to fitness different is we can step back and say, “Enough.” We take stock, and move on to the next.

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Redemption awaits.

A friend and coworker posted something short and to the point and it got me thinking. It bears repeating (see below) because it’s a decision we constantly revisit.

By “we,” I mean those of us who’ve told easy to go fuck itself; We, the Motherfuckers.

Google maps isn’t going to give you turn-by-turn for this one; the street signs don’t exist. The path of a fit, healthy life is more like an ocean voyage than a road trip. These course corrections aren’t as distinct as hangin’ a left onto Elm Street (and stay the fuck off Elm street–don’t you watch movies?). You can’t pull over to take a piss and there are no speed limits. You have to find your own way. And, if you get off track, you don’t shit-house a telephone pole or end up in a ditch. You just give it a little rudder and get back on course–today.

It’s an element of life we fuck up all too often. Every moment, every second of every day is an opportunity to get better. You can choose to move toward where you want to be or away from it. We get into trouble when we look and see the seemingly endless ocean of opportunities and think, “tomorrow.”

The problem with tomorrow is sometimes there isn’t one. Tomorrow is always in the future. Today will always be right now. We always have that. In fact it’s the only thing we have. Sailing ships do not shift into reverse. So instead, decide to be grateful for the opportunity and do what you can to honor it. Sail onward.

Intensity matters. Not the burning in your lungs and legs, but in your mind. During a recent workout my legs reached total muscular failure around 15 touch-n-go power cleans. There have been times I could do that for a fucking hour. It was frustrating, but what matters is my mind was willing to do them until it was no longer a choice. My hands slipped right off the bar and I almost ate shit. As long as you’ve chosen to sail on until it’s not up to you anymore, you’re doing amazing things for yourself that go far beyond the physical. Stay bad, mofo.

“Sometimes we take a week off, we justify our cheats, we stay up past our bed times, we forget mobility, and we skip a day that we shouldn’t. But, when you lose sight of your goals, and stop taking ownership of your decision, you’ve got no one to blame but the dude in the mirror.

Some days you slay the WOD, some days the WOD slays you. There has been too much of the latter. Time for a change.

Suffer the pain of discipline, or suffer the pain of regret.”

-Kyle Moschetto, CrossFit Staff

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Waffle night won’t make you fitter, but life isn’t always fair winds and following seas.

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The Last Workout

The motherfucking switch has been flipped from
“training” to “game-time.”

BeastModeShirt

From the 2009 CrossFit Games, in Aromas, California.

It’s coming. Whether you know it or not, it’s barreling down on you without pity or remorse. You might even be doing it right now.

The last workout.

Even if you don’t realize it, even if you believe emphatically you are not; You are training. We fail to look at our day to day workouts this way. If you think that way, you just haven’t realized what you’re training for. You’re studying for a surprise test on an unknown subject with hidden stakes which can be up to and including your life.

You are probably sitting idly, reading this on the sidewalk at some trendy café, and then BOOM. Some cheesedick snatches your laptop or your bag and makes a run for it.

Just because you didn’t know you were going to have to come off the bench today and deadlift a car off some snot-nosed kid, doesn’t mean it isn’t game-day.

The motherfucking switch has been flipped from “training” to “game-time.” When you catch the fucker, and pummel them about the head, neck and chest, know you trained for this, perhaps without even realizing it.

There is a powerful mindset, forcing you to live in the spartan, painful present–the now. In competition we know when game day is. We spend our time consciously training for that day, cognizant of it’s terminal, finite nature. There’s a timeline. As we rumble towards that inevitability we frantically squeeze every drop of strength, adaptation and preparation out of it.

When we’re not training mindfully, this is lost on us. The lever often stays on “training” and it gets rusted and frozen there. You could will suddenly be confronted by an attack or an accident and then panic will overwhelm you because the fucking lever won’t move to “go-time.”

Embrace that shit. There’s no time like go-time. Grope it like a prom date and get all up in its business.

CrossFitters talk a lot about “training for life.” If you believe that (and you should), live it. Just because you don’t have a taper, or a pre-game warm up, or you ate fifteen waffles last night; just because you didn’t know you were going to have to come off the bench today and deadlift a car off some snot-nosed kid, doesn’t mean it isn’t game-day. Whoops, now it is–no wraps, no belts, no tape.

You might never get to come down here again. Enjoy the view, and the ride back up.

You might never get to come down here again. Enjoy the view, and the ride back up.

This is your training, motherfucker, and it’s ending one second at a time. Anything could change how earnestly you train and snap the lever from foam rolling to fucking beast mode in no time flat. But, then it’ll be too late; it’s already the end.

You just haven’t realized what you’re training for.

Sometimes there is a deadline: A competition, an event, a surgery date–something–which punctuates the progression of workouts, forcing us to contemplate the meaning within each WOD, each rep, each breath. But most times, there is not.

Realize every single pull-up and power clean could be the last preparation you’ll ever get for the greatest moment of your life. In fact, it could be the last rep period. That perspective will change what you take from each training session. CrossFit–training in general–is a gift, not a burden. Treat it as such.

Approach each day as if it’s the last big workout before game-day–it’s your last day of training before whatever the fuck happens in the next moment. Get every last drop of fun, camaraderie, and enjoyment out of it.

Game-day is now.

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Relativity of Perspective

Objects seen through your aviators may not appear actual size.

Not accepting congratulation dishonors them. You’ve shown contempt for something they wish they could do.

One athlete’s monstrous success is the frustrating failure of another. Think about that for a moment. The “sub-par” Grace time you turned in the day after you partied hard enough to look like Nick Nolte the next morning; It made you borderline despondent–even though you deserved it. Meanwhile, Johnny-CrossFit-Lately turned in the same time after eating super-strict paleo-zone for a month and doing mobility every day. It was a five-minute PR for him, so he took 10 of his closest classmates out for dinner and drinks to celebrate.

You, Dan Bailey, and the little old lady that started elements last week all fit within the “visible” band on the fitness spectrum.

It’s all relative. We operate in a very narrow band of the physical world. It’s like visible light on the electromagnetic spectrum. That tiny fraction of a percentile is where Rich Froning and Julie Foucher live. Your grandma who started CrossFit last week lives there, too.

That second which seems full of embittered disappointment to you, is a brass ring for the athlete next to you. Don’t forget that.

Missed that 405 lbs. back squat? Remember; someone at your gym would do the fucking Ickey Shuffle touchdown dance if they could load the necessary plates on the bar to do a 405 lbs. back squat. The Lloyd Christmas moment of clarity here is you both live within this tiny little swath of the population. Your scale–your perspective–is wildly skewed. The shittiest day you’ve ever had in the box bottoms out at about the 99.5th percentile of human movement.

If your Fran PR is 3:30, and today you clock in at 3:45 you are still in the 0.5%. You still got dosed. Stimulus achieved. It’s ok to be a little miffed over a poor performance, but keep it on the rails, chief. Your reaction to the time on the clock is purely derived from whether you’ve gone faster before, or not. Completing the workout in 3:29 is euphoric while 3:31 leads to depression and self loathing. Don’t let that shit creep into your heart, homeslice.

This stuff is not precise enough for the interplay of those three seconds to tell you anything meaningful. That second which seems full of embittered disappointment to you, is a brass ring for the athlete next to you. Don’t forget that.

Winning with grace and losing with dignity are important to being a good person. When you realize that your “losing” is someone else’s “winning” it becomes necessary. When you understand that from the point of view of 99.5% of people in existence, both are exactly the same, it becomes essential.

Accept praise and accolade with grace, even if you don’t think you deserve it. People are always well-meaning when they give it. They are seeing things from the other side of the aisle. What you just did–missed your Grace PR by 30 seconds–could have been a four-minute PR for them. Not accepting congratulation dishonors them. You’ve shown contempt for something they wish they could do. Don’t be that guy.

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