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“Weighing in” on WZA and the CrossFit Open

David Sheppard

The second weekend in January – just slightly over one month ago – I competed at the Wodapalooza (WZA).

WZA is a three-day competition held in Miami each year, where approximately 1,500 athletes and 25,000 spectators from over 30 different countries come together. In terms of size and the number of Elite athletes competing, WZA is second only to the CrossFit Games. Each year, WZA is prefaced with qualifying workouts, video submissions, and email invitations to determine which athletes have earned the right to throw down in Miami and experience its prestigious level of competition.

In 2017, I became one of those athletes.

When I first realized that I had made it to Miami, I excitedly completed my registration information and posted the news all over my social media. Hooray! Then, reality began to sink in. I have only been doing CrossFit for 2 years. There are so many other people who are better than me – who lift more weight and finish WODs in less time than I do. I am the girl who struggles with double-unders and who can only do pistols on one side. I still eat pizza, for crying out loud; I haven’t even gone Paleo. How could I go to Miami?

In the months leading up to Wodapalooza, I struggled with feeling like I didn’t deserve the spot I had taken. Especially as the holidays commenced and I ate Christmas cookies and skipped the gym in favor of wine and movie nights with family, guilt weighed on my mind.

When January finally arrived, I can honestly say that I was significantly more worried than excited. Nevertheless, I knew that I was going. I had registered, I had paid, and I had reserved a hotel room for the weekend with friends from the gym. Propelled forward by financial commitment, the accountability of my box, and some deep-seated resolve, I packed a suitcase with sports bras and Spandex and headed to Miami.

At the beginning of my first workout on Friday, my hand was visibly shaking as I stepped onto the stage and passed my scorecard to the judge. As soon as the music started and I hook-gripped the barbell in my hands, though, my nerves faded away. I hadn’t forgotten how to do a thruster, and the people cheering from the stands weren’t condemning me for the cheesy breadstick I’d eaten several nights before – they just wanted to see everyone on stage doing their best.

The experience of competing at Wodapalooza turned out to be an important lesson for me. I met so many amazing people during those 3 days, and I was both reminded and blown away by the awesome community that is fostered by CrossFit.

One particular workout programmed for that weekend required sets of double-unders and, as mentioned before, I am a girl who struggles with that movement. The competitor in the lane next to mine finished her workout quickly, and instead of resting along the sideline, she stepped immediately into my lane and began cheering for me. As I painstakingly worked through one double at a time, she shouted advice and encouragement until I met the time cap. And she wasn’t the only one.

January 13th-15th were days filled with camaraderie and inspirational moments. I watched as adaptive athletes overcame physical challenges, as athletes in every division pushed one another to perform their very best, and as everyone present became stronger together. In the athlete warm-up area, one girl was able to do her first muscle-up as people she had never met before stopped to applaud and offer high-fives. I became friends with the other girls in my division, and I also grew closer with the people from my own gym who came to compete and spectate. My roommates even made the sacrifice of setting a 5:30 AM alarm in order to support me at an incredibly early-morning heat time.

By the end of the trip, I learned that I did belong in the competition. I had participated in the qualifying workouts and published my video submissions on YouTube, just like everyone else who competed. I may not have been the strongest or the fastest person there, but I completed every movement to the best of my ability. I practiced pull-ups on a rig alongside Noah Ohlsen. I tried new things (who knew that I could swim?) and was pleasantly surprised – more than once – with my results. But most importantly, I made the decision not to quit. Despite my initial feelings of fear and inadequacy, I did it anyway. And that is exactly why I deserved my spot at the Wodapalooza.

I hope that my experience encourages someone else to take the plunge and try something new. The CrossFit Open is happening from February 23rd – March 7th this year, and registration is open now. In the past, I have heard people refrain from participating because they are not interested in competition or because they can’t perform certain movements without scaling. The Open, however, is about testing your limits, identifying areas for improvement, and friendly competition with peers in a non-stressful environment.

Author T.S. Eliot once posed the question, “If you’re not in over your head, then how do you know how tall you are?” CrossFit is not only a method for achieving a healthy lifestyle, it also promotes personal growth. If you discover that you can’t complete a certain movement in an Open workout, then celebrate – because now you know what to work on. The Open is an excellent tool for tracking progress, so that from year-to-year you can watch as you surpass your most important competition – yourself.

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A.A. Milne

Written by Courtney Dodson

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