The Endless, Dark Hallway of Suck.
By Charlie Sims
I grew up living the easy life. Looking through pictures of my childhood and young adulthood, it’s easy to see. My mom worked part time and my dad made his own schedule as a realtor and property manager, so they were both around all the time and clearly loved me and still do. They would help me with schoolwork and coach my athletic teams. My brother, sister, and I were well taken care of. I didn’t have to get a job until I wanted to have spending money in high school. My life, as I look back, was basically a cakewalk. It’s no wonder that I was as soft as melting butter.
Studying my family origins has been incredibly interesting. I have ancestors who were German nobility, war heroes, and forgers of civilizations. I’ve even heard rumors that one of my great, great grandfathers down the line somewhere won the Tour de France.
But I’m also part of a line of strugglers, strivers, and fighters. My grandfather, Wolf Ach drove a Panzer in World War 2 and after meeting the Americans, decided that he would move his whole family along with my baby mother to the sticks of Kentucky and make a better life for his family. They had absolutely nothing and everybody hated them. Being a German family in America in the days immediately following the war wasn’t an easy life. But they did it. He built a name through grit, hard work, and integrity. His wife Ilse, my grandmother, was her mother’s target for emotional and physical abuse. She was blamed for every negative thing that happened, which were many during a time when Germany was trying to recover after the first World War and ultimately, my grandmother chose a life on her own rather than staying with an abusive parent.
My family is full of stories like this.
And then there’s me. Air conditioning. Video games. Kool-aid. My biggest struggle revolved around not getting picked for the 12 year old All-Star baseball team. I wasn’t alone. The enormous majority of my peers were in the exact same comfortable boat. Mine is a generation of people who, by and large, haven’t had to work, or sacrifice, or endure hardships. On the one hand, I’m grateful for the sacrifices that my family (on both sides) made to provide an incredible life to my siblings and me but on the other hand, learning how to fight has been a long slow road, that I’m sure I’m still in the middle of.“Man, I see in Fight Club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see it squandered… Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy sh** we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” – Tyler Durden, Fight Club
My generation is forced to create our own struggle. We need something that forces us outside of our comfort zones, something that requires us to dig deep, to work.
CrossFit is a perfect opportunity to test yourself, against yourself; to see what you’re really made of. Don’t misunderstand what I just said. For the most part every CrossFit workout is only as easy or as hard as you really want to make it. The difference between a workout being hard or easy can sometimes be the difference of sixty seconds, but the decision to stay in that dark place and endure the discomfort, pushing hard till the end can sometimes test our willpower to it’s breaking point.
Open WOD 14.5 was a prime example of this. It was 21-18-15-12-9-6-3 of Thrusters #95/65 and Bar facing Burpees. Task wise, this is an easy workout to complete for the vast majority of CrossFitters. The reason it was so devastating was the fact that it was to be done “For Time”. It’s to be done as fast as possible. One colleague described that workout as “an endless, dark hallway of suck”.
At my gym we had almost 100 athletes complete this workout. Many did it multiple times. As simple and “easy” as 14.5 was there’s only one reason that it had our athletes crawling into a corner and curling up into a ball completely wrecked.
In order to get a faster time, our athletes pushed themselves harder than they thought possible, endured the endless, dark hallway of suck, and learned something about themselves that they didn’t know before.
“I’m capable of way more than I ever thought possible!”
There’s no way to learn this lesson with video games and kool-aid. The only way to know what you’re truly capable of is to go through the experience of it. Wolf Ach discovered what he was made of by enduring the crucible of creating a life for his family in a town that hated him. Ilse Ach did the same by enduring the abuse from her mother and coming out on the other side determined to make it.
As I find myself embracing and thriving in situations and circumstances that my younger softer self would have run and hid from, I’m realizing that despite the fact that I had it easy in my youth, I’m stronger now. Not just physically, but also mentally. I’m capable of far more than I would have ever imagined.
Many of our athletes are discovering similar things about themselves. We create a difficult task in the gym and force ourselves through it. We smile on the other side, and realize that we’re stronger. The end goal is mental and physical FORTITUDE. We are training to become impervious to life’s attacks.
The fact that we do these tasks in the context of a community changes our perception of them as well. We draw off of each other’s strength and push each other to keep going. There’s something about a shared struggle that makes us all stronger than we would be alone.
Eventually, when life does throw us a real struggle, something outside the gym, we’ll be able to draw on all of our experiences of toughness and fortitude from the gym, as well as the caring and supportive group of co-strugglers who have proven to be there when the going gets tough. We’ll emerge stronger yet again.
Even in a day and age when life is pretty easy, we can learn to fight. After all, in the words of Tyler Durden, “how much can you really know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” Sometimes, the things we’re fighting against are the ravages of the easy life.
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Charlie Sims is the owner of CrossFit Regeneration in Louisville, KY.
“No Fear, No Distractions, The ability to let that which does not matter, truly slide.” – Narrator referring to Tyler Durden in Fight Club