Feburary of 2013, my wife and I scrambled to get our kids fed, bathed, and recited the strange rituals our kids have around bedtime to our babysitter. We jumped in the car and headed to our CrossFit Intro class. We cautiously walked up to the building not sure if the noise we were hearing was from people working out or if the clanging of metal we heard was cause for alarm and the roof had fallen in and we were there just in time to help save someone’s life. We were quick to realize, it was just another Thursday night CrossFit class.

I remember being intimidated at all the activity in the room, people running from one piece of equipment to the next, lifting weights, and gasping for air. It was crazy, amazing, and well…a little bit intimidating. My wife and I stood in the corner, trying to play it cool, both sharing our excitement and a face of…“what have we gotten ourselves into.” As we walked in and awkwardly stood in the corner, I remember being surprised. I was surprised at how, in the midst of the chaos, people pushed one another. Trainers didn’t just coach or assist poor form, but also seemed to know what each athlete was capable of and pushed them to perform at a personally high level. 

At the end of their WOD, as we tried hard to look less awkward, we were forced by circumstance from our place of refuge into the unknown. The people we had just watched complete the WOD began to hang out, laugh, discuss where they struggled, and what they enjoyed.

We made our way down the steps and into our intro class. While everyone around us had just finished lifting sizable barbells and medicine balls, we began what would be a long relationship with a small, light, un-intimidating, PVC pipe. We were excited to get started, and tried to pay attention to our coach while people behind us did handstand walks in their “warm up”. 

After a year of being a part of the CrossFit STL community, this place has become like home (well…a home where we jump rope, row, lift, do gymnastics while trying not to puke and beat your previous times). 

As I look back I began to wonder when and how the change happened from intimidation to community. 

Being apart of a community is a strange yet beautiful thing. We all have a desire to be known. Yet, in this age of technology, we can create and control how we present ourselves, without anyone knowing who we really are. Through social networks I can make you think or believe I am always in the gym, 100% Paleo (with plate pics to prove it), taking the worlds greatest vacations, and that I have kids that never cry and behave like little angels. While in truth, I may be home crushing some brownies and ice cream, may not have been to the gym but once in a week, and my demon children have once again destroyed the entire house. The electronic social world is largely fake, and leaves us feeling empty, and lonely.

Being a part of a community is different. Its vulnerable. People get to know who I am, where I am strong, where I am weak. They get to know the me that I really am. Its not fake, and the truth is we all want to be a part of something like that. We are drawn to it.

So, what do we do about it? How do we continue to foster a place that we want to be a part of? Here are some personal suggestions:

  • When you show up, talk to somebody. Introduce yourself, attack the awkwardness of the unknown by allowing yourself to be a little uncomfortable and overcome it, just like you did that free intro!
  • Make yourself known
  • Get to know someone new, ask them about themself
  • Encourage somebody in class
  • Be consistent, and get to know the people in your class
  • Compete hard and do your best and encourage others to do the same
  • Hang out…invite people to hang out outside of the gym

I was leaving after a class the other day, and was talking to a guy who was relatively new. I asked him if he usually attends the class we were in. He said no, and that his schedule changes weekly. As we continued to talk he told me how much he loved this place, and how amazing it was for people and staff to know his name even though he hadn’t been around for very long. It was one of the reasons he kept coming back. Community is inviting. Community is contageous. Community joins us one to another in relationship.
Josh Wilson