Why Pukie the Clown Isn’t Funny
I have never been able to get my head around Pukie the Clown - a cartoon depiction of a CrossFitter who has pushed it past the point of no return. As for Uncle Rhabdo, a clown who has taken it even further, has contracted rhabdomyolysis, and is hooked up to a dialysis machine - I am bemused rather than amused. For clowns, these dudes are definitely not funny.
So why are they favorite mascots of the CrossFit community, in particular Pukie? If it’s not their cuddly nature or their humor, it must be the message they portray.
Pukie fans suggest that he is meant to be an acknowledgement of intensity - that the athlete has pushed himself or herself past all previous limits. Hold on, isn’t that what PRs are for?
Actually, I do get that Pukie is an acknowledgement of hard work. But there is a difference between acknowledgement and celebration. Celebration is painting Pukie on your wall, giving out a t-shirt when someone spills his or her guts, or posting up a Facebook status celebrating first WOD-induced vomit.
Anyone can invent workouts that well and truly hammer people to the point of physical sickness. That’s easy. The hard part comes in the advancing the fitness of others, or yourself, in a sustainable, progressive manner, while staying happy and healthy, and having fun.
Let me present an analogy with motor sport. To be successful you have to push the limits. But you also have to stay in the game. Taking it too far on the odd occasion (read: meeting Pukie the Clown) may result in you spinning off and being side-lined for the rest of the race, at best. No points for that race then. At worst, it could lead to injury or even fatality (read: meeting Uncle Rhabdo). Continue to race with such reckless abandon and you would most certainly increase the chances of doing yourself a serious physical injustice, not to mention the fact that you would end up with zero points for the season.
Driving hard lines with intent and intensity should definitely be commended - this is part of what makes a good driver. But when things go too far, do these drivers receive a t-shirt ceremonizing their display of bravado? To celebrate the fact that they pushed their driving to the limits? Hell no! Perhaps, in amongst the disappointment, they may find solace in a quiet acknowledgement from the team that they went all out but didn’t succeed this time.
Another defense of Pukie is that he makes light of the situation. And for Uncle Rhabdo, it is professed he serves as a reminder that this way of training can kill.
Does motor sport have cartoon pictures painted on the walls of cars spinning off into the barriers to make light of what happens in many races? Nope. And what about using a smashed-up cartoon car as a mascot, or maybe a driver connected up to a life-saving machine, just to remind drivers that they should be careful, and that this is dangerous? That would be absurd, right?
Of course drivers need to take risks. Those who are able to do so are likely to be the most successful. What makes a driver win race after race, year after year, is the ability to push it right to the limits, but rarely beyond.
What else contributes to success? To have a good engine, to know how to use it, and to be able to use the other tools at your disposal effectively. To know when to change your tires. To strategize effectively. To work with the support team you have around you to make sure you function at your optimum level. To be consistent - week after week. To do the work that is necessary in the off-season to make sure you are ready when it counts. Hmmm, are we talking about racing or CrossFit now?
Let’s take it back to CrossFit itself. The CrossFit Games are the pinnacle of fitness, the showcase to the world. Why don’t you see many of the world’s most proficient, fittest athletes barf after their workouts? This is CrossFit at its highest level, and these athletes are undoubtedly giving their all. If they were to unleash the contents of their stomach all over the arena floor, do you think it would be widely televised? Surely so, if puking is a part of CrossFit that should be celebrated?
Let me set one thing straight. I am not a CrossFit hater. Anything but. I believe CrossFit is a brilliant approach to all-round fitness and physical ability.
I also believe CrossFit is what you make it, both as an athlete and a coach. There are some incredible coaches out there doing ground-breaking, life-enriching work. And there are others who have joined the game with little knowledge or experience, because they think it will make them cool, rich, or both.
These good CrossFit boxes consider all options and implications, and set everything in place to ensure their clients are kept as safe as possible within the confines of what is at hand. They conduct good on-ramp programs (an on-ramp should be a gradual ramp up in terms of intensity, and not just an accumulation of sessions on how to do the movements), they provide a knowledgeable and accessible support network, and they make sure the right messages get across to their clients regarding the fundamentals - including intensity, virtuosity, and scalability.
However, as you may have gathered, I don’t agree with all-things-CrossFit. If you do, then please make sure you do for the right reasons. Blind reverence to anything is dangerous. Always question assumptions and beliefs. You can be a fully committed CrossFitter without worshipping everything that CrossFit is about.
Take a look at some of the golden rules of CrossFit. For athletes, one of the most quoted ideals is to leave your ego at the door. Banish bravado. This is such a brilliant philosophy on many levels. Dishing out accolades when someone is sick, through following their ego rather than sensibility, only serves to add fuel to egotistical fire.
What about for box owners? Rule number one is simple and important - don’t kill anyone. Rule number two - longevity. Be responsible for your athletes, and help them stay injury free and progressively improve for years to come. Uncle Rhabdo represents rhabdomyolysis, and reverence to this creepy uncle does not paint a responsible picture.
It’s up to you to choose your own flavor of Kool-Aid. Respect CrossFit and its potential to make you into an all-destroying beast - or beast you until you are destroyed. Use relevant markers of intensity and hard work. Pay attention to detail, and celebrate the elements of CrossFit that should be celebrated - its variety, intensity and ability to get people moving in ways they never thought possible.
Welcome newcomers by showing them what CrossFit is really about, to you, not what you think is cool because everyone else does. Teach them to scale appropriately, and ramp-up gradually.
Think carefully about what you do when you approach the point of no return. This not only refers to the point where you throw up. It could also be in the form of sustained “red-lining” in workouts, or hitting another few reps even though form has broken down. Ignore the voices of Pukie the Clown and Uncle Rhabdo telling you to carry on regardless. Listen to the voice of your future self, reminding you that going over the top today will have a detrimental impact on what you do tomorrow.
Work hard, but train for longevity and set a good foundation for your future.
Pukie the Clown and Uncle Rhabdo artwork courtesy of CrossFit, Inc.
Photo 1 courtesy of CrossFit Akron.
Photo 2 courtesy of CrossFit Hickory.