I go to CrossFit five or six days a week. You wouldn’t know this to look at me. In fact, one of the trainers sort of suggested maybe I should stop telling people about CrossFit all the time. I’m not exactly the poster child for fitness.

 

I’m what you might call an everyday CrossFitter. I’m never going to compete, go to the CrossFit Games, or even come in first in the class. This is my truth, and I am just fine with it.

 

Not everyone who does CrossFit is interested in going to the Games.

 

Why I Love CrossFit

I love CrossFit anyway. I love walking into the box every morning and reading the WOD written on the large whiteboard. I love how a lot of the workouts are named after women: Elizabeth, Nancy, Annie, Jackie. They have yet to name one “Carrie,” but I think that’s because it would mostly include standing around and chatting or occasionally dancing to the music. None of this is very CrossFit-y.

 

"[I]f I beat my old time for Fran or Grace, I get a little gold star next to my name in Wodify."

I love knowing all of the other jargon, like AMRAP, EMOM, PR, and RX. I especially love how timing is everything - the way CrossFit is ruled by the clock.

 

I love the way we all stand behind the bars or grip our jump ropes or sit up straight on the rowers at the start of the workout, and when the clock counts down from ten, we take off like racehorses without a jockey.

 

I love measuring how long it takes to finish my rounds in an AMRAP, or a 2,000-meter row, or 75 power snatches with an RX of 55 pounds. And if I beat my old time for Fran or Grace, I get a little gold star next to my name in Wodify.

 

Life Beyond CrossFit

My other truth is this: I have five kids, and my second son, Jack, has autism. He is eleven. I struggle every day to make sense of this boy, his diagnosis, and his slippery spectrum disorder.

 

See, with autism, there is no RX. I don’t know how to set a personal record, and I wish someone would use a dry-erase marker to write some instructions on a whiteboard for me because many times, I am very, very lost.

 

Being mom to my five kids is my other reality.

 

Like when we were in the grocery store last week and Jack demanded we buy sixteen Renuzit air fresheners because all of a sudden he is obsessed with air fresheners. I said no and he screamed yes, and before I knew it, he was piling all these air fresheners into the cart and screeching that he had to have them. I just stood there, watching, while he frantically snatched a blue one and a green one and then another blue one from the shelf, cradling them in his arms like small babies.

 

"[W]ith autism, there is no RX. I don’t know how to set a personal record, and I wish someone would use a dry-erase marker to write some instructions on a whiteboard for me because many times, I am very, very lost."

You could say I have the same relationship with autism that I have with CrossFit. I love it and I hate it and I work hard at it, but sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing. It makes my heart race and my stomach clench and, if we’re in the grocery store and Jack is piling up air fresheners, it makes me sweat.

 

But I show up, and I give it all I have. And at the end of some days - the days where the tantrums are really loud and he’s obsessing about what time he has to take a shower and it’s all I can do not to scream in his face that he doesn’t have to take it at exactly 7:00 he can take it at 7:02 - well, on those days, I just want someone to put a little gold star next to my name. 

 

Meet Matt

I usually go to the gym for the 6:30am class, and for a while now I’ve been working out with a guy named Matt. Matt is very quiet. He’s serious. He rarely cheers or claps, and I have never seen him dance, not even once. He is soft-spoken, and if you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss his quick comments.

 

Over the past few months, this is what I’ve learned:

 

  • His wife is a Yankees fan.
  • He is terrible at sit ups.
  • He has a four-year-old son named Sebastian.
  • Sebastian has cerebral palsy (his Easter Seals page is here). He doesn’t walk or talk. But he giggles. He laughs and smiles and he loves to lick the salt off of tortilla chips.

 

Matt's four-year-old son, Sebastian.

 

Every evening after work, Matt lifts Sebastian from his wheelchair. He puts him in a walker and coaxes him to step forward, one foot at a time, until his son takes two hundred steps.

 

Last week in the gym, we had to do the “Cindy” WOD - a twenty-minute AMRAP of five pull ups, ten push ups, and fifteen air squats. When I got to the gym, the 5:30am class was filtering out. They looked sweaty and disheveled, and everyone was comparing how many rounds they got. The chatter turned to Matt, who is a master at Cindy.

 

Everyone started comparing notes and guessing how he would do. Twenty rounds? 25? Just as we were about to start, a guy named Andrew poked his head back in the door and said, “Good luck, Matt!” 

 

"His sinewy limbs blurred as he transitioned from the bar to the floor and up again - pull ups, push ups, squats. Over and over, he passed me with another round, and another."

All of a sudden, there was a quiet static to the air. Carefully, Matt laid his poker chips that we use to keep track of our rounds in a grid on the floor. The clock counted down and we jumped to the pull-up bars.

 

I watched him out of the corner of my eye. His sinewy limbs blurred as he transitioned from the bar to the floor and up again - pull ups, push ups, squats. Over and over, he passed me with another round, and another. 

 

Timing Is Everything

A few seconds might get you another pull up or enough time for one more squat. Two minutes can earn you another round and another chance to add a poker chip. Five extra minutes in the grocery store can turn into a huge meltdown over air fresheners.

 

In the space of a single moment, the littlest baby can feel as though the air around him has disappeared. And as he fights to fill his tiny lungs, the landscape of a family is forever changed.

 

 

A few minutes into the workout, I stopped thinking about rounds and pull ups and push ups and squats. With the music pounding in my ears, I thought about salty tortilla chips piled high in a bowl.

 

I thought about tenacity, fear, love, determination, truth, and hope. I thought about a dark-haired boy taking two hundred wobbly steps across the room, slowly propelling himself toward his father’s outstretched arms.

 

"I stopped thinking about rounds and pull ups and push ups and squats. With the music pounding in my ears, I thought about salty tortilla chips piled high in a bowl."

I let Jack get three air fresheners in the grocery store that day. When we got home, he unpacked them from the bag one at a time. Then he marched upstairs into my closet with the green one in his hands. He put it down on the floor next to my sneakers.

 

"Here. I wanted you to have these. For near your shoes. So they smell good after the gym."

 

(33. Matt got 33 rounds of Cindy that day.)

 

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Photo 1 courtesy of CrossFit Impulse.

Photos 2 and 3 courtesy of Carrie Cariello.

Photo 4 courtesy of Shutterstock.

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