The Meaning of a Hero WOD and Those Who Must Not Be Forgotten
he·ro - noun
1a: a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities
1b: a person who is greatly admired
Hero workouts - I understand them, I appreciate them, and I fully support them. It’s tragic that we need to continually add new Hero WODs to the CrossFit library, but sadly, the nature of global conflict, police work, and firefighting will always be such that we lose good men and women, and with such loss, new hero WODs emerge.
There is something magical and inspiring about the response to hero WODs being posted on Facebook or the main site. People get charged up to perform a workout in honor of a person 99.9% of them likely did not know. They post their scores, their condolences, “RIP Brother” or “RLTW.” It’s an awesome display of community and support.
When hero WODs come up, either on the main site or at your local box, they are often accompanied by a backstory. I have seen many CrossFit affiliate website who, when they post “D.T.” or “Nutts” or some other hero workout, also post the details of the particular person for whom the WOD was named. This gives the athlete a little extra incentive to push harder during the workout. That’s all great stuff.
But here’s my concern: we’re good at honoring those we don’t know, but we’ve all but forgotten about two heroes within our community. I am speaking specifically of Amanda Miller and Joe Lengel. I have written about Amanda many times before because she is my personal hero. Joe Lengel was the owner of CrossFit Toledo and was gunned down in cold blood while opening his box one morning in November of 2012.
The thing is, whenever a hero WOD shows up in the feed, awareness is raised. There is a collective coming together that is indigenous to this community merely by virtue of the fact that the workout is labeled a “hero WOD” and because of the nature and manner of the hero’s death - often either serving his or her country, protecting his or her city, or fighting a fire.
But look at the definition of hero, above, and then go read Amanda’s blog from cover to cover. Now tell me she is not a hero. We’ve named a workout after Amanda (9-7-5 muscle ups and snatches), but it’s neither a hero workout nor even one of the “girls” in the classic sense. And when this workout comes up in the feed, it does so with no retrospective on Amanda, no background story, no bio. No collective conscious raising in the manner of “Murph” or “DT.” No community coming together. Most people don’t know “Amanda” from “Nicole.” And I would venture to guess that more people actually know who Nicole is.
And that’s too bad, because in my humble opinion Amanda was every bit as brave, fearless, and honorable as any of the heroes for whom those WODs are named. And she did serve in the Navy. She was a veteran. The only difference between Amanda Miller and “Nate” is that Amanda died a slow, painful death, rather than having been killed in the line of duty. I would submit that her bravery was perhaps much more tangible than most, because she faced death head-on for months, determined to kick its ass. Amanda Miller wasn’t just the first CrossFit Games athlete we’ve lost, but she literally embodied the very thing that causes us to push through. Never quit - keep fighting. Amanda is CrossFit. And she was, literally almost until the day she died.
Joe Lengel, owner of CrossFit Toledo, was a two-time CrossFit Games athlete in the master’s division. He was murdered one morning as he was opening his gym. He was approached by five thugs, apparently with the intent to rob him, and one killed him with a shotgun blast to the chest. Forgive my liberal use of this phrase, but you don’t get much closer to being killed in the line of duty that this. There are some accounts that have suggested the gunman opened fire as Joe attempted to subdue the would-be robber, or at least ward off the attack. So, here’s a guy who was killed on the very threshold of his own CrossFit Gym, a two-time master’s athlete, whose memorial WOD was heard the world over for exactly a week or so - and then he disappeared into the chatter.
There was a lot of talk about creating a hero WOD for Joe after his death, and a lot of social media pushback, suggesting that hero WODs be reserved only for military. But heroes come in many shapes and sizes, from military, law enforcement, and firefighters, to moms, brothers and sisters, and kids. I think that BatKid is a hero. I think that anyone who donates his or her organs is a hero. There are heroes in our everyday lives that go unsung.
Because I knew Joe Lengel and because Amanda is a hero of mine and I know her family, it’s obviously a personal matter to me. The dissonance, for me, lies in the fact that if someone says “Murph,” everyone says, “Ah, Michael Murphy. Great man.” If someone says “Amanda,” everyone says, “Oh man, that’s a hard one. I wish I had muscle ups!” What I would love, is for people to say, “Ah yes, Amanda Miller. What an amazing human being.” Amanda first, “Amanda” second. Joe first, “Joe” second. I would love to have the same level of awareness raising and community gelling that occurs when a hero WOD is posted. I would love it when people do “Amanda” if they think to themselves, “This one’s for you, Amanda.”
So, with this piece I am not calling for two new hero WODs to be created. What I am asking for is that we invoke that same sense of honor and tribute when “Amanda” is done as when "Murph," "Badger," or "Michael" comes up in the feed. Remember them.
And this is my call to action for CrossFit, Inc., to do this will cost you nothing, not even an extra minute of your time:
- Rename the “Spirit of the Games” award the “Amanda Miller Spirit of the Games” award. Before you award it each year, review what it means. Talk about how Amanda fought through everything she had with the perseverance of a diesel train, how she never gave up, and how the Spirit of the Games award is given to an athlete who embodies that kind of spirit.
- For Joe, create a similar award for the masters competition. The Joe Lengel Spirit of the Games award can be awarded to the athlete who showed the most leadership, compassion, and community toward other athletes as he or she fought through the week. If you read Michael Morran’s article on Joe, you will quickly understand the kind of spirit he embodied and how it might be translated to an award for a master’s games athlete.
These were CrossFit Games athletes, ambassadors for the sport, coaches, mentors, and role models. Both, in their own way, helped to change CrossFit for the better. By naming the Spirit of the Games Award after Amanda and creating a master’s version to honor Joe, something magical and inspiring will happen each time the award is given.
In July 2012 when we held the worldwide Amanda Miller Memorial WOD, I asked CrossFit gyms to snap some pictures of themselves indicating for whom they were fighting. You see a couple in this article and you can see more here. Every person who did the WOD that day has his or her own heroes. We all have our heroes and we all want them to be remembered and honored, and not lost in the fabric of time.
Who is your personal hero? Why? Use the comments section below to share your hero with the world.