Welcome to the Muscle-Up Club
I remember when I spoke the words out loud for the first time: “I want to be a Regionals athlete for the CrossFit Games.” With a wavering voice and fear in my eyes, I said it.
I didn’t actually believe that being a member of a Regionals-caliber team would ever be possible for little old me. I was newer to CrossFit, and I didn’t even know all the lifts yet. But I shoved that little devil-of-a-doubtful thought aside for the time being, telling myself that if I stated my goal out loud, and someone actually heard me, I’d have no choice but to hold myself accountable for working toward my dream of competing at Regionals.
Jamie, my coach at the time, was the first one to hear me say it.
“I believe you have what it takes to get to Regionals one day, Brittany,” he said as I dropped him off at his doorstep that September evening four years ago. His car was in the shop, so I’d offered to give him a ride home after the workout that day.
“But you’ll have to work very hard. Harder than you’ve ever worked before. It will be tough. It’ll hurt. You might fail a thousand times before you make it. Others will beat you in competition. But I can assure you, if you keep your head in the game and train harder than you think you can, the reward will be sweet in the end.”
He smiled and got out of the car. I waved from the window and drove off, my mind filled with images of competing at the CrossFit Regionals: roaring crowds, heavy lifts, and…ring muscle ups.
The ring muscle-up. My nemesis. The most challenging skill in all of CrossFit for me. It was an impossible skill for me on the day when I verbalized my dream to Coach Jamie, and every day since then, it had eluded me.
Since stating my goal out loud that warm, late-summer night, two years had passed. In that time, I’d become stronger and more fit. I’d competed in a few local competitions. I’d learned all the lifts and had practiced my running sprints. I’d surrounded myself with like-minded people who had become my closest friends- we trained by day and hung out in the evenings. We talked about the CrossFit Games athletes we admired so much. We had push-up contests. We ate our veggies.
“You’ll have to work very hard. Harder than you’ve ever worked before. It will be tough. It’ll hurt. You might fail a thousand times before you make it. Others will beat you in competition. But I can assure you, if you keep your head in the game and train harder than you think you can, the reward will be sweet in the end.”
I had held steadfast to my goal; my dream. I still had my sights set on one thing: Regionals. But there was a major hole in my skill set- the ring muscle-up.
I heard Jamie’s voice in my head daily: You’ll have to work very hard. Harder than you’ve ever worked before. It will be tough. It’ll hurt. And I had worked hard. Harder than I had ever worked before. I had built strength in my upper body, and I’d collaborated with every possible coach at my gym hoping each one would have some new gem of advice for me, which would cause something to click. I had watched every YouTube tutorial available. I’d visualized myself doing successful muscle-ups. I’d attempted- and failed- a thousand times. No, ten thousand times.
After two full years of trial and error, I had begun to believe that the muscle up was something that I’d just never be able to do. And without this skill in my repertoire, Regionals would be out of the question for me.
Death. By. Muscle-Ups.
It was a chilly Saturday in December. Saturdays- my favorite day of the week- were for the Competition Team to come together and practice. Our coach had announced that we would be doing a challenge that day called “Partner Death by Muscle Ups.”
This meant that everyone had to partner up, and when it was your turn, you had to switch off doing muscle ups with your partner until someone couldn’t do any more and failed a rep. Then, whoever won between the partners would go on to the next round with someone from another winning partnership. This would go on until the last partner won in the final round.
Death. By. Muscle-ups.
Nice name for a workout, I thought. Anddddd…Looks like I will just be a spectator today, I said to myself. I was the only member of our competition team who had not yet been granted access into the “Muscle-Up Club.” I had been knocking on the door for years, but it had never opened. I wanted in more than anything. So much so that I would think about it first thing in the morning when I woke up. It was the last thing to cross my mind before I’d fall asleep at night (oftentimes dreaming of myself flying through the air, performing perfect muscle ups in slow motion).
Ugh. Why? Why muscle-ups, and why today? I complained in my head. I didn’t ask anyone if they’d want to partner with me because I knew I’d only drag them down, so I stood aside.
Ugh. Why? Why muscle-ups, and why today? I complained in my head. I didn’t ask anyone if they’d want to partner with me because I knew I’d only drag them down, so I stood aside. I watched as the challenge began. Girls, guys, all my teammates hopped up on the rings, swung like beautiful golden pendulums, and pulled themselves up and over the rings again and again until everyone had made their way through to their last rep.
Then it was my turn to hop up. I looked at my teammates’ faces, all of whom had been rooting for me over the years, silently urging me on. Come on, Britt, you can do this. I saw it in their eyes. Even Jamie said it out loud: “You can do this, Britt!” Even though I knew it would be a pointless attempt, maybe they believed in me. If they did, I’d try. At least for them.
Discouraged, and having lost faith in my training, my hard work, and my dream to compete at Regionals one day, I jumped up to the rings and began to swing. Front swing, backswing, pull. Expecting to be hanging from below the rings like usual, I opened my eyes. But when I looked around, I saw the gym from a different view- a higher vantage point than before. And the screams!!!!! From all directions below me, they came roaring in, rushing in, screaming, jumping, cheering!!! Vanessa! Maria! Whitney! Plus all the guys…they hollered and jumped and waited for me to hop down from the rings so they could bear hug me to the ground.
From up high, I pressed my arms out straight, completing the movement, and scissor kicked my feet in the air (a victory dance). At that moment, I looked up to the heavens and let out a “whooooooooooo hahahhahaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!” I was flying!!! I was high in the sky! I had done the impossible. My first ring muscle-up. The Muscle-Up Club had just obtained its newest member. I never wanted to come down.
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As I dropped to my feet, my teammates rushed in, wrapping their arms around me, jumping altogether in a circular group appearing something like a ceremonial tribal dance. Each one of their faces passed me, around and around in that circle. A tightly knit group. My team. It was a celebration a long time in the making.
“I just did my first muscle up!!” I belted out loud. Wow, what a feeling. Just outside the group, a proud coach stood tall with his arms crossed valiantly across his chest. Jamie. I knew what he was thinking. It was as if I could read his mind. He smiled at me, and it took me back in time to that September evening before dropping him off at his doorstep.
After two full years… 24 months… endless afternoons of sweat and toil and tears at the gym, the hard work had paid off. As I thought back to all of those training days, I realized it then, in that moment: Nothing worth having comes easy. I had heard it before, but now I had lived it. I had persisted through hundreds of days of hard work with no reward. But on that day, I experienced the sweetness of it all. I smiled as I gathered my gym bag and tightened my ponytail. I was heading out of the gym to continue on with my Saturday. Outside the gym, life continued on as normal, but my monumental accomplishment was something out of the ordinary for me.
I knew that I had hundreds of difficult, challenging days still to come on my road to becoming a Regionals team competitor. The hard work begins again tomorrow, I thought. Today, I’ll celebrate all the dedication and sacrifice I’ve put in up until now. I’m thankful for every single second of it.