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Why EZ Muhammad Almost Quit CrossFit and the Gut Check That Brought Him Back

January 16, 2024 by
Photo Credit: instagram.com/projectonyxdsm/
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As everyone leaves Miami and the TYR WZA hangover takes hold, two-time CrossFit Games qualifier Elijah “EZ” Muhammad is already back in the snow-covered Midwest, focused on what is next.

Muhammad co-founded Project Onyx, a nonprofit that seeks to serve Black youth and bring them into CrossFit. The organization teaches the kids about health and wellness and gives them spaces and opportunities to work out and blow off steam.

  • Muhammad: “It helps them get an understanding of the physical capacity of health and wellness and the basics of it. But it also provides a space for them to be safe and have fun.”

The main impetus behind Project Onyx was that there were few Black athletes in the CrossFit space at the time.

  • Muhammad: “The biggest thing was to be the representation that I wanted to see. There are not many Black athletes when I teach a seminar. I am the only Black person in the space. And so it was like, how can I be the representation for young kids and youth to want to do or get involved in health and wellness?”
  • “And so Project Onyx was how I can be that representation for my community,” he concluded.

Project Onyx has now merged with Forging Youth Resilience (FYR), and it is a perfect marriage.

  • Muhammad describes the partnership: “Their ideology and ideas of health, wellness, and fitness aligned with ours, and so after talking with them, I knew if I came on board with Forging Youth Resilience, I could have a bigger outreach.”
  • “I got attached to Project Onyx to the point where I didn’t know if I wanted to make it bigger. I didn’t want anyone to ruin or change it; I wanted it to be exactly what I created. When I saw that FYR was doing the same thing in their space with the youth, giving them places to vent, engaging with them outside of just health and wellness and fitness, investing in them, and teaching them about their worth, I knew this aligned. And so I was like, ‘What if I just partnered with y’all, and we turn Project Onyx into an FYR chapter?’”

FYR was all for it, and Muhammad came on staff. They have multiple chapters nationwide, and Muhammad is ecstatic to expand his reach and message and be the best representation he can be.

But it wasn’t always that easy. 

Not too long ago, Muhammad thought he was done with CrossFit. He was knocking on the door of the Master’s division.

  • Muhammad: “It was a hybrid of things that happened. I was picking up on my seminars and personalized programming and coaching Mal O’Brien in the beginning stages of her career.”
  • “I was just kind of like, ‘Man, I don’t know if I want to continue to compete.’ But of course, you know, you sign up for the Open anyway.”

The next stage came for Muhammad, and he went with the flow, all while questioning himself what the next move competitively for him was going to be. He had started the nonprofit and realized that he might have transitioned into another stage of his life.

He still wanted to compete and train, but he was uncertain if he had the energy and drive left to do so. The year he started Project Onyx, Muhammad fell short of qualifying for the Games and was close to becoming the age of a Masters athlete. 

And then he got hurt.

  • Muhammad: “I blew my back out. I was taking a nail out of a piece of wood with a hammer, and I just crumbled to the ground. I was in horrible pain.”

Muhammad had been lucky and never seriously hurt in CrossFit, and while he started rehabbing his back, his mind began to wander.

  • “I thought maybe I’m just done. Maybe I just need to retire and call it.”

He was at the gym, talking with one of his kids while everyone was hanging out and training. Everyone was chatting, and someone asked Muhammad if he would ever return to the Games.

  • Muhammad: “I told them I had wanted to make a third trip, but honestly, I think I’m just going to call it. Even if I don’t make the third trip, I still got what I needed. I told them I think I’m done. I don’t know if I have the ‘want to’ anymore.”
  • “And my kid goes, ‘If you quit, who do we look up to?’”

The rest of the kids jumped in.

Muhammad remembers what they said:

  • “They said you’re the only one that stands up for us. You’re the only one that speaks up for us when the time is needed. You’re the only one in the space who protects us and makes sure we’re straight.”

It hit Muhammad hard. He sat silently and took time that day to re-evaluate his statement.

  • Muhammad: “I told myself, there is no quit. I’m going to continue to train and sign up for the Open, and I’m going to continue to pursue it. And if I don’t get it, that’s okay. If I don’t get back to the CrossFit Games, that’s okay. It’s the effort that I’m going to continue to put forth that matters.”
  • “I don’t have to qualify for the Games to put forth the effort to qualify for the Games. What I need to do is make sure that I’m showing face for the people that are coming into the space that look like me; showing face for those that need some inspiration, or need a little bit of uplifting or support.”
  • “And more importantly, for the kids, I value their friendship, and I value and love them. I’m going to stay around not only for myself but for everyone else who may need EZ around.”

Muhammad laughed: “Someone commented on my Instagram post the other day, saying we need more EZ.”

And we do, EZ. We do.

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