Picking a path
After my last figure competition, I felt completely lost. My entire life revolved around show prep, and when the show was over I experienced a dramatic disconnect with my identity. I had grown to hate bodybuilding. I didn’t want to do fasted cardio on the StairMaster, touch another machine, eat plain fish or drink coffee with 17 Splendas anymore. I was bored of the bland diet and even more so of the training method. I had gained a significant amount of weight from my post-show rebound eating habits, water bloat, and metabolic damage; the constant reminder from all the mirrors in the globo-gym was overwhelming.
At the time, a friend of mine was doing CrossFit and absolutely loved it. While I always poked fun at him and the sport as whole (because I clearly knew what I was talking about…), my curiosity and desperation led me to secretly drop into a beginner class at a local CrossFit gym. I was immediately hooked. The people were nice, the workout kicked my ass, I had so much to learn about the sport and the culture, and above all, it was challenging. I signed-up the same day and dove head first into the world of functional fitness.
Now fast forward about 18-months to today. Since then, I’ve changed gyms once (you can read about that here), got certified to coach, have a couple local CrossFit competitions under my belt and have been really committed to the goal of earning a spot to compete on a team at Regionals.
In this same year and a half span, I’ve also done four Olympic Weightlifting meets. These are local competitions where you show up in a singlet, weigh-in, and get six attempts at two different lifts in front of a few judges and a small crowd.
As a little background: weightlifting is a component of CrossFit, but is a separate sport entirely. CrossFit uses weightlifting movements and trains the modality, but doesn’t adhere to the same standards or train it in volume by the same capacity that the singular sport does. Weightlifting is an olympic sport founded in the early 1900’s which measures the athlete’s best successful lift in snatch and clean & jerk, not to be confused with powerlifting — which tests max deadlift, bench and back squat. CrossFit was branded in 2000, and uses weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics and interval training, amongst many other things, to execute constantly varied high-intensity exercise.
I just really liked weightlifting from the get-go. I was inspired by big names in the sport with bold, unapologetic personalities, and the raw emotion and powerful movements they’d elicit in everyday training. I liked the idea of being strong, yet fast. Lifting heavy, very gracefully. My competitive character, along with the handful of friends I’ve made that train solely weightlifting, encouraged me to do these competitions and while going into each one rather unprepared (because I’ve been doing CrossFit), I loved the experience.
I did my last weightlifting meet a couple weeks ago, the first one I’ve participated in where I had any kind of chance at accomplishing something noteworthy. There are national meets held throughout the year, and an athlete earns their opportunity to compete at one of these bad boys by achieving a certain total (total = combined successful attempt at snatch and clean & jerk), based on their weight class, at a local meet during the qualification period. The heaviest both snatch and clean & jerk I ever made equaled the total I needed for Universities: which is essentially a national meet for college-age athletes. The day before the qualification deadline I tried to match those numbers on the platform and was unable to do so. While I actually PR’d snatch, I missed the jerk twice on my clean & jerk and thus didn’t total high enough to qualify.
It’s weird really, that this disappointment led me to re-evaluate my athletic goals. I drove 90 minutes home from that meet alone, the whole car ride repeatedly telling myself that I would come back and clean & jerk 80kg, and more, on a platform to prove to myself I am capable of greater than what I let the judges see that day. In order get better at weightlifting, like a lot better…enough so that I could compete on a national level, I would have to focus all of my energy on that sport alone. It’s incredibly difficult to become an elite CrossFit athlete and an elite weightlifter simultaneously, because the two training methods, and respective optimal nutrition protocol, contradict each other. But boy, I love CrossFit.
That brings me to this moment, sitting at my computer wondering what I’ll do at the gym this afternoon because frankly, I still haven’t picked a focus: pursuing weightlifting as a new venture, or continue on with CrossFit and my goals there. The optimist would suggest doing both, similar to how I have been, because clearly I get enjoyment from each sport. Although the realist would argue that my stubborn nature requires working toward a specific goal to feel fulfilled and successful, and therefore needs to narrow my scope to one sport.
When I step back, it’s really quite silly that I can write at such length about a seemingly small decision (and this is the edited version! My poor brain). It’s true that my athleticism won’t ever pay the bills. I won’t soon earn a trip to the CrossFit Games or medal in Olympic Weightlifting on behalf of the USA. And frankly, whatever accolades that fall directly below those huge achievements, well I probably won’t reach those either. And that’s not to be pessimistic, it’s important to be candid with yourself about what’s realistic to achieve based on the time and money you have to commit, influenced by the other things in your life. I make sacrifices all the time for these sports, such as paying for access to a gym membership or healthy food for fuel over other things, or missing time with friends/family to work out. But I won’t ever be able to quit my job to pursue them full-time, which is typical of the professional or highest level athlete.
But you know, the same way that people obsess over their dog, fantasy football, or other hobbies and pastimes, is the same way I feel about CrossFit and weightlifting. And there’s no shame in that. If I have to pick an activity to consume so much of my time, emotion and energy, well I’m glad it’s something that brings me happiness and is good for health.
That’s really what it boils down to. It’s a little stressful for me to feel like I have to pick between the two sports and dial in my training accordingly to really grow as an athlete and compete. But ultimately, I have a ton of fun when I’m doing CrossFit, AND when I’m weightlifting. And if it’s never going to be my source of income or success, well then having fun is a really important component.
Similarly, it’s crucial to distinguish the difference between who you are and what you do. I wasn’t ever “Preslie: the figure competitor” as my primary identity (even though it felt that way). I was “Preslie: the sister, friend, daughter, student and employee, who enjoyed figure competing.” Creating the person you are as an accumulation of things you practice and believe, strive to be and enjoy doing creates a well-roundedness that can’t be cultivated by identifying yourself synonymously as the sport you play.
For most areas in your life, it’s simpler to be completely committed or absolutely unaffiliated, than it is to live in that sweet spot in the middle. It’s far easier on the mind to be too terribly engulfed in something that it’s unhealthy or unsustainable, or alternatively to be so distant that you refrain from interaction with that same thing. To find and regularly do something that brings you joy, health, longevity, and meets the needs of whatever your personality desires (competitiveness, relaxation, an outlet, etc.), that is an extraordinary measure of a good hobby and true personal success.