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I love competitions, any kind of competition, really. I am particularly drawn to amateur physical competitions that pit man versus man or man versus himself. Organized team sports, especially professional ones, don’t really do it for me. While the level of pure physical talent found in professional athletes is so far beyond that of the rest of us normal humans that we can’t truly grasp how freakishly different they are, the culture found in most professional sports organizations ruin it for me. I think I’d get more honesty from an Iranian nuclear facility inspection and a lunch date with Hillary Clinton. That culture filters down to the players. LeBron James being carried off the court because of cramps? Emmanuel Sanders lying on the sideline and unable to move due to a mysterious non-existent injury? Paul George carried off the court with a calf strain? How about the entirety of European Football and American Soccer? And of course who can overlook the MLB homerun record? For me to enjoy a sporting event there has to be a component that allows for the individual competitors to go to a place, physically and mentally, that they hadn’t been before. Between the culture found in today’s sports organizations and the increasingly intrusive rules and equipment, professional team sports simply are no longer the place to see humans achieve what was once thought to be impossible.

On the other hand, put together a group of like minded mom’s, dad’s, brothers, sisters, college students, teachers, fireman, cops, accountants, surgeons, mechanics, engineers, electricians, and sales reps, give them a mission and a gym full of iron and one will see the kind of sheer mental will, inconceivable physical effort and achievement for which I thirst. Frankly, it is what keeps me from going off the deep end.

Not surprisingly it started with my time in the United States Marine Corps. There were many reasons for joining the Corps. The opportunity for adventure, the chance to lead, my family’s patriotism. I had a noise deep down inside me that I just couldn’t quiet. As a young boy that noise led to some chaos in my life and that of my parents. With maturity came, if not less chaos, the realization that change was needed, though I was unsure of the conduit. After reading a book, Iron John, by Robert Bly, I was even more certain that I needed to make something drastic happen. I was in an art class at Buffalo State and our professor (with whom I am still close) had us watch the movie Legends of the fall. The narrator in the story, an old Indian named One Stab, spoke of “the bear talking” inside of the main character. He contended that the bear was the cause of his irreverent behavior and that until the bear slept, the behavior would continue. The main character went exploring and hunting though out Africa and the South Pacific for 7 years in order to put the bear to sleep. I was inspired to do the same and joined the Corps. I was hoping that in addition to satisfying my thirst for adventure and having the opportunity to lead, my “bear” would take a long slumber.

Service in the Corps did help to keep the bear inside sleeping. Anytime it would start to stir it seemed a deployment, thankfully, was looming in the near future. I would deploy and the bear would again be able to sleep, for a while. Jenny, if not by the calendar then certainly by my behavior, could tell when it was time for a deployment. The restlessness, the agitation, the itch that just couldn’t get scratched, the constant hunger for something that I couldn’t put my finger on but knew I would find as soon as I had boots on the ground in some far away land. She knew when it was time to send me on my way and let my bear rage for a while.

Marines are ready for everything and can do anything. It is what makes us who we are. It becomes addictive, being in a constant state of readiness. The powerfully alluring sensation of being able to take on anything at anytime is intoxicating. In the Corps that’s what I did. I stayed ready and worked day in and day out to keep my Marines ready. (In 2003 Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, started tossing around the phrase, “be ready for the unknown and the unknowable.” Gregg was about 228 years late to the party. The Corps has been killing the unknown and the unknowable since 1775.)

On my final deployment, for 365 days I lived my life 1 day at a time, sometimes hours or minutes at a time. My sole purpose in life was to be ready. I had to be one step ahead of the “unknown and the unknowable”. I was damn good at it. I immersed myself in constant preparation. My life and the lives of my Marines depended on my absolute commitment to being able to command the battlefield and my total refusal to accept the notion that I was condemned to merely react to it. I knew my enemy better than they knew themselves. I’d study the maps, brief the plan, practice contingencies, conduct countless rehearsals, execute the mission, and do it all over again day after day. It wasn’t arrogance; I was good at my job. I loved it. I lived for preparing my Marines and leading them. I wore the mantle of readiness with the best of them. I was addicted to it. Addicted not as much to the execution of the mission as to the entire process. The anticipation of receiving the new mission. The dread and fear that crept in when learning of it. Enduring the physical and mental toil of making preparations. The indescribable high from all the adrenaline, testosterone, and endorphins that course through the veins as bullets are flying and the cacophoney of steel rains all around. The terror and madness when, in an instant, the world turns upside down and just as quickly becomes deathly still. Rejoicing in the heartrending adulation, and backslapping, and hugging, and high-fiving at mission’s end. TIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIME!!!!!!

Does that remind anyone of a little pre-WOD/post WOD or pre-competition/post-competition emotion?

“One loves one’s fellow man so much more when one is bent on killing him.”

Julian Grenfell said that. He was a British soldier in WWI who wrote, “Into Battle”, one of the most popular poems written during that era. Often labeled a psychopath by today’s weak, guilt-ridden, brow beaten males and ultra liberal feminist code-pinkers that make up the bulk of today’s college professors, Julian was anything but. He was simply being truthful by stating what those that sit behind a desk in judgment will never understand.

I read Julian’s statement before I deployed and I didn’t understand what he meant. I understood by the time I came home. For every horror in battle there is an act of kindness. For every travesty there is a hero. For every minute of despair there is a moment of hope. One sees the very worst in humanity, and because of that one is able to recognize the very best in those with whom they choose to surround themselves. Day in and day out one will witness ordinary men and women choosing to do extraordinary things because of the circumstances in which they find themselves. I don’t believe that heroes are born of anything other than the circumstances they find themselves in and the choices they make. Everyday for a year I was surrounded by heroes. They were absolute giants among men that showed me the best that humankind offered. I couldn’t help but love all of humanity, more, for being at war. It’s not unlike the emotions one feels for one’s fellow competitors after grueling daylong event. Shared suffering breeds camaraderie – period.

The last deployment to Iraq was the toughest from which to come down. Returning home after a year of being balanced precariously on the life’s razor edge left me a raging maniac. I came home and didn’t know how to wake up and not get ready for something. I found myself looking for giants in a sea of midgets and expecting something exceptional from those conditioned to do “just enough”. Jenny told me my bear was awake and that I needed to find a way to get it back to sleep. She encouraged me to get back into the ring. I did (quite successfully) and that lead me to fitness competitions like our very own WOD WAR IV, the WNY Summer Classic thrown by CrossFit 716, CrossFit Buffalo’s Mo-vember throw down, and R.A.W. Training’s Fall Brawl.

For the first time since I laid down my weapon and unlaced my boots I had a purpose. I was in receipt of a mission. There was something real for which I could ready myself and for which I could train those around me. I had a goal towards which I could journey and assist others along theirs.

Preparing for and participating in these fitness competitions keeps my bear sleeping peacefully. I’m afforded the opportunity to watch ordinary folks, folks just like me, gain extraordinary confidence. Together, we celebrate the small victories and learn from the annoying defeats endured along the way. We bleed, we suffer, we heal, we get stronger, and we get ready…together. We become giants and learn to expect more and more of ourselves. Our standards continue to be elevated. Good enough is no longer in our vernacular and settling is now a thing of the past. Barriers are cleaved, limits are tested, and new heights are gained. Our minds are strengthened, our bodies are hardened, our skills are honed, and our killer instincts sharpened. All of this happens in an atmosphere where kindness is exchanged rather than bullets, support is underfoot rather than IEDs, and mutual respect and camaraderie abound rather than suicide vest-wearing jackholes. I get to observe regular folks, folks just like me, rise up and shine because of the circumstances in which they find themselves and the choices they make.

My bear is waking up. Surgery went well and my shoulder is healing. I’m growing restless and my bear is starting to rage. I’m doing the Mo-vember throw down this November.

What will you do when your bear awakens? Are you going to ignore it? Will you let it rage unimpeded and bring chaos and stress into your life? Are you going to let your fear win and try and satisfy the bear with junk food, alcohol, fancy electronics, a new car, working late, or any other number of crap fixes that never work? Your bear is awake. How are you going to get it to sleep?


Semper Fi, Coach Robby

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