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One thousand nine hundred and thirty one. Remember that number.

This will not take long to read. There is not much that can be said. You either get it, or you don’t.

In gyms across the country and around the world over 390,000 athletes have completed the second workout of the 2017 CrossFit Open. You may have been one of the dedicated and motivated souls that sought to revel in the camaraderie and join with fellow fitness enthusiasts to push your limits in 17.2. Lunging, crunching, and cleaning your way through 12 minutes of self-exploration. At some point in that journey we all reached the same gate; that of the bar muscle up.

There were the athletes that reached the gate and passed through without trouble popping up and over bar. As their shoulders strained against the dynamic load of their body weight the psychological burden of getting a muscle up lightened with each inch their torso traveled over bar. Amid the torn hands, burning quads, and bleeding lungs, life was good.

5 Christmases. 5 Thanksgivings. 5 anniversaries. 5 years of memories not made. Remember those numbers.

There were also the athletes that blasted through 78 reps and knocked on the gate. Try as they might, the gate didn’t open, and not for lack of trying, nor for lack of motivation. They knocked and they knocked and they knocked. With each impact of their chest upon the bar they shook the gate to its very foundations. Yet, still, it wouldn’t open. As the final seconds burned away all remaining hope for passage, the reality of their denial set in and tested their resolve. In the end mile wide grins, hearty congratulations, high fives, and enthusiastic embraces confirmed what was easily seen – they were not defeated. To the contrary, they were proud of their accomplishments. Their will to succeed was further galvanized and future training plans were being readied. ‘Next time” twinkled in their steely eyes.

So, too, were the athletes that chose to scale 17.2. With kamikaze like fury they dove into the WOD crashing through rep after rep. Another step, another hike of the knees skyward, another pull on the bar, another catch of the dumbbells on the shoulders. Again, and again, and again as the staccato rhythm of their feet couldn’t silence the sound of their lungs screaming for one more breathe. Until, finally, their 12-minute life sentence ended to a crescendo of applause and shouts and high fives and hugs.

Forty six thousand, three hundred forty four hours. Remember that number.

Finally, there were the athletes that powered their way right up to the gate with awe-inspiring fury and an intensity that burned hot like molten metal in their veins. And there they remained. Fate decided long ago, based on deeds done or not done, that the gate would remain sealed. Unlike the other athletes, the high fives they gave were not quite as high, the hugs not as tight, and the twinkle in their eye not as bright. They were handed a stinging defeat at the gate and it put them on their backs. A piece of them died. And they are letting it kill them.

Colonel Hal Kushner was an Army doctor who in 1967, after his helicopter was shot down, was captured by the North Vietnamese. He was held in captivity for nearly 5 and half years. That is 1,931 days, or 46,344 hours, or 5 Christmases, 5 Thanksgivings, and 5 anniversaries, and that is over 5 years of memories not made. He endured gun shots, and beatings, nighttime forced marches for weeks at a time, starvation, disease, the most inhumane conditions imaginable, and the senseless deaths of too many of his fellow prisoners.

I never met this man. I only read his story. The only bond I can claim to COL Kushner is that of a fraternal one shared by all those that served. But his story stayed with me. What was most impressive was COL Kushner’s refusal to let his experience define him. In the 30 plus years he lived after his return he did only 2 interviews, and spoke publically of his captivity, twice. Admittedly I can only presume, but I suspect the reason for that has something to do with a statement made to him a few months into his captivity by an English speaking Vietnamese officer. After a month of forced marches, and still suffering from a crushing injury to his face, multiple gunshot wounds, 3d degree burns and broken bones from the crash, and regularly delivered, ruthless beatings he was forced to take care of another prisoner dying of TB. After doing so for 2 days the officer came in with a tape recorder and asked COL Kushner to make a statement against the war. He said that he would rather die than speak against his country. The officer replied, wryly, “You will find that dying is very easy; living, living is the difficult thing.” That statement stayed with COL Kushner, and it stayed with me.

Quitting is easy. Crying is easy. Giving excuses is easy. Blaming is easy. Dying is easy. It takes exactly zero effort and resolve to do any of the above. COL Kushner found reasons to live. Amid the despair and suffering and in the face of what appeared to be insurmountable odds, he chose hard work and by doing so he chose life.

What does COL Kushner’s super human resolve and indomitable will have to do with us and athletes in Gyms Full of Iron around the world that are letting difficult to achieve tasks break their spirit? Everything, for he shows us the way! He reminds us that life is neither easy nor equitable and the only aspect we can control is our attitude towards it. We sure as hell can’t control the actions of others. When the cards do not play to our strengths and we find ourselves no longer in control we can do two things: live, or die. The temptation to die is strong. Excuses bring rest, self-pity brings the succor of sympathy, and anger makes for a great show. All bring death. Not a literal death, but rather the death of achievement, the death of progress, and the death of greatness. It is hard to choose life. Life brings with it only the promise of more hard work, the hot fires of accountability, and the risk of another failure. But that is precisely where we need to spend our time. Hard work, accountability, and risk are the birthing grounds of greatness. The pursuit of greatness is life.

17.3 is on the horizon. Challenges, both known and unknown outside of our gyms lay in wait. Our choice is simple: life, or death. I choose COL Kushner’s way. I choose life. What will you choose?

Semper Fi, Coach Robby


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