Theft of the Blog: How CrossFit saved my life

This Theft of the Blog (details here) contribution comes from reader Wayne Glass.

On a cool November day in the frozen tundra that is Iowa, my life changed forever. Why, you ask? Because one of my best friends, Devin Hall, brought me to my first…[wait for it] CrossFit class. Hello, Beautiful People! My name is Wayne Glass. I use He / Him / His pronouns and we are here today to chat about gender expression, mental health, and how these are interwoven within my CrossFit journey!

As we move through our time together, additional items to keep in mind are that 1) I identify as a relatively effeminate Queer man, 2) My mental health has ebbed-and-flowed for roughly 15 years, and 3) I struggled with an eating disorder for 10 years.

Now that we have established additional context, I think it is important we name some ‘Ground Rules.’ How ‘Student Affairs’ of me [hah]. Our first ‘Ground Rule’ is… to talk about CrossFit… Our second ‘Ground Rule’ is [you guessed it] to talk about CrossFit. Thus, unlike Fight Club, my ultimate goal is to name CrossFit as many times as I can. Kidding. But it will be used as a centerpiece.

So…you might be thinking to yourself, “What is CrossFit?” Oh my gosh, I thought you would never ask! CrossFit is a high-intensity fitness program incorporating elements from several sports (e.g., Gymnastics and Olympic Lifting) and varying types of exercises (e.g., Burpees, Kettlebell Swings, and Barbell work). Therefore, each workout, besides those that are ‘Benchmarked’ is different and challenging in its own right.

CrossFit-ers come into each class, go through a warm-up, an explanation of movements involved in the workout, and the complete the workout together (AKA, struggle). The key emphasis here is the word ‘together’… in community.

Something that I have come to learn over the years is that my strongest relationships have been established through collective struggle. Togetherness in moments of hardship where we have, quite literally, banded together to make it through. This very much applies to my CrossFit journey and the impact it has had on the way I move and groove through the community as an effeminate, gay man, as well as how much of a staple it has become for my mental health.

Prior to discovering CrossFit, I was in the second-to-last-lap of my Master’s program and was absolutely crumbling. These feelings came out of nowhere. My mental health was deteriorating, I was not finding fulfillment in school or work, and my partner at the time was only able to do so much. Everything, for a lack of better words, sucked and I was giving up.

This was at the same time that CrossFit came into my life. I suppose everything happens for a reason. Do not get me wrong, I also navigated 12 weeks of counseling and met with a Dietician to assist with managing a relapse I was having with an eating disorder.

My commitment to CrossFit is something that I would have NEVER imagined. How can an effeminate gay boy ever workout or connect with a predominantly hyper-masculine group of athletes? I still think about this even after doing CrossFit for 2-½ years.

I have found that I slowly “tested the waters” on how flamboyant or “over-the-top” I could be when I first started doing CrossFit. I initially came into the community more reserved in order to feel things out. Imagine Wayne. Reserved. Hah! However, as I became more comfortable with what I was doing and the people I was interacting with, I found that CrossFit is not, from my lens, a community that needs to subscribe to one “ideal” gender-expression.

Since moving to a Queer-affirming city, I feel as if I can unapologetically be myself; more so than before. I now have coaches and fellow CrossFit-ers that openly identify as Queer. Thus, affirming that Queer-identified CrossFit athletes DO exist.

All of this to be said, I have learned so much myself as a person; my mental capacity when it comes to pushing through tough moments in life (represented in a tough workout).

I have learned about how resilient I have become in moments of trials and tribulations (represented in not being able to do a movement the first or 50th time I try).

I have found a sense of purpose with a group of individuals who share same or similar lived-experiences as myself; particular in aspects of physical interests and navigating issues with body image and mental wellness,

I have learned that my body is a machine capable of doing so many things that are necessary (and…sometimes unnecessary) to navigate daily life. Things that require adequate and appropriate nutrition and calorie consumption. Things empower and support body positivity. Things that have by-and-large silenced my Eating Disorder’s voice.

I have learned that in order for me to be an effective an effective son, brother, friend; an effective student affairs professional; an effective athlete; an effective human being in society, I need to spend less mental energy focusing on what society ‘THINKs’ I should be and more mental energy focusing on what I ‘THINK’ I should be.

So…How has CrossFit saved my life? That sounds pretty drastic, right? CrossFit has empowered me to GENUINELY love me for me. CrossFit has encouraged me to use my body the way that it was meant to be used: As a strengthened tool to navigate the uncertainties of life.

CrossFit has encouraged me to gain 20 pounds of muscle in order to pick up heavy things (and put them down). A feat I would have NEVER imagined would give me so much personal fulfillment and physical relief.

As an over-the-top, flamboyant Queer man, with a chosen family in the LGBTQ+ Community, CrossFit has given me ANOTHER chosen family when my biological one could not or would not physically, emotionally, or spiritually be there for me.

On a cool November day in the frozen tundra that is Iowa, my CrossFit journey began. A journey met with frustrations, hardships, and moments of celebration. A journey filled with friendships, community, and calluses. A journey with a beginning but no middle or end. A journey that ‘Saved My Life.’

Yours in Pride,

Wayne M. Glass, M.Ed.