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Hero WODs & The Politics Of Our Gym

The first Friday of every month means Hero WODs and champagne at Rocket. Those aren’t the only Hero WODs we do, but it’s definitely a special day for us. And after 5 years or so of programming, we got a little bored, and maybe a little jaded, about them. So we switched it up, and, as always, we got a response.

Backing up, there is a long tradition in CrossFit of writing Hero WODs to honor those killed in the line of duty. It’s a tradition that we also honor, and I have posted more profiles of fallen soldiers than I care to think about. Because I hate the fact that we keep sending our young across the planet to die in wars that are so often unjust and so often motivated by greed. (And then sent home, and too often neglected until they decay on our streets…..) That said, honoring the individuals that sacrifice their lives for our country is not something that is hard for me. I try to honor them every chance I get. I have always liked the Hero WODs, and I still do. 

But, after 5 years of scrolling through the lists of WODs, I felt like we’d done most of them that we can do, to death. We have a small gym, so when you take into account the constraints of class size, equipment, realistic skill level of athletes, time etc…..  I just got bored.

I will admit, however, that there’s more too it than that. Most of the hero WODs are named after white men. And focusing only on dead soldiers, to me, focused only on that one archetype of “hero.” And there are so many other ways to be a hero. So we started writing other ones. We started writing them to honor people in history who weren’t white men. And….. we started writing Superhero WODs after imaginary superheros. Black Panther. Jessica Jones. Luke Cage.

It was when I posted the Luke Cage WOD today that I got an email from a member who it is no stretch to say I LOVE and would walk to the ends of the earth for. They expressed concern that the Hero WODs are intended to honor fallen heroes and that they always felt an extra something when they completed one. I told them that I completely get it, and I agree. But there are many who feel otherwise. Who feel, as I do, that there are so many ways to be a hero, that in honoring just this one archetype, most often a white man, we are feeding a narrow paradigm that isn’t inclusive. And isn’t always useful.

In fact, this is what I posted on our Web site when I posted the WOD:

Yes, this is a made-up hero WOD for a made-up superhero. I am more than a little in love with the Marvel Comics “street level superheroes.” These aren’t folks with fancy gadgets and gizmos, they’re regular folks who lived normal lives, went through hell and then found superpowers as a result. They still walk amongst us, wildly imperfect, but doing their best to use their past and their powers to make the world a better place.  I love them for the metaphor. Since we did Jessica Jones last month, it seemed only fitting to do Like Cage this month.

Indeed, the metaphors are, perhaps, what I love most about what we do in our gym. The hard work, the community, the fear, the empowerment. Those are all the things that I want people to take outside of the gym with them. It’s fantastic when you get a big PR, but what’s even better is that you did it with a community of people supporting you. And that community, at least at Rocket, is usually made up of people who you may never have connected with otherwise. People who are “other” from you.

But when we come together with all those “others” and work together, we open ourselves up in ways that we don’t expect. I have always been quick to use the loving community of our gym to discuss social issues that may otherwise be too scary in the real world, with people we don’t know, and patterns we don’t understand.

We’ve discussed the realities of being transgender in our gym (and it is one of the things that resulted in us eliminating Leader Boards, because they were not reflective and inclusive of our community.) When we put up (admittedly too many) Black Lives Matters signs in our windows, we had conversations about why they didn’t, and shouldn’t say “All Lives Matter.” We’ve had fundraisers for the kink community, celebrated marriage equality…..  In the 5 years we’ve been open, we’ve opened our community to conversations that are hard. And necessary.

It’s not because we are necessarily super political people, (even though we are.) It’s because we know that when you create a safe place for people to be who they are, ask what they don’t understand and explore other perspectives, you can change the world. And when you have been sweating and swearing and facing fears and challenges together, that space becomes one filled with trust, whether you’re aware of it or not.

When that member sent me an email this morning, I was so so so so touched. Not because of the content per se, but because they knew they could say it. That their perspective would be both safe and valued, even if it wasn’t agreed with 100%. THAT is the thing that can save the world.

THAT. The ability to share what you’re thinking and feeling with someone who might feel differently, and have all parties respond with open hearts and minds.

I understand their perspective completely. And, as I told them, we will honor all kinds of heroes. Fallen soldiers are absolutely on that list. I will never, ever, take away from their hero status. But we will also always celebrate all the other heroes too. Because in showing as many examples as possible of what it means to be a hero, we can hopefully provide an example for everyone. One of those things will resonate for someone, and illuminate a path they too can follow.

As for imaginary heroes? I would argue that entire religions – and with them cultures – are built on those. That in metaphor and parable we can illustrate both ideas and ideals.

More than that, we can illustrate ideas and ideals in our sweaty little gym. We do, every day, when we slog through, encourage each other and accomplish things we didn’t think possible. Together.

I think the next Hero WOD I write might be to the people in our gym. The ones who speak their mind, challenge themselves, let their freak flags fly and work together no matter what.

May you always speak your mind. May you always be safe with us. May you be as uniquely you as possible.

Because whether you know it or not, simply being the best version of you that you can is making the world a better place, and setting an example for those who witness you.


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