The sound of chatter and kids running around out back can be heard over the soft clicking of keyboard keys, as I type out a term paper.
Music drifts into the room, interspersed with occasional banging and yelling and laughter. There is a tempo, a pulse of energy and constant movement throughout the building that can be felt low and steady in one’s bones. More subtle is the distant but definite sense of love, the kind that hides just out of reach or sight between and amongst families. But this is no ordinary family.
A gym is not exactly the first place most people imagine for a family reunion.
Running and lifting weights and sweating in the oppressive sauna of Florida summers are not typical family bonding activities, but for so many people at my gym, this is where their family lives.
It’s easy to explain the logistics of why CrossFit “works,” how the intensity and number of calories burned and muscles gained can help people lose weight and be healthier and get into better shape. But those statistics don’t mean anything to someone who is lost or lonely or just trying to be a better person—someone who is not interested in competing or looking like an elite athlete, but just wants to improve their lifestyle. Yet those someone’s make up a large percentage of a gym’s members. We show up every day because of the people—not for the burn in our quads or to get the perfect beach body or to fit into a smaller size, although those are typical side effects. We show up because CrossFit gyms are communities that become family for anyone who needs them.
Family means more than shared genes or blood. We start our lives as part of a family, but as we get older, we choose our own families. Our friends, or coworkers, or teammates, or coaches are the people we turn to when major life decisions need to be made, or when we’re sitting on the side of the road with a flat tire. Our families are the people who listen when we really need to talk, or who sit with us in silence when their presence is all that matters.
It might seem strange to some to think about such feelings of comfort and love paired with the sometimes painful, challenging, rigorous atmosphere of a CrossFit gym, but without them, it would just be another gym. We are just as close and loving and competitive and somewhat dysfunctional as any modern family.
Every year, for as long as I can remember, I’ve shared Thanksgiving with my mom, dad, two brothers, another mom, dad and three kids. Thanksgiving seems to act as a kind of thermometer for how the year is going for all of us. We have a tradition where we go around the table and express those things for which we are most grateful that year. Sometimes, this becomes a proud sharing of accomplishments, sometimes hilarious lists of random items, and sometimes an extended family sob session. I didn’t realize until I was about seven years old that I was not related by blood to half the people in the room. Knowing we weren’t actually related did not change anything. They were and are still my family in the truest sense of the word. Whenever I walk into my gym, I feel the same familiarity and comfort of a Thanksgiving dinner. Safe and happy, with the support to be and better myself.
Families can be two people, or 200 and still share the same deeply rooted sense of connection, of unconditional there-ness, of caring without knowing why or how. We may not know everyone in our extended families, but when a wedding or a reunion comes around, it’s impossible not to feel the relationship between you and everyone around you. The same thing happens at CrossFit. We are not all best friends, we may not know each person individually, but when someone is struggling through a workout, we are all there to cheer them through to the end.
When someone misses a lift or loses a competition, there are always shoulders to lean on, and encouragement all around. Whether someone had a bad day at work, a tragedy at home or a success story to share, we are all a part of it. When a member of our community needs help, we rise to the occasion, we are there for them, no matter what, because they are our family.
The success of each individual member of a CrossFit gym is directly correlated with the commitment and connection of the whole community. Any successful workout or self-improvement story starts with support. In CrossFit, we take that support as seriously as we take our squats. We are there for each other all day, every day, in the gym or out of it. We push each other to be better as we grow stronger together because we are a family, and that is what we do.
Author: Gabriella Sweezey
Photo: Nathan Larkin/Flickr
Editors: Caitlin Oriel; Yoli Ramazzina