“Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it.” – Charles Bukowski
I walked to the top of the only hill in the river valley… at the peak I turned towards the river and peered into the darkness, into the city. I could feel the grit in my teeth, the dust swept across my face, the warm air moving around my body. I slowly took off my helmet, reaching up with one hand to undo the chin strap while my other laid by my side, holding my rifle. Over me was a purely clear night sky… a million stars I could never see back home because of the city lights. I slowly…. deliberately… dropped my helmet to the ground – what a relief, that chunk of Kevlar off of my neck and head. As my spine in my neck began to decompress, I swayed my head purposefully from side to side, hearing my neck crack and feeling my muscles stretch. I stood there and took in what was unfolding in front of me… a dark, Arabian city next to the Euphrates river… all power was out in the town, and in the distance from where we just left, was a single, tower high inferno. I took a deep breadth and the scent of the flame crept into my nose, and a feeling of isolation swept over my body….
At some point in the last year I assessed what it is I currently want out of athletics. I’ve been an athlete for the majority of my life, in one sport or another. After a certain life-path, and some injuries, I ended up in the CrossFit arena. It helped to feed that competitive nature and extreme training environment that I was so accustomed to throughout my life. I took to it quickly, and well, for the most part. I was, however, always drawn back to the barbell. The more and more I came across it in open gym training or in the workouts… it felt more comfortable to me, more like home.
The trouble was knowing what I had to do to make that step, to pursue what I was falling in love with… the barbell. I wanted to be around it more, to train it more. For me, touching the barbell became an extension of myself and a medium for self development. The more I honed my skills with it, the more I learned about myself… and the barbell started to become something… alive. In order for me to pursue my love, I had to isolate myself. I wanted to devote myself to it entirely, in an effort to see where this path could take us. This meant pursuing the programming for it (Flight, Barbell Shrugged), devoting my efforts to it, or things pertaining to it… and effectively isolating myself from the rest of the community.
That’s a scary thought for some. For a lot of us, we thrive on the community in CrossFit… it is a lot of the reason we left the big “globo gyms.” Outside of the fact that the fitness is more functional, the community keeps you moving, and keeps you accountable. So, I knew that potentially I could lose that. I thought about this for a long time and started to, and have, come to a conclusion:
At a certain point as an athlete, pure randomization will only take you so far… you have to attack your weaknesses, or specialize in your strengths… and really a measure of both. To me, there is beauty in specialization. The discipline it takes to devote yourself to the pursuit of mastery of one trade, it is frightening… because it means you will have to pay attention to yourself and make sacrifices. Sacrifice is the ultimate form of love – the act of giving up parts of yourself to pursue a symbiotic relationship (the good kind, science nerds). A very dear… uh, “friend” of mine, who is a coach, compared Weightlifting to Poker. She said that Poker, like Weightlifting, can initially be taught fairly quickly (without mastery, of course), to the extent that once the rules are taught, a few dry runs performed, one can step into a “game” very easily and quickly. However, the more you play, you realize how complex and difficult it can be to become good, or great at it. It’s no longer just about grabbing some chips and trying your luck… the best are infinitely more depthful in their approach to the table. The pursuit of mastery, of anything, can be enough to drive you mad, but to me that is beautiful. Beautiful in that you choose to pour yourself into something, pursue all its endless twists and turns, attempt to master it, and survive… come out on top, stronger, and better than you ever were before, or ever could be without sacrifice and devotion.
…. As I stood on that hill peak, staring, and losing myself into the scene for what seemed like an hour… I started to remember what it was like before the Marine Corps, before the war. Just a boy then, I would fantasize about being a warrior. When I would day dream about being a Marine, about becoming a warrior, fantasizing about the romanticism of it all. Scared to take the initial steps, the sacrifice of my freedoms, my comfort, myself, in order to pursue a dream. It meant that I’d leave my life, my family, my friends, behind and pursue mastery of myself… and of the warrior culture. Bootcamp is intimidating, war terrifying, and an at least 4-year contract, that may include my life, is imposing at the very least. I just had to close my eyes and take the steps. The rest of my life began when my foot first left the bus and landed on the yellow footprints… staring at a door in the darkness of night that said, “Through These Portals Pass Prospects For America’s Finest Fighting Force United States Marines.” I was absolutely terrified, and in shock. Now, as I watched the fire burn in the distance, after having engaged our enemy successfully, I realized what I had become: that warrior. It was a lonely road, and as I stood alone in the night at that moment, my platoon behind me “safe” after our successful egress, I knew I had achieved my goal. I had left my comfort as a boy, left my family, my friends back home, my luxuries in America, ended romantic relationships or been left myself as I was always absent… sacrificed my very innocence, to become a master of the battle field.
Now I am in that position again. I have left my community of CrossFit and isolated myself to the platform. If I can stay the course, summon the strength to pursue another form of mastery, the gifts will once again present themselves in a moment of clarity. I watch the other members workout together, laugh, talk, congratulate each other… while I am leashed to the platform. A lot of the time I am there by myself in the morning, with the darkness outside and the last morning class leaving for the rest of their day…. I must maintain the strength to stay the course. The dedication will pay off, and in this case fortune comes to the brave, and to those willing to take a path less traveled. Faith.