Thank you CrossFit Austin! -from Darlene

This is a great big THANK YOU to all of you at CrossFit Austin for your awesome support and inspiration, not just during the Games, but since the first day I joined CFA. I doubt I can tell you fully how deeply you have touched my heart, but then one of the many lessons I have learned from CrossFit was printed on a T-shirt I saw in the stadium: “Achieve Failure.” So here goes.

Most of you already know my story, so I won’t belabor it. If not, you can watch the testimonial Sleeves created, posted on the main page. Let’s just say I traded in a beat-up clunker of a body for a sporty (vintage) convertible. And surprised the hell out of myself in the process. As MG Jenny said, “If NowDarlene told FirstDayDarlene she would be standing on that podium…she never would have believed it.” Nope. Not in a million years.

But this story is about YOU—about the spirit of CFA that first healed me, then made me strong, then flew me across the stadium in Event 5 to your banner held by Jamie and Boone. From the first phone call with Wes before setting foot in the gym, I was assured that being weak, older and significantly overweight would be no problem at CrossFit Austin. It never has been, although I seriously questioned that promise the first day, when I observed Blake back-squatting 3000 lbs. (Whatever weight it actually was would have impressed me no less.) On the contrary, even when I finished at the bottom of every WOD, I received encouragement and support from everyone.

While your enthusiastic support was a huge factor in my success at the Games, your stories were the greater one. From day one, I have been awed by the stories I have heard at CFA.

There are the ladies who trained with me between Regionals and the Games, starting with Tristy, CFA’s Manager. If you’ve had even one class with Tristy, you know that she is a task master about form. If your form is not what it should be, Tristy will let you know it, and she will work with you to improve it. If that attention grates, know that what motivates her is protecting you from harm. Did you know that Tristy is partially blind in one eye? A band hit her in the eye during one of her early classes, and several surgeries were required to repair it. Did that stop her? Not on your life. But she will not stand idly by and watch you put yourself in danger. She can’t.

Liz would have trained with me if she could have, but she was busy healing from surgery. Liz unwinds from saving lives every day as a paramedic by moving mountains in the gym. She just set a new CrossFit Total of 610 lbs. But the first mountain she moved was herself. Since joining CFA, Liz has lost over 70 pounds. You might think she would take it easy coming back from surgery before setting new records. Not Liz. The instant she was cleared to return to normal life, she shot out of the gate with a 165 lb jerk PR. Jeez.

Then there’s Carissa (Teamie!). Carissa and I teamed up during Sectionals, and her drive to excel propelled me, too. Carissa can both back squat and deadlift almost twice her body weight. How such a small frame can generate so much power is nothing short of marvelous (ha ha, I pun!). You probably don’t know that six years ago, Carissa’s life had spun out of control. The destructive path she was on nearly cost her life, a path that did take the life of a dear friend. Carissa chose life instead, moved to Austin and found CFA, for which I am profoundly grateful.

Like Carissa, Christy can both back squat and deadlift significantly more than her body weight. Her kipping pull-ups are poetry in motion. She jumped in with both feet and pushed me through the grueling workouts Wes constructed for me in July. Christy has an amazing story, too, but she’s shy about it. When you get to know her, she’ll tell it to you herself. It’s fair to say that adopting paleo nutrition and CrossFit transformed her life. Today she is healthy and strong and a force to be reckoned with. Christy’s courage fuels me every time I watch her.

When Leigh (rhymes with LEE, not LAY!) walked in the door in early February, every woman in the gym breathed, “Whoa.” I’m pretty sure every guy did, too. The excitement was electric. You might say that Leigh came to us as Rx. When we heard she was new to Austin and deciding which gym to join, I remember thinking first, “Wow, finally, competition for Stacey,” and then, “Oh no, what if she decides to choose that other gym?” (You know the one I mean.) What relief when she chose CFA and what joy it’s been to watch her and Stacey support and push each other to ever new PR’s. You might think Leigh has always been rock solid—I did—but if you ask her (and she’s not feeling vulnerable), she’ll show you the photo she carries of chubby pre-CrossFit Leigh.

When I joined CFA almost two years ago, Stacey was my idol. She still is, of course, but now there’s a LOT more content behind that statement. Coming from a soccer background, she was already a star athlete when she joined CFA, and the epitome of the team player. As I struggled to do a single push-up, Stacey was ever there encouraging me. The story that for me crystallizes Stacey’s awesomeness I heard from Dale Walker, owner of CrossFit Valor in Cedar Park, and Stacey’s judge for the muscle-ups at the 2010 Regionals. Stacey was in 12th place going into the final event. Wouldn’t you know, that event included muscle-ups, a skill Stacey didn’t yet possess. Did that fact stop her? Dale told me it broke his heart to watch her as she tried and failed time after time, until time ran out, to do just one. Stacey worked all this past year to acquire this skill, conquering it only days before Regionals. And this year, she did THREE muscle-ups.

She almost didn’t get the chance. That brings me to the men of CrossFit Austin.

Dr. Nick, of the Killer Thumbs, kept me patched together for the Games. His performance at Regionals was amazing. You’ve heard the stories of the blistering heat that weekend, of bars and kettlebells and blacktop so hot they seared skin off competitors’ hands. It was excruciating to watch. Despite the brutal conditions, by the end of Saturday our team had moved from 19th place after Sectionals to 5th place and qualified to advance to Sunday. We were on fire! Sunday morning Stacey and Nick teamed up for Amanda: 9-7-5 reps of muscle-ups and squat snatches. We all expected Nick to fly through the first nine reps and turn over the stage for Stacey to break out those shiny new muscle-ups. What we didn’t know was that Nick had injured his shoulder and elbow. For 15 heart-wrenching minutes of the 20-min event, we watched Nick attempt time after time to nail those nine muscle-ups. For me, with Dale’s story branded on my memory of Stacey in 2010, it seemed an eerie déjà vu. Like Stacey, there was no quit in Nick. His whole being focused on getting it done, so Stacey could, too.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Sleeves, because—forgive me, guys, but I have to put this in terms Tony Sleeves will appreciate—he’s just f*ckin’ beautiful. Sleeves trains with focus and ferocity that is a joy to watch. Yet he will interrupt his own training readily to help you improve yours. Many times over the months preparing for Regionals, Sleeves took the time to help me, whether it was improving my pull-ups, kettlebell swings, weight lifting, nutrition, you name it. He has helped and inspired me in so many ways. Even when he didn’t end up competing at Regionals, Sleeves was right there, roaring for our team with every fiber of his being. The photo above says it all, and I love him for it.

Chad Vaughn visits CFA weekly to teach us the finer points of Olympic weightlifting. I owe my 110 lb clean & jerk PR at the Games to Chad’s skillful coaching. You probably know that Chad just won his SEVENTH national weightlifting championship. Holder of the American record in the clean and jerk, Chad is a two-time Olympian and is currently training for a position on the 2012 team. Awesome, right? So I was dumbfounded when I read that Chad was born with a club foot. It was surgically repaired while he was an infant; he learned to walk while the cast was on his leg. A debilitating handicap that would have defined the life of nearly anyone else, Chad simply never let it matter. And totally conquered it.

These are just a few of the stories of the Circle of Awesomeness at CrossFit Austin. There are so many. Colleen, Miguel, 2×4, AG & LG, Big Shug, Fro, Walker, Melicious…. they filled my mind and heart as I paced back and forth waiting to start the last event at the Games. I kept thinking how grateful I am that Wes and Boone created this amazing place that has attracted such people. I’ve never owned a business, but over the past 25 years I’ve been fortunate to work for three successful small firms. I’ve witnessed first hand the strength of character it takes, first to step into the unknown, and then to create a thriving long-lived concern. There are so many details to cope with—taxes, regulations, insurance, bills, staffing, on and on—details that have nothing to do with the passion that created the business in the first place. It’s no surprise that the vast majority of new businesses never make it past year three. To master all of these challenges while maintaining a vibrant and imaginative atmosphere, constantly striving to refine and improve your product, focusing on the success of your clients first, this is no small feat. To further possess the integrity to follow your best judgment, even when your decisions cause friction and resistance, in order make real that vision that you see, to do all of this, while attracting a faithful group of such amazing members, who themselves form treasured bonds of love and friendship—all this—it truly is Awesomeness. I love you guys.

Finally, to have such people screaming their hearts out for your success, to have them believe in you and see in you the things you’ve worked to create in yourself, and hoped to make real…. if there is a sweeter gift a friend can give to you, I’ve never discovered what it is. All this you have given to me. Thank you, my CrossFit Austin family, with all my heart.

August, 2011