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CrossFit
Members of CrossFit Elite Hobart perform a workout routine together Friday, July 27, in Hobart, Oklahoma. (William W. Savage III)
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HOBART — I have been working out since I was 18 years old. I’ve done floor aerobics, step aerobics, spinning, yoga, distance running, triathlon and standard-issue gym workouts (otherwise known as walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes while watching America’s Next Top Model). When I turned 34, I gave myself permission to stop exercising. And I did — for 10 months.

Just before I turned 35, I Googled “group exercise OKC” and found CrossFit. Life has not been the same since. In two years, I have come to agree with all the opinions people have regarding CrossFit: It is fun. It is brutal. It is dangerous. It is a gym. It is a workout. It is a community.

My favorite opinion, frequently repeated, remains: “CrossFit is a cult.” It is my favorite because it is true. CrossFit has a distinctive culture that cuts across location, age, sex or fitness level. We have outfits. We have traditions. We have a diet. We have Games. We have leaders. We have a language.

Every CrossFit “box” in the world knows about these things. It doesn’t matter if you are at CrossFit Invictus or CrossFit Mayhem or CrossFit Hobart Elite in Hobart, Oklahoma.

Visiting other boxes constitutes part of CrossFit’s cultural fabric and usually occurs while someone is traveling. When you visit, you pay a “drop-in fee” and get a T-shirt specific to the box you are visiting. I have visited boxes in Kansas City, St. Louis and, most recently, the box in Hobart, population 3,700.

Hobart’s box encapsulates CrossFit spirit, culture

CrossFit
Christina Null successfully completes a power clean at Hobart Elite CrossFit on Friday, July 27, 2018. (William W. Savage III)

Hobart Elite encapsulated everything CrossFit is and aims to be. My fellow athletes there included some men, some women, some long-term CrossFitters and some newer athletes. Some were teenagers, some were more in the middle-age category. They were clearly comfortable with each other and clearly excited to be there even though it was Friday afternoon and 100 degrees in the box. (CrossFit boxes generally lack air conditioning, and we like it that way.) Even though I was brand new to their group, they welcomed me, talked me up, shared equipment with me and made me feel like I was at home, too. At a good box, you can walk in and immediately feel comfortable.

Owner Emmy Stricker is the heart of this box. A tiny, fit woman with a kind demeanor, Emmy never worked out in her life before finding CrossFit a few years ago. She now has her Level 1 certification and runs the box by herself while raising three teenagers and maintaining a full-time job.

Among my classmates was Colton Hannah, a 19-year-old from Hobart. A former right guard for his high school football team, he currently helps mow the Hobart cemetery but said he was moving to Stillwater this month. Hannah feels the same way I do about CrossFit: It’s life-changing. In six months of CrossFit, he has lost 55 pounds. His one-mile running time went from 18 minutes to 12 minutes. He started out at the back of the pack, worn out, just as we all start, but he kept showing up. With consistent attendance (he goes to class five times per week), he has seen these amazing results and, more importantly, has found himself.

WOD: Some successes, some failures

CrossFit
CrossFit athletes finish one of the five 200-meter runs included in their Hobart Elite CrossFit workout Friday, July 27, 2018. (William W. Savage III)

When CrossFit first began, the community shared workouts tips and ideas on CrossFit.com. Part of CrossFit.com was — and still is — the Workout of the Day, or “WOD.” Today, most CrossFit gyms write their own programming, doing workouts their coaches lay out. Hobart Elite follows the CrossFit.com programming, doing the WOD about 90 percent of the time, Stricker said.

The workout at Hobart Elite included power cleans (see above). I partnered with Christina Null, one of the coaches at the box. Despite being much stronger than me, she was gracious and patient, sharing a barbell with me for our cleans. We took turns on the bar, she encouraging me when I expressed my standard, “This probably isn’t going to happen today …” excuse. Long after I maxed out (far below where I should have been), Christina kept going and hit a personal record — a big deal in the CrossFit world.

After the power cleans, we did a WOD that included dumbbell-hang squat snatches. (If that sounds like something Bigfoot would do after finding some dumbbells lying around in the woods, no worries: It takes a while to learn CrossFit language). I had never heard of, much less performed, a dumbbell-hang squat snatch. Still, the CrossFit mantra is “preparing the athlete for the unknown and the unknowable.” So, Hobart Elite was about to test my CrossFit mettle.

It didn’t go great. I tried a couple and nearly toppled over. Twice. After some minor adjustments and a hefty dose of humble pie, I figured it out.

Our WOD also included movements with the dumbbells and some running. Everyone starts the workout at the same time but goes at their own pace. CrossFit workouts — which almost invariably look ridiculous to outside viewers — can be scaled to meet anyone’s fitness level. A seasoned CrossFitter who has been doing this for years can do the same workout as the retiree who just wants to be able to get up off the floor if he falls. Those two will be doing different movements and moving at different speeds, but the workout stimulus can remain the same for both.

The Hobart Elite team finished our workout with fairly minimal complaining, although we definitely slowed down as the WOD progressed. I saw more than one person race out the door, only to see them walking after getting out of eyesight. But, we all finished.

Knowledge of self-betterment brings satisfaction

CrossFit
Athletes who worked out at Hobart Elite on Friday, July 27, 2018, pose for a photo. (William W. Savage III)

Many life lessons are learned in the CrossFit box, and there is no shortage of humbling experiences. Just when you think you have it down, CrossFit throws something new at you (like a dumbbell-hang squat snatch). How one handles those new challenges reveals a lot about oneself. Some people begin to crave those new experiences. Others never show up for class again.

My day at Hobart CrossFit Elite was CrossFit in its purest, truest form: a small group of people dedicated to each other and to their craft. A hot, stuffy gym with no air-conditioning, a large garage door opening onto Main Street. A workout that brought disappointment for some and triumph for others. A collection of people from all walks of life. What other activity will bring together a 30-something attorney who has always lived in the city and a 19-year-old former football player who has not yet left his town of 3,000?

Yet, we can all gather in Emmy Stricker’s gym, workout together, enjoy the fellowship and leave satisfied with the knowledge that we have bettered ourselves and each other, simply by showing up. Colton, Emmy, Christina and I are part of a cult: one that gets us closer to the best version of ourselves.

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Leah Kanne is an Oklahoma City attorney, weenie dog enthusiast and CrossFit fanatic. She has her CrossFit Level 1 certificate and spends just enough time in the gym to justify her outsized enjoyment of food and drink.