April 17, 2019
An utterly debilitating feeling of fear overcame me when I _____. You fill in the blank. For me, fear takes hold in my stomach and moves outward to my limbs. When I consider any action other than retreating from my fear, my fingers begin to tingle. I began boxing at fifteen years old and was terrified of stepping into the ring against my opponents. No matter their size, they seemed to hover over me, built stronger and tougher than I could ever be—at least that’s what I thought to myself.
I suffered sleepless nights as my boxing matches grew nearer, chastising myself for ever becoming involved in a sport that riddled me with such anxiety; a sport that I largely participated in at first merely to boost the image I had developed as a hard kid. My fear reached its peak when the referee yelled, “seconds out!” indicating it was time for my corner man to step out of the ring. My vision would narrow in on my opponent in the opposite corner, the white canvas floor beneath us gleaming brightly from the overhead lights, illuminating the dark stains of blood from fights past. The ding of the bell sent my heart into a frenzied pattern of beats. Now I was the only one that could save me from a fate that my body was reacting to just as intensely as if I’d been facing death in that moment. The amazing thing is, once the first punch was thrown, my fear disappeared—now I was in a fight, and doing something that brought me closer to the true nature of who I am as living, breathing animal.
Whether you have ever competed or not, it is certain that you can relate to what fear does to the body and mind. In our society, many of us have the privilege of avoiding the dangers that elicit such primal reactions, at least on the day-to-day basis. But is that a good thing? Granted, the point of civilization is so that we do not need to fight for our survival constantly. If this weren’t the case, there would be very little progress in anything other than the ability to defend one’s self. Is the fight or flight reaction to danger still necessary in the modern day? That question is moot, because whether it is necessary or not, this innate response is not going anywhere—it is in our DNA. It comes out as stage fright, or during an important presentation, or when we walked into a CrossFit gym for the first time and saw barbells being slung about like toys. We are stuck with it, and I for one am happy that is the case, because where I find my greatest fears, I also find my biggest growth.
With my boxing, I learned to focus on making it to that first punch. I knew after that, training would take hold, and my fear would be gone. By the time I got into CrossFit, I had already learned how to successfully put that fear away, but I still feel it. If you have not had the opportunity to face down your fears, I challenge you to begin doing so. CrossFit is the perfect environment to go head to head with your anxiety with very little to lose, but everything to gain. Do that workout that you’ve been avoiding because it may expose your weaknesses. Go to that class that is always packed. Sign up for a competition. The benefits do not only apply to sport. Your ability to deal with fear will give you confidence in every effort you undertake. Others will notice your courage and believe that you must have been born with it. What they won’t know is that no one is born courageous or cowardly—that it is our efforts day to day that determine whether we face our fears, or hide from them. Be courageous and focus on that first punch!
Written by Coach David Carlson