I’ve always been a mediocre athlete.

As a kid, I was overweight. I dieted. I exercised. I cried. I exercised more and dieted again, and cried a whole lot more. I went to fat camp (yes, I can admit that now). I dressed in oversized clothing, most of which was stolen directly out of my brother’s closet, in an attempt to hide it.

My size never stopped me from loving sports. I grew up in a small town that didn’t offer a wide range of athletic opportunities. Most everyone signed up for little league, played YMCA basketball, joined gymnastics, or tried short-course intramurals or camps that gave soft introductions to other sports. I tried nearly everything, but gave up quickly on anything that didn’t fit my body comfortably. I wanted so badly to do gymnastics or dance like the other girls, but found I was too uncomfortable to wear anything tight fitting, not to mention too heavy to feel successful. I can still remember crying on handstand days.

I always felt handicapped by my weight, mostly emotionally, and physically by my speed (or lack thereof), but I still wanted to play. I played softball every spring, and I can still feel the dread of uniform day. I always wore double digits, since those were the only jerseys that came in sizes large or extra large. As a high school athlete, the “honor” of representing varsity basketball required dressing up on game days, which was another source of anxiety. In old photos I wear my Dad’s oversized button down shirts and khaki cargo pants, surrounded by girls in skirts and dresses.

My father, ever the therapist, always encouraged me to believe that my biggest asset on the field or court was my head, my mental game. I can appreciate the significance of that now, but it was little consolation to an overweight adolescent girl who loved sports but hated her body. In retrospect, my insecurities and feelings of athletic inadequacy fueled my fire and desire to improve. I simply had to work hard to compensate for my mediocrity. And so I became a student of the game, took practices seriously, and played each and every game with one mentality: be the hardest working person in the room.

I grew to love softball and basketball, and later soccer, and approached each with dedication and perseverance. Over the years I was continually picked over for starting positions in favor of people much faster and more naturally gifted, which drove me to work that much harder. In high school, I drilled footwork in hopes of compensating for my lack of speed, and trained as a backup goalie to provide utility. I loved softball, but I lacked the strength of a power hitter or the speed to be good at the plate, so I taught myself to be a precision sacrifice bunter. I played first base and dove, jumped, and crashed into things in an effort never to let a throw past me. I loved basketball with all of my heart. Not quite tall enough to be an effective post player, I mastered a drop-step so that I had a chance at one power move under the basket. I drilled and trained myself to shoot free throws with 85-90% accuracy. Eager to play in college, I attended a small Division III school so that I would have a fighting chance to make the team. I was promptly told I was too short to be a forward and moved out to the perimeter. Too slow and with unrefined ball-handling skills, I was never going to be wildly effective at guard. I taught myself to shoot three-pointers with nearly the same precision as my free throws and became a shooting guard. I embraced team sports, relishing the role of teammate. I was eager to be an asset, a reliable contributor to the team by any means, earning the role of captain across all three sports I played in high school, and then both in college.

After college I joined various recreational leagues, but it never felt the same. My weaknesses were highlighted by random assemblages of athletes who didn’t know each other, everyone volleying to be the hotshot, the star of the show. Give me a playbook and I’ll study it, memorize, and play it out with precision. In less structured environments and without a “team,” my mediocrity stood out. That aside, rec leagues lacked the camaraderie and general intensity that I’ve always loved about organized sports. My general fitness took a nosedive, along with my confidence, and I gained more weight.

Finding flag football was a turning point in my post-college sports blues. I loved learning a new sport, earning a spot as a lineman my first year, then a linebacker, and eventually a tight end. That same year, just before the season started, I met my wife, Cathy. Cathy was revered league-wide, known as TFG (Tall Fast Girl), and was hands down the best wide receiver in the league. While I worked from the “big girl” slot on the line, throwing blocks and hoping to pull the occasional flag, she scored innumerable touchdowns. In some ways I came face to face with my insecurities again, but I took ownership of my position in a new sport through hard work and Cathy’s encouragement. To her credit, Cathy has always been humble about her natural athleticism and the fact that she played Division I basketball. Being athletes, it’s hard not to be competitive with each other, though she’s always had the natural advantage. Regardless, she has always celebrated my victories, encouraged me in my endeavors, and for nearly 13 years, has raged against my poor self-image. I’ll keep her – but that’s an entirely different post.

Fast forward a decade. We started CrossFit as our involvement in recreational sports dwindled, this after significant difficulty finding a fitness plan or program that felt right. It was Cathy’s idea to sign up for the free trial at JPCF, though she was certain that I wouldn’t like it. Like everything else in our athletic careers, she came in like a natural – strong, fast, and skilled. That first day, I did pull-ups with a thick green band plus a thin red band. I couldn’t squat to parallel. I don’t remember the rest, but Cathy beat me in everything we did. During our first regular class, I finished a “for time” WOD dead last. Everyone packed up their gear while I was still working, and I pushed myself through a final set of kettlebell swings to the point of nearly vomiting, so desperate was I to be done with the embarrassment of being alone on the floor. I was certain I would never do an unassisted pull-up, squat to depth, or learn how to snatch or clean anything more than the training bar. I never thought I’d hit the Rx button.

So I started again. I showed up. And I worked. I gave it everything I had, every day. My insecurities surfaced, but as I had done time and time again, I relied on grit, determination, and sheer will. I moved from twice weekly to an unlimited membership. I had to be convinced to take rest days (and still do). I marveled at the women at the top of the whiteboard, in constant awe of the weights, times, and reps that they put up. I devoured new skills, studying the points of performance and analyzing my weaknesses.

Each day brought new challenges, but also new victories, not only in strength and speed, stamina and endurance, mobility and functional movement, but in confidence. I finally started to believe in myself. I lost over 25 pounds. I also gained immeasurable confidence outside of the gym. I began to manage stressful situations at work with relative ease. I took a big leap professionally. I got myself a funky, half-shaved haircut – something for which the old me would have lacked the confidence. I began to shed some of the oversized clothes and occasionally dress in something other than a sweatshirt because I wanted to. I traded baggy shorts and t-shirts for fitted workout gear, and despite initial reluctance on my part, even started wearing tights (and now I won’t WOD without them). I watched the numbers on the scale creep back up as I added muscle and didn’t worry. For the first time in my 30+ years, I began to appreciate my body for what it could do for me, rather than angst over how it looked. I took each disappointment in the gym as an opportunity to try again, to do better next time. I learned to let myself off the hook when times get hard or when I haven’t performed perfectly, at the gym or in life.

It took over 30 entries in Wodify before I hit the Rx button, and for a long while those clicks were very few and far between. Now, as I approach my three year CrossFitaversary, Wodify tells me that I’ve logged 286 PRs. Seeing the collective achievement in numeric form is rewarding, but it’s the immeasurable PRs outside of the gym that matter. My insecurities are still there, bubbling just under the surface, but they are far more controlled and easier to keep at bay. There are skills that still plague me, weights I can’t move, movements I can’t do, WODs that evade me. When I don’t top the whiteboard, I worry that I didn’t work hard enough. Old insecure me rears her ugly head. I can be competitive just like anyone else, but it’s not entirely about “winning,” it’s about  knowing that I gave it my all. I can walk away and know I maxed out my capacity and pushed down to the last grueling second, but inevitably that deep-seeded insecurity nags. Later in the day I’ll question my performance. When others achieve skills I struggle with, I’ll question my own commitment and work ethic. I’ll worry that people think I’m not good enough, that someone faster or stronger or skinnier is just plain better. I still worry about my body, overthink how I look, and weigh myself more than I should. I’m a work in progress, and with each day I move further and further away from that inner fat kid, plagued by insecurities and self-doubt. I continue to move towards a new me, little by little, every single day.

I have CrossFit to thank for all of it. CrossFit took this hardworking, mediocre, overweight athlete, and made her believe in herself. Measurable performance doesn’t lie. Each pound lifted today is one more than you lifted yesterday. Change and growth are inevitable when you put in the work. And while CrossFit provided the structure for me to be successful, this didn’t happen in a vacuum. The CrossFit community is a real and palpable entity, one for which I am eternally grateful. Without the support all of the coaches, particularly Tim and Chris and Laura, Cathy, and the 5am crew whom I’ve come to call family, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today.  

It’s true what they say; CrossFit prepares you for “not only the unknown, but the unknowable,” both in and outside of the box. And, it is something that really and truly is for everyone. I’ve believed that since the moment I stepped through the doors at JPCF. I want everyone to experience it in all of the ways that I have – that and then some. I “like” nearly every single performance y’all enter into Wodify. I celebrate your victories, big and small. I try to advise without coaching and encourage and support with reckless abandon. I’m excited to keep growing, learning, improving, and building confidence and satisfaction within each opportunity, and for every member to grow, too. One day I’ll get my L1 Certification and do the coaching thing for real. Having an opportunity to guide others through their own journey would be a privilege. Until then, I will continue to show up, devour the skills, aspire to be the hardest working person in the room, and champion your victories along with mine.

“The best results in training come not from what you can achieve, but from who you become in the process.”

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  1. This poignant account of a personal journey exemplifies how hard work, determination & courage can result in success. Kudos! You make me proud and I love you very much!
    Ps…. in my eyes you’ve always been perfect.

  2. Jenna
    In Japan with Jo. Adored your article. So proud of you and all you have achieved and what you stand for. Thanks for sharing your story to inspire others to follow.


  3. Awesome article Jenna! We see your perseverance, purpose and smile when you come visit us at Spartan Fitness 360. An inspirational article for anyone just starting or thinking of trying CF. Changed my life as well.

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