In case you weren’t aware, the 2021 Legends Competition was going on this past weekend. 

The athletes are…incredible.

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Seriously, these people are superhuman but they’re not super heroes. The absence of some Marvel Cinematic Universe backstory that details the accidental introduction of an alien energy into their veins makes watching the competition even more difficult because these are everyday people, living normal, everyday lives and yet they can still do CrossFit at a level that, 10 years ago, would have had them standing on the podium against the 20 and 30-somethings at the CrossFit Games – and these athletes STILL would have been in their 40s and 50s, back then!

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The competition wasn’t even on my radar until I got a text from a friend who also noticed the ever expanding gap between these athletes and our own abilities, even from the days when we both had the illusion that we could have been competitive.

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The subsequent emotional milieu that followed caused me to venture down this path of musings because in our back and forth conversion, my friend and I began to admit in our own passive aggressive tone and off-handed snide comments, that those versions of ourselves, those supposedly competitive athletes from the past decade, have died. 

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As much as I would like to say that I am ok with that transition, that I have emotionally processed the shifting of my athletic priorities, that I have found enlightenment in my new fitness journey – it’s a big fat lie because I still succumb to comparing my IMAGINED self to these REAL athletes by playing games with the numbers and creatively devising mathematical scenarios that I scratch into my steam covered shower door that somehow allow me to delay the inevitable sadness of accepting that the version of who I was as an athlete exists only in my faulty memory.

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I’m sure there’s some psychologist or psychiatrist or really smart self-help book author who could offer me the space to realize that it’s all okay and that admitting the truth will clear the emotional milieu that plagues me, but instead, I turned to the folks who I suspect would have a clearer understanding of the existential dilemma of accepting our human frailty and inevitable mortality in the face of the universal emptiness of existence – two of my favorite German philosophers Martin Heidegger and Hanah Arendt.

I will simply say that anyone who has read Heidegger, and understood it, well done. 

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Despite my own difficulty of comprehending his explanation of the human condition, I would suggest that if Heidegger saw how we handled our fitness improvements and athletic pursuits in the gym, he would tell us that our socialization of our ups and downs, the posting of our workout results, the public acceptance of our performances, both good and bad, allows our inevitable deaths to become a social fact without actually accepting it as a personal one.

By belonging to a group that accepts each of us for who we are, by creating an everyday version of our shortcomings and our failures, we normalize the reality of our eventual demise into death.

While creating an emotionally and socially welcoming space for this realization and possibly offering a safe and comfortable place for each of us to figure out our own path to sustained longevity, Heidegger would also suggest that in this normalization of our so called athletic death, we depersonalize the process and thus side-step the intimate realization that this transition into a different version of ourselves belongs to only ourselves, in that, “by its very essence, death is in every case mine, in so far as it ‘is’ at all.”

In other words, we fail to own our own shit because we outsource the owning of that shit to someone or something else and expect that process to allow us some kind of magical delaying of the inevitable in the guise of social normalization. We avoid the inevitable at our own peril.

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Ahhhh, gotta love the truth of post-WWII German philosophy.

On the other hand, Arendt offers a somewhat similar but also fundamentally different perspective, perhaps one that moves us a little bit closer to something more salable, something more pleasant to our fragile egos. 

In her treatise The Human Condition, Arendt argues that the death of the self is an event that actually gives meaning back to the very community from which the self arose and thus allows the community to make meaning of the death for that individual, thus giving the individual a path to some kind of emotional salvation out of the despair of universal emptiness. In what Heidegger would suggest are the niceties of socialization and “idle talk” around the inevitable death of the self, Arendt says that the death of the individual allows the beginning of a public discourse about that death and thus begins a new story concerning the collective understanding of that former self.

In other words, our individual failures and our personal losses of the illusions of who we used to be actually provide a path for our community to continue to grow and begin again with a greater sense of collectively shared understanding.

Said another way, in our shared suffering we all become stronger.

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Oh, yeah, I like that much better. Thanks, Hannah, you rock. That Martin dude is such a bummer.

So, my takeaways?

  1. Good luck reading German philosophy. We might be better off just watching Disney movies…who says blissful ignorance is anything but bliss? 🙂
  2. Stop being so hard on yourselves in the struggle to face your mortality – it’s inevitable, it’s universal, and we are all in it together.
  3. Keep showing up to the gym even if you don’t know how to face the fact that some 46-year-old woman can row 25 calories and do 5 deadlifts at 245 lbs faster than I can get off the coach and grab another piece of cake left over from the weekend.

In the end, I’m not sure where that took us other than a few minutes closer to our inevitable deaths so I guess I’ll just see y’all down on the Creek.

-Coach Jack