Most scholars agree that Homer’s Odyssey stands the test of time because of its hero Odysseus, long blown off course on his journey home from the Trojan War. The rakish Odysseus appeals to a wide variety of audiences and Homer’s timeless examination of the coming-home saga continues to relate century after century.
Interestingly, Odysseus makes his first appearance at the very opening of the poem, not as a physical character, but rather as legend:
Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns,
Driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
The hallowed heights of Troy.
However, over the course of the epic, Odysseus proves to truly be a man of twist and turns. He earns his reputation as the epitome of a hero – the warrior strong enough to win a great battle, woo the fairest of maidens, or outwit the sharpest strategist, all with a wry smile and those subtle good looks. Every time I read the Odyssey, I can’t help but see Odysseus as a young Harrison Ford playing Han Solo.
I love Odysseus despite his tendency to make exceptionally narcissistic and drastically poor tactical decisions; but my own studies of Homer’s classic often draw me closer towards Odysseus’ son, Telemachus. Similar to his father, the heir of Ithaca makes his appearance early in the epic during Book One when Athena visits him and spurs him to action. Through 20 years of patriarchal absence, Telemachus has grown up in the shadow of his father’s heroic reputation and as a young man, now finds himself questioning his identity and his place in the world. His mother, his friends, his peers all tell him he is the son of a great man, but he doesn’t believe it. Athena convinces Telemachus that it will take his own great “odyssey” – leaving Ithaca, learning about his father, and eventually returning home to help his father re-take his place on the throne of Ithaca – for Telemachus to finally believe that he is as good as everyone tells him he will be.
So why the trip to literary Nerdville you may ask. Well, as CrossFitters we often find ourselves at a similar crossroads in our fitness journeys. Like Telemachus, many CrossFit athletes athletically grow-up in the shadow of other members at the box. There’s the beast from the 6:15am class who always throws up a score well outside your capacity. Or there’s that one girl who, on one-rep-max day, seems to lift more weight than you could ever imagine lifting. These athletes have been doing CrossFit way longer than you and they’re legendary in your box. And even though you may have never met them, everyone tells you that through some hard work and by being consistent, you will be just like them one day.
The truth is, like Telemachus and his relationship with his father, we will never truly know what kind of athlete we are or get the necessary sense of perspective on our fitness without some separation from our comfortable little bubble down on the Creek. In Robert Burns’ famous poem To a Louse, he muses “Oh, would some Power give us the gift/To see ourselves as others see us!” I feel that like Burns’ words of advice to that parasitic little louse, we too could be well served to see ourselves, and our fitness, from a different perspective from time to time.
Ironically, the holidays are a wonderful opportunity to get that perspective. Like Athena descending from Olympus to spur Telemachus into action, the holiday season rolls in every year and we find ourselves on the road, traveling to places far and wide. In my case, my family and I make our annual journey up the Jersey Turnpike and into the great white north of New England.
In years past, I would simply pack the car with a dumbbell and would take care of my fitness with some solitary travel WODs at a park or in my in-laws’ back yard. Recently however, my brother-in-law started CrossFitting and when in town, we will drop in at his affiliate. This year, the timing worked out perfectly for us to join his community for their version of the 12 Days of Christmas workout, the same type of workout we did at Fairwinds, but with distinctly different movements and managed in a very different way.
Initially, I wasn’t very excited with how the workout was going to go. I liked our version at Fairwinds. I questioned how these “new” people were going to do what looked like an extremely cumbersome and logistically challenging version. I rolled my eyes. I did some math and scoffed at how long the WOD would take. And I started to feel a bit like an angry little elf. So I checked myself. I remembered why we were going – to hang out with my brother-in-law and to have fun. And I let go of my expectations. Lo and behold, the workout was great. I loved seeing how the coach managed an incredibly chaotic transition between classes, how he artfully let a variety of athletes find their way through the workout with minimal yet expert guidance, and how the community welcomed us with smiles, handshakes, and eventually post-WOD high fives. And, you know what, it was a hell of a workout that was totally different than our version but just as effective!
Fairwinds Folk harken from the Eastportian shores of the great and wide Back Creek. We are, at heart, Creek People and we like our WODs a certain way. Many of our athletes, me included, have grown accustomed to the way we exercise and venturing out into the great unknown of a “foreign” CrossFit affiliate can be scary.
But the change of scenery we get from a different box, coach, or community can often be the very thing we all need to give us a new or revitalized appreciation for not only OUR small community of fitness freaks but also see how we fit into a larger, extremely welcoming, and wonderfully positive community of CrossFitters throughout the world.
At Fairwinds, we don’t charge visiting athletes because I firmly believe in the ancient Greek culture of hospitality. On the flip-side, when visiting other affiliates, one of the most important things we can do is to be open to that affiliate’s culture and style. Perhaps their warmups are done as individual efforts and the coach takes that time to greet people and get a sense of who she has in the class. Maybe the workout has two or three parts. Maybe they don’t use barbells – wait, that’s dumb. Don’t go to that box. Regardless of the differences, the act of showing up, immersing yourself in a new vibe, and seeing how YOUR fitness lets you handle the unknown and unknowable will be a “gift” you give yourself and will undoubtedly let you see yourself as others see you.
In closing, working out when on vacation is not a burden. When traveling or outside of our normal routine, we often frame our fitness as something we “have to do” or that we need to “fit in” amongst the hustle and bustle of family visits. I challenge you to see it as a reward that you have earned. Cash in on that fitness and take some time to treat yourself to a drop-in at a local box. Be like Telemachus and step out from underneath the shadow of who you are at home. I’ll bet it might be the very thing you needed to shed those holiday blues or shake off the stress of travel. If nothing else, you’ll probably make some new friends and who knows, you might even get a PR.
See you in the box (or maybe some box somewhere else)!