The Open: Competitiveness in Its most Cooperative Form

By Whitney Dean

The first CrossFit Games I followed was particularly exciting because the sport seemed to be more than just a socially constructed display of physical prowess and superiority. Over the years, I suspected I was watching evolutionary adaptiveness in fast-forward. In 2008, the prescribed weight for push-jerks in a particular workout was 135 pounds for men and 85 pounds for women. In 2015, the prescribed push-jerk weight in a similar workout was 205 pounds for men and 145 pounds for women. In some ways, it’s felt like watching gills evolve into lungs over the period of seven years.

Similarly, I’m signing up for The Open CrossFit Games this year, not because I’m an elite athlete, but because I’m curious to see my own adaptation. Because there’s something about the buzz of the timer starting that drives me beyond what I understand my limits to be. Because every time I compete, something I never knew about myself is revealed. I’m like a baby something or other, growing into my limbs, gaining spatial awareness and an understanding of my body’s relationship to the world.

But I didn’t always look favorably on competitiveness. 

As a kid, my father used to drag me onto the basketball courts, screaming and crying that I didn’t waaaaant to go, but I was taller and physically more developed than everyone else my age, so it didn’t matter what I waaaaanted; it mattered that this body was designed to lay up a leather ball into a hoop.

But I didn’t fit in with the athletic types in that environment. (I grew up in the South—not a forgiving climate.) Competitive sports looked a lot like conformity to me, and as a burgeoning adolescent dissident, I wasn’t impressed. I found the “team-players” to be clicky and judgmental, completely intolerant of anyone they deemed different, weird, inferior, or incompetent. I associated this social castigation with the competiveness I saw on the courts. I preferred the leniency of rock n’ roll, where strangeness, even failure, was embraced and celebrated. I didn’t yet see how sports could redirect or remedy any of my fears or frustrations. I was so busy feeling alienated that I didn’t recognize the ways in which competition challenges a person’s character to be more resilient and less inhibited. I was adapting, but to defensiveness, not friendly competitiveness.

As I grew older and more comfortable with myself, my view of sports as a practice and culture softened. Eventually, I became interested in running and cycling, and I gained a respect and understanding of the commitment to discomfort for the reward of performing well, even performing the best.

Still, I was only competing with my own times, my own efforts, and it was a lonely place to be. At one point in my running career, I even started trailing a woman I saw every morning at the local park who kept a better stride than me. I recognized the creep factor of my actions, but I needed to be a faster runner. It was a time of transition and turmoil in my personal life, and running had become, as a girlfriend of mine calls it, cheap therapy. I needed to overcome obstacles at home as much as I needed to keep pace with the stranger in the park.

When I was introduced to CrossFit, my mind was blown. Here was a sport that didn’t feel like a sport in the traditional “jock” sense. It also wasn’t the typical herd-like exercise class found in corporate chain gyms. Singularly, everyone competed for the best time recorded on the white board, but it was the last athlete to finish who received the most encouragement and praise. I saw that, culturally, CrossFit didn’t pit competitiveness against cooperation. It wasn’t an individual versus a team sport because the individual competitor’s success was largely contingent upon his or her relationship with the surrounding community.

So, I’m signing up for the Open, and it doesn’t matter how far I get. I’m just going to kick my own ass, strive to be the best teammate I can be, and take the lessons I glean from 16.1 to 16.5 out into the world with me.

1x20 HBBS add 5#
4x8 strict handstand push up or 4x5 HSPU negatives or 4x45 second handstand hold

Thrusters 115/75#

*1 rope climb between rep sets