“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.” C. JoyBell C.
Fears. We all have them. And they’re fucking scary! But they keep us on track and let us know we’re still alive. Life is ugly, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful, worthwhile, fragile or magnificent. It is our very fears that add to this dynamic and make life worth living. This post is about facing fear, and in some ways it may generate fear because it is raw like the images and words it uses to relay its message.
Embrace it. Then get the hell off of your phone, computer, tablet, whatever it is you’re reading this on, and embrace your life by doing something that terrifies you.
Which, while we are in the vein of abrasive vernacular, I’m just going to warn you: this post is full of ugly language and graphic images, but they are part of the experience and journey: an experience that begins with one person, yet relates to us all.
Brady Dean. If you know the name you know the man. He is one who grabs life by the balls, gives it one of his characteristic can’t-let-go,-who-knows-what-my-hand-will-do twists and then sets them free with a smile. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if he enjoys it, or just laughs off his quirks to hide how frustrated they make him. Brady, like all of us, is dynamic. Brady, like all of us should, lives his life to the fullest.
I had to remind myself of that last week while I was cleaning copious amounts of blood off of the rubber mats after he left the gym on a gurney.
It all started with an ambitious, barrier breaking workout. Brady decided to sign up for the Wodapalooza online qualifier in the adaptive standing scaled division. This is a division that was introduced in the event’s inception. Their mission is to be the:
“…first competition of its kind in the “fitness” world, to include an Adaptive-Athlete division. We are putting as much emphasis on being inclusive as we do on our elite-level athletes. This is a profound step in providing opportunities for all athletes to compete in CrossFit inspired competitions, and we intend to make this a part of WZA’s identity. We hope others will follow suit, and that we can inspire more to provide opportunities to individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities.”
Brady is WZA’s identity. He is an athlete. He is attracted to extreme sports that scare most able-bodied folk, and attacks them with as much intensity as he can muster (which by the way is quite a bit!). He isn’t satisfied with reaching for his limits and testing them out, he reaches up past them and pulls himself through them as if they were a gateway to success. He pushes beyond his limitations and guides his athletic self with a “what if” mindset. Like any athlete he is never satisfied. The same is true for all who love sport – whether you’re a weekend warrior, a part-time player, or full-time fanatic, all athletes share a zest for testing themselves out. Are you wondering if you’re an athlete? Have you ever said yes to any of these questions?
This is going to be scary and challenging, do you still want to do it?
Wow that looks hard, I wonder if I should do it?
Can I practice more to get better?
I’ve never done ____ before, but it looks fun, should I?
Do you want to know what you have to do to get the next level; it’s not pretty, but I can tell you?
If so you’re an athlete and you understand inherently that it is at the edges of our experience we grow the most. We learn about ourselves and get to test our mettle most when we are in uncertain territory. Finding out what you’re made of is both terrifying and freeing all at once. In this way we are all the same, but in other ways we are different.
Due to his differences Brady was nervous to enter the arena and compete. He knew that Cerebral Palsy (CP) is more uncommon than a missing limb or paralysis in the realm of competitive crossfit; they are the more typical limitations programmed for in the workouts. It is scary as hell to put yourself out there knowing you’re beginning behind the starting line, but he still did it. Not only for himself, but to help show the world that limitations both begin and end with your mindset. This is something Brady knows all too well. His mind is not affected by his disability like his body is. At times he feels frustrated that his body won’t cooperate because he knows and feels all that he is capable of. Yet, in those times when Brady is at his best, he reaches up to do more, to be more, to experience more, rather than letting it bring him down. Let that be a reminder to him and all that face challenges: we are our best selves when we overcome the odds and refuse to succumb to sorrow.
With this attitude, he did the qualifier workouts. They were extremely difficult, and despite struggling he finished the first two full of positivity, pride in his effort, and hope for the next one. Workout 18.3 was a long one with challenging overhead dumbbell carries. In the two days before he was able to set a personal record by getting 45lbs off of the ground and to his shoulder a few times. Although he wasn’t able to get it overhead, I beamed with pride as he hoisted it up there. The man has no quit in him!
During 18.3 it was equally impressive and nerve wracking to see him complete his jumping pullups and then trudge 25 feet with a 35lb dumbbell over his head. This weight is one that he wasn’t sure he could even pick up two days prior. Brady gave it everything he got and made four laps for a total of 100 feet. In what wasn’t meant to be a finale, at the finish line, just five feet from finishing, his balance betrayed him as it often does. Rather than stop, he did the opposite… HE SPED UP. You can watch the video here. But be forewarned, Brady did fall. He lunged towards the finish line, crashed through it and landed on the floor in a pile. At first I thought he was just exhausted, but when I got there he screamed and held up his thumb. It looked like a pop-open hot dog: the skin was split and the flesh on the tip of it was white and pallid. It sat in contrast with the deep maroon blood that was gushing out on the floor.
After we got him wrapped up and put pressure on it, before he caught his breath, while he was in shock, Brady was focused on one thing: his workout. His first words were, “FUCK. Now I can’t compete.” He said it over and over again, “Now I can’t compete. Now I can’t compete.” In the moment I understood how natural of a response that was, but upon reflection I was upset. After he left on a gurney and the reality of life with severe CP and a damaged good hand sunk in, I questioned everything. Why did I let him do that workout? Should I have made him slow down? I could have made him stop when I saw how difficult it was, but I didn’t…
Those thoughts are dangerous.
My feeling of remorse couldn’t last long even if I did decide to entertain it. Brady returned to the gym that night with his mom. He had a thumb bandage bigger than a melon, but he seemed to be in good spirits. There I met his mother who explained the whole ER experience with a few F-bombs herself. I smiled, not only because I particularly enjoy 4-letter vernacular, but also because it all made so much sense. He is where he comes from – a family that supports his desire to push his limits and be bigger than himself, and a community that embraces for who he is, not his CP.
Brady’s mission is bigger than a workout. It’s bigger than his family relationship; it’s bigger than the gym and the community at large. Brady’s mission is to help people understand that ALL of us are no different in our ability to be comfortable pushing to the extremes of our limits, and ALL of us are capable if we are willing to ask for the support we need from our family, friends and community. He uses his difference to bring us all together and to truly show that there are no excuses.
This is what it is about. If I had told Brady to take it easy or slow down, those words would have carried a different message: you can’t do it. If I had stopped him from even attempting the workout I would have gone against his very being; Brady is driven by a relentless curiosity for “what if?” He embraces the ugliness of his disease, being trapped in a body that doesn’t cooperate, but he also embraces the beauty of it. He knows that his mission in life is to inspire others of all types to get off their asses and get moving on their hopes and dreams. He says if he can do it, anybody can, you just might need to modify your expectations and that’s okay.
Be like Brady: realize life is ugly, but it’s also beautiful, worthwhile, fragile and magnificent. Put down your distractions and push your limits. What will you do to embrace fear today?
There are no excuses.