The snatch: bringing the weight up from the ground and catching it overhead in a squat. One hundred and sixty pounds, a would be personal record; Kristen weighs only fifteen pounds more. There are other people in the gym, but Kristen only sees the weight. Self talk, “You can do this.” One, two, three steps to the bar. Square up, set feet, shake brown bangs out of eyes. She gets into her starting position, shins vertical to the bar, butt down low, her muscles prominently showing through her tight grey Lulu Lemon leggings. Music is playing on the speakers throughout the gym, the bus is exhausting at an Ybor stop, but Kristen only hears her thoughts. Grab bar, take a deep breath. Go.
She gets the weight above her head following the movements instilled in her brain: speed through the middle, keep the bar close, quick turnover. With her arms locked out and straight, her head through the window, she sits in the bottom of her squat, struggling to convince her legs to stand up. She yells a deep “ahh” and drops the weight in front of her. Both sounds echo throughout the 15,000 square foot warehouse, off of the cinder block walls and thirty foot ceiling. Kristen lands on her butt, her long hair flying in the air, dust and chalk clouding around her.
At 4:45 a.m., the alarm goes off every weekday morning on Kristen’s phone that lays on the floor next to her mattress, quickly followed by the snooze button. The twenty-four-year-old turns in her bed and her boyfriend Matt lets out a groan but stays put on his stomach. Four snoozes later, the final alarm goes off and Kristen gets out of bed at the same speed as the sun that’s starting to rise. She makes her way through her daily routine—bathroom, coffee, change—and whispers goodbye to Matt as she decides it’s best to squat down and kiss him on the forehead. She starts her 20-minute commute to Cigar City CrossFit to coach the 6:30 a.m. class.
Kygo’s tropical-house beats play through the radio and aid Kristen in the traffic she faces on I-275. Instead of growing impatient, she assesses the thoughts in her head and takes time to appreciate all that she has, preparing herself for another day of coaching and training, channeling the confusion of her relationship into the notion that the universe has a way of working things out.
She takes Exit 1 and parks on the cement slab in front of her second home. In the dawn’s dim light, she lifts open the first of three bay doors to N 24th street. She writes the workout of the day on the whiteboard in straight, neat handwriting as members start to trickle in. “Character Consistency Strength” is painted in huge black letters across the front wall. The mixture of caffeine with the energy of the athletes reminds Kristen that she’s where she’s supposed to be, creating a life around what she loves to do.
“Alright, go on a 400 meter run to warm up,” Kristen says. The members run out of the garage door, down the ramp, and veer right and around the building to the 400 meter turnaround point. Kristen walks to the gym’s edge and crosses her arms and smiles. She’s wearing a grey sweatshirt she printed herself that reads “Coach” on the back, the tightness of the sleeves accentuating her biceps and triceps. As the sun starts to rise, turning grey Ybor into a light orange glow, her dark brown eyes reflect the shine. With a deep breath, Kristen takes in the crisp morning air and waits for the athletes’ hard work.
As the 6:30 a.m. class starts to leave, the 8 a.m. class members start rolling in. “Everyone grab a PVC pipe,” Kristen says after the warm up run and stretching is complete. Round two begins with a new wave of energy—the sun, while still rising, has painted the town with its warmth and brings positivity to the novice members. “We’re going to do the Mike B warm up,” Kristen says as everyone takes a red lifting square. Kristen leads the athletes through the proper motions of a clean: speed through the middle, keep the bar close, fast elbows.
The goals of the members are a reflection of the gym’s values: have fun, make friends, get results, and the group fitness model provides ample room to accomplish all three. But CrossFit extends beyond a good workout and was created to find the Fittest on Earth. Athletes around the world dedicate their lives to perfecting the movements, making their entire beings revolve around clean eating and spending time in the gym so they can perform at their peak in competition.
Athletes compete every year in the Open, which is a five-week, five-workout competition starting in the end of February. The top athletes in the Open continue on to compete in one of 17 regions, called Regionals. From Regionals, 40 men, 40 women, 40 teams, 80 teenages, and 250 masters make it to the Games. Last year, 324,307 participants from 175 countries participated in the Open. This year, that number is expected to grow.
Kristen is training for the 2018 CrossFit Regionals.
She spends an average of three hours a day working out, but compared to the top CrossFit athletes, she’s three hours short. “I can get there, I will get there,” Kristen says. “It’s not a matter of if it’s realistic or not, I’m just going to do it.” But she faces more obstacles than just dedication.
A screen printer sits in the living room of Matt and Kristen’s one bedroom apartment, taking up any space for living, while Matt sits in the bedroom playing video games, taking up any space for Kristen to relax. When they moved from Buffalo to Tampa a year ago, they were both in the height of their bodybuilding careers, but with a shift to CrossFit, Kristen wasn’t finding glory in bodybuilding anymore. As a sport dedicated to isolation, the only common ground between Kristen and Matt is their clothing brand, Glory Awaits, which encompasses the idea that no matter what anyone chooses to do, they do so to find glory in it.
Kristen sits on a stack of 25 pound plates in her bright coral Lulu Lemon spandex, taking a rest between sets of her strength workout of the day. A friend walks into the gym and gives Kristen a hug. She takes a seat on the ground and begins stretching as Kristen talks about her goals for the day, the weight she’s working up to, and the fact that she needs to quit the “mind games” she’s playing with the barbell.
Kristen reads “Character Consistency Strength” but focuses on only one word. Strength.
The clean and jerk: bringing the weight up from the ground and catching it in a squat, standing up, then getting the weight overhead with a dip and drive movement. Two hundred pounds, the weight needed for a personal record. Coaches and friends focus their attention on Kristen, but Kristen only sees the weight. Self talk, “You got this.” One, two, three steps to the bar. Square up, set feet, shake hair out of eyes. Members are working out in full motion, a yoga class is going on in the back, but Kristen can only hear her thoughts. Grab bar, take a deep breath.