No Average Joe…

We are sad to say goodbye to Joey Meier as he moves on from Laramie. This quiet, athletic gentlemen walked through our doors in 2014 with no CrossFit experience. Fast-forward to less than 2 years later……. he scored in the top 10 of our gym in the 2016 Open earning a spot on the CrossFit 7220 2016 Affiliate Cup Team. Please take time to read about his amazing experience that showcased his drive, determination, and ability to rise from disappointment. 

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Crossfit 7220 has made a huge impact on my life. Before I get into detail about how, you need to understand why I came here in the first place. I don’t tell this story very often, but as I enter into my last week in Laramie I’ve begun to reflect on my past 5 years in this city. I’d be wrong not to share and give gratitude to the box, as it will definitely be one of the toughest things to leave behind. My intent of this article is for it to serve as a testimonial to what Crossfit 7220 can do for any average Joe who’s experienced failure.

One philosophy I’ve believed in my entire life is that we’re all born with a certain set of strengths and talents. The Christian side of me believes it’s our duty to develop those strengths the best we can over the course of life and use them to enrich the lives of others. This is largely why I chose to pursue Air Force ROTC: so that I could serve my country after college. Shortly after joining, I was searching for a career field to pursue. After some research, I found that combat rescue officers (CROs) are leaders of enlisted pararescue jumpers (PJs), and together they form the AF Pararescue career field. They’re the group of quiet professionals dedicated solely to combat personnel recovery, even (especially) if it’s behind enemy lines. In essence, it was the AF equivalent of a Navy SEAL, except CROs and PJs are the dudes who get called when SEALs got in trouble. The selection and 2-year training pipeline were physically and mentally rigorous, to say the least, with the highest washout rate of any career field selection in the entire Department of Defense. A short summary of the selection process is shown in this short video (http://youtube.com/T-75vfO1hjl).

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Being very athletic in high school and always loving a great challenge, the lifestyle seemed to be a calling for me. It was something I’d unknowingly been training for my entire life. After hours of putting together my paperwork, years of daily 1-2 mile swims and hours of pool work, thousands of miles of runs, and thousands of hours of calisthenics, I received my invitation. It was gametime and I was blessed enough to have a great amount of family, friends, and fellow cadets who believed in me.

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I arrived at Fairchild AF Base in Spokane, WA on the afternoon of 12 October 2013 for the 2nd of 2 annual dreaded hell weeks that is CRO selection. Our class consisted of the top 27 applicants from around the country of various ranks and service branches. Everyday consisted primarily of a 5 a.m. showtime, about 2-3 hours of running or rucking, 4-5 hours of either a scenario evaluation and/or “grass and gorillas” calisthenics with an abundance of log and tire workouts, a small lunch (if we were lucky and didn’t run over time), about 4-5 hours of absolute hell with dozens of water-confidence drills that were more like drowning in the pool, dinner, and then psych evaluations until about 3 am before being released back to the dorms only to do it all over again in 2 hours. Not to mention thousands of disciplinary pushups and flutter kicks all around. The instructors made sure we were pushed beyond our physical limits while the psychologists made sure we were pushed beyond our mental limits. It was up to us to prove resiliency at those moments. Each day, the standards increased drastically to weed out those who would quit. At the end of the second day our class had reduced to 15/27 primarily due to self-initiated-elimination. Each day, we grew more and more numb to the pain, but also more and more motivated to survive the unthinkable and finish. Due to the confidence instilled by my team I was completing water-con drills that I had never been able to fully complete in training. I witnessed firsthand that the human body is more capable than we think it is. Mind over matter does in fact exist.

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I learned that overcoming challenges brings out the best in people. I learned to always be moving and focusing on the small task at hand instead of looking at the entire process and getting scared. I learned the power of effective teamwork, and the power of hard work but more importantly smart, well-calculated and executed work.

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On the last morning of selection there were only 10 dudes left. The instructors would do anything, short of killing us, to get someone to quit. If you quit in training, there’s no doubt you’d quit on the battlefield. By this time, none of us left were going to let each other fail. During the afternoon pool session we started with the first standard water-con drill: underwaters, which I had done thousands of times before. Underwaters require candidates to push off the shallow end wall, swim subsurface for 25 meters, touch the bottom corner of the 14 ft deep end, swim at a 45 degree angle back to the surface, freestyle sprint back to the starting point, take a prescribed amount of break time (5 seconds on the last day), and do it all over again 5 times in a row. First one: easy, second: not too bad, third: getting tough, forth: feeling typically woozy, fifth one: can’t remember past halfway. I woke up on the deck with an O2 mask and an instructor slapping my face to bring me back to consciousness. I’d had a shallow-water-blackout, which happens from time to time but is not disqualifying unless multiple occur in succession (high probability of brain damage). After the docs deemed me clear the instructor who pulled me out looked me square in the eyes and asked, “Would you like to quit, Meier?” My response was a quick “F**k no, Sir” as I stood up to return back to the team. He laughed, as he’d clearly already known the answer before he even asked. The next drill was mask and snorkel recovery, which consisted of a full underwater followed by a retrieval of a mask and snorkel in the deep end. Without hesitation, I made it to the wall, turned around, found the snorkel, and don’t remember anything past that. I woke up again on the deck with the O2 mask on my face again. 2 blackouts in a row. With only a few hours remaining to complete the challenge I’d been preparing for my entire life up to that point, I came up short and was disqualified.

The reality hit me hard. I hadn’t foreseen failure as an option at any point during my training and I definitely wasn’t emotionally prepared for it. I couldn’t help the feeling of letdown: my team, my family/friends back home, and most definitely myself. On the bright side however, I hadn’t quit and I was very proud of that.

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The week that followed selection consisted of extended hours of sleep and full body recovery from the hell that it’d been through. The months that followed selection consisted of fear of the water, uncertainty of the future, and declining motivation to work towards a lifestyle of healthy fitness with no major milestones or goals to work towards. Eventually, I did rip off the bandaid and got back in the pool. It didn’t take long to gain back confidence in water, but it still wasn’t all there. Getting back in the classroom rhythm wasn’t too difficult either, but it also wasn’t all there and I felt slow to grasp concepts. My spiritual beliefs hadn’t changed much at all during the process. However, there was definitely something missing from my life. I hadn’t been working out at all outside of mandatory AF PT. It’s been said that fitness can be divided into the physical, the mental, the social, and the spiritual. When one lacks attention, the rest suffer. Over time, it became apparent that I needed something to change for the better. I needed a physical challenge, something new, to get me back to the old me.

I showed up at Crossfit 7220 on a Saturday in August of 2014 with a friend. I’d been to a few boxes before but didn’t have the best impression of Crossfit as it seemed to just be a fad for soccer moms and those who they drug along. My first impression of the box was that the instructors were very hands-on and made sure that everyone had correct form in all movements. Emphasis was on technique of movement over time/reps, which I loved as it makes it more of an art as well as a science in which improvement is always possible. The workout was challenging and I went all out, which gave me that high I’d been craving ever since training for pararescue. Maybe I’d give it a shot for a while and see how I liked it. Even though I didn’t have extensive knowledge of all the movements and terminology, Mike was gracious enough to let me start signing up for classes right away after a quick skills check. Within the first week I was hooked. Work’s always been in my blood and being active in the box was a way I finally felt satisfied.

The first month or so my form was corrected by the trainers A LOT. I took it in stride and was sure to thank everyone who would offer me feedback, as it’s the only way any of us get better. They were all critical, but encouraging. I remember showing up to the Saturday Slamdown after my first week in the box, only to have Nicole tell me afterwards that I wasn’t ready for all of the movements unsupervised yet. It was a wakeup call that I needed to hear. I needed to focus on developing my form before biting off more than I could chew. The following months were dedicated to learning how to move more properly, and that’s what kept me coming back. There was always something to learn and get better at so it never got boring. Eventually with persistence and some good coaching, form did come more naturally on the movements and weights/PRs went up. Nutrition became something I took more to heart, as it was a necessity for performance that quickly became a habit of life. I quit spending so much time running each day, and yet my run times on my AF PT test decreased. Going on multiple-day hunting trips deep in the woods each fall were more enjoyable with less pain. For the first time in a year or two, my body and my mind felt amazing. I felt motivated each day to tackle a WOD that I knew would be a challenge. My overall attitude during the day became optimized, and my performance in the classroom returned to how it used to be. I could swim and feel natural without any physical or mental limitations, as there had been in the recent past. Crossfit 7220 had been just was I was searching for. I was back to the old me, motivated to take on new challenges and move on from the past.

Needless to say, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my last two years in the box. It didn’t hurt that I got to meet several friendly people that I wouldn’t have otherwise. You may have noticed that I have been referring to “Crossfit 7220” in this article and not just “Crossfit.” Note the distinction. Crossfit, in general, is a great program in my opinion but only when taught and pursued with the right intentions. Of the other 5 boxes I’ve been to, none come close to the experience that our box has to offer on a daily basis. The rationale is a bit tricky to pinpoint, but I’d say it’s a combination of the classes they offer, the feedback they give, the continuously-improving programing, the flexibility they have with fulfilling the needs of all types of athletes that walk in the door, the competition present, the various specialized perspectives on coaching they have, the extracurricular opportunities (like the nutrition challenge) they have, and the people that are in the gym. Most influential of all is the people that are here. Everyone has a different story and different motivations, and it’s always powerful to see others realize their potential while achieving goals.

As I say goodbye to my home of 5 years and begin my time serving in the worlds greatest Air Force, my hopes are that I’ll be able to find more boxes like this one to keep me healthy and happy for years to come. There are definitely ones out there, I know. However, I’ll always miss the little things about this place like catching up with friends, having a beer or two after the occasional Friday afternoon class, the friendly competition with others, having my mood lifted after a long day by Evan and Lindsay’s positive attitude and hands-on coaching, getting one of the first few orders of hiveranno gear as it comes out, developing weakness areas after class or during open gym, the atmosphere during the Open, enjoying the food and company at the Christmas parties, good jokes in the crowd, and sucking wind at 7220 feet with the some of the hardest working people in Laramie.

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Thank you, Joey, for being a part of the CrossFit 7220 family and for sharing your story with us!

We want to hear from YOU, too! Send yours to nicolebleak@gmail.com

 

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