One thing you have to understand is that I’m an altruist.
I enjoy serving others- be it pitching in on some manual labor, or helping drive on a cross country move, or talking to a friend about their nutrition and training… I like helping others.
I learned this about myself at an early age, and my altruism has manifested itself in a variety of ways throughout my life: building houses in Honduras, serving the country in the US Army, and most recently in the developing the community of ABV.
I’ve realized a lot about service over the years- there are many ways to contribute to mankind, and plenty of ways to make a difference. But what I learned from my experiences in Honduras and Afghanistan is this: helping an individual is a powerful thing… but finding a way to serve an entire community amplifies your impact a thousand fold.
If you want to change a man’s life, build him a house.
If you want to change a man’s, his children’s, his grandchildren’s, and all of his neighbor’s lives, build them a school.
This lesson greatly influenced the foundation for ABV. Helping someone get off the couch and unlock their inner athlete is absolutely inspiring, rewarding work. But at the end of the day, it is a singular event- one person making a few, healthy changes to their day-to-day routine. A single life changed in an overwhelming, rising tide of sedentary and obese Americanism.
While helping improve even one person’s health is always a worthy endeavor, the goal for ABV was to have a broader reach- to impact the community, not just an individual. I wanted ABV to represent a cultural change; a rearrangement of priorities in which health and happiness usurp wealth and career as the most important things in our lives.
Convincing one mom that her chance at lifelong fitness has not passed her by is certainly not an easy task. But getting her to stick with it- to remain high priority while she is getting pulled in a thousand directions by her career, her children, her marriage, and life in general… that is a truly monumental task.
It is far easier to incorporate something into your life if it is a shared experience. When undertaking a tremendous task such as getting back in shape, it’s far easier to dedicate oneself to the process when you know you are part of a group- the group holds you accountable; the group understands what you’re going through, and shares in the experience with you.
If you are lucky enough to share such an experience with a community that seeks to spend quality time together outside of the gym, both socially and athletically, prioritizing your health and happiness becomes natural, as you are surrounded by individuals that have chosen to do the same.
And as you begin to spend more and more time at the gym and surrounded by your community, you begin to draw those close to you- your family and friends- into your new lifestyle. Significant others and close friends decide to give it a try, to meet these people you’ve been spending so much time with. Their involvement only reinforces your newfound priorities.
Soon, you stop thinking about “working out” and “nutrition”- they simply become a part of your day, woven into the fabric of your life as tightly as brushing your teeth or starting your car. When you are looking forward to seeing your friends, when people ask where you’ve been when you’ve been out of town, going to the gym becomes the highlight of your day instead of frustrating chore.
If you want a beautiful yard this year, plant flowers.
If you want a beautiful yard for many years to come, plant trees.
In order to change a culture… to truly influence a paradigm shift that will stand the test of time, you have span generations. As much as the community can amplify the message and perpetuate change, it doesn’t become cultural until you involve the youngest generation.
When kids see their parents jumping on boxes, throwing barbells around, and swinging on pull up bars, they see the box for what it really is: a playground for adults. So when you offer the kids an opportunity to be unleashed onto their own, smaller version of the CrossFit playground, they are beyond excited at the chance to share in what mom and dad have been compulsively practicing and constantly discussing.
After adding the CrossFit Kids program to ABV, I fully expected to attract the athletic, active kids in the community- the loud, boisterous type that tend to be involved in team sports… echos of my childhood. What I didn’t expect was the draw for the more soft spoken kids, who have never been into sports, and who have yet to unlock their athletic potential. What I didn’t understand is that where I’d always seen CrossFit as a tool for improving fitness, for these kids, fitness is simply a tool for improving self confidence. It has been and impressive and striking lesson they have taught me.
If you want to change a man’s life, give him fitness.
If you want to change a man’s, his children’s, his grandchildren’s, and all of his neighbor’s lives, give the entire community fitness.
Last Saturday we had another “Family WOD”- a partner workout designed so that it can be done parent/kid, kid/kid, or adult/adult… lots of bodyweight movements that are easily scalable for all ages and all fitness levels. It was a great WOD with a great group of families- we had a blast, and it was awesome to see CrossFit applied over such a wide range of ages and fitness levels.
I’m not entirely sure that anyone present understood what a big deal it was- parents and kids working out, side by side, sharing this beautiful thing we call fitness. It was obviously meaningful for the parents to be able to share their favorite with their kids, and for the kids it was just fun, quality time with the parents. But it was much more than a fun Saturday afternoon with the family- it was symbolic of the deeper paradigm shift that is occurring.
We are beginning to stitch the love of health and fitness into the collective tapestry of our community. We’re moving from seeing working out and eating healthy as chores, to shared, enjoyable experiences. And we’ve figured out how to incorporate the entire family- to allow the passion of the parents to be shared by the children. We’re cultivating a new generation of athletes, that see fitness and nutrition as a part of their everyday lives, and enjoy working out because they have fun with it.We’re putting health, happiness, and community at the very top of the priorities list.
It’s tough to change a habit. Even tougher to change a culture. But if you can get the share the experience- if you surround yourself with people with the same priorities, who understand what you’re going through, it’s a lot easier. And if you can involve the kids, allowing the change to permeate throughout family life, it can become a part of the community’s culture.