I didn’t want to go. I felt creaky and unmotivated, tempted to crawl back into bed and spend Saturday morning watching HGTV. “Come with me,” said Hot Firefighter Husband. “I miss you. Let’s do it together.”
He was headed to CrossFit Black Hive for the 10 am class. The workout, in CrossFit lingo, was a Hero WOD – a fierce, intimidating workout named after a soldier or firefighter who had died on duty. This lineup was particularly grueling: a 2.3 mile run, followed by five rounds of: 1 rope climb, 10 weighted sit-ups, 10 kettlebell swings, 10 burpee box jumps, and 10 weighted front squats.
So I went; the hot, humid air surrounded me like soup as I walked from the car. Before we started, gym owner Brent gathered us around to talk about the history of this particular WOD, named in honor of Staff Sgt. Jason Sean Dahlke, 29, a Florida native who had enlisted out of Jacksonville. Jason was killed August 29, 2009 by enemy fire in Afghanistan while conducting combat operations during his sixth deployment.
And then Brent introduced Jason’s sister, Talia, a slight, pretty, fit young woman with long blond hair who happened to be standing right next to me. Shyly, quietly, she stepped forward and said a few words about her brother, and thanked everyone for coming to honor him. She stepped back into place.
Let me tell you, if I had been standing next to Brad Fucking Pitt, I would not have been more starstruck. I tried not to stare at her, but it was hard. Because here was this woman, a girl, really, whose sacrifice for her country was almost as great as her brother’s. Jason Dahlke had given his life. But Talia had given her brother, a sacrifice she (and her family) continues to make every damn day.
While America obsesses about bikini bodies and The Bachelor and who’s on the Ashley Madison website, I’m guessing Talia Dahlke marches through life with the bittersweet, inspired clarity that only comes through terrible suffering. In this way, she’s her own brand of hero. And there she was, standing next to me, breathing and exercising and continuing to function, and that fact alone just blew me away.
As we listened to Brent and Talia talk, I don’t think any of us were worried about how well we’d do in the workout. We were thinking instead about sacrifice, loss, and purpose. Me, I was summoning both my physical and my inner strength, and remembering why I do this. Fifteen minutes earlier, I had been fretting about how hard it would be. But now, standing next to Talia, I felt determined and focused. This, dear peeps, is the key to understanding CrossFit, and it’s not about the sheer bad-assery. For me, being fit means being ready to serve humanity when I’m called, which is my personal form of patriotism. I don’t think I’ll ever be in a war zone. I can’t imagine I’ll ever carry a gun, much less fire one. But fitness, for me, is no longer about looking good. Yes, I want to be healthy and feel strong. Honestly, though, I’d rather just go for long walks on the beach. But I can’t. I’m obligated to be ready – and I know I’ve joked about the coming zombie apocalypse – but what I really mean is I need to be ready in case I’m called. Suppose I need to sweep a child out of the way of an oncoming car? Or fight off a bad guy? Or catch a suitcase that’s falling onto an elderly woman’s head from an airplane overhead bin?
Or steady an ailing parent’s shoulders as he stands up to walk to bed?
We all have our own definitions of being our best selves. Certainly, I want to be kind and tolerant; I strive for balance. I try to stand against injustice. And always, always, I aim to be strong – in body and spirit. I believe it’s my duty for no other reason than this: I can.
On Saturday, August 29, 2015, the sixth anniversary of Staff Sgt. Jason Dahlke’s death, his sister put her all into a CrossFit workout done in his honor, and she finished long before me. Afterwards, she looked spent and happy, and ready for whatever crossed her path. I didn’t know Jason, but I’m guessing he’d be proud of her. In this way, he lives on.
Workout of the Day in honor of Jason Dahlke
Run 2.3 miles
5 rounds of:
1 rope climb
10 situps w/35 lb weight for men, 25-lb weight for women
10 kettlebell swings – 70 lbs for men, 55 lbs for women
10 burpee box jumps – 30 inches for men, 24 inches for women
10 front squats w/165 lbs for men, 115 lbs for women
Full disclosure: I scaled this workout for my 51-year-old self. I ran 1. 5 miles, used a 15-lb weight for sit-ups, a 35-lb kettlebell, a 20-inch box, and did the front squats with a 35-lb kettlebell. I finished in 52:03.