Riding high on the momentum from my (slightly) more successful workout 16.3, I was excited to attack 16.4. I was still excited, even after I saw it announced, as it turned out to be a grueling 13 minute chipper that would put athletes’ arms and legs through the, well, the chipper. The Rx workout for 16.4 is:
13 minute time cap for:
- 55 deadlifts
- 55 wall-ball shots
- 55-calorie row
- 55 handstand push-ups
I looked at this workout and had two thoughts: 1) I can do all of those movements! and 2) No, wait. I can’t even do the first movement.
The reason why I thought this way is because, as a T5-T6 injury paraplegic, I have no muscle control below my pectoral region. How in the world can you do a deadlift if you don’t have either lower back or abdominal muscles? HOW?
I waited with trepidation until 6AM the next day when the wheelchair adaptive site WheelWOD would release their Rx standards, and here they are:
- 55 deadlifts with 70lb kettlebells
- 55 wall ball shots with 14lb ball and 9 foot target
- 35 calorie row
- 55 dumbbell shoulder presses with 35lb dumbbells
Not only have I never attempted a deadlift using kettlebells (I usually do rows while lying face down on a bench), but the standard required a collective weight of 140lbs. I could already envision it. I’d bend forward, grab these very heavy weights, and then not go anywhere with them. How was I supposed to sit upright? With no active muscles to do the work?
But…you gotta try. So I tried. I bent over, grabbed those two 70lb weights and I…sat up. It wasn’t easy, it strained every point in what could only be called my bifurcated posterior chain, and I wanted to drop them almost immediately, but I sat up. And then I did it again. And again. Even now, at this very moment, I cannot tell you how I did it or what muscle groups I was activating that would enable me to do something that I did not think I had the muscle control to do. But I did it.
(Yes, I nearly head-butted my beloved wife who was trying to keep me from toppling over)
So there it was. Wheelchair paraplegic guy, doing deadlifts. Nothing can stop me now!
That is, until I got to the very next movement and began to practice the 14lb wall balls at a 9 foot target.
See that white line over the whiteboard? That’s my target. That’s my target that I never came close to surpassing. And that was it. That was my workout. 16.4 was officially done, as the WheelWOD rules stipulate that once you fail at a movement 10 times, your workout ends.
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hit that target with that 14 lb weighted medicine ball. In fact, I could barely reach 9 ft with a 10lb ball. Even now, as I look at the leaderboard, I have no idea how dozens of wheelchair-bound people can generate enough thrust without the use of their legs and hips to toss a 14lb ball that high.
10 attempts, 10 failures. And so my workout was over.
What did I do then? I kept going.
35 calorie row. Have you ever sat down at a rowing machine and said to yourself, “I’m basically stuck here for the next 4 and a half minutes?” That’s what I was in for, that’s what I knew I was in for, and that’s what I did. The question is, why?
To be sure, I can always quip, “Well, I didn’t want to get dressed up for nothing.” But the truth is, going into this workout, I knew my score would be capped at 55. I knew I wouldn’t get a single wall ball shot. I knew that, from a competitive standpoint, there was no point in continuing.
Why keep going? One reason is that my coach, the genteel Brad Bunde (of whom it is rumored, if not yet confirmed, that he taught Fred Astaire how to dance, Bing Crosby how to sing, and Frank Sinatra how to snorkel), has repeatedly said that the Open is a snapshot of your physical fitness at that specific moment of your life. It might be the absolute best you have to offer, but more than likely it is going to capture your limits in strength, limits in movement, your lack of sleep, the 200 things that are troubling your mind 18 hours a day, and that slice of spam you ate right before you got to the gym. So treat it as such, and don’t be embarrassed by it.
The second reason is my recollection of some savory bits of war history.
“War is the father of us all, King of all. Some it makes gods, some it makes men, some it makes slaves, some free.” – Heraclitus of Ephesus
The idea is that war and conflict are the ultimate purifiers of human character. Conflict is the unapologetic assayer of the truth of humanity. It reveals all things – anger, love, frustration, patience, discord, peace, despair, hope. The inches that separate the weight on the ground and the weight in your hands will tell you quite a bit, not about your musculature, but of your understanding of your own personal nature. The fact of the matter is, you either pick it up, or you don’t. But the truth of the matter is, you see the heavy object insuperable forever, or you see it as a challenge to which you have not yet found the best solution.
Aut inveniam viam aut faciam
This Latin phrase, which is attributed to the Carthagian military commander Hannibal (even though he didn’t speak Latin, but the Punic language of North Africa), translates to:
I shall either find a way or make one
This phrase was Hannibal’s historic response to his generals who told him that it was impossible to take elephants across the Swiss Alps.
During the Second Punic War in 218BC, the brilliant Carthaginian general Hannibal led his army, and more importantly, his war elephants, across the Pyrenees and Swiss Alps and into Northern Italy to attack the Roman Republic. In what is now held as one of the great accomplishments of military force in the ancient world of warfare, Hannibal resolved to utilize his elephants and take the fight directly to the Romans by maneuvering his infantry across the mountain range.
While Hannibal’s ultimate efforts were mixed, his resolve and war cry will remain forever in antiquity (as well as at the University of Pennsylvania, Breaking Bad, and in tattoos across the world). And so it is with workouts such as this – you either find a way, or you make one. My personal resolve is this – sometimes, the way that you make will take a long time, maybe even a year until the 2017 WheelWOD CrossFit Open. But there is the door, so figure out a way to go through it.
Addendum: the man who defeated Hannibal, the great Roman General Scipio Africanus, had a pretty good line of his own:
“I am aware of the frailty of man, I think about the power of fortune, and I know that all our actions are at the mercy of a thousand vicissitudes. Now I admit that it would have been arrogant and headstrong reaction on my part if you had come to sue for peace before I crossed to Africa, and I had rejected your petition when you were yourself voluntarily quitting Italy, and had your troops embarked on your ships. But, as it is, I have forced you back to Africa, and you are reluctant and resisting almost to the point of fighting, so that I feel no need to show you any consideration. Accordingly, if something is actually added to the terms on which it seems probable that a peace could be concluded — some sort of indemnity for the forceful appropriation of our ships, along with their cargoes, during truce and for the violation of our envoys — then I have something to take to my council. But if you consider even that to be excessive, prepare for war, for you have found peace intolerable.”
My video cut out before I began my attempt at the 35lb dumbbell presses. I can attest that I started them at approximately the 12 minute mark. I can also claim that I did all 55 of them in the 60 second window. As far as you know.