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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Observations from a CrossFit Beginner

About four months ago, I heard the rumblings of a trendy phenomenon called “CrossFit”. My police department was buzzing about it and so I searched the Internet to investigate. I was led to a web-site where I watched a video about CrossFit and decided instantaneously that it was for crazy people. The video depicted men and women with chiseled abdominals lifting Olympic-sized weights and maneuvering feats of athletic elitism on boxes and gymnastics rings. The decision to stick with my 30 minute routine on the elliptical with a magazine at my local gym seemed sound.

One of my co-workers and newly converted CrossFitter would often stop by my office to chat about which part of his body he couldn’t move after his Workout of the Day (WOD). While that was more validation for me to stick to my elliptical, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by how much he loved it. He assured me that all fitness levels were welcome and convinced me to try it “just one time.”

I scheduled my session and made my way to my nearest CrossFit gym where I was met by very welcoming coaches. I was immediately intimidated by their minimal body fat and deducted that my initial impression while watching the video on-line was correct.  I also noted a bucket in the middle of the gym labeled “pukey”. Compelled by these observations, my “fight or flight” survival instincts kicked in and I decided to wait for the coaches to look away so I could escape (fighting just didn’t seem to be an option given their muscular physiques). It occurred to me that I had already provided them my identity and it was painfully obvious that they would be able to catch me with minimal effort if I ran, so I reluctantly stayed.

It was during the next few weeks that the coaches would provide me with “elements” training – an introductory phase where I would learn proper form and technique before joining the seasoned CrossFitters in their WOD. Despite my being the new face in the gym, no one missed an opportunity to introduce themselves and provide encouragement in those moments when I needed it. Now that I am able to put it in proper perspective, it was the kindness of the CrossFitters that kept me coming back in those days I felt intimidated and overwhelmed. They continue to do that for me every day.

In the elements phase, I felt pain that I had never felt before. I was no stranger to strength training but this was different and unlike any other experience I’ve had in the gym. This was full body training that encompassed stamina, strength and flexibility all at once. It was grueling and it moved me so far out of my comfort zone by challenging everything I thought I knew about fitness and what my body could endure.

I finished the beginner phase and became an official CrossFitter. Over the past four months, I have come to the realization that the workouts do not get any easier. They aren’t supposed to. I have conquered some personal milestones like climbing the rope and doing pull-ups without a band. I can even do some double-unders (although I invariably suffer from welts in the process). Even though I’m gaining skills, every WOD makes me want to curse my coaches (and I often do!). Each day is a new challenge because no work-outs are the same. When I attain a goal, we celebrate the achievement but the ultimate victory is the understanding that you can always be better than you are.

I started CrossFit to get in better shape; I remain there because of what it has done to stifle the little voice inside my head that tells me to quit when things get hard. In the “box”, it’s not an option to quit because the coaches will remind you that the work-out you are doing is named after a real soldier who lost his life serving our country. When I begin to feel as though I cannot do 50 more box jumps or pull-ups, I remember that 20 minutes of pain is nothing compared to what our soldiers endure in the trenches. There are some days I modify the prescribed weight and there are some days I’m slower than everyone else but CrossFit has taught me to condition my inner voice to say, “Do not give up” and my body listens.

That is a lesson for both inside the gym and out.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Craftmanship means giving your best

One of my pet peeves is when people do things only half-way. I spend a lot of time explaining this concept to my children when they leave a chore half done or complete a homework assignment that is clearly not their best work. I repeatedly tell my children that the work they do is a reflection of who they are and they should always take care to give the world the best of themselves.

I find that humans will often take the path of least resistance when left to their own devices and if we aren’t conscious, laziness and apathy can become the norm. This is why diligence must be constantly reinforced.

This is illustrated beautifully in the construction of timepieces. In the beginning of watchmaking, individual masters made one of a kind works of art for royalty. These watchmakers were artisans and they spent many months making a single timepiece that was a precise mechanical masterpiece and a thing of beauty. The inner mechanisms of the timepiece were likely never seen by anyone but that didn’t matter to the artisans. They still took care that each piece was beautifully designed and hand-crafted to perfection.

There are still many individuals in different trades that operate under that same philosophy. Those who take the time to perfect their work for the sake of pride are today’s master artisans.

I sometimes think we have lost the concept of craftsmanship. By that, I mean the diligence and effort that goes into work that leaves the creator’s spirits lifted. It is the feeling you get when you stand back and assess your efforts and are proud and inspired by the product. One does not have to handcraft timepieces to be considered a craftsman. You simply have to put your skill and mastery into whatever it is you do.

Craftsmanship is not just about physical construct. I see police officers who exhibit craftsmanship through their service to others every day. Every contact with a citizen is a chance for them to reveal their mastery. Even when issuing a citation to a driver or taking someone into custody, if they do so with professionalism and character, they are displaying pride in their work. An officer who treats someone who chooses to break the law with dignity and respect is mastering their craft. Ensuring that a police report is a thorough and accurate reflection of the incident that occurred is a practice in craftsmanship.

Giving your best in all that you do can become tiresome. I have seen people lose their motivation to work at their highest potential because they felt their effort was futile or unrecognized. There is certainly something to be said for losing inspiration and motivation because of a shattered spirit. We can all point to something that was unfair or unjust at some point in our lives and easily use that as an excuse to stop giving our best. I watched many artisans in their trade give up because they felt they were underappreciated.

Those who have mastered craftsmanship understand that the motivation to give their absolute best comes not from external praise or recognition. It is the intrinsic motivation that comes from the realization of purpose. An officer who writes tickets to please their supervisor or to generate revenue for the city will easily become frustrated by elements beyond their control. In contrast, the officer who understands that their job is to do their part to prevent traffic crashes by upholding the law has a purpose that is bigger than themselves. They understand that issuing a citation (no matter how negatively received) is their contribution to preventing the loss of life.

No matter what your life’s work, a true artisan will not let outside influences dictate the quality of their work. The pride that goes with giving the best you have to offer in all circumstances is what craftsmanship is all about.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Routine" Traffic Stops

56 law enforcement officers were killed as a result of assaults in 2010.

Traffic stops accounted for seven of those 56 deaths. If you do an internet search of “police officers killed during traffic stops”, you will find pages and pages of stories where officers have been killed during a “routine” traffic stop.

We are taught in the academy that there is no such thing as a “routine” traffic stop. What might seem like a relatively minor traffic violation to a police officer could potentially result in a fatal encounter depending on who is in that car. An officer never knows if their next encounter might be the one that keeps them from going home to their families at night.

That is exactly what happened to Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. The Tampa, FL police officers were killed by Dontae Rashawn Morris after Officer Curtis pulled over a vehicle in which Morris was a passenger because it didn’t have a license plate. Curtis found that Morris was wanted on a warrant for writing a bad check and called for backup. Both officers approached the vehicle on the passenger side to take Morris into custody but he spun around and shot both officers. There were no radio transmissions after the shootings.

These officers represent two of the 56 killed in assaults last year. What the statistics don’t tell you is that Jeffrey Kocab’s wife was 9 months pregnant with their first child at the time of his death. They don’t tell you that David Curtis was married with four boys ranging from 8 months to 9 years old. They don’t tell you what impeccable human beings Officers Curtis and Kocab were or how much they contributed to their profession and their community.

I tell the stories of these police officers to not only memorialize them, but so you can understand the risk associated with a “routine” traffic stop.

If you are ever pulled over, I ask that you keep this story (and the countless others) in the forefront of your mind when confronted by the police officer.

Remember, they don’t know that you are a law-abiding citizen who gives to countless charities. To them, you are a potential threat.

If you see an officer’s overhead lights behind you, pull over as soon as possible. If you continue to drive, the officer will assume you are trying to flee from them. When you come to a stop, be conscious of your movements. The glove compartment is where most of us keep our insurance cards and vehicle registrations but it is also a common place for criminals to conceal a weapon. You might be well-meaning when you reach into the glove box on your own accord, but the officer will most likely tell you to stop. This is not because he or she is in bad mood. It is because they have no idea what you are retrieving.

If you are reaching under your seat or maneuvering in such a way that it is suggestive of guilty nervousness or that might arouse suspicion that you are hiding something, you can expect the officer to react. Many criminals attempt to “stash” illegal substances or firearms before being approached by the officer so it is imperative that your hands remain on the steering wheel prior to the officer’s approach and that you comply with his or her requests. If there are passengers in your car, advise them to do the same.

Most importantly, do not exit your vehicle. There is no greater threat to an officer than someone who begins to approach them.

As unpleasant as it is to be pulled over by the police, your cooperation during a traffic stop is greatly appreciated by the officers. They do not want to become another statistic.