For many people, it takes every bit of courage they have to show up to a gym or a yoga studio or a CrossFit class or whatever workout they have finally decided to try. For many, it is a triumph to get through the door. And for some, their first impression has them running like a bat out of hell right back out.
Customer service is a skill, a skill that not everyone has. To me, it is common sense. When it comes to fitness, it is all the more important to have that skill, ESPECIALLY for those people who it did take every bit of nerve they had to walk through that door. So. You show respect, you listen to what the other person says and you encourage. You do not belittle. You do not body shame. And you do not judge. At all. When it comes to health and fitness, someone’s first interaction is what can inspire them to want to take more steps when they have a positive experience versus what can traumatize them when it goes terribly wrong.
Let me tell you about my first CrossFit experience 6 years ago. Spoiler alert. It was awful, demoralizing and infuriating.
I was about 5 months out from a broken foot, prior to which I was doing high impact workouts like running and kickboxing. I tried to find a workout I could do while I was in a cast, but the thing about a cast is that you cannot get it wet. Working out results in sweating which can result in mold. Gross. So it was not an option. I was at one of my lowest points with a hella lot of life’s stresses yet I was not able to use my go-to therapy, fitness, to deal with it.
Needless to say when the cast came off 6 weeks later, I was ecstatic. I thought I could get back to my workouts, but go figure, that did not happen. I wanted to kickbox and run again like I did before I broke my foot, but I could not. I had so much muscle atrophy (my leg was half the size of the other) that anything involving my feet (i.e. everything) caused soreness, swelling and pain and just overall muscle fatigue. I was really frustrated because I probably gained 10 pounds (I lost almost all my muscle tone. Everywhere. Muscle tone that I worked my ass off to gain. So to say frustrated is an understatement).
I was at a loss as to how to get back into shape. A friend of mine, Nikki, who had been doing CrossFit a few years and had just started coaching, suggested CrossFit as it is totally scalable. She was really enthusiastic about it which got me excited about it too.
I found a CrossFit box to try out (a friend of a friend coached there), and so I set up a 1:1 consultation with the owner /coach. I was eager to go but also intimidated. CrossFit just sounded scary and I did not know what to expect. Well, what I did get was definitely not what I expected. Upon meeting him, I immediately got bad vibes from him. It was very clear to me that he was one of the most arrogant, condescending, unqualified people the universe ever could have brought to me as an introduction to CrossFit.
He had me do a baseline workout that had rowing, air squats and push-ups. He was telling me repeatedly to go faster which I was not comfortable with as hello, I was recovering from an injury. My foot was sore. My knees were not properly aligned. My stance was wide. I felt ridiculous. When I got done with the workout, he had the AUDACITY to tell me that my form was shit. Which mind you, not once did he give me any cues or guidance as to “how” I should be performing the movements. It was all “Move faster!” Super helpful, Guy.
And it got worse after that. He made repeated insulting comments about my height. For example, he asked if I wore heels all day to work and quickly said “well yeah of course you do. You are short.”
He asked me how I broke my foot, and as I was responding, I only got this far, “I was running—“
“Oh yeah no wonder you broke your foot running. 70% of runners have bad technique.”
“No, d-bag, I was not running recreationally. I was running in chunky flip flops through an airport to c catch a flight and rolled my foot.”
He made an assumption that I was a totally incompetent athlete and naturally my injury was due to my lack of skill. Prick.
At any rate, I could not get out of there fast enough. I walked out of there seething with anger and contempt. I was ready to write off CrossFit completely because this guy did a shit poor job of representing. And without any other benchmark, I was just done.
I talked to Nikki, and she was as appalled as I was. She reassured me that he was not representative of CrossFit and to not give up on it because of him.
Obviously, we all know my CrossFit journey did not end there. I am grateful I had the guidance from Nikki as I did indeed find another box with a polar opposite experience. The coaches understood my injury and my limitations. They were encouraging and positive. They were the true spirit in which CrossFit is intended to be. Coach D-Bag obviously should not be coaching or owning a box, and I was relieved to know everyone is NOT like him.
I feel fortunate though that I did not give up. I had enough confidence (and quite frankly, fury) to not allow one jack ass to make me think less of myself or my abilities. But the thing is, not everyone who has had a similar experience bounces back. For many, it truly is so traumatic, they give up completely. When you have an emotional and demoralizing experience, logic can shut down. While there are a million yoga studios and Pilate’s studios and CrossFit boxes, for someone who had trepidation to even show up, he/she is not likely to want to go to another. Our brains start to associate everything similar with one horrible experience, and the rest become guilty by association.
And so I share this story not for sympathy for me (as despite my bitter undertones, this was just a blip in my journey) but to bring awareness that this type of experience is NOT acceptable. And should you or someone you know find yourself in that situation, know that it is NOT necessarily a reflection on the sport/exercise as a whole. One person should not carry so much power to taint what could be a really important, life- changing step.