When we first started Arena Ready, we hoped it would someday be meaningful to people to say not just “I go to Arena Ready,” but “I AM Arena Ready,” i.e. fully prepared for all of life’s battles. We hoped that we would have the opportunity, through training in fitness, and the inevitable changes in mindset that this training evokes, to give people the opportunity to see their strength not just in the gym, but also in their everyday, and even in the inevitable moments of crisis.

As such, we aim to start a new series of “I am Arena Ready” — stories about our athletes, their experiences and perspective during their time at AR, and (in some cases, should they choose to share) their reflections on what it means to them to “be Arena Ready.”

Dani, our wonderful General Manager — who is also an incredibly talented writer — has graciously offered to help reach out to members who would like to share their story, and, if the athlete agrees, help capture these stories in writing.

And who better to start with than herself… her very own story about her journey thus far. We are so grateful she's agreed to share with us… thank you, Dani!

I Am Arena Ready: Dani’s Story

My boss joins a new gym and within a few months is looking so amazing I can’t help but take notice. Leisa, I ask her, what have you been doing?

CrossFit, she replies, skin even more dewy than usual, an obvious lightness and strength about her I can’t deny and that I am desperately seeking in my own life.

After waiting sort of patiently for what feels like forever but is probably about six months, I join the Intro to CrossFit class at Arena Ready. I’m nervous, self-conscious. I weigh more than I ever have before, even though I’m practicing what I *think* are healthy habits. I’ve heard plenty of weird things about CrossFit, that it’s a cult, that I won’t be able to join if I don’t eat strictly paleo, that my organs will shut down if I’m not careful. But it’s also true that all my strategies to feel better in my body are failing and I’m aching to try anything that might help. At the intro class, I do OK, better than I expected, and leave remembering how welcome Sarah and Rob made me feel more than whatever the heck the actual workout was.

My first official WOD is July 24th, 2015. Who do I think I am? I wonder to myself. I am terrified to even look at a barbell, much less touch it, do things with it. I am embarrassed, shy, self conscious to the point that I can barely talk to anyone. Those early days I keep very much to myself, in the back of 1263 Connecticut, fumbling my way on the bars, flailing my body around, gingerly gaining confidence with the barbell, even though I’m the last one out the door for a run every time and I am haunted by nightmares of burpees anytime the blog is posted after my bedtime.

I keep showing up. I’m still the slowest runner, every time, but other things start to shift. There is the time Rob walks by my setup, as I prep for a clean, and casually whispers—Oh, it’s time to put some more weight on that bar. Or, after making some changes to my diet, it hits me during a med-ball run that I have lost the equivalent of two 14 pounders and I can’t help but feel a little extra zing in my step.  Or the time during my first Open I am staring at the 20-inch box with fear and trepidation and after a few encouraging words, I jump up and land both feet flat like it ain’t no thing after spending the previous eighteen months convinced the RX height will never be possible for me.

In my life outside the gym, I’m not quite struggling, but I’m not exactly thriving, either. If I describe my life in a word, that word is “ineffective.” I can’t seem to achieve any of the things I dream about. I start and stop similar jobs over and over, thinking that this one will be different, before settling into a low-grade malaise six months in, like clockwork. I have the hardest time going the distance with anything I set my mind to, getting excited and then giving up right around the moment that thing starts to ask something of me. I look at my past and it’s full of false starts and failure. I want to change, but I don’t know how. How to be different. How to actually accomplish the things I say I want. How to stay, when things get hard.

In the gym, a different story emerges. I learn that I can do hard things. I do burpees without having to step back and forward. I deadlift near double my bodyweight. I absolutely 100% never think I’m ever going to finish under the prescribed time limit, and my insides blossom everytime I do just that. I DO DOUBLE UNDERS UNBROKEN. Slowly but surely I inch my way from white, to gray, to gray-plus, to red-minus, to red, to holy shit did I just complete that workout RX!? You people start to become my closest friends, my greatest source of joy, my truest cheerleaders. I begin to taste what is possible when I stay accountable not only to this specific path, to CrossFit, but also to all of you, and it blows my mind every time. I get curious as to how this translates to my life outside the gym walls.

Here is some of what happens: In spring 2017, I get hit head-on by a car while riding my Vespa. I am diligent with my rehabilitation, and between the expert AR coaching, chiropractic with Taylor, and bodywork with Sal, I not only continue to progress but can say I am now stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. I finally pursue an MFA in creative writing, something I always wanted to do but never thought pragmatic; this fall I start a fellowship where I will be an adjunct professor at USF teaching creative writing to undergrads. I quit drinking for good after many years of questioning my relationship to alcohol. I get the courage to leave an eight year relationship that was OK enough on the surface but not quite right underneath. I go to Spain for three weeks by myself to celebrate my 35th birthday. I take risks, I develop trust in myself, I have faith that when I fall I can get back up, I can keep going, I can see things through to the end, even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard (or when I read the WOD and I have to humble down, knowing that I will have to do every movement scaled).

I begin to view writing deadlines the same way I would a chipper. Tedious tasks become an AMRAP. Every time I PR or beat a past time or you know, FINALLY get my chin over the bar for the first damn time, the self pride I feel, have been searching for for as long as I can remember is the breeziest ever wind at my back.

If I’ve learned one thing:  It’s in the staying where the magic happens. Yes, I love the effects of training. I love getting my body stronger, I love feeling myself literally walking taller as I go about my day-to-day. I love making the impossible possible, I love the confidence I’ve gained. It’s so rewarding to meet —and even exceed—so many goals over time. But the physical effects are more like the icing on the cake for me. Because so many other things are at play here. I might get sick, or injured, I will indeed continue to age, and I know the training will have to adjust. So it’s the deeper stuff that sustains me: the physical strength that translates to an inner strength that reminds me that I *am* capable of taking care of myself no matter what—even if I don’t know how in the moment. The letting myself be seen through victory and failure, and not hiding parts of myself I think you won’t like. Of being vulnerable and strong at the same time, practicing that over and over again, staying, and doing so among people who I trust will catch me when I inevitably fall or give me shit when I accidentally throw a 15# on the 25# rack (yikes!). It’s pushing myself to keep up with all of you, of looking at new members and staying close to what it was like to be a newbie, how magical and scary that time was. It’s taking responsibility for what I can change, and leaving the rest at the door. Sure, I would give maybe a pinkie toe, or like, half an earlobe to smoke Katie Pepper or Squirrel or LGB even once in a WOD. But at the end of the day, it’s so much more than beating a score, or “winning.” It’s the slow burn of persistence, it’s dedication, humility and patience in the face of any challenge. It’s doing my absolute best every time, even if I’m cranky or blue or angry or tired. And if I can do that with all of you, and laugh after, and come back the next day only to leave it all behind again, and again, and again? I’m going to keep staying. I’m not going anywhere.


WOD For 05-04-19:

“2019 AGOQ Workout 1: AR Team Version”

With a Partner, 6 Rounds For Time:

15 Deadlifts @ 225/155 lbs

35 Overhead Squats @ 75/55 lbs

90 Double Unders

*Only one athlete working at a time, switch whenever you like

*We recommend splitting the reps roughly equally

*Use 2 bars (one for deadlifts, one for OHS)… no, your team can’t use 4 bars, or even 3. If in doubt go lighter, move at a faster pace, and try to finish under the time cap.