Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From Heartbreak, a new Beginning

Jaala and Candice the day before the competition.
End of 1000 meter run; event #1.
All of the female competitors after event #1.

It ended with a sweaty, tear-soaked face being peeled from a loving shoulder. It ended with disappointment that permeated bones deeply and made a girl tremble. It ended sitting on a chair, slowly removing lifting shoes at the urging or comforting words. It ended with a signature on a paper, consenting that crushed hopes were accepted. For me, Asia Crossfit Regionals ended with heartbreak, then fleeting realizations, truncated like an unfinished dream.

For the last couple of years, I have been dreaming about making the 2011 Crossfit Games. For the last ten months, I believed that this weekend at Regionals I would leave Okinawa triumphantly; I would have a smile on my face, a ticket to the Home Depot Center in my hand, and congratulatory high fives lingering on my fingertips. I would be victorious because I had won.

Unfortunately, Okinawa did not end in such a way. Regionals ended prematurely for me on the second event, a thruster ladder. In the weeks before Regionals I hadn't been very concerned about this event and admittedly only spent one training session praticing the lift according to the standard (no movement of the feet at the top of the thruster). In my basement in Afghanistan, I got more than 115 pounds over my head many times without moving my feet. I forgot about this event and moved on to practicing things which semed much more difficult.

The morning of the thruster event, after a hugely successful first event in which I did more handstand push-ups in 13 minutes and change than I had ever done at one time in my entire life, I got warmed up for the ladder. During the warm-up, I was having a hard time keeping my feet still. I worked my way up to the starting weight, 105 pounds, and failed a couple of times before I actually got it over my head without moving my feet. By that time, I was pretty shaky and nervous for the start of the event.

Ten minutes later, I was standing in line, waiting to get to the bar. I watched the first girls get the weight up easily, and then the third girl failed. I did not want to watch the next girl fail, so I turned my back to the bar and tried to focus. I thought to myself, "I just need to get this one lift and then I can shift my energy to the next day's events."

With the beep of the timer, I turned around and walked to the bar.

What was going through my head as I set my feet and my grip to do that thruster? On any given day, it would have been the following word, "easy." But for some reason, I let doubt creep in. The bar felt too light and thin; my hands seemed slippery, but I told myself to be aggressive. I power cleaned the weight easily, reset my feet, went into my squat and exploded into the thruster. I locked the weight out over my head and then...took a shuffling step forward.

Though the weight was still locked out over my head, the judge looked at me and said, "sorry."

I was so confused that I asked her if she was serious. I looked over at the 115-pound bar and started walking towards it. She told me I was done. I didn't comprehend her words. I looked at her face and realized I was done.

I walked straight towards the door and outside into the humid Okinawa afternoon. The heat took my breath away; the sun blinded me; confusion overcame me. I wanted to walk back inside and do the lift again. I did do it! I forgot why I was outside and turned to rush back inside to get to the next bar before the timer beeped again.

As I was about to turn around and run back inside, Chris walked outside and asked me what happened. I looked into his eyes, but couldn't say anything. My body felt cold and weak. I started to tremble. I shook my head and began to cry. I was shocked. If ever someone asked me what a broken heart feels like, it was at that moment that I knew the feeling. I was so sad I could not express what I was thinking.

I stood in the doorway to Crossfit Asia, mourning the loss of a dream I had work for tirelessly. I cried for all of the people who helped me along the way who I had probably just disappointed. I cried for all of the hard work I had put in, to then lose at such an early stage in the competition. I cried because I was angry that I had just done a thruster well, but because I moved my feet my dream was gone. I cried for being careless. I cried because I did not think about the standard much beforehand; I though it wasn't a big deal. I cried because this was my chance to make the Games; this was my chance to prove to everyone else that hard work does pay off...but I blew it. I cried because I knew I was better than the other girls, but now I would not be able to show it. I cried and cried.

When I finally got myself together, still shaken, I went back inside to congratulate the four girls who had made it through the first bar of the ladder. I desperately wished that I could go back in time and be one of them, but my time was over.

On the way back to the hotel, I asked Chris why this happened. I wondered aloud to him why, after all of the work I put in, did my dream end like this. He gently told me that my work was not wasted; that there is always a lesson in not achieveing goals. He said that it may be too early to know what that lesson is, but with time I would figure it out.

As my eyes welled up with tears once again, I believed that it would take a long time to find the positive in the events that had just unfolded. I had traveled thousands of miles and trained through countless challenges to make it here. I couldn't see through my sadness.

But quickly, through being a spectator at Regionals for the next two days, I started to understand that I did not fail; that my dream still remained even though I did not win Regionals.

I remembered that I had just come from a war-torn country where I had been training mostly by myself for the past ten months. I came from a time in my life when I was constantly sick, did not have access to clean air, clean water, or clean food, or any other outside factors that could have helped me to be a better crossfitter. Yet I came to Asia Regionals ready to compete with girls who had trained under more stable circumstances.

Though I did not make the Games, I know that I leave Okinawa, and I will eventually leave Afghanistan a better person. I must not forget that through training this year, I have gained a mental toughness that no one can take away from me. Through training this year I have realized that in America, we have resources at our disposal to become better athletes and better people everyday. When I return to the states, I intend to use those resources to become the best crossfitter and person that I can be. I will not be a spectator at any regional event again.

So, though the sting of failure still lingers in my heart, and all of those lessons that I should have learned from this weekend have not yet been realized, today I know that the end of Regionals is another beginning for me. Now I know that dreams never die, they just morph into something bigger and better; our dreams today become smaller parts of our larger dreams of tomorrow.

As the tears fade away, I see that the beautiful thing about today is that it is the beginning of a new dream. I just haven't figured out what it is yet!

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