Jen Spadavecchia

My best friend from college and I went hiking one early summer day, we ended up at High Point Monument, and I hadn’t been to the top in years. As we started up, we were both very out of breath, and stopping as we walked up. I was 29, I haven’t had kids yet, and all I could think about was NO WAY! I will never be the person who is physically limited by what she can do, and I will never be the mom that’s not the one next to my kids while they look out that from the Appalachian trail look out, or High Point Monument, or the mom who isn’t keeping up.

When we got to the top I looked at my friend and said, “It shouldn’t be like this, we really need to do something.” And she nodded, and agreed, “What do you want to do?”

“I think we should join a Crossfit.”

“What’s that?” She asked. Well- I gave her the “light” version of what I’d heard about Crossfit.

My friend and I live about 40 minutes from each other, I’m in Sparta and she’s in Pequannock, Our first task was figuring out location, and we decided that it was better for me to go against traffic than for her to go with it, and we narrowed it down to CrossFit West Essex. I called that afternoon when we came out of the monument and asked if we could come in and check it out.

We came in the following Saturday for a teaser class, and I signed a year contract while my peripheral was still a little fuzzy from exerting myself in ways I hadn’t since I was 21.

I’m not going to lie. It’s hard to walk in the door of a place that touts “Elite Fitness”. I expected meatheads and bikini models, both whom I assumed would despise someone walking in and not being able to do… well… anything.

For perspective, I had to have weights on my feet to do sit ups. Squat fully? Do these people know that I’ve sat in a desk for the last 8 years?! And what is a “WOD”? “HSPUs”? “DUs”? “WBs”? My head spun, and all I was thinking was “WTF” have I gotten into?!

I also won’t lie… I cried a lot. I cried because it was intimidating to think, “but I’m not going to be able to do that!”. I cried because my… EVERYTHING hurt! I cried because my friend wanted to go! I cried because my friend didn’t want to go! I cried because I couldn’t finish! I cried because I couldn’t do pull ups!

But I did eventually stop crying. And here is why I am in love with my gym, and why I honestly love every one of my coaches, and why, though my friend had to stop going because she got a new job, I will never leave CrossFit West Essex:

1. Modifications: You look at a workout when it gets posted, and there are 4 things that you have to do today, and you can’t do 3 of them. You go anyway. You go to your coach and you say, “Hey, I can’t do pull ups.” And you know what your coach says? They say, “Okay. You will do ring rows.” And you say, “I can’t do handstand pushups.” And your coach says, “You will do regulars push ups.” And you may say, “I can’t do regular push ups.” And your coach will say, “Then you do modified push ups.”
It’s more than a year later, I still can’t do… most of what “Crossfitters” do. (I cannot jump repeatedly, or run because I had a bad injury to my left ankle that makes me have horrible form while I do those things causing me to get shin splints. So I row, and instead of box jumps, I do step ups.) There is always a modification. And the skilled coaches at Crossfit West Essex, make sure that it is a modification that will still make you stronger, faster, and more skilled than when you started.

2. Community: The community is amazing. There are no egos. People will encourage you. They will take time from their workout to help you. They will scream for you when you’re in it. They will count down your reps. They will clean up your bar when you’re lying on the floor seeing stars. They will notice that the weight on your bar went up. They will notice that your weight went down. They will get you through the hardest partner workouts. The health benefits of crossfit are not the only reason you will come back every week. You will come back because there’s a gym full of cheerleaders, and no one there is hoping you fail. Everyone is on your side.

3. Coaches: I think there’ve been two most meaningful points of crossfit for me, one was very close to the beginning. Some weeks are hard in the beginning, mentally more than physically sometimes. I used to be a fantastic athlete, and I was so angry at myself for taking my body for granted, for knowing 10 years ago I could have kicked butt, and now crossfit was kicking mine. It took a very long time for me to accept that the only thing I could do every day when I showed up, was give 100%, what ever that may look like in this body. One of my coaches saw that it was a very bad week. I couldn’t remember the names of the lifts, my Achilles was bothering me, and I sucked during the workout. He stopped me before I left, and pulled me aside, and he said, “I see how upset you are… but you couldn’t do what you did today, a month ago, you know that? You should be proud of yourself, I’m proud of you.” And that resonated with me on an unbelievable level. He was right. I thought back to the teaser class that had me dizzy, it was nothing compared to what I’d just done. My frustration dissipated and I was proud of myself too.

The other time, I had taken a long break from the gym. I had three family members pass away in 6 months, and wasn’t in the state of mind that working out equals endorphins which would have made me feel better, I just wasn’t feeling motivated to get out the door, this was also the time that my first partner quit.

I did find a new partner and we decided to start the second week of September. I was just finishing out a really disgusting respiratory cold. A seam in my pants was pulled because it attached to a piece of Velcro in the dryer, and I didn’t check it before I left the house, and I had anxiety that I was going to have forgotten everything I’d learned because I hadn’t been there in a long time. But, it was my first day with my new partner, and I couldn’t bail on her.

So I go, predicting it will be the worst day at the gym EVER. I wasn’t conditioned because I’d been out so long, so I was dying, I thought my panties were going to make an appearance at any moment, and gobs of snot were flowing down the back of my throat from my post nasal drip and making me nauseous.

My coach walked behind me during warm ups to make sure my pants were holding, encouraged me during my workout, and gave me gum at the end so I didn’t puke. I don’t think I could have made it through the emotion of “why did I ever stop?!”, “what if everyone sees my pink polka dots?!” and “what happens if I throw up right here?!” without her assuring me through the entire workout.

4. Breakthroughs: There’s this saying, “The feeling you get when you realize you just did something that two weeks ago your body couldn’t do.” Sort of what my coach said when he was cheering me up. This is by far the most rewarding part of crossfit. It is hard, it’s hard if you haven’t worked out in years, and it’s hard if you are doing it 6 days a week, that’s what the program is meant to do, challenge you. So you never leave saying “Well, that was easy.” But some days you realize that you just did 4 more burpees than you usually do before you needed to take a breath, or, you’ll realize that your arms didn’t start to burn until you hit a few hundred more meters, or you will try something that you couldn’t do a month ago and you will see that you aren’t far off from being able to do it. And you feel amazing. You feel stronger, healthier, more flexible, more confident, more motivated, and more excited to keep doing it and keep getting better. Which will lead to that other saying, “Most people have no idea how good their body is designed to feel.”

And while you are getting better… you’re going to realize that you need less modifications, that you are part of an awesome community and that our coaches fostered the mentality that is in this gym.

The coaches are the heart of CFWE. They cannot be found at just any gym. They are patient and funny and they are cheerleaders, but they also understand movements, lifts, modifications, and your capabilities. They are motivating, watchful, skillful, and responsible, while pushing each athlete to progress. And you will progress, because when you step into Crossfit West Essex, there is no one that will let you fail.