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I Am Not Rich Froning Jr.


And neither are you (unless Rich is reading this, in which case, thanks and I’m a HUGE fan). I am what is known in the CrossFit universe as a “Grinder.” I didn’t come up with this term, but it represents a majority of the day-to-day CrossFit members around the world.

By definition, a Grinder is a kitchen device for grinding food, a sharpener of tools or a person or thing that grinds. I feel like the last two parts of this are the ones that apply the most to me. As I train, I am sharpening my tool (overall health and body) and while doing so, I definitely have to grind it out.

I’m a 38-year-old high school English teacher (American Lit), a soccer coach, a parent and a CrossFit athlete. I have an athletic background in soccer, golf, triathlon, basketball and baseball. Never before I entered my CrossFit box had I done any Olympic lifting or gymnastics movements like handstands or pull-ups. I’m just your average Grinder, and this is my story.

Just over three years ago, I was 20-plus pounds overweight and rocking a 36- to 38-inch waist when I first walked into my local CrossFit affiliate. Also, I was carrying a shoulder injury, which had occurred while making one of my numerous attempts at training by myself.

Like many of you, I had no idea what to expect. The owner, Brian, walked me around and showed me my first whiteboard. I learned terms like “WOD” and “dynamic warm-up” and “Paleo.” I was shown the routes I would run for my 150-meter jog, how to do an air squat, what a ring pull-up was and how to do a better push-up. This was to be my first WOD, and I was scared.

Brian explained that this WOD what was called a “Baseline” workout: 150-meter run, 15-12-9 reps of body rows (horizontal), modified push-ups and air squats and bookended with a second 150-meter run. I finished in just under eight minutes (7:51). It seemed like it took an hour. I was panting, shaking and overwhelmed. My initial thought was this is too much, I can’t do this.  But after I recovered a little and stood around and talked with my trainer, he shared his own stories about past workouts and accomplishments. He asked me to take the weekend to recover (I was going to be sore, no doubt about that) and then come back Monday morning and we’d start a three-day-a-week program called the “On-Ramp.”

I had no problem telling him yes, but in my car I knew I’d have to take the weekend to decide if I thought I could cut it. Brian had assured me that in less than one month, at the end of the On-Ramp sessions, I would see results and cut my time dramatically, simple as that.

Monday, I went back.

Over the next three weeks, I fumbled through thrusters, embarrassed myself attempting to do things like snatches, cleans and jerks and push-presses. I weakly deadlifted. I threw on numerous colored bands and flailed around on a pull-up bar in an attempt at something known as a “kip.” But, as challenging as it all was, Brian encouraged me all the way.

I was alone in my On-Ramp because this box had just opened. Nowadays it’s common for a group to be integrated directly into the CrossFit community experience right away. It was enough for me, and my dread morphed into a genuine interest in both the sport of CrossFit and my own accomplishments and achievements.

Brian wasn’t wrong.

At the end of three weeks I re-tested my opening WOD. This time, I did full body rows and regular “men” push-ups, and even though I added these two elements to the WOD, my time was cut to 4:45. I was amazed, but most of all, I was hooked. I loved the challenge, the changing reps and styles, new movements, the results and also a blossoming group of newcomers that was popping up around the box.

Since that time, I’ve completed more than 600 WODs. I’ve watched our box grow from just me and a trainer to more than 150 members and a 4,000-square-foot facility. Each week, four or five times, I come in, stretch out my old bones and lower back, read the marker-smeared whiteboard and grind out my WOD. Sometimes Rx’d, sometimes modified, but always grindin’.

That’s my story, and I know there are readers out there who have similar experiences. The plan for this space is to talk about the things that many of us think about and the quirks and mental games that we play in order to grind it out each and every time.

I am not Rich Froning Jr.

Like many of you, I’m just a Grinder, doing my thing and finding my niche in this CrossFit world.

— JTol


If you have your own Grinder stories, I’d love to hear them. Contact me at and let me know how you or others at your box grind it out.