Rich Froning has been beautifully opened up in Froning: The Fittest Man in History, a behind-the-scenes movie directed by CrossFit HQ’s own Heber Cannon. But it’s equally as important for CrossFitters to appreciate this film from an entertainment standpoint as it is to showcase a snapshot of what life is like in the CrossFit community.
Before I delve into why this is a significant moment for the CrossFit community, I’d like to give my take on the film itself. Cannon could have really made this into a straightforward “from A to Z” chronology of the life of Rich Froning and turned it into a boring, dry “we’ve already seen this before” cliché. The temptation, I’d assume, would be to start with Rich Froning the kid, then the high school athlete, who then becomes a college athlete — sort of becomes a firefighter, tries CrossFit, is pretty good, figures some things out, becomes awesome, wins the Games four straight times. The end.
But instead, what Cannon did was nothing short of a brilliant, open portrayal of the life of a very genuine man, who happens to dominate a sport that he loves. The humanization of Froning is not forced or contrived in the movie. It is simple captured by Cannon and brought to life in a stunning art form.
Everything from the low-angle, slow-motion shots of the American flag waving gently in the Tennessee summer breeze to Froning grabbing day-old pizza crusts as his breakfast on the morning of competition to the Michael Bay–style sequence using tracking shots and lens flares and over-the-top explosions, Cannon uses all these tools to paint a broad scope on his canvas.
For me, in addition to the high-quality cinematography and funny moments of the film, the emotional scenes that moved me to tears were the most significant. I’m not talking about an intensely competitive athlete who spends most of the movie talking about how he crushed an event or stomped his opponents. I’m referring to a father brought to tears while explaining what it meant for him and his wife to become parents after years of trying to make it happen. Or showing us the pain that Froning and everyone in his immediate family still share over the loss of his best friend and cousin Donnie. But I think the most touching moment of this movie was seeing the greatest champion of our time choking up while sharing how much his wife means to him.
So often we see major athletes who appear on the surface to be so money- and ego-driven that they make it difficult to be liked by fans, no matter how talented they are. Cannon was able to beautifully capture the champ at his most human level, and in every example, when Froning breaks down, the catalyst for these emotional moments is exactly the same: love and family.
In the end, Rich Froning is presented as the “Fittest Man in History” (which I completely agree with). But more important, Cannon paints him as a man of integrity, faith, friends and family — rare traits for a champion of his caliber in today’s sports landscape.
Sharing the Gift
As a member of the CrossFit community, I think this movie symbolizes struggle and triumph and exposes the heart of the CrossFit movement. Obviously, we work out, eat better, sleep better and focus on fitness. Most of us show up for the day-to-day workouts and only go to the CrossFit Games if we buy tickets. But aside from the training and sweating together, growing a local community (which often becomes like a family for a lot of members) is an aspect of CrossFit that differentiates it from any other workout regimen. This film then becomes a great vehicle for growing and fostering our community, both locally and around the world.
Use the movie, not as propaganda but as a way to reach out to others who might have some curiosity about joining your box but only have exposure to what they’ve seen on ESPN or at a local competition. Showing people on the outside of CrossFit the human side of our most successful athlete can really help as a public relations tool.
Additionally, I would advise the affiliates to use this movie to strengthen your already existing community. Host movie nights and use the film to facilitate discussion about who Rich Froning is to our sport and what his love and work ethic could mean to each member on a personal level. You can then use that personal development to help others at your box and grow an even more solid community.
None of us are going to become Rich Froning, but what Heber Cannon has done was to pull back the curtain on this icon to show us that no matter how many times he wins the Games, he is still just a man who struggles with life issues and bleeds, sweats and sometimes cries, just like the rest of us.
What did you think of the Rich Froning movie? How do you plan on using it to promote CrossFit in your area?
Stay on the Grind.