Religion is a touchy subject. Turns out, I’m a touchy person, so I’m going to dive into this realm of controversy with regards to the CrossFit world. It’s becoming more common for professional athletes to spout their personal religious affiliations, whether for purposes of behavioral explanation (the popular Tim Tebow kneel), or in thanks for a successful performance or award. In most cases, the public reaction is powerful, and polarized.
Because of the rapid growth of CrossFit, we’re starting to see more religious references within our community. Athletes like Rich Froning Jr. and Dan Bailey openly display and discuss their conviction to Christ. And ladies like Andrea Ager proudly sing praises on both social media and during interviews, and even aid at faith-based CrossFit camps. So what’s God got to do with it? Are faith and fitness a perfect pair, or best kept separate? And do the masses embrace the messaging, or react relatively sour? There are a lot of big opinions, and this is mine.
First, I feel compelled to share that personally, I’m a non-Christian. I would classify my belief system as agnostic. There is something greater than what we know, but I don’t identify with a God or specific phenomena. When it comes to my moral foundation, it was built primarily by kick-ass parents, a little religion sprinkled in, and a life surrounded by good and kind people.
I have had moments in the past that left me feeling isolated and awkward for my ideas, so that, paired with a lack of maturity, gave me a slightly jaded attitude toward religion for some time. Whether in education or enterprise, politics or personal social gatherings, I believed strongly in separation of religion and, well, just about anything. But growing up, having my own family, and befriending a number of very devout individual has changed my tune. My beliefs remain the same, but I have a new-found respect for faith and how it can play a hugely beneficial role in some people’s lives.
When it comes to CrossFit, we all know it’s hard. There are times you want to give up, and it takes just that little bit of inspiration to get you through a WOD. Sometimes that inspiration is a teeny bikini you wanna rock, and other times it’s a new PR you’ve been chasing. But I know for many Christians, Christ can be a major source of inspiration in many daily activities. Rich Froning Jr. once told a reporter that scribbles on his shoe at the Games were lines from a scripture referencing crucifixion. When he felt he couldn’t continue, he simply looked down and realized no matter how hard things got, he would never know the suffering his savior endured.
Some people may roll their eyes and dismiss God being any benefit to an athletic performance, but it seems to me that the faith is a powerful tool that lends itself to many athletic successes. Now whether that success was derived from Godly blessings, prayer or just a boost to the psyche, could lead to a heated debate, but the fact is, faith one source of motivation, inspiration, and humility. Is it necessary for everybody? Certainly not. But should a foundation in faith be criticized? No way.
Now as a box co-owner, I do see some potential for polarization when an affiliate appeals to only a Christian community (the same could be said of any religion). Personally, I prefer to keep religious affiliation outside of our walls so everybody feels comfortable and welcome (this doesn’t mean the affiliate of my members, rather, our daily functioning as a box). We don’t play any Christian music or put focus on religious-specific WODs, and we don’t engage in group prayer or post scriptures.
Having said that, any athlete who wants to say a prayer or take a knee is more than welcome and never dismissed. And for those boxes that determine their best efforts are with a Christian (Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist...whatever) community, I say alleluia. It’s similar to a niche marketing method that can turn some people away, but it’s a great means of getting a group of like-minded people together to share in an experience that everybody enjoys.
What it really comes down to is personal happiness. A happy person is a healthier person, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. So if God is your gig, then I say go tell it on the mountain. If Buddha is your boy, share the mantra. And if your happiness and motivation comes from something entirely outside of the world of religion, embrace whatever that is.
Psychology would dictate that everybody has unique responses to their situations and environment, and I think there’s a great deal of beauty in human differences. We should all be celebrated for who we are and what we believe. And the CrossFit community is kinda like one big religious group...we believe in WODs, we often bow to the ground and look to the sky, and we give thanks for being alive after a rough one. The rest, doesn’t really matter.