This summer my son started CrossFit training, an intensive workout approach that amazed me. I watched one morning as he and a friend set a timer and for 15 minutes did repetitions of the following:

5 pull-ups
10 push-ups
15 sit-ups

After the 15 minutes were over they’d done 45 pull-ups, 90 push-ups and 135 sit-ups. Let’s just say that on a very good day I can do 3 pull-ups in a row, and normally just 1 or 2.

I decided that I wanted to get in shape like that. So I joined a CrossFit class. I try to go once or twice a week, and then practice on my own another one or two times. I’ve been so sore since starting this a few weeks ago. I’ve also been exhausted. But in 15 minutes, I can now do 60 push-ups and 100 sit-ups and 160 squats, and I know that’s just a start. It feels great to be 49 and getting into such good shape.

Yet my friends who are listening to me moan and groan about how sore I am are rightly asking, “Why would you do that?” It’s funny this desire to do things we may dislike for a higher purpose. I had a goal for myself a few years ago to be able to run the mile up our local 900 foot mountain. It took a summer of practice to achieve this goal, and I still do it periodically, although I dislike every minute of it. So why do I do it? It’s not for the endorphins, because I’m so depleted afterwards that it hardly feels like an exerciser’s high. It’s for the sense of accomplishment. It’s for the sense of competence. It’s for the sense of personal strength.

In a previous blog post I wrote about providing students with the opportunity to experience such a sense of accomplishment using their minds. It is not always “fun” to push ourselves to our limits, whether physically or mentally. Almost 30 years ago I began reading the book Godel, Escher, Bach. It stretched my mind far beyond its limits, so much so that after just 1 hour of reading I would fall asleep – a rarity for a non-napper like me. I didn’t make it through the whole book, but I felt fantastic about what I did learn and how I stretched my mind to its capacity, even though it exhausted me.

In answer to my friends who want to know why I’m doing CrossFit, I’m doing it because I want to stretch myself to achieve all of what I’m capable of achieving, physically and mentally. Life is short. I want to reach my potential.

Zoe Weil, author of Most Good, Least Harm

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