November 2017

NOVEMBER 2017 – LEADERSHIP! 

Hello CrossFit Amundson Athletes, both at our Santa Cruz location (Headquarters) and Remote Athletes from around the world. I am so happy and grateful to share the November newsletter and “Coaches Corner” with you. The “Coaches Corner” was a tool that Coach Glassman, the Founder of CrossFit and my longtime mentor, utilized to build community, and to provide greater context and understanding for everything we practice in the gym.

NOAHS ARK – A BIBLICAL STORY OF LEADERSHIP

In Genesis 6, we discover that God was very sad and disappointed about the wickedness that had overtaken humanity. Reluctantly, God decided to wipe out the human race and start from scratch. Noah, however, was the only one who had been acting justly and with righteousness. What happened next defined one of the greatest leaders of all time: God told Noah to build an ark that would save him, his family, and all animal life. As he was boarding the ark, God said, “For you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time.” Leaders always strive to do what is right – even when nobody is watching! 

In December 2004, “Coach” Greg Glassman, Josh Everett and I traveled to Ft. Lewis, Washington, to conduct a private 3 day CrossFit Certification for members of the Army 19th Special Forces Group. In the early days of the CrossFit Certification, a huge emphasis was placed upon what we termed “Performance on Demand”.  The attendees and instructors of the Certifications were called to perform upwards of three grueling CrossFit workouts a day. This particular Certification was very exciting for me. I had recently returned from Army Basic Combat Training and was preparing to begin the Army Officer Candidate School. I was eager to be in the presence of established leaders and warriors and apply the skills they would undoubtedly teach me over the course of my upcoming training. Little did I know that one particular display of leadership would leave a lasting impression upon me for the rest of my life.

As the sun begin to set on Sunday evening and the Certification drew to a close, “Coach” Glassman briefed the instructors and Soldiers on the final workout. Josh and I had participated in each of the workouts, which at that point had totaled around six. Because this was a military certification, “Coach” had upped the intensity and duration of the classic CrossFit events. As a result, we had completed 5 rounds of “Helen” (run 400 meters, 21 kettlebell swings, 12 pullups) and what we called “Big Fat” versions of “Fran” and “Elizabeth”. (21,18,15,12,9,6,3 repetitions of thruster x pullup / barbell clean x ring-dip.) Needless to say, there was not a lot of enthusiasm for the final workout of the day.

As we gathered around Coach, I noticed that all of the instructors and Soldiers looked extremely exhausted. We were dirty, sweaty and hungry. We had our hands on our knees to keep from falling over, and speaking for myself, I had a hard time concentrating on the instructions for the workout.

Because I was about to embark upon military training that would conclude in my commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Army, I had been paying particular attention to the senior Officer of the group. I wanted to see firsthand what a true leader said and did to inspire and motivate those people in their command. The Officer in charge that weekend was Captain Michael Perry. Captain Perry was an extremely athletic individual who was physically capable of setting an example for his men to follow. He eagerly participated in all of the workouts during the weekend and consistently achieved some of the fastest times and highest scores in the events. I also noticed he was the first one to arrive each day and the last to leave. Although he was very confident, I observed that he was also very humble, always putting the welfare of both the CrossFit instructors and his Soldiers before himself.

As we huddled together to receive Coach’s instructions, I watched Captain Perry very closely. I wanted to see how he would raise the spirits of his men to complete the final workout. When Coach finished the brief, he turned to Captain Perry and said, “Sir, go ahead and choose five of your men to complete this workout.” I observed Captain Perry, with his hands on his knees, look into the eyes of each of his Soldiers and take note of their physical, emotional and mental state. Realizing that his Soldiers, as well as Josh and I, were well beyond or ability to athletically perform, Captain Perry did what he always did best: He lead by example and from the front.

Captain Perry took a deep breath and stood up. In a firm voice with utter resolve he said, “It’s OK men, I’ve got this one.” With that, he charged forward into the workout. No sooner had he said those words than did I notice an immediate change in the mental and physical composure of the group. A collective surge of energy filled the air, and we all enthusiastically charged after Captain Perry.

By his actions, Captain Perry instilled in me what may be one of the most important leadership lessons there is: A leader should lead by example and from the front. I embraced the lesson he taught me that day, and did my best to set a positive example in everything I did from that moment on: weather it was CrossFit, Law Enforcement or my military career, I wanted to lead like Captain Perry in every aspect of my life.

THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE:

In addition to the significance of being able to set a physical example for others to follow, I was inspired by Captain Perry to consider how I could apply CrossFit to the more intangible qualities of being an effective leader. Almost six years after my first glimpse at what it meant to truly lead others, I was presented with an opportunity to test everything I had learned in both leadership and CrossFit against the ultimate test of physical and mental endurance: SEALFIT.

On October 2, 2010, my good friend Jimi Letchford, business director of CrossFit, invited me to join him on a 50 hour immersion camp called SEALFIT in Encintias, California. SEALFIT was the brainchild of my dear friend Mark Devine, a senior ranking Navy Officer and twenty year veteran of the US Navy SEAL’s, as well as a long-time CrossFit Affiliate Owner. The camp, called “Kokoro” which means “Heart” in Japanese, is designed to provide a complete immersion experience for prospective future Navy SEALS and other Special Operations components of the United States Military. The camp was created to test, evaluate and ultimately enhance a candidate’s mental toughness, leadership and physical capacity to endure extreme conditions.  This camp utilized sleep deprivation, intense physical training, arduous team exercises, ocean exposure and leadership challenges in a chaotic, fast moving environment coached by combat proven Navy SEAL instructors.   

Nothing I had been through up to that point in my life seemed even remotely as difficult or as challenging as “Kokoro” would be.  A few days after I agreed to attend the camp, I discovered that Rogue Competition Team athletes Rob Orlando, Tommy Hackenbruck, Mikko Salo and Kristen Clever were also going to be in attendance. Knowing that other CrossFit athletes and friends were going to be part of the experience helped overcome some of the anxiety and nervousness I felt as the days quickly ticked by to the start of the camp.

THE FIRST GLIMPSE:

The report time for “Kokoro” was Friday, October 24 at 12:00 p.m. Due to the distance I had to travel, I decided to make the trip the day before and stay at local hotel in Encinitas. On Friday morning, I awoke at a Travel Lodge and dressed in the uniform for the camp: Military style woodland camouflage pants and a white T-shirt. After getting dressed, I walked out of my room to the parking lot of the hotel. No sooner had I stepped outside my room than a voice bellowed, “Hey, are you going to Kokoro?” I looked down across the parking lot and saw a large and well built guy approaching me wearing my same outfit. “What a small world” I thought. After a brief introduction, the guy said to me, “I hope I don’t quit this year, I did last year and it was so hard.”

“What have I got myself into?” I thought.

FEEDING THE RIGHT DOG:

Based on Jimi and my previous leadership experience in the military, we were selected as Class Leaders and immediately tasked with organizing the arriving candidates into boat crews. My personal goal for the weekend was to lead from the front and by example in every physical task demanded of our class.

At exactly 2 p.m. on October 22, 2010, Jimi and I formed our class into four boat crews on the open cement slab at SEALFIT called “The Grinder”. Shortly afterward, Mark Divine addressed the class and asked a question he would frequently revisit of the next fifty hours. Mark asked, “Well, what dog are you feeding right now?” Mark continued to explain that deep inside each of us lived two dogs, and that each was hungry for food. One of the dogs represented courage and the other fear. Unless we consciously fed the dog of courage, the dog of fear would receive our unconscious energy and “food”. The key to being successful in “Kokoro” was to continually feed the dog of courage, regardless of the physical circumstances we would find ourselves in.

After Mark’s opening remarks, a sea of Navy SEAL Instructors laid into us with a barrage of calisthenics.  In addition to the difficulty of the physical events, the instructors placed well aimed bursts of water into our faces from several hoses. The combination of water and an increased heart rate made breathing very hard, especially if you happened to inhale at the same time water was being poured into your mouth and nose. Sometime during this “welcoming ceremony” I found myself doing flutter kicks next to the guy from the Travel Lodge. As an instructor stood over us spraying water into our faces, my Travel Lodge acquaintance reached his maximum tolerance and shouted, “I can’t do it – I want to quit.” I had given this guy my word that I would help him get through the camp, so I rolled over next to him and said, “It’s OK brother, you can do this.” The Navy SEAL instructor asked, “Does he want to quit?” And as the guy said, “Yes” I yelled, “No!” As this was unfolding, I called for Tommy Hackenbruck to help me motivate and encourage this guy to stay in the camp. Together we did all we could, to the point of physically retraining him and not allowing him to walk away from the event and quit. I was amazed at the strength in resolve this guy had – having once decided he “Could not do it” there was nothing Tommy or I could do to make him stay. Sometime during the chaos of the first evolution, he disappeared from the camp.

As the hours wore on, I made a critical self-discovery: For me, the “Kokoro” camp would have very little to do with physical capacity. Instead, “Kokoro” would be a testament to each candidates mental fortitude and willpower. Although I had spent years training in CrossFit and developing the 10 components of physical fitness (endurance, stamina, strength flexibility, power, speed, coordination, ability, balance and accuracy) my ability to be successful in the camp would hinge upon my ability to translate those physical skills into leadership traits and mental attitudes.  In addition, I had to come to terms with the fact I would simply not be able to literally “lead from the front” in all of the physical events that would take place during the camp. It was at this moment, for the first time in nearly five years, that I differentiated between “leading from the front” and “setting a positive example”. Up until that point, I had considered them to be nearly inseparable. However, over the course of “Kokoro” I realized that although a leader may reach a state where leading from the front was simply not physically possible, maintaining a positive example for others to follow always is.

After Mark’s opening remarks, a sea of Navy SEAL Instructors laid into us with a barrage of calisthenics.  In addition to the difficulty of the physical events, the instructors placed well aimed bursts of water into our faces from several hoses. The combination of water and an increased heart rate made breathing very hard, especially if you happened to inhale at the same time water was being poured into your mouth and nose. Sometime during this “welcoming ceremony” I found myself doing flutter kicks next to the guy from the Travel Lodge. As an instructor stood over us spraying water into our faces, my Travel Lodge acquaintance reached his maximum tolerance and shouted, “I can’t do it – I want to quit.” I had given this guy my word that I would help him get through the camp, so I rolled over next to him and said, “It’s OK brother, you can do this.” The Navy SEAL instructor asked, “Does he want to quit?” And as the guy said, “Yes” I yelled, “No!” As this was unfolding, I called for Tommy Hackenbruck to help me motivate and encourage this guy to stay in the camp. Together we did all we could, to the point of physically retraining him and not allowing him to walk away from the event and quit. I was amazed at the strength in resolve this guy had – having once decided he “Could not do it” there was nothing Tommy or I could do to make him stay. Sometime during the chaos of the first evolution, he disappeared from the camp.

As the hours wore on, I made a critical self-discovery: For me, the “Kokoro” camp would have very little to do with physical capacity. Instead, “Kokoro” would be a testament to each candidates mental fortitude and willpower. Although I had spent years training in CrossFit and developing the 10 components of physical fitness (endurance, stamina, strength flexibility, power, speed, coordination, ability, balance and accuracy) my ability to be successful in the camp would hinge upon my ability to translate those physical skills into leadership traits and mental attitudes.  In addition, I had to come to terms with the fact I would simply not be able to literally “lead from the front” in all of the physical events that would take place during the camp. It was at this moment, for the first time in nearly five years, that I differentiated between “leading from the front” and “setting a positive example”. Up until that point, I had considered them to be nearly inseparable. However, over the course of “Kokoro” I realized that although a leader may reach a state where leading from the front was simply not physically possible, maintaining a positive example for others to follow always is.

AN ATTITUDE OF LEADERSHIP:

In my experiences in the military and law enforcement, being a “leader” was often associated with a position or title. During “Kokoro” for example, Jimi and I were the established “class leaders”. What I learned during the camp, however, was that “position” and “title” had very little to do with an individuals ability to lead. Instead, the camp solidified what I call a “Leader-Fit” style of influencing, inspiring and ultimately guiding self and others. 

START LEADING! 

I believe that YOU were created with unique leadership skills, abilities, traits and talents. Have you ever considered yourself to be a leader? Well, let me be the first to encourage and convince you that YOU ARE! Even if the only person you are “leading” is yourself, it is my contention you are the most important person there is. For to lead others, you must first lead yourself. By effectively leading yourself, you can then set a positive example for others to follow. Therefore, embrace your leadership ability by beginning to THINK of yourself and SEE yourself as a strong, capable, and righteous leader.

May the peace and strength of God be with you, and may you start leading yourself and others today.

With Love,

Greg Amundson

“Coach”