Improvement through Human Connection

- 32 Comments

I recently had the fantastic opportunity to spend a weekend with the Barbells for Boobs team on their October Amazing Grace tour across the country.  I, like most CrossFitters, always jump at the chance to participate in all sorts of local events whether they may be fundraisers, competitions, or seminars. Do a workout or two, cheer some people on you just met twenty minutes ago, and then hang out and swap stories with these awesome, newfound friends? Yes, please!  And if we can raise money for a great cause, well that’s even better.  The events I experienced at CrossFit Chicago and CrossFit DuPage were no exception, epitomizing the camaraderie and power of the CrossFit community.

Not too long before heading to Chicago, I had watched a CrossFit Journal video in which Greg Glassman discusses the “Philosophy of CrossFit.”  Coach describes this philosophy as “The belief in the improvability of ourselves and each other.”  He goes on to describe the manifestation of this philosophy in one of the most common occurrences at any CrossFit event, or in any box on an average Tuesday evening for that matter.  As the last person to finish a workout fights through the last few rounds and repetitions, “The crowd goes wild. Why are they going wild?” Coach asks. He answers, “Because they know that the person out there hears them.  You’re believing in your capacity to improve someone by cheering for him.”

CrossFitters believing in their ability to improve each other by cheering at B4B CrossFit Chicago

Now that is a beautiful and powerful thought, and one that was on my mind throughout my weekend with B4B.  Heat after heat after heat of CrossFitters performing Grace, I saw this philosophy come to life.  Though an uninterrupted stream of cheers could be heard throughout the day, I couldn’t help but notice that these cheers amplified at the end of each heat, as the last few finishers lifted their barbells for reps 28, 29, and 30 faster than reps 1, 2 and 3.  Crazy, right? It’s not as if the cheers of the crowd suddenly changed these peoples’ physiological states, enabling their muscles to extract oxygen more efficiently so that they could lift the barbell faster at the end of their workout.  Then what happened? What was it about this mass of screaming CrossFitters that elevated their peers in this time of struggle?

The Doctor by Sir Luke Fildes (1887) - more like a CrossFitter than we thought?

As I ponder this question I can’t help but think about a painting by Sir Luke Fildes titled, “The Doctor.”  I was first exposed to this painting my freshman year of college, and it seems to be a favorite in the profession, as I’ve already run into it again at least three times in my first four months of medical school.  The painting depicts a physician in the 1880s watching over a dying young girl at her bedside while her parents despair hopelessly in the background.  In a time before antibiotics, there was nothing more this doctor could do medically for his patient.  Despite this fact, he sits with her deep into the night with the belief that in so doing he might somehow improve her condition, or at the very least, relieve some of her suffering.  It was the belief in his capacity to improve his patient by sitting with her that drove the doctor to do so.  I believe the physician-patient relationship, though different in its polarity, is in many ways reminiscent of the philosophy that Coach describes for CrossFit.  Even with the rapid advancement of medical technology, in many cases this image of the 1880s doctor is still seen in hospitals today – there comes a time when more cannot be done medically to improve a patient’s condition, and at that moment the best doctors depend on their ability to provide comfort simply by being there and connecting with their patients.  Again we see that it is the belief in improvability through these connections- between physician and patient, between two CrossFitters- that elevate individuals.  Magical, isn’t it?

One aspect of the B4B events separating them from other events such as competitions or seminars lies in their very purpose.  This event wasn’t about doing a workout and having a good time, it was for a much greater cause – raising funds for Mammograms in Action and providing support for those affected by breast cancer.  The fact that we had all gathered for a cause much larger than ourselves or even the small community in which we resided at that moment seemed to amplify everything about the usual camaraderie of CrossFit events that keeps me coming back.  The cheers were louder, the Grace times were faster, and the conversations among complete strangers were deeper and more thoughtful.  At this event, it became apparent to me that maybe Coach’s philosophy extends beyond the improvement of the person standing next to you by cheering for him or her – maybe what unites the entire community, what allows us to walk into any CrossFit box in an unfamiliar city and feel welcome, is the belief in the improvability of “each other” in a much greater sense – maybe it’s the belief in the improvability of humanity.

As I thought more and more about the capacity of these human connections to facilitate improvement, I became eager to make more connections and share some of the crazy and often nonsensical ideas that float around in my head.  I’ve created this blog to do just that, and I hope you enjoy my musings in this exciting time of growth in my life- as I begin my medical training at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and continue my love affair with the sport of fitness.  Please feel free to tell me what you think and share your own ideas here!

  • rodrigo iglesias

    1st post!! I see many similarities between the crossfit community and the medical community. It’s great to be part of both.. rock on.

  • Sarah I.

    Love this, Julie. I think this first post is a perfect example of your passions in life: fitness, medicine, self-improvement, community, volunteerism, and beauty. Can’t wait to read what else you’ll be writing! Thanks for giving me my daily bit of inspiration.

  • Nicola

    The dynamics of group functions are really very interesting. I have no medical training, or tons of knowledge about physiology or brain function, but I feel that, if you were able to hook up a bunch of diodes to a few subjects, you would find that the capacity of the human brain to process information and initiate function far surpasses the limited percentage that people supposedly use daily.

    Cheering fans or friends can unlock a special place inside. Just last week, as the USC-Stanford football game, the Trojans played toe-to-toe with a team that was supposed to roll over them, backed by 90,000+ family. My own experience with the Crossfit open also supports this–my performances we better when someone was there to push me a little harder, or knew very well how my mindset was and how to best get me moving harder and faster, as opposed to my performance in a class setting, which was, admittedly, uninspired.

    If there was ever a sport to prove the theory it’s Crossfit. The barrier between spectator and athlete is a lot fuzzier than in other, established professional sports. Like in “The Doctor”, the presence of an understanding and supportive entity, I think, is a key component that is lacking in the modern world. This is a bit of a longshot, but I think that if you were to compare the environments of the talented athletes who bust in the pros, and the non-stars who dominate later in life, I think you would see a marked difference in the quality of their supportive environments, and the quality of their connections in relation to their ability to form truly meaningful relationships.

    All that to say that I think you’re absolutely right. The human capacity to facilitate improvement can help people reach the upper limits of their capability in any given area, given the right circumstances. It just so happens that most Crossfitters experience this on a daily basis. Science fiction always discusses the unlimited potential of the human race—I think this is the next step in really tapping into that potential. And that is super awesome.

    • http://juliefoucher.wordpress.com juliefoucher

      Thanks for your insight! It is totally awesome to see how CrossFit pushes the boundaries for people every day and helps us to inch closer to our maximum potential. It’s crazy that something that seems from the outside to be simply a mechanism for improving physical capacity has this potential for expanding psychological capacity in a way that is even more powerful. Sure, we can talk about how we’ve improved our Fran times or max deadlift, but I think the real benefits of CrossFit result from expanding the psychological capacity and these are the benefits that allow CrossFit to affect everything we do in life. I think that quote — “The greatest adaptation to CrossFit takes place between the ears” — is SO true.

  • Brian Silvers

    Great job. Love it! I don’t know how you find the time??

  • http://twitter.com/DarrellWhite Darrell White (@DarrellWhite)

    Look at you! Congrats again on such an accomplished young life. Kudos for not resting on those considerable accomplishments! I’m looking forward to “hearing” your thoughts as you muse in the spaces I’ve occupied for so long. It’s been a pleasure to meet you!

    –bingo

  • Jeff S.

    Hey Julie, great post! I love the philosphy involved and the wisdom. Your post reminded me of a speech I recently listened to on Ted.com. (If you haven’t heard of Ted.com and you enjoy interesting speeches covering many topics, you may have a new favorite (non-Crossfit) website to add to your list.) This speech was about a Dr.’s Touch and the physician-patient relationship. Your depiction of the picture above made me think about this speech and I wanted to pass it along because it really does a great job of talking about something that is being lost in the medical profession. You are obviously aware of its power and how important it is. I heard this speech and memories of my grandfather (an orthopedic surgeon) came flooding back to my mind. I hope you enjoy it and use it as one the best tools in your Dr. kit thought out your career and life. http://www.ted.com/talks/abraham_verghese_a_doctor_s_touch.html

    • http://juliefoucher.wordpress.com juliefoucher

      Thanks so much for sharing this! I am a big fan of Ted.com but hadn’t seen that talk yet – I feel very fortunate that my medical school places a lot of value on the “doctor’s touch” and it is really exciting to be learning the physical exam and working with patients. I read one of Abraham Verghese’s books “My Own Country” last year in a medical anthropology class and it was fantastic. Will definitely keep this talk in mind as I continue with my training.

  • http://www.thefivetribe.com HA

    I love this. As a psychologist/crossfitter, I have found the same to be true. American society is a pretty lonely place, where we each do our own things. Somehow, doing things together, being watched, being acknowledged, makes a huge difference.

  • G8rDave

    I had an great experience when I did a drop-in this last weekend. An immediate connection with the members, lots of encouragement given to and received from people who were total strangers a few minutes before. People who don’t do CF do not appreciate the supportive environment in the midst of the intense efforts.

    • http://juliefoucher.wordpress.com juliefoucher

      Glad to hear you have found CrossFit and appreciate the community – it is my favorite aspect by far. Good luck with everything!

      • G8rDave

        Jules, I do not take for granted the community that we share in our box. I am aware that not all CF environments are as supportive and, frankly, well-taught as my home gym. What I admire most about CF is that we do not hide our weakness from each other. It’s there for all to see, when I struggle with my OHS, when the DUs come in no-more-than 2s. When we declare our weakness, showing it so the entire gym can see it, the weakness loses its hold on us. It no longer defines us, it is a mere facet of our larger body of work. We are, rather, defined by how hard we attack that weakness, or how steadily, if not “hard”. As we used to say, in my old job, “Surrender is not a Ranger word.” One of our gym t-shirts has my old Ranger School motto on it: “The Fellowship of Shared Suffering”. It is not a fellowship easily attained, but anyone can attain it. Ironic, that.

  • Jacob Egbert

    I am a physician and crossfitter. I began crossfit a bit over two years ago and have been training people for free in my garage until recently I started volunteer teaching a few days at my local box. I love it that much. Also I must admit sadly that like the doctor in the painting often there isnt much we can do in medicine but I seem to always succeed at improving others at the gym (on many levels). Cherish your time in the crossfit community its is equally if not more effective (I’m VERY serious about this) than medicine.

    • http://juliefoucher.wordpress.com juliefoucher

      Thanks for sharing! It is always so cool for me to connect with physician CrossFitters – I hope to keep CrossFit a part of my life and I can totally see what you are saying about it being more effective. If everyone in the world did CrossFit the medical profession would be treating a much different type of patient population.

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  • Holly Arrow

    Thanks for articulating so well one of the elements that is central to my love of Crossfit–the way in which we come to care about one another and bring out the best in one another. In other sports, the cheers are loudest for those who finish first. In our sport, the cheers are loudest for those who finish last. We know that those last reps when you are finishing last are harder, and we love that we can help others do what is hardest by screaming our support. Instead of letting people make excuses for quitting, we honor their strength and strengthen their will by screaming PICK UP THE BAR. This is how my community made me better, and stronger, and faster, and why I want to do the same for others. Thank you Crossfit!

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  • Molly Robb

    I am new to CF and fell in love quick! I really enjoyed reading what you and everyone wrote.
    I was a elementary teach for years and I feel that most teachers have the same love/compassion and empowerment as the doctors and CF’ers.
    I really believe that it is very powerful thing we having going on in our boxes! In a world that is dog-eat-dog, we need to show where the power lies. It’s in supporting any and everyone! Pay it forward! Caring breeds caring. We all lead by the wonderful examples our CF boxes and community show. Let’s hope that it catches on into all other areas in life!!

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    Mate, this is interesting information.

  • http://www.barbellsforboobs.com Katie- B4B

    Hey, Julie!! You are a fabulous writer, so smart. You are truly a role model for women everywhere.

    Thank you for coming to our events in Chicago!! You added a dynamic to the events that was very positive, and we are grateful for that. We are honored that you chose to write about us in your first blog post!!! Keep doing what you’re doing, girl! You ROCK! Julie for President!! hahaha…hope to see you soon!

    Katie

  • Kisha

    Thank you so much for this! I love your demeanor and how you connect everything in life to CF, it just warms my heart

  • Dallas

    Awesome. Absolutely awesome. Ur going to make a great physician Julie Foucher! Best of luck on ur journey!!! Smile!

  • Kayla

    This is great! As a newbie to CrossFit (going on 3 months) AND a first year medical student, I can truly appreciate the connection and look forward to reading all of your posts. Best of luck with everything – you are truly an inspiration to me!

  • Parker Bondi

    I am a first year student at the University of Guelph Ontario and I have been doing Crossfit for just under 2 years. During last summer I was loving Crossfit and hitting PR’s very often (seemed like every second day), I was thrilled! About a month into my freshman year all of my numbers had gone down and my times got bigger. And to this day they are still lower than what they used to be. This was and still is an extremely frustrating time for me. Now I have been seeing small gains and am beginning to climb back up to where I once was because of the way that you inspire me. I am a first year engineer and the course load is vast. I look at you and say well if you can do it than I can too.

    Thank a lot

    Parker

  • Steve Marshall

    As a 67 year old athlete who has exercised most of his life, I see the importance, more and more, of exercise and nutrition. Many of my classmates are over-weight and under-exercised and with it comes diabetes, hypertension, liver and kidney disease, impotence, arthritis and host of other problems. Obesity has eclipsed smoking and the number one preventible cause of death in America. As a pharmacist, I counsel patients (read, friends) on a regular basis. A frequent comment is, “well, if I were skinny like you (5 feet, 5 inches at 145 lbs), it would be easy.” As an older athlete (triathlete) I remind myself of the old adage, what the lion eats become lion. My wife and I have 7 children, all who are pretty high end athletes who have followed our example early on and I think really enjoy life. I have posted a “no whining zone,” at the consultation area of my pharmacy.

  • Nicholas Douglas

    I was watching the 2011 crossfit games on tv today, when I saw everyone pushing their bodies to the limit. I have recently started crossfit. I have spent my whole life working out in one form or another. I serve in the Army, and I wish that the Army would develop a fitness program that would involve cross fit. Being overseas I have seen how crossfit can make a difference. I think it is amazing how people try as hard as you to put the word out there about crossfit, and hopefully soon the army will take that step in a forward motion (in my opinion it’s a forward motion) toward all around complete fitness.

  • Gabriel Huidor

    Julie, I just have to tell you that you are my role model. I mean you are a world class athlete and SUPER smart. Every time I feel like giving up, I ask my self, what would Julie do? Well the obvious answer is keep pushing and that is what I do. You are a huge insperation to me and have inspired me to start crossfit along side my basketball activities. Thanks for everything.

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  • Jennie

    My boyfriend told me that I had to read your blog because we are so much alike…I’m just a year behind you. I am starting medical school in a month in Kansas City, MO and have be a crossfitter for just a few months now. I am obsessed with the crossfit community and just finished watching you at the games! You were amazing by the way. I have also been involved in educating people about the obesity epidemic and used it as “the most important issue facing America today” in my medical school interviews. You are a beautiful person and will be a great doctor as I hope to be too. Can’t wait to hear what else you have to say in the future.

  • http://veritascibi.wordpress.com Joshua Kingdon

    Great post…The way I see it, the human person was made for communion (with each other and ultimately our Creator) and the Crossfit “community” is another example of that. I think we innately recognize this truth in many circumstances, activities and relationships. We were created to support/love and give of ourselves to each other in a selfless fashion. The way Crossfitters pull for their fellow competitors and the great joy they experience in doing so, affirms this truth about the human person for me. Selfishness or self centeredness ultimately only leads to emptiness, sadness and death. In contrast the Crossfit community seems to be filled with a lot of life. Keep the cool posts coming Julie! Really interesting…

  • Matt

    Julie you’re great!! Thats all I have to say. Sick Sled push picture too!

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