My 2013 CrossFit Games

“How do you balance medical school and CrossFit?” This is the one question to which it seems everyone wants to know the answer. I usually just smile or laugh and remark with a similar expression of perplexity, “I don’t know either – I’m still trying to figure it out!” I could talk about time management tips and strategies for maximizing efficiency, but those who are close to me know that I am far from mastering any of these skills. The truth of the matter is that in my experience, more importantly than time management, achieving balance begins with defining reasonable goals.

Last year, I entered medical school at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine with a goal of also competing in the 2012 CrossFit Games. With a good understanding of the first-year curriculum, I knew that it would be possible to dedicate the necessary time to training while still fulfilling my medical school requirements. Knowing that the path toward these two tasks I was simultaneously attempting to surmount would be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining, it was also important for me to spend time reflecting on why I wanted to pursue each one. As the year progressed, this reflection would prove invaluable as I reminded myself of these reasons with each moment of doubt, frustration, or exhaustion along the way, empowering me to steadily press forward.  The incredible support of family and close friends in and out of the gym also kept me focused and reminded me of what is truly most important in life.

Based purely on my own limited experience, here is my best advice for achieving balance:

  1. Identify your goals and what motivates you, deep down, to achieve them. Why do you want to compete in the CrossFit Games? Or pursue a particular degree, or job? Will this reason be enough to sustain you when the path toward this goal becomes dark and windy?
  2. Decide how much time you have to dedicate to each goal. No matter who you are, there are only 24 hours in a day. My engineering degree is more than a year old now, but I can still do this math: the more goals you have, the less time you have to spend on each one. Family, friends, jobs, etc are all important – prioritize and make sure you spend time on the things that matter most to you.
  3. Work like crazy with the time you have dedicated to each goal to reach and surpass it. Give 100% effort to whatever you are doing in each moment of time.*
  4. Have reasonable expectations.  If you only dedicate 3 hours per week to training, no matter how hard you work during those 3 hours it might be unreasonable to expect to stand on top of the podium at next year’s CrossFit Games (but hey, who’s to say?).
  5. Avoid the temptation to compare yourself to others who have completely different lives and sets of goals. If you are dedicating 3 hours per week of training it would be hard to compare yourself to another athlete in the CrossFit Games Open or Regionals who has the luxury of putting in 15 hours.  Stand firm in your original motivations and the goals you set for yourself and celebrate each of your personal accomplishments.
  6. Take time to reflect. As you work steadily toward your goals, it is important to periodically stop and notice your progress. Notice whether your goals or motivations have changed, and re-direct as necessary.

     *Note: This in itself is a lofty goal and one that I struggle most with!

Now comes the hard part: it is time to take my own advice. As I look toward the upcoming year, I again must define my goals and ask myself why I am choosing to pursue each one. This second year of medical school is a critical one in my program, with increased classroom commitments and a significant demand to prepare for the first medical board exam in June. As I pursue my goal of becoming the best physician I can be, this year stands out as one that will lay the groundwork for caring for patients in the future. Recognizing the importance of this goal and the time commitment  necessary to pursue it, I know that this year it must be prioritized above others, including competing in the 2013 CrossFit Games. As much as it pains me to consider not competing in the sport I love, that has become a part of who I am and who I aspire to become, I know that in this particular year, I have another goal that has to take precedence. I have considered every possibility (believe me, every possibility), and I have decided that rather than giving half an effort to medical school and half an effort to the CrossFit Games this year, I must shift my focus to dedicating a full effort to school and the board exam.

The USMLE Step 1 – My 2013 CrossFit Games

It is important to set our goals high and to push ourselves beyond what we think we are capable of so that we may ultimately reach our full potential.  I believe it is also important to remember that we are human – and that some goals are just too important to sacrifice. I would never want to look back on this year and my career and wonder whether I could have done better had I not been distracted by training for the CrossFit Games. This year my goal is to crush the USMLE Step 1 exam, and in order to reach my full potential in this endeavor I know it requires me to sacrifice training for the 2013 CrossFit Games. But don’t you worry – I’ve still got my eye on the top of the podium in 2014, and training for that particular goal starts today.  ;)

77 responses to “My 2013 CrossFit Games

  1. Julie, I am an orthopedic surgeon who also finds time to crossfit and it must seem difficult to say no to a challenge. I am sure you are used to saying yes to everything put on your plate and handling it with ease. There is no doubt that you are making the right choice and even if 2014 does not happen due to clinical rotations and their increased time demands on you, rest assured you have already achieved some pretty tough goals. Good luck and study well. Sean

  2. Wow thanks for the inspiring post and great tips for a fellow medical student who is desperately trying to keep up with the hectic rowing training schedule!

  3. Julie, as one of a family of 5 fairly obsessed crossfitters and a pediatrician, I want to just wish you good luck! Never let anyone tell you that you cannot achieve your goals. When I started medical school I was not a crossfitter but I was a mom to 3 young kids. Many told me that I could not achieve my goals. By prioritizing correctly, I was able to become a physician and to be a pretty good mom to the 3 kids I have. Your spirit and hard work will take you far! (and I agree with Nicole B., consider peds as your career!)

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  6. Julie,
    I’ve long admired your work ethic and dedication, and I applaud you for making this decision. As an aspiring CrossFit coach who’s also a graduate student in English, I’ve often marveled at how you manage to train as you do and still complete your studies. You’ve already achieved a great deal. You’ve shown the world that women can be strong, that diligent students can be athletes, that athletes can become professionals in other fields. You’ve pursued your goals with such passion and discipline that inspires me every day. CrossFit will still be there when you return to it (and we’ll be waiting to cheer you onto the podium again). Good luck with the exams.

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  10. When I was studying for step 1, I would make myself “goat wods” of question blocks on uworld with my weaker subjects (biochem, immuno and GI). It made studying a little more fun. Kick some butt on step 1! Those micro flash cards you have in your picture are awesome.

  11. Good Luck Julie! I’m a third year and a crossfitter and finding the balance is always tough! Sadly medical school doesn’t get easier, its always time consuming, but you enjoy spending time doing medical school much more with every new topic you learn and every patient you see. Stick with Goljan and First Aid!!!

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  14. Your advice is awesome! Although I’m not a crossfit athlete, I am a runner – a runner who loves to race, but who’s horrible at balancing everything (school, workouts, friends, family, etc.). I’m a full-time grad student pursuing a degree in nutrition to become a Registered Dietitian. I ran my first marathon in October and would love to do it again next hear; however, as you decided against participating in the 2013 Crossfit games, I’ve decided to hold off the next marathon since my time next year is limited (school, sister’s wedding, etc.) and I need to focus on completing my degree. It was a very hard decision for me to make and I stressed over it for weeks, but I know it’s the right one. I needed to decide which goal was more important at this time, and my degree in a subject matter I’m passionate about wins over all so I can start my future career. Reading through your advice hit home for me and made me realize I need to take a step back to prioritize everything. Thank you for that and good luck in med school! You are an inspiration!

  15. withlovedeidrelee

    Wow, thank you so much for this post!! It is exactly what I needed to hear. I’m in the midst of trying to accomplish my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. The advice you have laid out above is extremely helpful. Especially the part about having reasonable expectations. Sometimes I push myself too hard to achieve my goals and so making sure that goals are achievable given all of the other factors around you is incredibly important. You rock Julie!

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  18. Very inspiring piece and so many aspects of this are very true. Prioritizing goals and separating those that are realistic and those that are not is challenging for all of us. Success with our life choices dictate our success in every endeavor we encounter. Good luck in school and training for ’14!

  19. I’m a fourth year medical student in Texas, and I just started CrossFit this past October. I guess it was just a matter of time before I discovered this blog, haha. You’re really an inspiration, Julie! I just noticed how old this post is, and I realized why: Step 1! Seeing as you made it through first year alive and beasted it at the CF games last year, I have no doubt you’ll do well! Good luck, and remember: First Aid is your best friend!

  20. Kira Dimitrovna

    Ms. Foucher,
    As a fossil on this site, 45yo, and 18 y out of med school (Cologne, NYU, UW Madison) I think you have made a wise decision and wish you the best for the USMLE 1 and 2. As a foreigner I have had the joy of taking the USMLE in 1992, 1994 and then, thank you, Wisconsin, again in 2006. As I was working at that time all I could do was online test tutorials. Essentially doing questions for six months straight every night. And I passed better than the first time while in med school.
    Point being is that one has to decide if one wants to comprehend! the issues at hand or just pass the test. I hope you settle for the first and then, later, go away for internship and return to Cleveland clinic for a great residency (ophtho!, totally non biased from my side).
    Having started Xfit less than a year ago it is interesting to see some in my field of work do this professionally. Back home in Germany there were a few soccer players that went to medical school and in the US there was of course the sport star supreme, Eric Heiden. But he did it after his phenomenal skating career. So did Johan Koss, whose humanitarian work has become exemplary.
    So it is with great interest I follow the travails of the young athlete entering the field of Osler, Virchow, William Carlos Williams and many others. Amongst many things you will find that medicine can and often is all consuming. It may not tolerate much on its side. It barely tolerates family in many cases. It requires love for the fellow man and woman (see also you going away video from hyper fit). So even if you decide never to compete again I am sure there will be a great doctor taking the competitive athlete’s place. Bon voyage.

  21. As someone who has been doing CrossFit for the last several years and competing during medical school myself, I give you props! It’s not easy but it gives you such an incredible sense of balance and actually makes you an interesting human being! It’s so easy to just get sucked into the medical grind and ignore the world around you, but life’s so much better if you don’t. Good luck in the Open!

    UVM Med Class of 2014
    Champlain Valley CrossFit

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  23. Julie! As a trauma and burns surgeon, I still find the time to crossfit! I have made huge gains since I started in my 3rd year of residency. And I hope to make it to regionals one of these days. Rest assured that after this board exam is up, medicine is SO much more fun. In addition, you get better at managing your time. Keep up your training, and remember, it’s all doable!!!!

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  25. Thank you for stripping the advice to the bare minimum. I am truly humbled by your passion, dedication and commitment in doing whatever you do. As a medical student myself, I struggle with time management even till this day despite being in 3rd year. Knowing your story has inspired me to try even harder and to pick myself up after every fall and to not give myself excuses to compromise my own health. THANK YOU! Keep persevering! May God guide you in all your endeavors.

  26. Julie, This post inspired me to get my goals clear and realistic and design a plan to attain them. I wrote about it in my blog and I just wanted to share it with you. I am constantly encouraged and challenged by you. Thanks for being so awesome!

  27. Neuyen Mclean

    Great Job Julie, as a fourth year at USF I know your pain, keep pushing as you always do.

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