I'm not from Iceland. Or 23. Or naturally blonde. I’m guessing you're not, either.
Yet when I see Katrin Davidsdottir, I see you. And I see me, too.
Wait. What? Have I lost my mind? Did I take a barbell to the brain? Is my head like a kettlebell: dense but without sentient thought? How are we like the 2016 (and 2015!) Reebok CrossFit® Games Champion?
Allow me to explain. This involves all of us, whether you’re a man or a woman, a great athlete or just someone with dreams of being a great athlete. When I see Katrin, I see all of us.
It's not that Katrin is like you and me. It's that we are like Katrin. Even when we're not gorgeous and winning, but kind of gross and sweaty and dirty and throwing ourselves on the floor in the middle of burpees (hating each and every one of them). Even then.
We're all like Katrin because we all share some common traits, some similar beating of our hearts in physical pursuit, some deep yearning for excellence that beats in our breast and that we cannot tame (nor do we wish to tame), no matter whether we are CrossFitters or runners or swimmers or all three or something completely different. No matter our sex, our gender, our skin color, our sexuality, our citizenship, our political leanings, our use of a hook or mixed grip on deadlifts, or whether we like our coffee with cream or without. (Always cream, but no sugar, in case anyone wanted to get me a cup!)
We all have a few things in common.
Katrin was captivating from the moment she entered the CrossFit® world in 2011. We simply couldn't take our eyes off her. It was like seeing a young colt in the corral, or a young actress as an understudy, or a student taking final exams. Here was this incredible athlete ready to gallop into our collective consciousness, but, first, she had to practice and learn a few more thingsbefore she could stand atop the podium. (30th at the Games in 2012, 24th in 2013, failed to qualify in 2014, 1st in 2015, 1st in 2016.)
And, as Katrin learned, we all learned—about her and about ourselves.
Here is just some of what we saw in Katrin over the past few years that reverberated through our sweaty traps, our chalky hands, and our big hearts almost as if we were all young blonde athletically-gifted Icelandic dottirs:
1.) Determination on the Quest for Excellence
We saw Katrin set her mind on the road to excellence. Her path was a quest, not just a hobby. She summoned her inner determination and plunged into the pool of pain repeatedly for a purpose—the same pool we swim in, no matter what our sport. It's not easy, but we're okay with hard. Hard is the way.
We know how this is in our own lives, whether that's in the gym or at work: You can't allow yourself to be deterred by hard work and obstacles, not if you truly want success. You have to decide that you are willing to work harder and smarter to be better than the best. You have to fully envision not just who you are, but who you could be. And you cannot sway from that determination, no matter who stands in front of you.
Katrin threw herself into her pursuit of CrossFit®, seeing her potentialities instead of her limitations, using the incredible accomplishments of Annie Thorisdottir as a goal, not a deterrant. Like Dan Millman wrote in "The Warrior Athlete": "Don't be so sure you are limited. If you train properly, you will improve. Transcending self-concept is the first real step in becoming a natural athlete."
We watched as Katrin mentally and physically transcended her own limits, and kept training and improving.
You don't get far in the sport of CrossFit® without intensity. If you're mellow yellow, then you might want to take a seat in the stands or switch to yoga, because you're probably not going to achieve a great deal on the gym floor. Intensity is not just nice to have in CrossFit®, intensity is required. And Katrin has the intensity of a winner.
Watch this snatch ladder in the European Regionals in 2012. It's a great early example of Katrin'squiet intensity. You can see Katrin focus her energy while under intense pressure. Her way is not the loud expression of emotions we see from folks like Josh Bridges and Dan Bailey, but a quiet fury that produces results. Remember, intensity is a word which means "very forceful" and"existing in an extreme degree"—and what we see in Katrin is a very forceful channeling of extreme skill and energy.
Like Joseph Cardillo wrote in "Be Like Water: Practical Wisdom from the Martial Arts": "Wherever the mind goes, your chi goes." Katrin's mind is in that snatch, her chi is in that snatch. She is quiet intensity leading to greatness.
3.) Maximization of Performance During Competition
Dan Millman wrote in "The Warrior Athlete": "Competition brings out the athlete's best and worst. The strengths which emerge can be reinforced and the weaknesses corrected. Competition is one of our last formalized opportunities to face a genuine Moment of Truth."
When we watch Katrin compete, we see her use that determination and intensity that we just talked about and use it effectively in these repeated Moments of Truth. We see her minimize her rest and her fear, while maximizing her strengths, just like we try to do every day in the gym, but without the lights and the TV cameras. (Okay, just sort of like that. But we can dream, right?)
When those qualities of determination and intensity meet with proper preparation, we see Katrin's obvious demonstrated excellence in competition.
But that's doesn't always happen (Katrin is human, like us) and sometimes we see ...
Remember the Legless Rope Climb Meltdown, a.k.a. Event 5 of the 2014 European Regionals?
It was here that Katrin showed us what each one of us carries inside us but usually tries not to reveal: self-doubt, vulnerability, our oh-so-human emotions and experience.
When Katrin couldn't complete those legless rope climbs in 2014, we were riveted to the video at the same time that we wanted to turn away, because Katrin was us and we were her: Alone in a crowd and full of self-doubt as to whether we could perform the task in front of us … except she had to try again and again in front of thousands. Painful to watch, but what a huge turning moment for her.
Like author/researcher Brene Brown said about vulnerability: "I think we lose sight of the beauty, the most beautiful things I look back on in my life are coming out from underneath things I didn't know I could get out from underneath. You know, the moments I look back in my life, and think, those were the moments that made me—were moments of struggle."
Katrin struggled, and then she physically and mentally got out from under that rope. Those moments of struggle made her.
What did we see after Katrin's infamous 2014 Rope Climb Meltdown?
A fantastic comeback and amazing victory: Katrin won the 2015 Reebok CrossFit® Games! Her performance was as great a testimony to resilience as Rich Froning's ascension to champion after his own Rope Climb Fiasco of the 2010 CrossFit® Games.
And in 2015, even on her way to victory, she struggled (along with everyone else) on the Peg Board at the Games. But, she learned, she practiced, and she returned, no longer defeated by the Peg Board—and she won the 2016 Games.
See, resilience is more than perseverance or a dogged determination to keep going in the face of adversity. Resilience is more than the ability to bounce back after a setback. As Eric Greitens points out in his book "Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life": "Resilient people do not bounce back from hard experiences; they find healthy ways to integrate them into their lives. In time, people find that great calamity met with great spirit can create great strength."
By winning the 2015 and 2016 Games, Katrin showed us great examples of resilience, lessons in learning and continuing that we can all remember when we're facing our own rope climbs, or a peg board, or a nasty set of thrusters, or a scary mountain bike trail.
After winning the Games in 2015, Katrin said this about the competition: "The most mentally demanding workout … was the one that had the rope climbs in it because that was the factor last year that made me not make the Games. I've worked so hard on them every single day. Four to five days a week I've been working on my rope climbs, knowing that they're going to show up, and when they do, I wondered, 'Can I beat them this time?' I was really proud of myself in that workout. That was a really mentally hard workout and I stayed with it."
Like Froning before her, Katrin learned to take those rope climb lessons and integrate them physically and emotionally into her life … and she emerged a champion. (We might not all be champions, but we all know what it's like to suck at something and work to get better at it!)
Much of what we do on the road to excellence is work. We simply must put in the practice, the hours, the time, if we expect to garner results. But if we don't find our moments of joy, our moments of play, then it all seems to be one horrible trudge of a life, like endless burpees, some sort of Dante Circle of Fitness Hell. ("Burpees today, burpees tomorrow, burpees forever." Who would want to go to that gym?)
The late Dr. George Sheehan wrote a wonderful collection of essays called "Running & Being" in which he talked extensively about the importance of play in sport and our lives, and it was there that he reminded us: "There is no joy in ideas. Joy comes at the peak of an experience and then always as a surprise. I cannot have joy on demand. At best, I go where I have felt it before … And then I have that fusion where all is play and I am capable of anything. I become a child."
When we see Katrin in those moments of exultation and bliss after a hard workout, we see ourselves, and we remember that feeling of satisfaction in a job well done, that feeling of play, that feeling of being a child. We see joy. And we remember that we cannot have joy on demand. We can't order joy from Amazon or select it from a menu. But we can go to the places where we have felt joy before, and we can work towards it. And that will be enough.
Some people wonder why we look to athletes for inspiration, why as a society we turn to the field of play for motivation. But it's really not that hard to understand. Like Eric Greitens reminds us in "Resilience": "What all good models share is an excellence that draws us to emulate them."
Katrin is a good model for our own pursuit of excellence. If we can see it in her, we can emulate what we see. We can work towards excellence, towards becoming something and someone better than who we currently are. That's why when I see Katrin, I see you and I see me. We got this. Let's get moving.