Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy of Patchogue, NY was killed in Afghanistan on June 28th, 2005, age 29. He was leading a team of Navy Seals, seeking the commander of a Taliban group called the Mountain Tigers, when they were discovered by 3 goat herders. After discussion of the rules of engagement, they released the herders, one of whom was about 14 years old, about the age of Murph’s brother. Shortly afterward, the team was attacked by one hundred Taliban fighters with AK-47s and grenade launchers. Murph realized re-enforcements were needed, so exposed himself to enemy fire in order to make the satélite phone-call to Bagram Airfield. He concluded the call with his courteous “Roger that. Thank you.” Shortly before or after that—records differ—he was shot in the stomach. His best friend, Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell of Huntsville, Texas, was the lone survivor of Murph’s SEAL team. Sixteen rescuers — 8 additional SEALS and eight members of the elite Night Stalkers — were also killed when their MH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. It was the largest single-day loss in naval special-warfare history.
How in the world does a peace-church girl, a poet and theological scholar from southwest Ohio, begin her Memorial Day holiday learning the story of Lieutenant Michael Murphy of Patchogue, New York? A journey to fitness, “just get better,” a rascally-scrappy community that encourages and challenges her, and of course, CrossFit itself in all its layers.
Today is about honor—Memorial Day 2020–and one of the multiple ways I participate in honoring is writing. I’ve learned some things I’m glad to have learned this weekend, so I write to learn and weave them more fully into my own life, sharing with others who may (or may not) be interested for themselves. On a mundane but sacred-ordinary level: I learned I have deeper core muscles than I knew I had. I can do more push-ups than I knew I could do. I learned I am a tenacious soul, and fitter than I used to be. But I also learned some inarticulate things, as of yet...something about this intersection of physical fitness, community, health and more...more of what I am seeing our world may need today.
I believe there are infinite ways human beings can enter into the practices of honoring, which seems a fitting topic for such a day. I’ve been touched by the chatter about the Murph WOD on the CrossFit WOD Facebook group (in which I mostly lurk, from time to time). “Don’t call it Murph if you don’t do it as written.” “Scale Murph so you can enter into the exertion, the efforts, in honor of his sacrifice.” “Enter in as you can for a good workout, as your CF community participates in the commemoration of Memorial Day.” So many ways, expressions…
Specifically...one of the streams I read names the way honor Murph is to only call your workout a Murph when you wear the 20-lb vest and do it as a chipper, start to finish. I bow to that impulse. These folks call a spade a spade with a bear-like tenacity, as they see it. Another way to participate in honoring is to let the wko stand but complete the work in a team of 2-4 members. I bow to the wisdom in that honoring. These folks live into a communal memory together, building a sense of local community yet connected to broader webs of belonging in CrossFit. Yet another way to practice honoring is to let the wko challenge your own capacity, scaling as you need so to finish with health and well-being. Honoring is about living fully and advocating for life, after all, and freedom for all. I bow to this impulse too, as there really are one hundred ways for a human being to honor the gifts and graces of another. As Carrie Newcomer sings a line from Rumi: “There are one hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” The oneness I cherish, that I see here, is in the shared desire to honor, even as I also recognize the fairly predictable fissures that arise in what diverse human beings think that ought to look like, be, in practice. Bowing to all of that then...
Yesterday morning, for the first time ‘solo,’ I completed the StayAtHome DB-version of the Murph WOD, which I have learned about through CrossFit Dedication these last 21 months I’ve been a part of the community. My 52 year old body did not wear the 20-lb vest, though I ran the full miles to start and finish. I don’t have pull-ups (yet?) but I did see a way for me to enter in more fully with the StayAtHome dumbbell variation I saw posted online. And it was arguably time, timely, for my own fitness journey. I am down nearly 40 pounds from my heaviest post-menopausal weight, surprised to find myself the fittest and freest I have ever known I could be. I’m not sure even when I decided I would enter into this Hero WOD solo and 'in full,' but I felt anticipation that one of the weekend mornings of Memorial Day Weekend would be devoted to it.
On this afterward-side of things, one could say I ‘trained’ for the workout this weekend, though I had no such conscious awareness of that motivation. Quarantine had begun to weigh heavily on my mental health, so I had entered back into a seven-day intention for 100% dedication-health Plan eating-choices, a full week of the most-conscious eating choices I could muster. And it felt good to be in that structure of good-intention for myself. I have stayed connected to my CF peeps during our weeks of quarantine days—especially those peeps who were willing to enter into the Zoom platform our box offered. It made a difference, having a communal time and virtual location to do the workouts together. I will always enter in more deeply and push myself further when I am surrounded by a coach and community that encourages me. I know my own psychology well enough now to simply prioritize this need. As an earlier blog-post has named it in detail, I know I am more fit than when we entered into quarantine because of the wisdom streams of CrossFit. While I wasn’t aware of any training motive, I did feel the difference in my body as I worked out. I was the most nourished, hydrated, and energized for the work as I probably could have been. “About an hour,” I said to my husband who was leaving for work. Almost exactly an hour it was.
It was a beautiful morning for a run, and it was good to be beginning early. I could already feel the heat coming. The rounds of bent-over rows, push-ups, and air squats beckoned in an easy and discernedly-slow pace. I forgot the box fan, so ran downstairs to get that. Entered back in. Focus points—keep elbows close to my chest for the push-ups; core steadiness; push from the heels for the squats. About ¾ of the way through, I could feel some weariness in my lower back. Dig deeper into core steadiness. I discovered core-muscles I didn’t know I had, particularly in my lower abdomen—a space of conflicted emotions for me. (As it is for many women, for that matter). Lower back weariness eased and I felt stronger inside somehow. I learned that the 10 push-ups worked best in a 4-3-3 rhythm. (I’m still stunned that I finished the 200 of them, though my arms are quite aware of it today). Squats began in 3 sets of 3, preparing for the higher rep counts than usual. I can get bogged down in squats, with long legs and a left-side posterior chain that is not as strong as perhaps it will be to come. But midway, the rep scheme moved to 10 and 5. The last two rounds were an unbroken 15. I shook my legs out as I began the final run, aware of some tightness in my right leg, IT band. Mid-step landings for the run, shortened steps for protection of knees and hips. It was still a beautiful morning for a run. 1:00:34 as I crossed the shadow-line of the final mile, ending on a steep incline.
What I notice today—beside a body well aware of an intensive WOD yesterday—is a deeper appreciation of this usually unspoken or wordless honoring practice in so many Crossfit boxes, on Memorial Day but also throughout the year. I love the communal one-ing of it all, the devotion that brings diverse human beings to some shared endeavor. I love the free-speech of it all too—those whose devotion leans toward purity of practice, and those whose devotion leans toward welcoming others in, opening doors for human beings new to the fitness journey to feel welcome.
Did I wonder about Murph? I did, actually. I got curious about the person behind the name. Notable for a peace-church girl like me. Was there a clear sense of devotion for honoring our fallen, as Memorial Day commemorates? Yes, I became aware of that in a way I would not have otherwise—in my body, in the exertion of the movements, the physicality of a human being’s life facing adversity. I have always respected the choices of those who enter into the armed-forces lines of duty and I often cannot stomach and will always argue against the war-machine that requires (and feeds on) soldiers. Often young men (and now women) from lower-economic branches of our society who bear a heavier burden for safety, freedom and the American Way than do our politicians and elite-class society members. I do support our soldiers for their choices and all they offer in unseen/unknown ways to all of us...and...I lament that soldiers are necessary in our complex military complex.
Coming back to a personal level then...Does my physical exertion honor the gifts and graces of others’ lives and sacrifices, even deaths? I learned this weekend that it can, in powerful ways. There was something unspoken and inarticulate (even now) I received by entering in, by learning in the doing of it, all. I also have a deeper appreciation for Murph purists and for the opportunity to enter in, knowing I’ll never need to do the Murph WOD with a 20 lb vest and as a chipper to participate in honoring.
In the end, I bow to the gifts of this day, and to the beautiful and complicated CrossFit athlete community that does what it does, for the sake of the fallen, for the sake of the free.