“If I could only have one food for the rest of my life? That’s easy—Pez. Cherry-flavored Pez.”
So says Vern to Gordie around the campfire in the classic 80s flick “Stand by Me”—and that’s why Brent Fikowski, who swam in high school, used to eat exactly one of the chalky, saccharine tablets before every race.
“I just always thought that was really, really funny,” Fikowski said after taking eighth in Clean and Jerk Speed Ladder on Friday night.
“Just the novelty of the little Pez dispenser kind of made me laugh.”
He also had lucky outfits and pre-meet playlists, and it’s not as weird as it sounds: Sports history is steeped in a tradition of superstition. Tennis icon Serena Williams doesn’t change her socks during tournaments. Michael Jordan wore a lucky pair of shorts underneath his standard uniform.
It might seem all bunk and baloney, but there’s some psychology to suggest rituals improve athletic performance by way of imparting a sense of control. Still, you won’t find any Pez dispensers tucked into the Professor’s weight belt this weekend.
“I just realized the more of those things you have, the more you're gonna rely on them,” said Fikowski, who shrugged off superstition in his late teens.
“I just kind of realized, ‘You know, Brent, you're only creating more of these, and it's gonna get to a point where it becomes overwhelming.’ You gotta realize it doesn't matter, you just gotta go out there and do your thing.”
Whatever sports history suggests, CrossFit athletes seem to be remarkably level-headed—at least the ones who make it to the top. Still, that doesn’t mean they don’t have tried-and-true pre-game routines.
“I always put chapstick on my lips, and I always chew a piece of gum,” said six-time Games veteran Chyna Cho.
Two-time champ Annie Thorisdottir said she listens to a certain song before competing—a new song each season. This year’s anthem is Kesha’s “This Is Me.”
“If someone listens to the song, they know why,” Thorisdottir said.
Kara Saunders said she usually meditates on a phrase or concept from a book she’s recently read.
After reading “The Rise of Superman,” in which author Steven Kotler analyzes what he calls the mental “flow” of extreme athletes, Saunders developed a mantra: “Just be Superman.”
“To me it just means to see the possible in what seems impossible,” she said.
Kari Pearce has no lucky charm, though she said she always eats Lucky Charms on competition days. The rainbow marshmallow is her favorite—“obviously,” said the grinning four-time Games veteran.
Rookie Ethan Helbig said he does have a few pre-game tics—he grew a “playoff beard” for the Atlantic Regional and usually prefers to get pumped with some heavy metal—but he’s “been so focused on what I'm trying to do here, I haven't even gone to any of them,” he said.
Several others in the field of the fittest simply pray.
“I don’t have a lucky knee sleeve or anything like that,” said three-time Games athlete Tennil Beuerlein. “I don’t really believe in that; I put my faith in God.”
That’s probably wise. When facing the unknown and unknowable, there’s not always time to grab your most trusted talisman.
You might not even be allowed to.
“I would wear my cowboy hat but that got taken away this year,” Sean Sweeney lamented in the athlete warm-up area.
And is he missing an edge without it?
“No—but we’ll blame it on that.”