March 2, 2012
Redefining Crazy: Jae-hyun Bae
By John Frankl

Work was consuming his life. "I was passively watching my mental and physical health deteriorate. I had to get out."

When Jae-hyun Bae starts talking about his life, most people think he’s crazy. And in Korea, where they put a heavy premium on a good job and a “normal” life, this makes a certain amount of sense. Bae graduated with honors from a top university and was enjoying a very promising career. Suddenly, at the age of 29, he cut his ties with the past and jumped into the unknown.

Bae currently works as a trainer at CrossFit SAP, Korea’s first CrossFit affiliate. He is still “green” as a coach, having passed his Level 1 Seminar course in October of 2011. But he has no regrets about his decision, and is committed to developing as an athlete and coach.

Bae is very clear about his reasons for leaving a lucrative position at a leading corporation and choosing a new life. “I simply couldn’t sleep,” he explains. “Actually, it was more like I deliberately didn’t sleep.”

Work was consuming his life. “I was passively watching my mental and physical health deteriorate; my stomach bulged while the rest of my body wasted away. I had to get out.”

Until he made the decision to quit, he had been going to CrossFit SAP one or two times per week in a desperate effort to alleviate some of the mounting stress. “The moment I grabbed a barbell or hoisted myself onto the rings, it required my complete attention and concentration, and this allowed me to forget briefly the tedium of my daily routine,” he says.

Bae’s road to CrossFit is also an interesting story. Until the age of 20, Bae admits he did nothing athletic. This is not rare in Korea, where entering a top university often demands a very one-sided approach to life. Somewhat embarrassed, he admits that it was a movie—the Muay Thai film “Ong Bak”—that inspired him to begin training. He wanted to move like an action hero, so he set out learning martial arts and doing plenty of gymnastics exercises. He progressed quickly, particularly in light of the restrictive lifestyle outlined above, and was even allowed to train with his university’s gymnastics team.

After a while, however, he began to sense a lack of fundamental power. Gymnastics was enjoyable, but the more time passed, the more he felt something was missing from his regimen. Coincidentally, it was just about that time he saw a video of some athletes completing a sub three-minute “Fran.”

He thought to himself, “Is this really possible? How does someone get that fit?” This shock inspired him to do some research. A while later he discovered what he had witnessed was called CrossFit, and that there was a CrossFit Affiliate in Korea. He immediately went to CrossFit SAP and began a more systematic approach to his training.

Now a more seasoned athlete, Bae is competing in the CrossFit Games Open. He sees his bid for participation as a natural extension of this decision. He’s making good gains in all areas, while particularly working on his weightlifting.

Most importantly, he loves his life and dares anyone to say that is crazy.