March 9, 2014
We Are Masters
By Bambi Panagiotis

I am 52 years old. I live in Louisiana. I am a master ... and CrossFit has changed me.

Photos by Alexandra Robin

We are masters

Our husbands died in Vietnam. We are raising children and some, our children’s children.

We are postmen, hairdressers, butchers, lawyers, garbage collectors, nurses and produce salesmen.

We work at Sam’s Club, local banks and schools. Our American Dream died in the economic crash. We have lost sons and daughters in 9/11 and Iraq, and are burdened with grief as well as fear for what our young ones will inherit.

Physically, whether man or woman, we are experiencing the most dramatic challenges our bodies have ever endured, or will ever endure again. We are awkward. We are rough.

Once alive and vibrant, our hands now fail us when attempting to open a jar; knees ache when we work in the yard for too long; and we break into a sweat simply trying to stand.

Some of us have competed all of our lives—some of us, never. We are overweight, underweight and skinny fat. We have grown physically weak, but mentally tough; and some have become emotionally crippled by life’s challenges.

We have lost direction. Life has changed so much from what we had originally hoped it would be, and too fast for us to keep up. Our mentors have all gone on and honestly, how could they possibly give us what we need anyway, when their battles are the same as ours? To whom do we look for wisdom?

Meet Bambi

I am 52 years old. I live in Louisiana. I am a master and part of the “we.” I am awkward. I am rough. I have been challenged in my life. And CrossFit has changed me.

My son Joshua Trahan owns CrossFit Breaux Bridge, the box where I train. Joshua is brilliant but easily bored, strong yet unchallenged, hungry but never satisfied—a Marine who returned from Operation Phantom Fury in Fallujah, still unfulfilled and miserable. Years and years of alcohol abuse became his vice and it nearly cost him his life.

In the spring of 2010, CrossFit was sweeping the Marine Corps. Following a disastrous series of events, he moved to a residential facility out of state and immediately embarked on the road of recovery, which he calls a “spiritual and physical climb from the bottom.” With CrossFit in his sights as a total philosophy—not a simple workout plan—his journey began.

But that is his amazing story to tell.

Having not seen him for more than nine months and only two telephone conversations, I walked into his first CrossFit box. My 31-year-old son, sober, clear-eyed, focused and intense: owner of CrossFit Breaux Bridge.

He looked at me square in the eyes and said: “CrossFit saved my life.”

I was a skinny fat yogi who while hunting lizards with my then 4-year-old grandson nearly dropped heavy sheets of plywood on him. It would have crushed him. That was the first time I had ever felt that I wasn’t physically strong enough to protect him.

I joined CrossFit Breaux Bridge the following Monday. I have been to the box every single morning since then, excluding travel (and even then we visit other boxes.) I never want to feel helpless like that again, especially knowing that there is something that I can do to prevent that from happening.

The thing with CrossFit, though, is that it is contagious. If you find success in one area, it just bleeds over into another area, changing habits of sleeping, eating and self-care. It feeds a hunger to succeed, and so while the original intention may have been to “get stronger” as I got older, it has become so much more.

I think Greg Glassman knew that’s how it would be.

I want everyone my age to know their lives can be different. If you are a master, you can still know the intensity of competition and the reward of accomplishment.

One year after opening his box, Joshua qualified for regionals and finished 30th. I finished 17th in our region in the masters division of the Open. For all that we had lost, it was incredibly redeeming.

As the Open comes around this year, I’ve been thinking about movements that I couldn’t do last year and now can. And then my next thought was into next year. I should be able to get that snatch I’ve been working on since day one. I can’t wait. I forget I’m 52. What a wonderful thing!

As a master, my age is a reality, but when I’m competing at the box with women 20 to 30 years younger than me, I never even think about it. CrossFit has given me the mind that “if they can do it, then I can do it.”

A new school of thought

I am a thinker. And I am thinking that throughout my lifetime, it has always been the older men and women who pioneered new territories. They were the people youth looked to for wisdom and instruction about life, health, commitment, hard work, dedication and motivation. It was the “white-haired” that helped us make sense out of life’s hardships, and encouraged us as we figured out where we fit, and where we belonged.

These great people taught us values, ethics and survival, and we are better people for it.

I am compelled to do an about face. I must stop looking at what has gone and instead focus on what has come.

It occurs to me it is the younger men and women who are pioneering new territory. It is a new terrain being forged by the young with guts and determination. They are soldiers, they are warriors and they are young.

They are not white-haired, some not yet fathers or mothers. They may have yet to take positions of authority.

These young men and women are CrossFit athletes and there are thousands of them.

As a master, I find myself looking to these young people for direction and hope. They are the new “greats.” Their passion, stamina and drive give me courage. I read about them in the CrossFit Journal and other publications. I hear their stories at the CrossFit Games and online. I see them in our box and every other box I visit.

They are magnificent. They are teaching us so much about human character, integrity, dignity and inner strength.

And so to you—the masters yet to be—it is from you that we receive instruction about life, health, commitment, hard work, character, determination and motivation. You assure us that we fit and that we belong.

We train in warehouses and garages with yard sale purchased equipment and sand-filled basketballs, showing that we can be content with being frugal.

You show us how to become physically strong so as to match the mental toughness we have accumulated through life’s long road, learning balance.

You are the people who teach us value and ethics and survival, and we are better people for it.

We are masters. And you are our inspiration.

Joshua, Bambi and her husband, Dan, are competing in the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Open.