9 weeks ago I stepped into Crossfit completely terrified. I had never done anything like Crossfit in my life. A little over two years ago, I started running, which was really the first fitness related activity I’d ever taken on. I did it as a reaction to the sudden death of a friend of mine, and along the way I learned a lot about myself. I ran two half marathons, a few 5k races, and a half marathon relay. I felt better and ate better while I was running, and experienced fewer migraines and lowered my cholesterol.

But after the second half marathon, something was missing. I couldn’t get motivated to run anymore. I chose sleep over early morning runs. Even with the treadmill in the house, running just didn’t excite me the way it used to.

I’d thought about Crossfit off and on for a few years. I never felt comfortable enough to try it. Friends would push me to check it out, but I knew I could never be strong like them. I didn’t think I was hard-core enough for Crossfit. I didn’t like group fitness classes. And I certainly didn’t want to be yelled at through a workout like I thought would happen at a Crossfit box.

But I was ready for something to change. I couldn’t keep promising myself I’d go running and then not do it. I couldn’t keep wishing I was stronger and healthier and then not do anything about it. So at the urging of more than a few friends, I walked into Westbound in the shadow of a member who kept promising me that I would love it.

That first workout was really hard. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember that it was nothing like I thought, and harder than I ever imagined. But something told me I needed to be there. So even though I could barely lift the empty barbell (35 lbs) over my head more than once, I promised to show up at least three times a week and work.

In 9 weeks there have been struggles and triumphs (double unders!), bruises, and frustrations. I’ve increased the weight on the bar, managed to get toes to bar more than once, and completed two of the benchmark “Girls” workouts (Karen and Elizabeth). I’ve never been yelled at, ridiculed, or made to feel badly for scaling a workout.

Today I walked into the box to find a “bear complex” workout. Basically, if you aren’t familiar with Crossfit, a bear complex is a series of movements with weights where multiple movements together create one round. This particular complex had 7 cycles of the series to create a round, to be repeated 5 times, gradually increasing the weight each time. The coaches promised it would be one of the hardest workouts we’d ever done.

I had intended to start with just the bar, and add weight each round, but by the time I got to round three I was struggling. I decided to do rounds four and five with the same weight, feeling like three more rounds of 7 was at least remotely achievable by staying there. Very remotely.

In the second cycle of round four I could not get the push press over my head and dropped the bar. I could feel myself get to that point of giving up. I told myself that even getting through four rounds was respectable and I had worked hard. I’d finish the fourth round and call it a day. I restarted the second cycle and slowly moved through the round, already haven given myself permission to give into the discomfort.

I finished the round and asked Lisa, who was in front of me, how many more cycles she had, and she said two. She asked how many I had. And for the life of me I couldn’t believe what was coming out of my mouth as I said it – “I still have the last round to do.”

Around me, everyone was finished, or like Lisa, on their last one or two reps. I still had to get through 7. 7 power cleans, 7 front squats, 7 push presses, 7 back squats, and 7 more push presses. There was no way. I was spent. I believed myself when I said I couldn’t go any further.

The thing is, nobody around me believed it. Maddy, who’d arrived for the 6 o’clock, was on the rower behind me and I could hear her cheering me on. Tom and Lisa, long done and ready to head home, telling me I could make it through. And Janae, who sat on the floor and counted down for me, telling me to just make it through the next one. The coaches watching me, making sure I was ok, and telling me I could do it.

You know what happened? I finished it. I was dead last, but I finished it. And it wasn’t because I thought I could. Because by then, I’d given up. But something happens when the people around you believe in you more than you believe in yourself – you start to realize what’s truly possible.

I’ve had more than a few friends ask me about Crossfit. The problem is, it’s difficult to put into words how something that most people see as “going to the gym” is much more than that. I know Crossfit isn’t the only place where the person who finishes last gets cheered for the loudest. I’ve seen that play out in marathons and swim meets and baseball tournaments. I won’t pretend that Crossfit is the only place where you learn about what it feels like to have people believe in you. What I will tell you is that my Crossfit box is as good as it gets when it comes to this ideal. Being there makes me want to try harder, be better, and more importantly, it makes me want to support each and every person who shows up the way I get supported. One of the things I love is that my kids get to see me and lots of other people of all sizes and fitness levels working hard to be strong and fit, and cheer each other on the same way we teach them to support their teammates and competitors in their respective sports.

I don’t know what the magic ingredient in the Crossfit Kool-aid actually is, but I suspect it has a lot more to do with the community than it does the workouts. And as long as they’re serving it up, I’ll keep coming back for more.