The news didn’t make the top of SportsCenter, but the most important development in the sports world yesterday might have been the honchos at Oakley sportswear’s decision to sign up Rich Froning to augment its stable of celebrity athlete endorsers, which already includes Ichiro, Bubba Watson, and Alex Ovechkin, among others. Never heard of him? That’d put you in the great majority of humanity and, frankly, Oakley probably doesn’t care all that much. In fact, Froning isn’t even an athlete in the traditional sense of its meaning. He competes, yes, but more than anything he trains. Froning is a CrossFit competitor, which means he’s on no team and you won’t see him on network TV any time soon, but he’s the best this increasingly popular multi-discipline training regimen has ever seen, and if one of the biggest sportswear companies on the planet think that a few words from him can pay dividends, that makes this the defining moment in CrossFit’s 13-year history.
Even if you haven’t experienced CrossFit for yourself, you probably know someone who has done it or who has raved/complained about its awesomeness/difficulty. It’s a series of various athletic and training maneuvers, and the idea is to mix these various permutations into workout bursts. It’s fitness (Fit) defined and measured across (Cross) numerous activities. It sounds innocent enough, but just watching a CrossFit workout, free of any previous first-hand knowledge, can be downright agonizing. It’s grueling, and not for everyone, but those who do it are loyal converts, spreading the word of rope climbs, clean-and-jerks, and modified pull-ups out of thousands of accredited gyms across America.
It’s that growing group to whom Froning could be a legit star. Now, I’m not an unhealthy person, but I’ve reached that 32-year-old threshold where pains pop up where they never did and some requisite rest period in between workouts feels more mandatory than optional. So to see Froning, who, as the first-ever two-time men’s winner of the annual CrossFit Games, has been deemed the Fittest Man on Earth™, engage in one of his Workouts of the Day (WOD), as they’re known in CrossFit parlance, is an exercise in vicarious pain the likes of which I’ve rarely felt.
You clearly can’t argue with the results, and you can’t help be awed by what these CrossFitters can accomplish, very much in he same way you see Miguel Cabrera mash a baseball from every conceivable pitch location. That WTF wonderment feels applicable here, and if CrossFit is to make that mainstream leap to athletic acceptance or even casual name recognition, Froning could be the man to get it there.
So sure, whatever Oakley is paying Froning is likely a small cut compared to the myriad sports endorsement deals that bombard us every day, but at least this isn’t infomercial athletics. Yes, there’s capitalism and hundreds of millions in new gym memberships, people buying at-home workout gear, and lucrative broadcast contracts on the line here, but the CrossFit Effect is decidedly real and it’s a movement still getting bigger by the month.
Moreover, it’s not going anyway, not as long as there are people like Froning or Chris Spealler of Park City, Utah, who does 106 CrossFit-style pullups here just because he can and perhaps he’s trying to convey the idea that, hey, maybe you can, too! Just get up on that bar and start going, pal.
Of course, you’ll also completely rip your hands open, no matter how much rosin you lather on your mitts, but that’s the price to be paid for CrossFit fame.
That Spealler does his 106th pullup in much the same manner as I’d likely do my sixth makes me both admire and fear CrossFit.
Either way, it has my attention.