Muncie CrossFitter Jennifer Stanley is not an athlete

Jennifer Stanley“I am not an athlete,” Arsenal member Jennifer Stanley, says, when I asked about her fitness history. “I’ve always associated CrossFit with extreme athletes, and frankly that’s not at all who I am. I’ve never considered myself an athlete. Not a day in my life.”

I first met Jennifer the night before the Arsenal opened. I was there out of guilt, washing the rubber floor, but Jennifer was there out of passion. She was one of the earliest members of The Arsenal, who before the gym was open, met at 5:30AM outside of DC Barbell.

Close your eyes and imagine the type of person who gets up before dawn to hit tires with sledge hammers outside of a place named DC Barbell. Jennifer is the exact opposite of that.

She might not be a self-professed athlete; she’s more than that.

She’s the mother of two and she’s a singer. (Check out this YouTube clip of her singing with her daughter.)

Jennifer majored in music and theatre at Butler and spent a year performing on a cruise ship. She’s sung disco at biker bars and hymns at churches across the country.

And yet there she was at DC Barbell bashing a tractor tire with a sledge hammer at her first WOD.

She went into that first early morning WOD with plenty of trepidation. She wrote this on her blog announcing her plan to get fit by the age of 40 (Fit:440):

“I’m going to be the only one who can’t lift a truck above my head. The others in my group will be on their lunch break by the time I finish a workout. I’m probably going to simultaneously vomit and pee my pants while doing box jumps. These are the the fears that live behind my enthusiastic announcement that I’ve just joined a box…But I’m also totally intrigued and giddy about the possibility of what can happen when a person is brave enough to try something that scares them. What if we played it safe all the time, only doing familiar routines? Isn’t if fun to see a person strive for something beyond their reach? I’m going to be that person.”

And here’s what she wrote after:

“Was it fun? Hmmm……even though my quads are begging to differ, I would have to answer yes. Not eat chocolate birthday cake and go shopping with friends type of fun, but fun nonetheless. It was fun to workout with 10 people of various fitness levels, ages, and abilities. It was fun to arrive before dawn and beat the sun to work today. It was fun to cheer others on and to be cheered on. It was fun to finish and realize that despite feeling nervous that I would let my team down, we did it together. It was fun to walk into the house feeling proud of what I did.”

Jennifer is an independent consultant for the largest social selling clothing company CAbi. Social selling might be something she’s good at. If you ask a member of The Arsenal how they heard about CrossFit coming to Muncie, more than 20 of them first heard about it from Jennifer.

“I have a big mouth,” she says. “I can’t help it. When I like something and I feel like it’s life changing, I talk about it.”

Exercising out of Fear

In her past working out wasn’t something that she would ever have considered life changing. It was an evil necessity. Casting directors are searching for a look, an image, and if you don’t fit that image you don’t get the part.

“When I graduated and started auditioning for all that theatre stuff,” she says, “image and weight became a real issue.”

She joined Weight Watchers after college and started to get a few roles including her yearlong stint on the cruiseship.

“[Y]ou have costumes made for you that you have to fit in for a year. I had to work out… I was with the dancers and they were really fit. On the cruiseship and after was definitely the most fit I’ve been in my life… It was image driven. I was trying to keep up with the other singers and dancers. I was scared. It was fear. I was exercising out of fear: ‘What if I go back to how it was a few years ago?’.”

And out of fear she admits not making healthy decisions. She tried diet plans and pills until she became pregnant with her daughter Anna and realized her health was more important than her image and that what she fed herself she fed her daughter.

She fell in and out of workout routines, and after the birth of her second child, John, she really struggled to find the motivation.

“Literally I could be in the parking lot of the gym and think, ‘Man, I’ve got way too much to do and leave.’ I just wasn’t inspired… I wanted to be like people I knew who had found this niche of fitness that worked for them.”

Stepping into the Box and out of her comfort zone

She heard about CrossFit coming to Muncie from her brother-in-law Matt Carder, and has been hooked ever since. This is the strange thing about CrossFit. There’s a lot that looks uber-manly about it with the chains and ropes and hammers and tires, like if you don’t have the amount of chest hair that could be woven into a pirate flag, that you don’t belong. But then you meet someone like Jennifer, who after she first worked out with my wife, Annie, she sent me a song to play for her. The song was about an “Annie” and Jennifer told me it had moved her to tears.

I asked Jennifer what it was about CrossFit that appealed to her.

“Walking in that door, it’s never going to be the same workout that I did the day before or even the week before and that keeps me so intrigued, and secondly because I do have a lot of friends there, I don’t want to miss out. It’s always unique and always outside of my comfort zone every time. And this is the way it changed me most: I’m so much more comfortable outside of my comfort zone. Everyone always says you have to get out of your comfort zone every day, but how often do we actually force ourselves to do that or even have the option. Literally every time I walk in The Arsenal I’m a little uncomfortable.”

Jennifer, who worked out out of fear, now fearlessly steps outside of her comfort zone on a regular basis. Yes, her pullups are getting better, and yes, her form on her Olympic lifts is being honed, but these aren’t the things she points to when talking about what she’s gained.

“I feel like I’m on a journey to accomplish something. That this one hour workout isn’t self-contained but it’s part of a bigger picture. I don’t know why I haven’t seen fitness like this before. It’s weird that I’m doing something physically and it can translate into my courage with a friend to say something that is hard to say or difficult. In the last three months I’ve had conversations with three or four people where instead of taking the comfortable path, I’ve had more courage to have the hard conversation. Is that CrossFit? Maybe.

I’ve seen Jennifer in action at The Arsenal, pushing herself, cheering others on, sweating and doing the post CrossFit collapse onto the floor. She is what an athlete looks like, so I end our chat with one last question…

“Are you an athlete now?”

“I’m not an athlete yet,” she says, “but I’m not ruling it out.”

Want to see what The Arsenal is about? Stop in this Saturday, Oct. 19 at 9AM, to join in or watch as we take on the Lift Up Luke WOD to raise funds and awareness for for local and national autism groups.