Ronan’s letter to FFD
Allow me a moment of selfish sentimentality please as you read through this. I promise this all has a point.
So, here we go.
Arriving in Dundee in January, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of five months in Scotland.
December leading up to it was becoming a struggle to find joy in doing anything at home. I was only looking forward to getting the hell out of the country. Under that, though, lay this confused angst that I had yet to experience in 21 years. I was plateauing working out. I was bored. I kept telling myself it was being at home that did it, but the problem was with me, not home – simply put, I was unhappy. Not just teenage unhappy that you look back and kinda laugh at. No, it was the kind of existential dread that comes after accumulation of disasters like unexpected deaths, break-ups, working a dead-end job, and friendships collapsing. The kind of thing that kills motivation instead of creating it.
So after getting to Dundee, I told myself to fake it till I made it. Motivation, self-confidence, and a genuine smile would all magically come back somehow. Well, a couple weeks later, it was obvious I couldn’t even fake it. I had no chance on the Dundee Rugby club. I hated running. I was having a hard time sleeping. I hated one of the things that kept me sane – exercise, and I was separated from the other – music. Years of anger management lost their effectiveness because I had no real outlet. I needed a change of mental scenery, not just to stay in shape – but to stay alive.
Lo and behold I consulted the 21st century’s omnipotent sage – Google. As Graham has said many a time, “CrossFit” has a brand to it that can both intimidate and draw someone. When I found Functional Fitness Dundee, I was intimidated because the image of the stereotypical American crossfit “broaster” was in my head. But I was drawn because everything written about FFD seemed to contradict that stereotype. A third sensation stacked on top of both of those: it was something new.
January 30th 2018, the day I walked over and signed up for my membership, was the first time I experienced something for the first time in two months – so it might as well have been new to me too. I was frustrated. I couldn’t figure it out for the life of me how to do the muscle up that Liam, whom I had just met, was explaining to us (meanwhile, Antonio was on my left having zero problem doing it. Nas was on the rings and CHAINING them no problem). With that was the birth of a simple personal goal – be able to do a muscle up by the time I left Dundee. Going through the WOD, a 12 minute AMRAP of some torturous couplet that I can’t remember, I came way too hard out of the gate and already started slowing down at 3 minutes. The 12 minute bell rang and I was already sore. It’d been forever since that happened too.
The week progressed. I was reintroduced to lifts I had not done since high school and I found I was still just as bad at them as I was. I couldn’t snatch 70 kg once. I could hardly do front squats at all. I couldn’t do a full clean with anything heavier than 80 kg. My body was sore in places I didn’t know I could feel something in, I was waking up and having to stretch before I went and made coffee. But that meant I was sleeping again.
I’ve included this long preamble because what I’m about to say is a testament to how you guys have changed someone’s life and will continue to change lives.
My goal was do a muscle up before I left Dundee. I did my first bar muscle up halfway through February, after Graham coached me through chest to bar pull-ups. Then it was do my first ring muscle up by the time I left. It happened two weeks later. Watching Nas and Liam’s technique and how they kept their arms close to their body gave me the perfect model to go on. Then I did my first strict muscle up in April (as I laughed at Paul’s frustration while he did clean and jerks with Nas).
I said I’d never be able to figure out double-unders; concussions, growing up playing rugby, football, and doing martial arts rendered me too stupid to do so. Not only did I get them down in three weeks (due to Liam and James’s patience and focusing on the jump first, not the rope), they became one of my best movements and I have now (not without collapsing after) been able to do them unbroken for a minute.
January/February: I cannot snatch 70 kgs to save my life. I cannot even power snatch 70 kgs to save my life.
Now: I can snatch 80 kgs more than once, no problem. Thanks Dylan.
January/February: I cannot clean 80 kgs without serious trouble. My back can’t stay straight.
Now: I can clean over 100 kgs. Thanks Jonny.
January/February: I can hardly deadlift 120 kgs more than twice. My shins are torn apart by the bar because I cannot figure out how to get them out of the way. My technique is a constant target of Graham’s laughter (rightfully so).
Now: My goal is to lift three times my bodyweight as a one rep max by September. I can lift double my bodyweight 6 times. Thanks Graham.
January/February: I weigh 160 lbs. I’m in ok cardio shape, but functionally I can’t do much.
Now: I weigh 170 lbs. I’m in the best shape of my life. Each day, the weight goals change, but there’s a foundational one that you guys hammered into me – be better than you were yesterday.
None of the credit for the above is with me. All of it rests with you guys. The reason I can do anything I’m now capable of with fitness is FFD. I didn’t know how to do a muscle up; you guys taught me how. I didn’t know how to combine strength with techniques. I didn’t know how to use the levers on my body to combine strength with technique; you guys, patient as could ever be, taught me how to do so.
And beyond where fitness is concerned, cheesy or sappy as it sounds, you guys were and still are a miracle for me and I’m sure for many others. I have no doubt you will continue to be. You took a shy, broken, depressed boy and made him into a stronger, outgoing, happier man. You gave him a place to belong and a community in a place where he didn’t know anybody. Somewhere where the goal was “just to get fit” but where I could make it the best hour of my day. You taught me that while competition against others does matter and that it can force someone to improve, it’s competition against yourself that is most important and brings the most benefits.
Friends I made will say something about how their favorite part of their study abroad was the traveling and the places they got to see. While the experiences, laughs, late nights and formation of identity that come with traveling are no question amazing, they aren’t my highlight of my exchange in Dundee. It’s FFD and nothing’s close.
The English language doesn’t have a proper expression for the gratitude I owe you. Thank you.
Your friend and student,