Confessions of a 40-something CrossFit Newbie


Sarge and I joined a gym.

It’s basically like CrossFit in Croatian. The thing that makes it less intimidating for me as an out-of-shape, closer-to-50-than-40-something is that not only do I not know any of these people, I probably wouldn’t even understand if they were making fun of me.

I’ve met two instructors, Luka and Roko (it seems like all of the Millennial Croats are named Luka or Roko). There’s a friendly guy who translates for me when I’m looking particularly confused. I think his name is Igor or Ivan or Ilija. And there’s a funny one whose name is something like Domagoj who calls me his “Jim Bean sister from Kentucky.”

gym 2.jpg

The women I’ve met in the classes haven’t said much in English. I have a feeling they can understand me, but they’re probably thinking I should learn their language and speak in Croatian. At least they let me follow along and do what they’re doing when I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. They are young fitness fanatics, and I can’t keep up. I really don’t care.

I was looking for a workout routine I could do with Sarge, and this is more his style than Pilates or Zumba. If I look like a big dork trying to do a burpee, it’s a little easier doing it in another country in a room full of strangers.

gym 3.jpg

The gym is no-frills. It has motivational signs in English — “Mistakes Are Proof That You’re Trying!” — plays American music and even has the time count-downs in English. I don’t think this is one of the official global CrossFit affiliates (there are something like 13,000 worldwide), but it looks like that kind of cult you’d probably find anywhere in America.

The setting is more like a garage than a gym with stations for barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and medicine balls. It has plywood walls and ceilings and no shower rooms to speak of. I saw one guy change out of his shorts and walk across the gym in Speedos the other day. And one woman ends her workout drying her hair by the front desk at what appears to be the only outlet for her hair dryer.

gym 4.jpg

I thought the focus on weightlifting might be too dangerous for me. I didn’t want to have to carry truck tires or teammates anywhere. This doesn’t seem that intense. Coach Luka doesn’t care if I do push-ups on my knees or if I modify exercises to the beginner level. His high-fives and “bravos” are encouragement enough. He also shows me if my technique is off: “Donkey kicks up!” (not out), he says. There’s a camaraderie at the gym even if I can’t understand everything they’re saying.

Pull-ups and handstands are still never going to be my thing. But living abroad may be improving my workouts. It’s made me realize I can be the oldest, or the foreigner, or the slowest in the room and not be intimidated. Well, not as much!