Attitude is Everything

Attitude is Everything

By Patrick Cummings

I imagine at some point, all this was brand new. I imagine the bumper plates high against the walls were clean once, not the weathered memories of colors they are now. Reds, blues, yellows and greens--indicators of accomplishments as much as they are numerical values.

Michelle Kinney and Stacey Kroon lift on the front platform, the California sun slipping in under the canopy of the open garage door. They speak in colors--Add a yellow and a green, or simply, Blues--and alternate turns on the bar. A gym full of kilos means neither knows fully what they're lifting, but the calculator hasn't been pulled out just yet. Not knowing is an advantage somehow.

There aren't many places a CrossFitter wishes to see before he dies. The original gym in Santa Cruz, perhaps, shuttered though it is. The dust and hills of the Ranch in Aromas, where the first three CrossFit Games were held, is another. And then there's this place, this two-car garage with a name so obvious it was probably less christened as it was simply unquestioned: Mike's Gym.

Fading from years of exposure to Southern California weather, the pictures on the wall tell the story. Posters of the young Burgener clan--Beau, Cody, Casey and Sage, all accomplished Olympic-style weightlifters--are nailed up next to glossy photos of skiers and track and field athletes, the latter with handwritten thank you notes. From one volleyball player, the reminder: "Attitude is everything".

Coach Mike Burgener and his wife built the house in 1985, when both were school teachers. Surveying the expanse of dry hills stretching out in front of the property, Coach B says they were virtually alone up here when they moved in, though it's easy now to spot the handful of other rooftops amongst the surrounding trees. He says the first thing they added to the house when they could afford it was the gym.

For two days, Coach B stands along the edges of his namesake and orchestrates a cacophony of ten athletes and five barbells. He tells us he's had upwards of twenty lifters in here at one time, and it's hard not to wish you could've been there to see it happen. To the uninitiated, it must have looked like chaos.

Watching Coach B work, though, you know chaos doesn't live here. Each of the four workouts these athletes are put through starts with the same warmup, and each ends exactly when Coach says it ends.

The mark of a great coach doesn't come in the minutea of technical knowledge, though that's necessary. It comes when the coach believes in the athlete before the athlete believes in herself. You can hear that in the way Coach Burgener barks his cues, and you can see it on the faces of the athletes. They believe what he believes, and they want to prove him right.

If they can ride that wave as the bar lifts off the ground, they can make the lift, because nobody is allowed to attempt anything more than they're capable of making. There are no five kilo jumps once you near your maximum, and there aren't endless failed attempts at nintey-five percent. There is no ego allowed on these platforms.


Patrick Cummings is the Editor of Evolve Magazine.