Image Credit: Athlete’s Eye Photography
A few stops on the tour are not specifically related to competition, though they often come about through competition. This is critical to understand in the big picture, but also as far as we are concerned at B.Friendly: there is a connection between the community and the competition parts of CrossFit.
While traveling in Europe earlier this year, a woman named Deniz Isik reached out to me from Turkey via Instagram. She runs a competition, which this year is taking place near the end of March, on the West Coast of Turkey at a hotel that overlooks the Aegean Sea. Clearly, it is not yet March.. So you may be asking how we ended up in Turkey in the middle of December.
Stringing Stops Together
In the midst of all the travel, crossing over major oceans as infrequently as possible seems desirable. So, once I know I’m coming to Europe (or Asia in this case for the Dubai Fitness Championship), I begin seeking out opportunities that are taking place the week before or after. Stop 16 (the next article) is going to be the Fall Series Throwdown in Milan, Italy. Realizing Turkey was on the way from Dubai to Milan, and that I had a few days to spare without any commitments, I offered Deniz to visit and potentially do a community event or two at her gym. She was thrilled about this idea and extended a very warm invitation for me to visit and to take care of me while I was there.
A Warm Welcome
After a long travel day, including three flights en route from Dubai to Izmir, I was greeted by a car full of people that I was about to develop a strong bond with very fast. Of course Deniz was there, and with her were her husband, Atamer, her son, Arsen, and a young coach from their gym, Oncu.
We left the airport, drove through the city, adjacent to the Aegean Sea, and exited into a small town where they live. Winding through the city streets, and then down a country road to the end of the line a gate opened to their beautiful home which Atamer built a few years ago with his bare hands. He calls it “his heaven”, and I can tell you that it is appropriately named. They allowed me to stay in their guest house, which is likely the best accommodations I’ll have on any trip this year, for all three nights I was there. It’s strange to arrive in a place so far from anywhere I know, surrounded by people who speak a language I’ll likely never understand, and to someone, feel home. But, the power of the international CrossFit community is strong, and in the case of the people at CrossFit Alsancak, this was only the beginning of the close bonds that were to be formed in a few short days there.
I slept as well as I have in a long time, in the darkness and quiet of a remote countryside estate. Upon waking I joined the family in the living room for a double round of coffee and some conversation. We fell into dialogue seamlessly, as if we were old friends. Their ability to speak English was varied, and I only had it in me to learn one or two Turkish words (which even they admit is a difficult language to learn) per day, and yet each of them found ways to communicate in meaningful ways with me.
Eventually we made our way into the city and to their gym where we met the only person other than Deniz with whom I had previously had contact, Armagane Erguney. Arman, as he goes by, is a very well traveled engineer in a previous profession, who now coaches at their gym and is an integral part of their gym’s staff and community. He spoke english well and served as a tour guide for me as we walked through the city, stopped to get lunch at the oldest “bakery” in the town, visited a local coffee shop which is owned by one of their members, and made our way back to the gym to participate in one of the afternoon classes.
While at the local coffee shop we met Oben, the owner of the hotel about an hour south where the Alsancak Team Series competition has been held for the last couple of year (and will be held again in March of 2024). Oben also spoke english very well, and just as easily became a friend as Arman, Atamer, Arsen, and the Oncu had.
A King’s Feast
Following the workout and some great conversation with a few members from the evening classes plans were laid for dinner. Plans that I knew nothing about. It wasn’t important to me where we went or what we did, I was just happy to have met some great people and been welcomed into their community so warmly. However, for them, I was about to find out that giving me the full and true Izmir experience was important.
We pulled up to a well lit, beautiful building facing the Sea and hopped out of the car as the valet took over. Upon entering the restaurant was lit magnificently and I couldn’t help but laugh at how underdressed we were in our gym attire. Nevertheless, the staff welcomed us warmly and gave us a perfect table. There was some conversation in Turkish between Atamer and two waiters, and the next thing I knew food was piling onto the table.
Arman wouldn’t explain the full custom of eating at Turkish restaurant like this until after most of the meal was completed, but basically we didn’t order most of the food. Instead, Atamer had told them that his friend from America was visiting and they wanted to give him a full experience of Turkish cuisine. From that point on it was mostly up to the chef and waiter what we ate. I could never do justice to the full complement of dishes that we were served, but there were breads, and salads, and starters, followed by several platters of meats of all kind. I was invited to have a famous drink in Turkey, which in English is called “lions milk”. Later deserts were brought out along with coffee or tea. The food would only stop, and the bill would only be brought, upon our request; otherwise the night would go on. I can only imagine how it would have gone if we were big drinkers…
Why We Compete in CrossFit
The next day began very similarly with coffee, conversation, and a drive into town. After breakfast, more coffee, and another workout at the gym, Patrick Clark and Seher Kaya arrived as Seher and I prepared to put on a seminar that evening on the topic of “Why We Compete in CrossFit” followed by a workout for the community.
This is the second time on the tour I’ve had a chance to do something like this, and it is very much something I hope to do more of. Seeing as Seher and Patrick had essentially traveled overnight and had taken most of the day to eat and rest, I took the lead in terms of organizing the logistics of the seminar with the crew at CrossFIt Alsancak and writing the workout, which is a unique challenge when doing it for a group of 30-40 people who I knew little to nothing about.
Since a majority of the attendees would need the information translated to Turkish, Arman would serve as my translator. Because a couple of the people in attendance spoke English, Oncu would in turn do some translating for them when Seher was speaking in Turkish.
The seminar consisted of two parts, the first 20 minutes or so were Seher and I going back and forth talking about the rewards of competing at a community level (me) and at an elite level (Seher), with the intent of harmonizing not just those two things, but also the connection to the value in life of doing hard things and challenging yourself in new ways. And the subsequent sense of accomplishment having gone through with it. The second half was a question and answer session in which the variety of questions we were asked ranged from how old we were, to what I thought about Dave Castro, and a wide variety in between.
Writing Workouts for Groups You Don’t Know
Any time I’m doing this for large groups of relative unknown participants there are three critical things I try to keep in mind:
- What equipment do I have?
- How much space do I have?
- How do make it both accessible, and meaningful, for everyone from beginner to world class athlete?
Regardless of those things, I will almost always choose an EMOM or an AMRAP for this so everyone is starting and finishing together. In this case the space allowed for five clear and distinct stations, so I choose a 1:00 work, :20 rest format in teams of two. Five rounds, five stations:
- Gymnastics- any kind of pull up ranging from jumping pull up to bar muscle up
- A core exercise on the ground ranging from V-ups to sit ups
- Ski erg or bike erg, athlete’s choice
- Dumbbell ground to overhead, snatch or clean and jerk, one or two dumbbells, weight of your choice
One gymnastics station in which you could pursue your level of pull-up, even if it was different from your partner. One weightlifting station which was approachable for everyone. Two machine stations allowing for intensity to be applied as each athlete saw fit, and a station to target some core work- which actually for many was the most challenging station to maintain integrity with, especially on the V-Ups in the later rounds.
Just like the experience in Norway, this was a phenomenal event which I believe was as rewarding for me as it was for the participants who showed up. Everyone on the core team at the gym was happy with the experience and we all prepared to go back to Atamer’s house for a Turkish barbeque and fellowship to celebrate a great day.
Although I was tired and had another travel day leading into three big days of competition in Italy coming up I knew this was a special group of people and I wanted to enjoy the night being present in every moment. There was great food, and even better conversation. I watched the young coach Oncu have a chance to speak with Seher Kaya who is undoubtedly a role model for her. I saw the male coaches from the gym all talking and laughing in the most natural ways and even though I understood none of what was being said the closeness of this group was unquestioned. It was Patrick’s turn to drink the “lion’s milk” with Atamer as they welcomed him into the fold just as happily as they had for me the day before. It was a night to remember, and one I hope to experience more of with them in the future.
On to Italy
The next morning was bittersweet. I had such a good time with them and I wanted to enjoy the last morning coffee and car ride to the airport as fully as possible. But I also knew that at best I would find a way to come back for the competition in March, and at worst I may never go back to that place. The great thing to hold onto however is that Deniz, Atamer, and Arsen have already booked travel to the CrossFit Games this August in Texas, so I know I will see them at least once in 2024.
As I boarded the play to Milan and watched Izmir’s coast fade beneath the clouds I decided that would not be the last time I saw it. So, until the next time, thank you Izmir for being a magnificent blessing on my travels this year.
Up next, the Fall Series Throwdown.