Why I do the hard workouts

Zachary Tellier, from what I have been able to gather from various online resources (including the military times), is listed in military memory as the following:

Army Sgt. Zachary D. Tellier

Died September 29, 2007 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom


31, of Charlotte, N.C.; assigned to the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Sept. 29 at Firebase Wilderness, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit using small-arms fire.

And, from an obituary, we have this:

FORT BRAGG — An 82nd Airborne paratrooper who pulled two comrades from a burning vehicle in April died Saturday of wounds sustained while on a ground patrol in Afghanistan, military officials said Monday.

Sgt. Zachary D. Tellier, 31, who most recently lived in Charlotte, was a combat infantryman with the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Bragg.

“He really just wanted to serve his country,” said wife Sara Tellier. “He felt it was something he should do with his life. … He didn’t like to be called a hero. He was very uncomfortable with that, but he was definitely very brave man.”

Sara Tellier said her husband grew up in New England, but they moved to Charlotte in 2004. He joined the military in 2005.

He was supposed to fly to Atlanta for a brief leave this month. Sara Tellier has been splitting time between Charlotte and Atlanta, where she has family.

In April, Tellier’s unit was on a mounted patrol when one of its vehicles drove over and detonated a bomb, which set the vehicle on fire, officials said.

Tellier pulled two paratroopers to safety, suffering severe burns to his hands. He was awarded the Bronze Star with valor for his actions. Tellier also had received two Purple Hearts.

After he was burned, Tellier jumped up in the turret to return fire, said Sgt. Michael Layton, a member of his unit. A lieutenant made Tellier get out of the vehicle because of his injuries.

He is survived by his wife, Sara; his father, David W. Tellier of Groton, Mass.; and his mother, Pamela Rodriguez, of Falmouth, Mass.

It is difficult to honor someone fully without having known him, and especially so, when only a small bit of text on a screen is all that is provided.  I did read some of the personal notes at the bottom of the obituary page.  However, they somehow felt too personal for such an outsider to be reading.  Nonetheless, one stood out to me in particular, and I think it is what I was meant to see on that page.  Benjamin Shields, a fellow member of the military, commented, “He was one of the most selfless individuals I have ever met and I still think about him to this day.”  And, when Benjamin eventually became a sergeant, he said that he did his best to model Zachary’s leadership.

Originally, CrossFit released what are called “Hero WODs” (workout of the day) to honor and to pay tribute to specific individuals who have fallen and died during active service to our country.  Eventually, the fitness community around the globe began creating their own Hero WODs to honor and to pay tribute to their selected, wonderful individuals who would be missed, due to the same result of falling while serving this country.  It seems Zachary Tellier was one of the second group of individuals, from what I have gathered so far.  Yet his name has become known across the globe, simply because of the workout given to honor him, to pay tribute to all that he was and all that he did, as well as to all that he still today inspires in those he knew.

The workout titled “Zachary Tellier” is not an easy one.  None of the Hero WODs are.  And yet, yesterday morning, as I was crawling back into bed to go to sleep, to take a day of rest from my regular, difficult exercise, I saw his name listed at the top of my gym’s Workout of the Day page, and I jumped into action.  I told myself inwardly to wake myself up, because we are not missing this one, no matter the oh-so-few hours of sleep we had gotten last night.  This was was worth it.  And my body agreed.

I arrived at the gym, excited, almost bouncy.  This was Zachary Tellier, after all – how could I not be?  I had donned an all-black outfit with an American flag scrunchie in my hair.  Today’s workout was to honor the struggles through which so many people go in order to provide for me and for my life.  From the smallest to the largest, their sacrifices, their persistence, their struggles, both won and lost, are all a part of my ability to live a life I love.  Just as mine affect those around me.  Today’s workout was about honoring all of them, while giving special attention and gratitude to this one known but unknown individual, Zachary.

He is a reminder that even the unexpected can be faced effectively, even the worst of our fears can be faced successfully, and, even when we do fail at something, we succeed in something greater than we could have imagined.  He did not consider himself a hero, it seems.  And yet, for so many, he was just that through his daily life, through who he was as a person.  And the world is a better place because he was part of it, and because he showed up in it.

Now, that all being said, let’s look at what this workout actually is.

For Time:

10 Burpees

10 Burpees
25 Push-Ups

10 Burpees
25 Push-Ups
50 Lunges

10 Burpees
25 Push-Ups
50 Lunges
100 Sit-Ups


10 Burpees
25 Push-Ups
50 Lunges
100 Sit-Ups
150 Air Squats

Before I began at the gym, I am almost certain that I would have looked at this workout and thought, No Way.  It was not in the realm of the possible for myself.  And, I likely would have thought that as being applicable for the rest of my life.  It wasn’t just a ‘not today’ kind of thing, but a ‘not ever’ one.  I would not have thought it possible for me to complete this workout in a day, let alone all at once, or even within an hour’s time.  If I had attempted it, I likely would have made it ten to 12 burpees into the thing and given up.  Not for me, I would have determined.

Even when we had been at the gym for almost three months, and we did this workout all together, I was concerned partway through whether I would be able to complete the thing, let alone within any set amount of time.  I did knee push-ups with an ab-mat under my chest (so I didn’t have to go as low on them), and likely really sucky lunges and squats, as well as push-ups, and I genuinely wondered whether I would survive, whether I could make it to the end… several times.  I could barely move or breathe after about halfway through it.

And yet, I did survive.  And I did finish.  It took me 36 minutes and 20 seconds to finish, and my repetitions weren’t great at all, but I had done it.  I had pushed through the intense struggles I was facing – not to mention the mental struggle of fitness that plagued me in the first place – and I had done the best I could, crappy, pathetic push-ups and all.  And I had made it to the other side.  I remember looking back on it afterward, wondering how on Earth I had done it – it had felt like the workout would never end, like I would fall to the ground, defeated long before I made it through to those squats.

Persistence, I thought.  Not giving up, and just going for it… just doing it.  That was how I’d done it.  Certainly, the community around me was encouragement in and of itself.  But, I could have easily seen where I was relative to them – so painfully far behind them – and given up.  Yet I didn’t.  Because something was more important than giving up.  Because I saw that my attitude toward this workout could be no different than my attitude toward life as a whole.  How did I tend to respond when faced with a seemingly impossible task?  When I was faced with intense struggle that seemed like it might not let up anytime soon?  I knew how I usually responded, and it almost made me sick to my core.  My breathing was heavy during that workout for more than just the physical effort it was taking.  I almost always gave up, when things got hard.  I ran away, avoided.  I gave up so many opportunities even for fear of their being too difficult – too difficult being defined as more effort than was easy to give.

This workout was just one step toward letting all of that go, and helping myself to become someone I wanted to be: someone who didn’t give up, who didn’t lose sight just because things got hard and seemed impossible.  I can be strong, I can trust myself to survive, and I can make it through to the other side.  After all, I already was showing myself that I could do that, simply by being at the gym that day, and each day since we had joined.  All those tears shed were for the pain I was overcoming with each workout.  And this one was just another, albeit a much more difficult one.

And so, in the intense heat and humidity that is always July 4th in Houston, Texas, I faced my fears and my stops in life, I pushed through and persisted, trusting myself in a way I was no longer accustomed to doing, and I completed the workout.  In the tiniest of ways, I felt my success to be heroic in its own way.  An inward Thank you… was all I could offer to Zachary Tellier after the workout, but I had meant it with all of my being.  And so, though I did not know this man, and it was likely that he never would know how people across the globe, who never knew him, would be saying his name for years to come, I was grateful to him for the reminder that he forever would be for me: That I could do it, that I could survive, that I could thrive.

Now, roughly a year and nine months later, I found myself jumping out of a beloved opportunity for sleep and rest, donning an attitude of, “I can do this,” and heading into the 5:15am round of the Zachary Tellier workout with intense joy.  My first time through, I had spent 36:20 on the seemingly impossible workout.  The second time, exactly a year ago (nine months after the first time), it was 33:33, and I no longer used the ab-mat for my push-ups.  Yesterday, though I wanted to show Zachary – as if we are buddies who meet up every time I do his workout – that I had improved upon myself, and I wanted to complete the workout faster than before, I knew that the best way to honor him and to pay tribute and true gratitude to him was to focus on my struggles.  How I face this workout is how I face the world, right?  So, let’s face it with confidence, excitement, and a touch of fear, ready to take on the challenge and face the unknown.  In other words, I shall be my best self.

And I was.  When things got really hard, I gave myself the needed breath, and got right back to it.  A cry of pain or exhaustion was merely a release – like that old poster, it was weakness leaving the body – and each one allowed me to keep moving, to keep going.  I knew I wasn’t in danger of hurting myself – I merely was pushing through the discomfort, the fears, the doubts, the impossibilities I had placed upon my own mind.  I still was one of the last ones to finish, but I hardly even noticed that.  It wasn’t about that.  It was about my attitude and what I did in the face of the struggles.  And, because of that, I had an amazing time.  I was baffled when I saw the clock was only at 28:00 exactly after my final air squat.  That was a 16.5% increase in speed from last year, and 23% faster than the first time.  And isn’t that spectacular?  Especially for a workout that had once seemed an impossibility for me.

I had initially intended to talk merely about the difficulty of this workout here, and yet, here we are, having talked first about the man for whom it was named, and then the workout itself…  I suppose that man is half the reason my heart is in it, though, so it only makes sense.  Without his name, it merely would be a list of activities.  With his name, however, it gains a life of its own, and it reminds me to work on myself so that I might serve others in my world through my life.  When I improve on this workout, I can see how, through my physical fitness and mental growth, I am better able to serve and to love those around me, better able to be patient, to endure, to work through the pain of what once seemed impossible.  I can see how I am better able to be my best self.

Post-a-day 2021

Value in being valued

On a walk the other day with my mom, we met these nice old people who live on her street, just after we picked up some ujukitsu off the ground in their backyard/the abandoned small golf course. Turns out that they met one another while teaching for a year in Japan on a military base (that is no longer in existence) near Tokyo. I am familiar with the train line that led to it, according to them. Before Japan, they each had taught a year or two in Hawai (he) and the Philippines (she), and then they met and married and moved to teach on a base in Germany together. They were part of the foreign service teaching for 14 years altogether, I believe they had said. Then they moved to Houston and taught in elementary schools here until they retired. It was adorable to hear.

Considering my frustrations in this part-time job I am now working, I have wondered if something in school teaching is still calling to me. I miss having classes of kids, and teaching something – and something valuable – each and every day I go to work, and being loved and trusted and valued by those around me, in immediate interaction with me every day. Though, perhaps it is less about the classroom and more about the respect and valuing and love that comes to me in a classroom, but that has seemed nearly nonexistent in this position. I have even felt disrespected and incredibly undervalued and unappreciated here.

I wonder what there is for me to do about that.

I know one thing for sure: I’m tired of relying on the way I am told things work. Word-of-mouth information is faulty, and it has proven itself to be so over and over again in this job. I am tired of it. I will do my research for all of my questions, and clock the hours and expect no pay for them, and I will be prepared for all the stuff at this job that will pop up at some time or other – the crazy situations all seem to be inevitable, and I prefer to be prepared and to know what on Earth is going on. So, I will prepare myself, and I will not rely any longer on anyone else to teach me what I need to know or what they all think I need to know – that has been terrible so far, and I am done with it.

In doing that, I will be prepared as I want to be prepared, and as I always prepare myself when I care about something. The system is faulty, and I do not have to follow it – I can do better than it, and I shall, especially in this part of it.

Separately, I am doing more photos tomorrow morning, and I am nervous. I have been doubting and stressed since that bad photo shoot where I didn’t trust myself the other week. I know I need to take photos to move past this, but that doesn’t make it less scary for me. Someone will be relying on me, and I will be relying on a camera… and myself. Now, I just need to trust myself, and do what is needed to be done. Even if that seems like a ridiculous something. You can do this, Banana. Trust yourself and have faith in yourself – Jishin to Kokoro.

Post-a-day 2020

Opera, Veterans, and Travel

I have two things on my mind right now: opera and emotions.

Tonight, due to the gracious encouragement of a new acquaintance, I found myself attending a unique performance, called “Glory Denied” and put on by Houston Grand Opera and HGOco.  The main character is a man in the Vietnam War, who becomes a prisoner of war for nine years, and then eventually returns to the USA.  The story, essentially, is how his life falls apart throughout it all.  It is sad and tragic, and the music only makes it more so.  The setting of the performance being an old airplane hangar that has turned into a museum added to the show itself.  The comedic and especially unique bit of the night was the fact that directions to the bathrooms included going “around the helicopter tail.”

Now, this opera was sad.  Period.  And I knew it was sad beforehand, so I made an effort to stay detached from it.  I have a history of becoming too engulfed by something to be able to separate myself from it fully.  When I read books, it is so easy for me to fall into the narrator’s experiences, that I find myself being agitated in life, if the narrator was agitated wherever I left off in my reading, or giddy and joyful, if that was his/her mood.  I even take on phrases and mannerisms of the characters, and ask myself questions that I am accustomed to reading (or hearing, if it is an audiobook) from them.  I’m not sure that I’ve been ever as on-edge, frown-y, tense, and distrusting as I was while listening to the Hunger Games audiobooks.  Life was intense during that one.  That is why I wanted to keep my distance tonight, because I know people have very intense experiences when it comes to war.

As I watched the opera, I found myself wondering if these people, the performers, ever have to deal with such a thing as I do.  Do they have repercussions in their daily lives, due to the effect playing that particular character had on their mental state?  Do they find themselves questioning their sanity, when they have been playing a character whose scale leans too far toward the insane?  I wonder.

And I almost succeeded in staying separate from the emotions of the characters.  I made it through most of the show safely, but then a surprising part hit me hard.  As the main character begins pouring out the shattering sorrows of adjusting to a changed world, back in the USA after nine years of imprisonment, I was dragged into his experience.  Tears rolled slowly down my face, unbidden.  No, I have never been a POW nor even been in a war, but I have been in my own version of that same homecoming.  No parades, no parties, no photos nor celebrations.  Life around me is unchanged by my silent arrival to the country I call home.  Did they even notice my return?  The characters sang of the expectations a returning veteran might have of his family and friends, – that they be as loving and excited about him as they were when he left, and that they were missing and thinking of him as much as he was of them during his absence – and of the unstable feeling of returning to a physical world – one in which he had always felt stability – that has altered dramatically, and even unrecognizably in places.

I know this experience.  Again, not the whole war and POW stuff.  Certainly not that.  Living abroad several times, I have been in my own version of this veteran’s experience after the war.  I have learned and improved each time, and I have done my best in more recent years to prepare myself for how people will have changed by the time I return to Houston.  No matter what I do, though, there is always a sort of anticipation, a hopeful expectation of how they will be.  They will be the best versions of themselves with me, and their love will fill me constantly.  They will be patient with me, and gentle.  They will be interested in my experience since I have been gone.  All of this, because they have missed me and thought longingly of me as I have of them, throughout all of my new struggles in this new life I was living temporarily.  And then, when I arrive, finding that this is not the case, they are not as I had unconsciously expected, it is confusing.  I recognize the place and the people, but they are both different from what I left, and I cannot quite see how or why.  They have not been through what I have.  They have not had my struggles.  So why do they not comfort me and love me as I have so needed during my absence, as I so need now?  They are different from how I remember them, from how they have existed in my mind while we have been apart.  But so am I, and I see that they have mistaken who I am now, for an image they have built of me inside their own minds.  They can see that I have changed, and I can see that they have changed, but we don’t understand one another’s change, and it is difficult to cope, to fathom, even.  And there is always that extra edge of my experiences having been good reason for me to have changed, but theirs were not.

I have not been in the military nor in a war, but I know this small, unsettling, and somewhat worldview-shattering experience of coming home to a now-foreign home.  As the lead character raged about his home being so not like the home he once knew, I was dragged into the pain, feeling my own current struggles of readjustment coming forth from deep inside.  I am still living in his pain today, though I have been back for a few months.  And it hurt even more still, as I saw that my own experience of struggle has lasted so long, although I was only gone for a year this time.  How terribly long this period of struggle must have been for this man, must still be for veterans returning today.  I went from peaceful times to peaceful times, and my pain still lingers.  They likely did not and still do not have such peace on both ends.

I am forever grateful that veterans have made that sacrifice of ease, in order to do what they believed best to help the world at large.  I am concerned that we do not do enough to help them with the latter end of their tours, with their returns and readjustments.  It is difficult enough altering a regular lifestyle in one culture to a regular one in another culture, like what I have done so often.  It is practically unfathomable to go from comfort to a war zone lifestyle, and then back to a house in a safe, city life lifestyle – is the brain ever ready to cope with a change so drastic and so quick?  I found myself wanting to hug and hold the characters in the show all tightly to my chest, and to fill them all with love and acceptance of whoever they are and in whatever place they are mentally/emotionally/psychologically.  ‘You are safe here, you are important here, and you are perfect as you are.’  I know it was only a show, but it exists only because the story itself is real, and all too common, I believe.

Post-a-day 2017