A foley artist is someone who creates sounds for movies and television. Think about the fleshy thump of a punch or the crack of a gunshot. Some of this is digital nowadays, but more often than not, somewhere there is a guy slapping a pork chop or playing two blocks of wood like cymbals. Sarah Swope Shawhan would kill me for the way I chew food. I’m like a foley artist trying to recreate a band of uncoordinated idiots wandering through a muddy bayou. SLOMP SLOMP SLOMP. This was her response when I asked her what she hates. I was expecting her to say Thrusters, or Burpee Box Jumps. However, this is the way we are. I’ve coached her for almost 5 years, and when there isn’t a rep to be done we never talk about CrossFit. When her response is, almost exactly, “I hate how some men chew with their mouths open,” I try to change the subject.
What Sarah loves is her family. More than anything, as it should be I suppose, but in a manner that is admirable to a degree that is hard to describe. Part of her initial hesitancy in joining a CrossFit gym was the cost. She says, “It’s not something I do, spend money on me. I would rather do something for the kids.” So when she saw that FiG was running a Couch 2 CrossFit program, she figured it was an opportunity to figure out whether the money was worth it. C2C works as follows: you pay $50, and for an hour on four consecutive Saturdays you come in for class. If you show up for all four, you get your money back. She got her money back and has been a pillar of the community since.
She began coming to 7pm like clockwork. Back then, 7pm averaged less than 10 people. It was an approachable class. “Less intimidating,” she said.
“You were intimidated?” I ask.
“YEAH,” she says, “I was. But it got better. You hooked me up with Megs and Jaime Z. They were the first people I really talked to. Those two were great for me.”
She tells me the more experienced members were “scary” at first. This is par for the course I’ve found. But it fades as you become accustomed to the atmosphere at FiG. We don’t offer Advanced, Intermediate and Beginner classes. Everyone is equal in the minds of the coaches. She mentions Fatima, J.I. and Holly by name. Saying how once they’d interacted she realized the nature of the environment. Everyone wants everyone who trains at FiG to succeed.
“What’s changed since then?” I ask.
“Everything. But its the same.” She says, “The space is bigger, I mean..” and she open her arms as if to hug the room we’re in. A room that wasn’t here, in a wing of the gym that wasn’t here when she joined, “..but the community still feels..” and the hug closes into a space between her palms the size of a snow-globe. I know this, and there’s no other way to express it.
Sarah wraps up this piece of our conversation with “It’s been cool.” But that’s not the whole story.
This is Sarah’s thing. And she’s never had a thing that was just hers before. She says FiG fulfilled her in a way fitness never had. When I probe a bit as to why Joey (her husband with the famous country twang) hasn’t become a member, she says, “Oh I want him to, but he can’t come to my class.” And she giggles.
There was a period of time when Sarah would cry during workouts. I remember many moments where I would hope with all my heart I could say the right thing to encourage her to continue. And she would, but I think most of her willingness to do so comes from her spirit. She is stubborn and hard to kill. I imagine playing Monopoly with her would be an absolute nightmare.
The last year has been a turning point in Sarah’s physical history. She began working with a local macros coach and annotating all of the food she consumed in a notebook. That way if she ever wasn’t sure what to eat she could just flip back a few months and choose a meal. I can quote you some numbers to prove the efficacy in this, and they’re impressive, but they matter less than how this anecdote ends. She’s lost 30lbs, which is significant put fails to convey her progress well enough. Her body fat has dropped by 10%, which tells me the reason she didn’t lose 50lbs was because she tacked on some muscle. You can see it in her movement, at and away from the barbell or rig.
“I can talk to anyone now. Walk right up to them, like never before.” She tells me.
“There’s a word for that, Sarah.” I say.
“Yeah. It’s confidence.” She smiles when I say this.
That smile, in this moment, for her, is like the view from a summit after an arduous ascent, or your feet touching the tarmac after the flight home from war. It’s an element of the human experience few people get to capture in life. It’s triumph. And though Sarah knows well there will always be work to be done, she’s earned that smile.