Lessons From Jay
On January 21, we lost a friend and athlete. This was the first loss of this kind at CrossFit Jane. For those familiar with our story, you know that we are a family "business" started in the garage of our home. We consider this community to be an extension of our own family. I wish I never had to write a eulogy, but I found that in revisiting all the beauty that Jay brought to our lives, I was inspired to try a little harder and be a little better to make him proud. He once wrote that what he loved about CFJ was "the upbeat milieu." I hope that by sharing some of the lessons he taught us, we can honor his memory and keep our milieu upbeat...just the way he liked it.
Jay loved words.
He loved building his vocabulary and trying out new lines, as demonstrated in his description of his favorite part of CFJ: “the up-beat milieu.” He studied lists and definitions daily. Words, rhymes and lyrics spoke to him and were his art.
Today, we can reflect upon the lessons that we learned from Jay. We can focus on the light and legacy that he leaves behind in our community— the gifts that he gave us.
“Don’t worry about doing something perfectly or not being able to do something at all. Everybody starts at the same point.”
These were Jay’s words of wisdom for anyone new to CrossFit or interested in trying it. He had followed his own advice. When he walked into CFJ, he did not know a single person, but he knew he wanted to give it a shot. He had lifting experience from his globo gym days. After missing one of his first fundamental classes, I began to wonder if his commitment was going to materialize. But he assured me he would be at all of the following classes and he was.
It was in those very first classes where an unlikely friendship was born. Jay, the ex-rapper, teamed up with Galen, a pharmacist and published researcher. These guys graduated fundamentals side by side and that is where they stayed for the remainder of Jay’s days. This dynamic duo could talk politics, music, history and so much more. They supported each other outside of the box as much as they did during class. Galen would make sure Jay had rides to appointments, CFJ social events and back and forth to class. They showed us the power of community and authentic friendship.
In addition to teaching us about true friendship, Jay showed us kindness in action. Every day, after he quietly came through the door, he would wash the bottom of his tennis shoes in the bathroom and hang up his fanny pack before he started cleaning up after everyone else. Like a CrossFit stage crew, he did not disturb or interrupt anyone. He simply slipped in to help other people.
And while Jay did not need acknowledgement or recognition for his kindness, he cared very deeply that everyone else be seen. Every Wednesday, when we had weightlifting, Jay would help set the stage. “Who do you want to go first?” He wanted to go one at a time so that everyone had an audience and cheerleaders. He loved cheering on his fellow athletes and coaches. He would not let anyone slip through the cracks.
Jay also taught us the importance of showing up. He participated in every CFJ Open. When he was on your team, he took his commitment very seriously. He showed up in a big way giving his heart and soul to each and every workout. When, team captain, Trisha, gave out the blue bracelets, Jay wore it with pride: “Show them what you’re made of.” He did. He showed us every Sunday morning for those five weeks.
In addition to the Open, I remember a special day when Jay showed up in the life of my family. He needed a ride to the Alzheimer’s Walk right after my mom died. On our way to pick him up, he asked us, “Can you grab me one of those purple shirts everyone is wearing?” Driving to the race, I was using the rear view mirror to apply the tattoos that Phteve had made of my mom’s silhouette. When I looked beyond my face in the mirror, I saw Jude, Jay and Lila seated in a straight row across the back seat. He was discussing sports stats with Jude. He looked like he belonged, which is how he felt within our community. He walked with us that day and showed up any and every time he could be present to support his CFJ family.
Jay also reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously. He had a raw and witty sense of humor. Whether he was posting on social media (which he blamed us for making him join to be a part of the CFJ private page), or exchanging playful banter with coaches in class, he loved to laugh and make us smile.
But there is one gift that Jay gave us that is the most significant. He has presented us with the opportunity to change the way we interact and approach strangers in our lives.
There is a parable of a host preparing for a visit from Jesus. The host is interrupted by a knock at the door and quickly dismisses a beggar at the door asking for food. “I have no time to help you. Jesus is coming to my house for dinner.” Another knock at the door came from a local widow needing help. Again, the host turned the woman away claiming to be too busy preparing for Jesus. Finally, there was a knock on the door from a tiny child shivering in the cold. Once again, the host turned the child away in order to prepare for Jesus’ visit. Ultimately, Jesus never came, and the angry host went to confront him for failing to uphold his commitment. Jesus had a simple reply. “Three times I came to your door and three times you turned me away.” The host had failed to recognize the face of Jesus in each of the strangers at his door.
I won’t go so far as to say that Jay was Jesus. He would think that’s hilarious. But I will say that Jay reminded us that gifts can come in very unlikely wrapping paper. He reminded us that we have a choice every day how we choose to welcome strangers into our lives. Jay taught us that when a man wearing baggy shorts, a leather cap and a large gold hook necklace shows up at our door, we should lean in, listen to his story and offer him a place at the barbell.