By Danny Garrett
Born to Run, written by Christopher McDougall, is one of my favorite books. McDougall tells the story of the Tarahumara, a reclusive group of indigenous peoples from the Mexican Copper Canyons. What makes the Tarahumara special is their amazing ability to run hundreds of miles without rest, regardless of age. Running is literally all they do. It’s their community’s pastime, and they enjoy doing it.
Equally stunning is the Tarahumara’s health. No one in their isolated society is plagued by the big three diseases that characterize modern existence in the West: heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And let’s add another — rapid aging, and the negative consequences that come with it, including, but not limited to, hypertension and a major loss in bone and muscle strength.
McDougall’s 2011 book contains key lessons. Exercising regularly promotes optimal health, and your immersion in a culture that supports that key lesson helps tremendously. Eating well and living well are the next two positive factors.
The Tarahumara live on a mostly plant-based diet that consists of good and complex carbs and staples like corn, beans and squash.
All this running and healthy eating doesn’t mean they don’t let go from time to time. The Tarahumara are heavy drinkers — a can of Tecate is their beer of choice — and enjoy gambling on their sports a bit too much. But all the running they do compensates for the drinking and their occasional splurges on Coca-Cola, potato chips and Japanese instant noodles.
It’s not required to know the many names the Tarahumara call themselves or where exactly they live deep in the Sierra Madre canyons. But it is necessary to have the awareness about exercise, health and longevity that their culture thrives on. You can have that awareness, no matter where you are on Earth, by simply living and observing — perhaps with one life event that pushes you over the edge so that you attain a healthier and happier life.
Lake Charles native Matt Bell, the owner of Global Pollution Services, had one of those standout moments during a sorority ball at his daughter’s alma mater, University of Louisiana-Lafayette. The family gathered together for a photo, which Carly, Bell’s daughter, still cherishes.
When Bell first gazed at the photo years back, he described how beautiful his daughter was, and how healthy and well put-together his family looked — except for him. According to Bell, he was overweight, and his body suffered from the neglect of not being well taken care of. Bell thought to himself, “I can’t look like this.”
That experience brought him to Hurricane CrossFit, which is located south of town, and owned and operated by Cody Spell. Bell traversed the road of trying to stay in shape at the gyms in town – even walking and running in between those gym workouts – but he knew he needed something different this time.
Nowadays, one would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know what CrossFit is. The program and the brand is that popular. Created in California at the beginning of this decade, CrossFit is both a physical exercise program and a competitive fitness sport. About three years ago, Bell thought he’d try the program out with his son, Cooper. That brought them to Hurricane CrossFit.
The CrossFit trainers started the Bell duo off with the CrossFit baseline, which consists of 500 meter rows, 40 air squats, 30 sit-ups, 20 push-ups and 10 pull-ups. Cooper, who is in his 20s, completed the workout in 5 minutes. It took his father, on the other hand, twice as long.
Up to this point, Bell believed he could easily perform, fitness-wise, as he did when he was in his 20s. But once he discovered that he couldn’t complete a single pull-up at age 57, his mind changed.
Bell is both competitive and sensible. Thus, if he desired to get back into shape and return to peak physical fitness, he needed to put the work in and not deviate from his track to better health.
The mental equivalent is when a quinquagenarian finds his memory or mental acuity slipping, and with every ounce of his being, strongly asserts that this cannot be. So, he takes action. He completes the New York Times crossword puzzle every morning, reads every day, learns a new language, tutors local students in a subject he’s comfortable with, and goes so far as to enroll in courses at his local college – all in an attempt to remain sharp. In this sense, it’s not only specific actions that logically lead to an attainable goal, but it’s also the culture and setting he immerses himself in that makes attaining that goal easier.
Bell finds that type of reinforcing culture for his fitness goals in Hurricane CrossFit. After the rocky start, he started training at CrossFit 2-3 days a week. The workouts surprised him; he found himself using muscles he wouldn’t normally use.
His description makes sense. CrossFit incorporates a treasure trove of fitness workouts from calisthenics to gymnastics. They tend to work out muscles we wouldn’t normally chisel during a routine training session at the local gym.
Bell discovered a very supportive community in Hurricane CrossFit. He could be dead lifting or completing a rotation of squats, and there would always be someone right there next to him – as his personal trainer – ensuring that he was performing his exercises correctly to avoid injury and maximize his muscle or aerobic strength. Bell says, “hats off,” to Spell and his crew, whom he has been impressed with from the start, lauding the CrossFit trainers as supportive and ever-present professionals.
The supportive camaraderie ended up being infectious. Every Memorial Day, Hurricane CrossFit, along with other CrossFit programs across the nation, hosts the Murph Challenge. The workout consists of a 1-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and another 1-mile run to finish the challenge. And get this. It’s all done while the athlete is wearing a 20-lb. vest or body armor.
The event commemorates Lt. Michael P. Murphy for his heroic actions in Afghanistan. It raises funds for a memorial scholarship foundation in his honor.
During the last event, Bell and fellow CrossFitter Greg Norsworthy finished the challenge in a timely fashion. But they saw another one of their teammates struggling to finish.
Norsworthy and Bell had been supported and cheered on many times before by their trainers and fellow CrossFitters. They thought it was time to pay it forward.
Norsworthy helped his teammate, who was struggling to finish, with the push-ups, and Bell helped by running the last mile with him. The selfless gestures showed once again that CrossFit wasn’t a collection of individuals only concerned with getting theirs and basking in the glory of their own athleticism. Above all, individuals were there to see themselves improve as well as others.
For himself, Bell started to see improvement right away. He went from deadlifting 270 to 340. He could now execute handstand push-ups with ease. He also noticed how great he felt. Today he says he feels as though he’s in better shape than he was in his 20s. I wouldn’t argue with that.
What Bell has accomplished of late is nothing short of amazing. He now trains 6 days a week as opposed to 2 or 3. He’s lost more than 30 lbs. thanks to his training habits and new diet, where he closely watches his carbs, proteins and fats.
In the CrossFit Masters division, he is only three points away from qualifying to compete at nationals in Madison, Wisc. Bell’s confident that he’ll get there. He’s that competitive; that persevering. When he’s striving for a goal, he’s going to perform to the best of his ability, no questions asked.
Ever since Born to Run was published in 2011, magazines and blogs have touted ways to run like the Tarahumara; eat like them; and even think like them. There’s much to be said about discovering their sort of wisdom close to home. Bell has done that. He’s immersed himself in a CrossFit culture that eschews the sedentary lifestyle for a much healthier way of life.
The close-knit culture has created an opportunity for Bell to be closer to his family. His wife, Sarah Bell, whom he has been married to for 27 years, is a CrossFitter too, as is his son Cooper and daughter Carly. Bell’s love of family, of course, runs deeper than CrossFit, but it’s worth noting how much he appreciates seeing them happily engaged in healthy activity that improves body and mind. Bell very well knows that with a sound body and mind, much is possible.
Bell has always been about helping others and seeing them succeed. He’s lived up to that ideal as the owner of Global Pollution Services, as a father, and now as a highly successful CrossFitter who is still making inroads and shattering ceilings, surprising his trainers and fellow CrossFitters every day.