The sound of thunder produces both feelings of fear and excitement: Fear of the effects of lightning and excitement that something big is about to begin.
“I WILL SHIT IN YOUR BED,” Lauren says loudly, pointing towards the top of the brick wall. “Yeah, I have your address. If one wall ball touches those framed photos, I will come over to your house and personally poop in your bed.” Her voice thunders across the room, bouncing off the walls like weighted medicine balls.
A crowd of athletes stand around her. Many are males who tower above their petite coach but who will be, nonetheless, mildly concerned each time they toss their wall ball a little too high. Because, as she circles the gym twirling her blonde hair, they know that she’s watching and, like a flash of lightning, will instantly catch one false toss.
And will, without a doubt, shit in their bed.
Office Girl Crush
On a Thursday afternoon I sat across the table from my CEO’s advisor, Claudia, at Mendocino Farms, copying the way she politely cut her cobb salad because I had no idea how to manage it.
Claudia is a serial CEO and our tech company’s top girl crush. I asked her to lunch in hopes of gaining advice on my career and assumed it would involve networking, Product Management conferences and/or lowering my voice. I was excited for what she had to say.
“You need confidence classes,” Claudia said decidedly. “You’re very talented, but you need to work on having confidence.” She picked her phone off the table and began Googling the closest and most relevant classes.
I stabbed at a clump of bacon bits and sighed. The feedback was familiar – from my confident father forever telling me to “be bold” to 8am self-confidence pep talks that my boss encouraged I schedule as reminders on my calendar.
“I’m not finding any classes right now,” Claudia said as she scrolled. “But I’ll email some to you when I do.”
Gym Girl Crush
“How are you liking Paradiso?” I was at a birthday dinner with members of my previous Crossfit gym in Los Angeles. Recently we had all parted ways in search of the next LA Crossfit gym that worked for us.
“I love it!” I said, reaching for the chips and salsa. While I wanted to sell everyone at the table on joining, I understood that it wasn’t for everyone. And I wasn’t sure if it was for me at first either.
Like a thunderstorm, mixed feelings of fear and excitement were experienced when I visited Paradiso Crossfit for the first time last July. The reasons I was eager to join were also the reasons why it terrified me: Competitive programming and coaches who have competed.
My new Monday/Wednesday 6am coach was one of them: Lauren Gravatt, known to members as LG Thunder. She has competed in the Crossfit Games twice: once in 2013 with Paradiso and again in 2016 with Team CDR Redland, taking 7th place that year. She’s brass and seemed like the type of natural athlete who was doing double-unders in diapers. And the type of person I assumed wouldn’t understand someone like me.
“Have you had Lauren as a Coach?” my friend, sitting next to his wife. He had met her once.
“Yes,” I said. “I have a girl crush on her.”
“I have a crush on her,” he said. “Everyone has a crush on Lauren.”
Crossfit Open 12.3
6 years ago, Lauren laid on the floor of her brother’s new gym, feeling ruined. Like a vegan whose first taste of meat is an In ‘N Out double-double, she was introduced to Crossfit with the 12.3 Open workout.
Despite avidly competing in triathlons, she quickly felt unprepared for the 18 minutes of box jumps, push presses and toes-to-bars. Her lungs burned and muscles ached, something she would later describe as “that intense, fucked-up Open feeling.”
And as she caught her breath she thought, “This is the greatest thing ever; what is this?”
Crossfit Open 18.1
Congratulations! You have been drafted by Paradiso’s greatest, sexiest, most badass team, ThunderJaxx!!
At 10pm I opened my email inbox. I quickly Googled the definition of “drafted,” and let out a squeal my neighbors would hate when I realized it meant she chose me.
The next morning I sat at Rose Café across from Lauren in her THUNDER sweatshirt, feeling excited to be on her Paradiso Open team but scared to read off the reasons that I asked her to coffee and an interview.
“On my desk at work, I have Post-It notes with inspirational things that people have said,” I explained. “And there’s one with quotes by you.” They were things she would never remember but stuck with me – small words said during a barbell complex and once when I sprinted into the gym mid-AMRAP.
“And I’ve realized that it’s one thing to be confident, and another thing to make others feel confident,” I said. “It’s not something everyone can do.”
How to Coach to Build Badasses
“I think for the longest time I was like every other girl and didn’t have any confidence,” Lauren said. “Crossfit gave me confidence, and, in turn, I’m trying to help other people get the same thing.”
This is how she does it.
1. Have a conversation with everyone in the room
“It’s something that David Paradiso taught me early on, and it just stuck,” Lauren said. There is no special treatment, from Crossfit competitors to those who simply want to look good in their swimsuit. “Not everyone is there because they want to be competitive at Crossfit. Everyone has different goals. And that’s okay.”
2. Read them and see how they respond
“Something that works for you might not work for John. No, actually…” she stopped and thought. “You and John are kind of similar. Brad. Brad likes something totally different.”
While we’re busy squatting or suffering through burpees, Lauren is offering encouragement and mentally taking note of what makes us move faster. Though I thrive off of loud feedback, someone else might prefer a quiet compliment at the end of class.
“It’s the lost element that people don’t do,” Lauren said. “They don’t think about how to reach the person individually. If you don’t reach them, they’re never going to make it happen.”
3. Figure out what they’re dealing with
“There’s a girl at the gym who started because her fiancé thought it would be good for her,” Lauren said. “She’s a doctor, but she used to come in and get so worked up and tear up at everything we did.”
She took private coaching sessions with Lauren and slowly got better and better. “The first time she walked in and didn’t tear up, I was like, ‘Yes, she did it!’” Over time, Lauren encouraged her to come to Crossfit classes instead. “I told her, ‘You have to stop doing privates, meet some people.’” She agreed to come but just to Lauren’s classes, and four months later faced her fears and went to someone else’s class.
The last time she was at the gym before her wedding, she left Lauren a message.
Lauren, I know you’re busy. I’m going to tag you in my honeymoon beach photos tomorrow because I only have this body thanks to you!!!!
“Just goes to show that absolutely everyone has something they’re dealing with, and my job is to find out what it is and help you fix it. It’s more than just coaching. I’m also your friend, your therapist,” Lauren said. “Let’s do this shit together and come out on top.”
4. Be hands-on
Each personal record I’ve had since July has been a result of Lauren encouraging me to add one more plate to the barbell or yelling across the gym, “Annie, you’re so fucking strong!”
It’s not always that glamorous though. The same morning that I interviewed Lauren for this post, the workout included practicing headstands. I pouted and tried to hide – not wanting to endure the discomfort of falling over. Instead she held my legs and told me to do it again even when I toppled over.
“I like to be hands-on,” Lauren said. “And let you know I care.”
5. Celebrate the wins – even the small ones
“I don’t think there’s one person in particular,” Lauren said when I asked who inspires her. “I think it’s an accumulation of little things which is why I like coaching.”
“It’s Jackie getting her first bar muscle-ups. It’s seeing you win the workout. It’s the ‘Oh my gosh, I just did that’,” she continued. The inspiration ranged from moments in the Crossfit Open to watching her little niece fearlessly cross the monkey bars.
“I take little pieces from little things throughout the day that are pretty fucking cool.”
As we walked across the gym parking lot to take the blog post photos, I noticed the small lighting bolt pendant that hung from her necklace. “I forgot to ask you one thing,” I said.
“Where did the name LG Thunder come from?” She stopped.
“I used to have these ‘Thunder’ weightlifting shoes. And I sucked at weightlifting…” I found it hard to believe.
“So, my first weightlifting coach said, ‘Oh, you have the Thunders. Okay, stomp and make it sound like thunder’,” Lauren said, stomping on the pavement. “So, when I would lift, she’d yell, ‘LG… thunder! LG… thunder!’”
“And I just kind of took it,” she said, holding the little lightning bolt.
The Real Confidence Class
Thunder is caused by lightning. The sudden increase in pressure and temperature leads to rapid expansion of the air surrounding it, resulting in the loud sound of the sonic boom.
Claudia never emailed me a list of confidence classes. And that’s okay. Because I found one on my own.
The class starts at 6am every Monday and Wednesday at a box in Venice. The instructor sometimes yells, and it can be intense. However, she doesn’t just tell you to be confident; she finds a way to make you feel it.
My class notes aren’t written in a notebook or Google doc; they’re written on Post-It notes. And I believe them because of a girl crush that I share with my fellow classmates. We admire her because she is unapologetically herself, and it inspires us to do the same.
When coaching is done right, it can turn fear into excitement. It can inspire someone to lift twice their body weight, to feel hot on their honeymoon or to fearlessly pitch a product idea to the CEO. Because with a little more pressure, and the heat turned up, the people surrounding are able to be live a little louder, a little more like thunder.