KAMO Chronicles #13: "Nobody at KAMO Gives a Fuck About the CrossFit Games."

There are stories told, and there are truths. Which you live is up to history.
Andy Arson Newton
February 6, 2023

John the Baptist sat in the opaque dark of the desert between Judea and Jerusalem, longing for a truth to settle him, the story goes. Upon his manifestation to Israel, the fiery child would rip locals from their spiritual slumber in foretelling a Messiah. He was 18.

Let it be said, I hold none of this to be irrefutable, as I am not a believer. However, this will prove a purposeful anecdote. Just give me a goddamn minute.

A woman by the name of Salome was John’s mother, and her sister was Mary. Yes, the same Mary you find hand-painted on Seven Day candles that populate bodega shelves the world across. John and Jesus were cousins (Although I doubt they snuck away from Thanksgiving dinner to burn one). In what later proved to be a pivotal move for several human beings thereafter John baptized Jesus and retained an all-time great moniker. Upon his execution, Salome would be given John’s severed head. His cousin had been crucified some 30 years before. 

We all have bad days, I suppose.

The depiction of John that haunts me—believer or not—comes from Caravaggio, a renowned 16th century painter and convicted murderer. It is titled “John the Baptist in the Wilderness.” It shows the martyred saint at the crux of his legacy, pained by a truth he’d been gifted by God, the story goes. Holding a reed cross and draped in a scarlet robe he appears gaunt and uncomfortable, perhaps torn between a simple life of faith or the life he chose forthwith; as an authoritative and unflinching prophet. He taught that judgment was at hand, his truth, and amongst an unfavorable audience this cost him his life.

You can take in this masterpiece yourself. It lives in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, just south of downtown Kansas City. In a room of paintings akin to the period, it broods from within its gold frame. Telling a tale the ending of which you already know.

The first time I saw it I froze. This was years ago and I hadn’t ever examined the informational placard beside it. I was on a tour with some friends and they had continued on. One craned his head back around a corner and bellowed, “Yo, you coming?”

“Just give me a goddamn minute.” I said, my focus never abandoning the canvas.

My business partner—former Fittest Man in Kansas—Nick Petersen, loathes bureaucracy.

The 2021 season had crumbled at a moment's notice. Nick was still competing for On Track, having agreed to do so before we conceptualized KAMO. After placing 5th at a Semifinal, one of the teammates—Janelle Stites—was informed that a previous ban from the Olympic Weightlifting world would be honored by CrossFit. She had tested positive for a banned substance. It is my belief that bureaucracy is to blame for this oversight. You see, Janelle had gotten married and her last name changed. Had CrossFit done their due diligence in vetting each individual’s eligibility, this unfortunate happenstance could have been avoided. In addition to that sentiment, I don’t think Janelle would take deliberate action to cheat.

Upon their removal from competition I saw her one last time at our affiliate, and she asked me, “Andy, do you hate me?”

“I don’t hate anyone.” I told her. And then I asked her if she took a banned substance.

“No.” She said, and to this day I believe her.

There was more I asked her that isn’t for me to discern. How said material found its way into her bloodstream is up for conjecture.

Let it be said, Janelle is no longer married and once again goes by Shafer, not Stites. To my knowledge, she is still training at a high level. My hope is that she finds her way to the CrossFit Games, or at the very least… to her truth. 

Fast forward to the 2022 season. Joe Cates and Addie Balderston returned for the team, and Toya Nelson was added to round out the roster. All of their particularities, be it strengths or weaknesses, complimented each other in a way that seemed ready-made.

Returning to the MACC, this time under the KAMO banner, they earned a 2nd place finish and a Games berth.

In the penultimate weeks before we made the pilgrimage North to Madison, the KAMO Athletics CrossFit team had captured the supervisory eye of HQ. There was a rule in place that prescribed a prerequisite number of collocated training days take place, and that no team member reside further than 99 miles from the affiliate they’d committed to represent. As to whether that particular parameter was to be measured how the crow flies or by mileage in a vehicle was left up to interpretation. God forbid you live in a region laden with canals or in a municipality where the city planner has a soft spot for scenic routes, where the thoroughfares appear like cardboard jigsaw pieces from above. Bureaucracy. A constituent of worthless scoundrels over-complicating matters to have a reason to continue hatcheting the Amazon for printer paper. They may as well piss in your pocket and tell you it’s raining.

Long story less long, Nick’s team withstood the scrutiny and was granted their due Games appearance.

After Madison the allure of it all fell away. The landscape amongst unseen routes that appear when you have a wristband labeled “Coach” are less like other behind-closed-doors spaces I’ve found myself traversing in life. In the warmup area ego or comfort can be seen like ethereal auras. No mask can hide the truth. Those who have been on the podium move like asteroids arriving at the atmosphere. The psyche of admiration. On some, the stench of ugly pride. Athletes vibrate in mass, working in where they may, in a mode of preparation that surfaces in erratic nervous ribbons throughout their body language.

The truth is nobody at KAMO give a fuck about the CrossFit Games. It’s not what we do, it’s just one thing we’ve done. 

At first glance this may appear an inane declaration. To the uninformed, Carvaggio’s “...in the Wilderness” holds no grand gesture. Until you see the shadows from the thick of the forestry concentrating doubt on Saint John—brush strokes of a self portrait—a man torn between two worlds, high art and mania. The lasting truth of a murderer… a masterpiece. Two attributes without abiding mutual exclusivity. Much akin to the lure of Games greatness against the grain of community, growth, and general physical preparedness. Or simple faith being led towards a reverent gift.

Let it be said, we’re still painting. Just give us a goddamn minute.

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