Guest Blog: Sherry Yu
TL; DR: Advocacy Matters
I found CrossFit in January 2017, in the middle of Chicago winter, in the darkest time of my life. What started as a “well it could not get worse” last-ditch effort turned around to be one of the best life-changing decision I’ve ever made. If you’ve met me for more than 10 minutes, then you’d certainly have heard some mentioning of the story above. But this is not a story about that. This is the story about the CrossFit Open.
My first Open was in February 2019 – it is the first time since I started that I am somewhat hopeful that I’d be fit enough to have a chance of finishing all workouts in the scaled division. But it turned out to be a lot more than that. In that Open, I met my best friend (to this day) in the gym (who lives two states away and I’ve since only met in person twice, one of which was my first ever local competition), gained a completely new perspective on movement standards, and found my passion for competitions. I’d call it a course-changing experience for me as a CrossFitter.
All that is to say, the Open is very important to me personally, as I’d reckon it is to many other CrossFitters, even if we’d never have a shot at qualifying for the bigger stage. Especially after the cancellation of the 2020 Open because of COVID, I was as eager as anyone else when CrossFit Headquarter announced the 2021 Open. I was on the registration page within hours of the portal opening.
Except…there is a problem this time.
Let’s backtrack a little bit. For anyone who has participated in the Open, you’d know that in order to participate, you’d first need to create a profile. It asks for some basic information to determine the division you are in – and that, of course, includes your name. Totally reasonable ask, I’d say; I participated in two Opens and did that just fine. There is no verification process for your information either – no requirement to submit any proof of anything you’re claiming when registering (there is a requirement to prove nationality for national champions, but that is not relevant to the discussion here).
Now – Sherry is not my legal name. It is a name I have been given since birth – but it is not the name on my government documents. For the past decade, I have made a conscious choice to be known as Sherry in as many places as possible. This process has not been easy; in fact, it often involves getting out of my way to navigate multiple schools’ preferred name systems that are not always straightforward to use, calling to ask institutes that are required to have my legal name on file such as doctor’s office and banks to note a preferred name, etc. I do it because this choice carries a lot of emotional weight to me personally. I use the “preferred name” terminology because that’s what it is commonly known as, but it is much more than a “preferred” name to me. In fact, being addressed by my legal name creates a host of strong negative emotions for me that are long-lasting, overwhelming and depressing. I would not call my legal name a dead name out of respect for the trans community (which I am not a part of), but functionally, my legal name is such. Unfortunately, changing my legal name, as of right now, or even in the near future, is not an option because of personal circumstances.
This otherwise shouldn’t matter to the issue at hand. As I previously stated, no form of ID is required to register for the Open, and individuals register under all sorts of names unrelated to their legal name. However, in October 2020, I obtained my CrossFit Level 1 Trainer certification. Part of the certification process requires verification of identity with a government ID (a practice I wholeheartedly agree with to ensure the integrity and quality of the certified coach pool).
The problem is, that name is now linked with my account, which I am also using to register for the Open. And thus, when I was registering for the Open this year, I found myself stuck with a display name of my legal name, which I am not allowed to change unless I can show proof of change with government IDs.
I was devastated. I pursued the CF-L1 trainer certification out of a deep love and passion for the sport – and never thought that investing the time and money to be more dedicated to the sport will one day come back and penalize me. I now have to see this name I do not want to be associated with on my dashboard when I log into my account to enter my score (at least 3x for this open and every year onward), see it again when I submit the score, see it on the public leaderboard, and have all my CrossFit friends and coaches, all of whom have only ever known me as “Sherry”, see it. I know all too well…the questions that will come. The questions I dread. I dread potentially having to talk about an already personally sensitive subject.
But fundamentally, I am more confused than anything else. This doesn’t make sense, because there is no reason to lock certified trainer into their legal name for the Open. All it takes is for HQ to add an option for a preferred name for those who’d like to utilize the option – a free, easy, and non-controversial change.
I reached out to CrossFit HQ via Instagram and received no response. I reached out to Make WODs Great Again who I know was talking to Eric Roza for a podcast, but the podcast has already been recorded at that time. I thought that was the end of the line…until I remembered OUTAthletics.
It is a little embarrassing how long it took for me to think of reaching out to the organization who I am a part of and to the people I interact with on a daily basis, but I guess sometimes all of our brains have blind spots. When I reached out to Julia, however, the response was overwhelming. She took it so seriously. Despite me saying that it’s not an urgent issue (it’s not an emergency and the Open at that time was more than a month away), she immediately passed my request on within the organization – on a Friday, no less. And within a couple of days, Julia and Eddie gave me the email address of the Diversity & Inclusion officer of CrossFit.
I drafted a long email. I explained everything that has been explained here: how not allowing those who are certified CrossFit trainers to use a preferred name while everyone else can is penalizing those who love CrossFit, how important it is to those of us who are in similar situations to be acknowledged by the name we identify with, and how easy and effortless the change would be for HQ to make.
I never expected a response. I have been doing advocacy work as a leader of diversity-focused student groups for years, and I am used to the radio silence. But I got one. On the other end, the officer wanted to talk on the phone – another unexpected development. I agreed.
I will have to be honest, that phone call was one of the most challenging situations I’ve ever been in. It was challenging because although the officer readily admitted that the technical change would have been simple and that adding a preferred name is not controversial, she was nevertheless adamant that the change cannot be implemented for this Open. It took several attempts to press a reason, but the best answer I can get was that it would be unfair to those who have already registered. This answer made no sense to me because the system already allows registrants to change some personal information (such as nationality) after registration – and all it takes is for HQ to announce on social media or via a mass email to all registrants, and those who will benefit from the policy would be more than happy to exert the effort to log onto the account and press a few buttons. I know that. I know that because I have gone through all the effort to get to her for this change, and I know that anyone else who is in the same boat would have done the same. A few clicks are nothing comparing to the weeks of agony of staring down a name that should have been left in the past in a sport that prides itself on diversity and inclusion that we all love dearly. I explained that. I asked for at least a chance to raise the issue – along with all my arguments – for internal discussion. She said she understands because she has a legal name that is hard to pronounce so she also chooses to go by a different name, and she said she will pass on my message, but again, not this year.
In the upcoming days, I received a follow-up email from her saying that my suggestion has been submitted for internal discussions, and then a second one saying that she is leaving the position. I have not heard anything since. So I thought, I tried. While I still do not understand why a month isn’t enough time to add one column to the website, next year is better than never. I already registered, and I will participate in the Open even if it means all the emotional turmoil. I love this sport too much to pass up a chance to see my own progress. I did 21.1 staring down the name I do not want to see and dealt with it and I planned to do it two more times.
That was until a couple of days ago – I have just completed the “Spot the Flaw” course, but my certificate was not showing. I randomly clicked into my profile page to see if the certificate would show up there – and there, then, out of nowhere, the boxes my name is in are no longer gray. The restriction is lifted. I am once again free to change my name. I tried it. It saved. It changed the name displayed on my profile. It didn’t change my Open registration name (I guess retroactive change is not implemented), but it changed everything else.
They have no idea. They have no idea. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I almost cried. Part of it surely is because of all the turmoil that’s going on in my personal life and how desperate I am for a piece of good news, however small. But truly, it matters. They have no idea how much it matters. But it matters. I wish I was notified when the change happened, but the important thing is that it happened. And people like me – this year, for the future – no longer have to worry about choosing between the sport they love and their inner peace.
“Hey yo, I’m just like my country; I’m young, scrappy and hungry; And I’m not throwin’ away my shot.”
Sherry Yu – they/them, OutAthlete Class of 2021
Follow Sherry at @sherryyxe on Instagram