Out Dallas CrossFit enthusiast Richard Neal flexes his fitness options

Richard Neal, like many gay guys, once considered his gym membership little more than a necessary means to achieving a desirable end. His workouts were less about healthy living and more about looking good in tank tops and shorts. Neal was focused on the now, not on the fitness long game.

“I spent a lot of time chasing the gay gym rat aesthetic,” says Neal, owner of Dallas’ Zeus Comics and Games. “It’s what we’re supposed to do, right? We starve to be thin, and we lift to get big. We curl for big biceps, bench press for a big chest, and leg press for big legs. Then we spend 30 minutes on the elliptical to be lean.”

Neal’s fitness outlook was profoundly reset seven years ago, however, with his first Dallas CrossFit gym experience. Exercises like burpees and barbell thrusters (known as functional movements in CrossFit parlance) replaced fitness machines. White boards used for scorekeeping replaced full-length mirrors. Neal quickly found that, in the universe of CrossFit, performance is the goal and physical results are merely a byproduct. Neal was an instant CrossFit convert.

“When I first walked into a CrossFit gym, there wasn’t a mirror in the place,” Neal recalls. “There were all these fit men and women of all ages and not an elliptical or weight machine in sight. No one was chasing body. Body was the result of the work and not the goal of the work.”

Perhaps the most inspiring difference Neal observed was a pervasive CrossFit spirit of inclusiveness. Everyone, regardless of age, gender, skill level — and yes, even orientation — was considered an athlete. And, of course, there was an undeniable support group aspect.

“My Big D CrossFit community lifts me up,” Neal says. “It cheers my successes big and small and encourages me every time I’m down. To give back, I even coach a few classes at Big D to be more involved with the athletes.”

Neal’s passion for CrossFit has now moved far beyond his Big D home gym experience. Today, he competes with other CrossFit enthusiasts both nationally and globally. Once again, his goal is personal performance.

“Right now, I’m gearing up for the Fittest Experience, a competition down in Austin where I’m going up against 20 other tough athletes in the 45-49 age bracket,” he says. “After that, it’s the CrossFit Open … five weeks, five workouts, open to all ages and skill levels going at it to rank on a global leaderboard. It’s a ton of fun to challenge your peers and, ultimately, yourself.”

While the CrossFit program may not suit everyone (other performance-based activities, to name a few, include yoga, long distance running and triathlons), Neal finds its training philosophy inspiring. In fact, Neal has surprised himself by “doing things I never thought a 47-year-old man could do.” His relentless quest for personal improvement has recently led him to add nutritional science as a means to increase performance. He now carefully builds his meals by counting macros for optimum efficiency, not to slim down for a new pair of skinny jeans.

“The joy I derive now from fitness isn’t an unrealistic body aesthetic,” Neal says. “My value system changed to appreciate effort, not aesthetic. Besides, youth is fleeting. Ultimately do what you enjoy. You’ll be happier and healthier.”                         

— Scott Huffman