The CrossFit community has never ceased to amaze me. The help and guidance CrossFitters receive not just from coaches but from fellow CrossFitters and competitors is one big reason it stands apart from other sports. Every time I step into my box (CrossFit Knoxville) I know that everybody is there to work hard, to learn from the coaches, and are also humble enough to learn from each other. We push and encourage each other through workouts no matter whether it is your first day in the door or you are an experienced CrossFitter.
This being said, I recently made the trip to Columbus, Ohio to the Central East Regional competition. Known as the Central Beast due to the calibre of athletes competing within it, including two time defending CrossFit champion Rich Froning jnr along with CrossFit games veterans such as Dan Bailey, Scott Panchiek, Graeme Holmberg (2010 Games Champion), Marcus Hendren, Heather Welsh, Michelle Kinney, and Jennifer Smith to name but a few.
But before I start writing about my experience at the Central East regional competition I do want to put things in perspective. CrossFit at this level is an elite sport. The workouts are designed for the top 2-3% of the population. There are 50 male athletes and 50 female athletes that make it out of a pool of thousands, along with teams comprised of athletes from affiliates who scored highly in the open workouts in order to qualify. If this is all you see when you see CrossFit then you are sadly mistaken. CrossFit is for everyone and its main goal is to make you better and more competent in real life situations. Founder of CrossFit Greg Glassman defined fitness in 100 words:
“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.
Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast.
Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense.
Regularly learn and play new sports.”
Nowhere in this statement does it say that CrossFit is reserved for the elite. Glassman used words like practice, train, and learn to define fitness. Nothing is said about competing or winning. The real battle with CrossFit is not in the workouts you do, nor in the body’s ability to perform these tasks, it is with the mind and our ability to believe we can continue to learn, practice, train and be humble enough to continue to do so no matter what level we find ourselves on.
The Central East region is a who’s who of CrossFit. Undoubtedly the toughest region in the world on the men’s side, the women’s is no walk in the park either. Going into the weekend, I, as I’m sure most other spectators were, looking forward to seeing the final heats of the men’s competition. Getting to watch the likes of Froning, Panchiek, Bailey, and Holmberg was a very exciting prospect. These are the guys that are seen all over the CrossFit website, have competed at the games, and the reason I’m sure a vast amount of the 4,000 spectators traveled to the regionals.
These guys did not disappoint. World records were broken in 4 of the 7 events across the three day period and the level that these athletes were on was a marvel to see. Rich Froning jnr is by far the most consistent athlete in the world, not placing outside the top 5 all weekend long and smashing 3 world records along the way. The other top athletes were impressive in their own right too, and one of the great things about CrossFit is that each individual has specialities and can outperform an athlete in one area and not do so well in another. Seeing Dan Bailey go unbroken for 50 hand stand push ups was a sight to see. Seeing Marcus Hendren smash a world record by going sub 4 minutes on event 7 and qualify himself for the CrossFit games was special. And to see Scott Panchiek finish event 4 in what would have been a world record time had Froning not obliterated it was equally as stunning. Each and every time these guys took the stage it was clear to see why they are at the pinnacle of the sport.
But this is not the biggest thing I took away from the weekend. What I took away with me is something far more special. I took away a sense of community that is unrivaled in any other sport or athletic competition. I saw heats 2-4 full of athletes who are all striving to be the best that they can be. I saw these same athletes come from affiliates all across the central east region not just to compete, but to make each other better athletes and along the way better people. The sense of community within CrossFit is so incredible. Yes, these athletes are out to win and finish as high up the leader board as they can, but the first thing they do once they do finish is go back and help there fellow competitors.
Rich Froning jnr smashed the World record in Event 4 by over a minute and instead of reveling in his own glory, he immediately went back to encourage the rest of the field, ending with Matt Hewett who was the last to finish in the heat. Froning was willing him to pick up the weight and finish the workout. There was not a single ounce of arrogance or entitlement, he wanted his fellow competitor across the line.
This didn’t just happen in the final heat. Every single heat was like this. Athletes who have never met and who may share no similarities besides being CrossFitters were helping each other, being kind and courteous and wanting everybody to finish the weekend in the best possible way. There were no superstars, no sectioned off areas for the elite and regular athletes. No Bentley’s or Rolls Royce’s outside with an entourage of hundreds dedicated to an athletes every need. There were simply 100+ men and women who came together to be the best they can be. No ego’s, no arrogance, just hard work, encouragement and honesty at it’s finest.
If I saw the fittest athlete in the world in Rich Froning jnr, I also saw the strongest in Kate Foster. Kate was not competing in the games, mainly due to the fact that she is only 13, but she was by far the most inspirational athlete there. Kate was diagnosed with Leukemia at age 12 and after a period of remission after the original diagnosis the cancer came back. She was due to have surgery for a bone marrow transplant but unfortunately the day before surgery they found an infection in her leg and they had to amputate it. Kate was there to raise awareness and funds for CrossFit for Hope (www.hope.crossfit.com), which will help fund to find cures for diseases such as leukemia. Kate’s spirit buoyed on the competition. She understands that what has happened to her is horrible and she doesn’t want others to go through the same. Her never give up attitude is what CrossFit is about, and it goes to show that the biggest and fastest is not always the strongest.
Watching the Central East regionals was an experience like no other. Coming from a soccer background it shone a light on just how incredibly distant soccer athletes are from the real world. Pampered and babied through every step of their lives. CrossFit is different, the buck stops with you! You don’t put in the work you don’t get the reward. There will always be people there to encourage, but only if you are willing to do everything you can. It is not about being elite, it is about giving it your all.
If you are on the fence about trying CrossFit don’t be afraid. Jump right in and find an affiliate, I have a feeling you will not be disappointed.
Inspired by this to give it a try, let me or Coach JT know your thoughts and feedback in the comments below.