Begins with “The Open.”
Co-written with Athlete Ambassador, Tori Ruckman. (In italics)
My first experience with the CrossFit Games was last year’s 2013 Open. I thought it was a learning experience: I hit PRs, discovered weaknesses, took my first ice bath, cried a lot, and witnessed major accomplishments by some stellar athletes. “The Open,” as it’s so commonly referred to, is a true test of athleticism for all CrossFit athletes. People like me, who know they don’t stand a chance of making regionals, end up putting forth 115% of a year’s worth of effort into five workouts over the course of five weeks all for the sake of seeing how they measure up to Rich Froning and Samantha Briggs–the fittest human beings on Earth. Physically, without a doubt, the CrossFit Open brings out the weaknesses in every competitor world-wide. It also brings out tears and cheers–and you’re likely to see both during any given WOD. As amazed as I was with 2013’s open, I thought I really gained some insight on the sport of fitness. But I learned nothing in 2013 compared to what I witnessed in the 2014 Open.
Tori: The Open? It brings out fear, anxiety, mental toughness, disappointment, stress, and excitement.
Due to an injury, I stood on the sidelines for most of the 2014 Open. What I was able to see, experience, and feel left me in awe…and sometimes in those tears again too. 14.1: was announced. Easy peasy. Right? I thought 14.1 looked rather simple: light snatches and double unders. But when even the strongest of competitors had to start resting or switching to clean and press to be able to continue lifting, I knew that this workout was much harder than anyone anticipated. FOREARMS SCREAMED…is what I found out in the end. And most people who repeated 14.1 improved by over 30 reps! 14.1 was a workout that benefited multiple tries, strategy, and a strong heart; yet it seems that both muscle and cardiovascular endurance, a light grip, and strong forearms were the real winners in this workout.
Tori: 14.1 definitely didn’t go as planned and neither did 14.2. The viral infection in my lungs hung around for two weeks and it was one of those that the doctor says, “has to run its course” so there was no medicine prescribed. 14.1 and 14.2 were two huge weeks of disappointment for me. I knew my scores were not good enough to reach the goal I had set for myself and worked towards. Mentally I tortured myself for two weeks because the infection took a lot out of me. 14.1 was the worst because 55# snatches I LOVE but after five snatches I couldn’t breathe so had to switch to clean and jerks. It was the biggest disappointment of the open for me. I didn’t want to believe that the infection held me back that bad but following the open season 2014 I did a very similar workout and was able to string together all the snatches unbroken at a heavier weight.
14.2: The Surprise WOD. When 14.2 was announced, I expected heavy weight. Not chest to bar pull-ups and lightweight overhead squats. Or a timed ladder. I knew my beast friends could handle this just fine. But the inspiring moments were when I saw all the PRs. Many of my friends got their first ever chest to bar pull-ups during this WOD. I watched while crossfitters SCREAMED at their friends to just pull a little harder, a little bigger, a little deeper! Kick! pull! YES!!!
Many CrossFitters surpassed their goals in this workout and to see the accomplishments on their faces inspired me to want to train harder and face my own weaknesses. When I watched my friend Hannah get into the round of pull-ups she didn’t think she would do, I’ve never felt so proud of an athlete.
Tori: I love the open season because it pushes everyone outside of their limits and they are able to do things they never thought possible. Seeing our members get their first pull-ups or double unders or pushing through lifting something they never thought possible is so amazing to watch! It made my Friday nights and Saturday mornings to see so many faces of accomplishment!
14.3–Finally, big weight!
Tori: I loved 14.3 because it had a heavy barbell movement: deadlifts. I paced myself, as I have problem with that because I like to go ALL OUT from the moment the clock starts, and felt like I did okay. Again, the thought of ‘could I have done better?’ crosses through my head. It always does.
Because of my shoulder injuries, I haven’t been able to do a lot of upper body movements. That said, I’ve been deadlifting and squatting a LOT. When 14.3 was announced, I was THRILLED because I could actually DO this one instead of just watch! An ascending ladder of heavy deadlifts broken up by box jumps. Done.
So Friday night at my box, I hopped on the chance to do this workout. I chugged some pre-workout, warmed up the legs, lifted a few reps of each deadlift weight, practiced my step-ups with the technique offered by the guys at Barbell Shrugged, and attacked this open workout head on. 131 reps–not too shabby for a girl coming off an injury, right?!
But even though I was thrilled to be able to do 14.3, I actually enjoyed coaching it much more. And since I did it early in the release period, helping people strategize, prepare, and warm up for the workout gave them–I hope–a better advantage. I think my favorite person to coach during the entire Open period was the box owner’s son, Ben. Ben would walk into the gym completely unsure of what the workout specs even were. “We’re doing deadlifts, right? What’s the weight for guys?” Love that kid.
I showed Ben how to do corner step-ups on the box, making sure to push off his thigh, and hop off the box from the top. I made sure he was in a good position to turn around and attack his deadlifts and the weights were stacked accordingly. I had him practice three reps at each weight, followed by three step-ups. And then I had him warm up some more. Ben crushed the workout…and his lip too! He lifted so hard he bit right into his lip and like a true “fire breather,” spit a little blood with every breath. It was kinda gross and kinda awesome too. Nothing stops a determined heart…not even a little blood.
14.4: “Thining the Herd.” Ok, we all knew muscle ups would happen at some point in the Open. I think everyone feared a three-peat of the infamous 12.3 and 13.3: wall balls, double unders, and muscle ups. But nope. Castro threw the rower into the Open for the first time ever. A 60 calorie row followed by a movement that would rip the hands of CrossFitters world-wide: the dreaded toes to bar movement.
For anyone who doesn’t know, hanging from a bar and bringing your toes to the same bar that your hands are holding while the rest of your body compresses tightly together like an awkward upside-down yoga forward fold pose in mid-air….SUCKS. It’s the same movement that ripped my labrum in my left shoulder and it’s one of the reasons why I couldn’t even do the open this year.
And if that isn’t enough, after doing 50 of these suckers, athletes had to complete 40 wall balls, then 30 power cleans, and last, 20 muscle ups. Only the elite athletes got back to the rower to start round two within the 14 minute time cap. (You know, the Rich Froning types.) I was able to judge three athletes who completed several muscle ups, and then a few athletes who got to the rings and tried, tried, tried again…and their arms, their bodies, their will, just failed them. Defeat is a victor for many during the Open. Moves you know you can do suddenly feel impossible for your body. And things that your brain tells you are not even worth trying, your body overpowers and does them anyway. It really is quite strange what happens sometimes. Struggle. Blood. Anger. Gasps. Swearing. I witnessed more of this in 14.4 than any other of the Open workouts.
And then there was 14.5: The mother of all Open workouts. 14.5 left me in tears. On Friday night, I helped judge the workout, as I had done all the others. In the first heat I judged this college kid at our box, Matt. He actually made the workout look SO easy. He never broke up a single rep and he stayed consistent through the burpees. He just kept moving and he never slowed down. He didn’t start too fast and he didn’t finish too slow. He finished in 14:04. I was blown away by his athleticism. After he collapsed on the floor, I looked around the gym to see nothing but anguished faces. People dropped one after the other to the floor for burpees, looking distraught as they climbed their way up again. “Just jump the bar!” I thought to myself. “Keep moving!” I willed them. I saw my friend Molly pushing through the workout with nothing but a look of exhaustion and determination wrapped into one. She later told me,
I looked at Morgan towards the end of the workout and said “I am going to throw up,” and she said, “No you aren’t, now pick up the bar!” Haha. I can only imagine the look on my face…I was fearful that I wasn’t going to make it but I did and she pushed me which I NEED NEED NEED!!! I am thankful for Morgan coaching me through it.
Molly finished the workout with the encouragement from her judge, Morgan, and then collapsed to the floor. So did the others. Done! and collapse. Finished! and collapse. One competitor left: Jaye was determined to finish the workout. Any spectator could see the pain in her face. A few times we had to scream at her to get up off the floor so that she could continue. She lost a thruster here or there–she was exhausted and every athlete could read her face, feel her pain, and couldn’t do a thing about her anguish but tell her to keep going, don’t give up, push harder, and finish strong! When Jaye jumped over the bar for her last burpee, the entire gym ERUPTED into claps and cheers. I held back tears. Any other workout would have had a time cap. Any other workout would have scaled the weight. But Jaye continued until she completed EVERY.LAST.REP. Her determination reminded me why I love this sport.
“Everything hurt and I wanted to quit. Just stay laying there right in the middle of a burpee. But every time I’d pause at the bottom and turn my cheek to the floor, voices urged me to get up. Do one more. Just do one more, they said. At one point, I got stuck at the bottom of the squat and had to dump the bar. I stood and turned my back on the circle that had gathered around and I thought to myself, if you quit right now, they’d understand. And they would’ve. But then I heard someone say: “You’ve come so far. Don’t stop now.” No judgment … just a fellow athlete who wanted me to succeed. What else could I do? I had to try. So I gritted my teeth, turned toward the bar and did one more. And another. Until I finished.” Read Jaye’s full recount of 14.5 right here!
On Saturday morning, the box was even fuller than the night before. Athletes, spectators, coaches, kids and parents…all in full swing for the last Open workout and the cookout to follow.
I got to judge my friend Whitney in the first heat. I knew she wanted to finish strong so I pushed her to edge of her comfort and encouraged her just keep moving…no matter what. She was a great listener! I told her how to break up her thrusters and when to move. She picked up the bar every time I asked her to and she got on the floor when I said to get down! When she was done, she beat her goal and collapsed on the floor…like EVERY person did after this WOD. “My feet!” she screamed. And I knew exactly what she was talking about because it happens to me every time I complete a “jumping” WOD in my Olympic lifting shoes. I grabbed her legs, pulled off her shoes, and put a foam roller under her feet. “I can’t feel my toes!” She cried at me. “It’s ok Whitney! This happens to me too; roll your feet for two minutes and you’ll be fine.” She gave me a really big hug when it was all over. In heat two, I didn’t have to judge. I was a spectator and I watched the pained faces of the athletes perform the same movement over and over. Thrusters….burpees….thrusters….burpees. Dave Castro is evil. Two of the most hated of all CrossFit movements put together in a workout without a time cap. 84 thrusters and 84 barbell-facing burpees. And ZERO time cap. You either finished or you quit.
For me, it’s SO tough to watch a person struggle and all you can say is “You got this!” or “Keep moving!” or “Push through!” As a spectator, you feel useless. If you could just mentally will that person even one more ounce of energy…..
I watched Tori push through every last hated burpee as our box owner coached her through all 168 repetitions of the workout. When she finished, the crowd moved on to her brother, who was hating every single thruster and still managed to push out each and every one until nothing was left–no more reps, no more energy, second person done. Then the crowd was getting bigger and it was split among the room between the last few athletes. These guys were sweating and swearing, pulling and pushing. They tried to kneel down and find some air but the crowd just yelled even louder, “Stand up and pick up the bar!” As each athlete finished, the crowd of spectators grew larger and larger as it moved through the room together to follow those still working. And by the end of each heat, the gym looked the same. One athlete: surrounded by a circle of family and friends. Hands held tightly together. Fists pounding the floor. Shouts of encouragement.
In the end? An eruption of cheers and tears. Clapping. Hugs. And lots of shaky arms and legs.
And this is what it’s all about.
In the end, it isn’t about the Paleo treat or the cheat meal. It’s not about going to the gym every day. Sometimes, it’s not even about looking better in your clothes. It’s accomplishing something that you never thought you could do. It’s having people believe in you when you thought you couldn’t go on. It’s about breaking through the mental barriers that keep pushing down as you struggle, struggle, and struggle harder to climb out. It’s watching that last athlete drop the bar at the end of the workout, collapse to the floor, and then raise his hand in the air to high five everyone else who stood by him to the end.
Dave Castro might be the Seneca Crane of the CrossFit Games, but he did one thing right whether he intended to or not: he brought the emotion, the love, the family, the circle of friendship, spirit, and community to each and every box. I don’t know of a single box around the Globe that didn’t feel the same way at the end of that same 14.5 workout.
What a community. What a perservering spirit.
I love Crossfit….I love the support, the love, and the friendships! It has been a great journey for me that pushes me out of my comfort zone and challenges me both mentally and physically. –Molly
You don’t find that feeling anywhere else. And that’s why we love it…and can’t wait to do it again next year. For many of us, the “Games” end with the end of the open workouts. But for the top contenders in each of the 17 regions world-wide, it’s just the beginning. My personal Facebook account is flooded with the hashtag “Road to Regionals.” Athletes everywhere are preparing for the most important series of workouts, because these are the workouts that get you to the legendary CrossFit Games. And only the top 3 competitors in each region can qualify.
I went to the Mid-Atlantic Regionals last year as a volunteer and I ended up not only working in the Media tent, being up close and personal with the elite, but I also met some amazing people! I watched in complete awe as teams of athletes and individual athletes pushed through some of the craziest workouts I’ve ever seen. Heck, I was in complete awe just watching these people walk around the arena! I’ve never seen so many six-pack-abs in my LIFE! Helping out with the Regional event was probably one of the best CrossFit learning experiences I’ve ever had.
I watched Christy Phillips win the event in 2013, I met her at a SuperFit competition later that year in which I was a competitor, and now I can’t wait to see if she can win it again in 2014. My region, the Mid-Atlantic, hosts the event at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, VA., on May 23rd-25th. The first set of regional workouts were just announced yesterday and they look, well, pretty Nasty. Day 2 and 3 have yet to be announced…do you have any guesses as to what they may be?
BEST of LUCK to any and ALL athletes competing in the 2014 CrossFit Regional Events! I cannot wait to see who ends up on top!