Editor's note: This is the second part of a three-part series on the phenomenon of CrossFit and its impact in Houston.
The Road to crown The Fittest on Earth barreled through Houston when top men, women and teams from Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana converged upon Tomball’s Oakland Farm and Ranch for the 2011 CrossFit Games South Central Regional Event recently. It was as impressive an event as it was oppressive.
With temperatures well above 100 degrees for all three days of the competition it was brutal out there for both competitors and spectators alike.
CrossFit is on the verge of going mainstream and it was evident as soon as you pulled into the parking lot. With Reebok sponsoring the games this year the event was organized, professional and well marketed with signage, media and merchandise signifying that CrossFit has indeed arrived. The CF community was out in full force and the volunteers and judges deserve credit for making the event run smoothly — and for enduring the scorching conditions.
The festival-like atmosphere was charged with, sweat, adrenaline, excitement and intensity. The only carbs I spotted were in a spectator’s beer and everything else was straight Paleo. Pure muscle was on display everywhere you looked; both on the competition floor and in the crowd.
During one workout, some athletes' hands were almost literally melting into the bars and kettlebells, resulting in torn skin, blisters, blood and burns that made it nearly impossible for some to continue and painful even to watch
With the temperatures so high, it made for a scantily clad event and while Reebok may have put up serious money to get in the game, what little was being worn out there came from brands like LuluLemon, with its clothes on just about everyone, Life as RX’d and Inov-8.
Muscle & Masochism
Each athlete and team had to complete two workouts per day over the course of three days. The Workouts were intense and extreme. Challenges were designed to test overall fitness through a combination of speed, strength and endurance and included combinations of runs and sprints, rowing, pull-ups, handstand pushups, muscle ups, deadlifts, box jumps, kettlebell swings, jump rope double-unders, burpees, weighted lunges, thruster ladders and more all scored by number of reps, weight and time.
Combined with the heat, the workouts bordered on the insane; and at times it appeared that the line had been crossed from an event that was designed to test elite levels of fitness to a showcase of one’s ability to endure excruciating physical and mental torture.
“I really do enjoy punishing my body” said Men’s first-place winner Aja Barto, a former minor league baseball player from Houston. “I may not fully enjoy a part of the workout or maybe even the whole thing, but there's always something that keeps me coming back and keeps me hungry for more.
"It's somewhat of a pain is pleasure principle, but sadly in a kind of masochistic way, I think all Crossfitters can relate.”
During one workout, some athletes hands' were almost literally melting into the bars and kettlebells resulting in torn skin, blisters, blood and burns that made it nearly impossible for some to continue and painful even to watch.
“I’ve never thought about quitting a workout ever before today” competitor Justin Martirano told me. “But you train so hard and have so many out there supporting you that you just adapt and find a way to overcome and finish.”
For many of the competitors this weekend was a family affair. In the women’s individual division the top three finishers (who were all from Austin), each had relatives in the competition as well. First-place rock star Cary Kepler is the sister of CrossFit Central’s Jeremy Thiel, who himself placed in the top 10 on the men’s side. Jeremy is also married to women’s third-place finisher Lisa Thiel. Second-place finisher Lindsay Smith’s husband Web Smith competed himself in the men’s individual bracket and showed tremendous resolve during a particularly grueling set of handstand pushups.
Rumor has it he was seen mouthing “I’m sorry babe” to his wife as she cheered him on and time ran out during his event.
Men’s champion Aja Barto got to compete side by side with his older brother Aryan who took fourth place and just missed out on joining his brother at the finals in Los Angeles next month.
“There aren't words to describe what it means to share an experience like that with Aryan," Aja said. "He is such a role model for me not just through Crossfit but through life in general. We don't really get to train together often, so when we were in the same heat and side by side on day three, that was easily the best part of the weekend.”
There’s no I in Team
CrossFit prides itself on being a community and nowhere was this more evident than in the team division. Houston’s own Bayou City CrossFit took home the crown with an inspiring performance.
Vic Zachary, owner of Bayou City CrossFit placed fourth in the men’s overall sectionals and had good shot at earning an individual spot back at the games. Instead, he opted to compete in the team event. Tattooed and sporting his trademark mohawk, Zachary is one of CrossFit’s most well liked and respected athletes. His decision to forgo another shot at individual glory at the games to lead a team of newcomers was met with great admiration and vocal support from the crowd.
“For me I really wanted to build the box’s reputation and not Vic Zachary," Zachary said. "I just felt it was a great time for Bayou City CrossFit and with where I’m at personally and professionally it was an opportunity to give my teammates a chance to get to the games as well.”
Bayou City Team Member and “MO2”, mother of two Susie Tannery proved especially inspiring in her performance at age 36.
“CrossFit has given me the ability to train hard and against the best no matter the age," Tannery said. "And for someone who’s only 5-foot-1, a 24-inch box jump was definitely a challenge.”
My sentimental favorite, Team P3 Crossfit, showed up with a great new pair of white custom-screened, printed canopy tents and sported awesome new “Do you swing?” kettlebell T-shirts. While they didn’t qualify for the final day, I know how hard each member of this team worked. It was inspiring to watch this group of overachievers go head to head with the best in the region.
It’s a privilege to know them, call them friends and to get to train alongside them, so hat’s off to Mac, Bowie, Megan, Dan, Melanie and Sarah as well as Justin and Anthony who competed individually.
Goin’ Back to Cali
The South Central Region is sending some incredible athletes on to California for next month’s CrossFit Games, each with a legitimate shot at the title. With $1 million in prize money on the line, the event continues to grow, garner more support and draw new athletes and fans each day.
Check it out and see who’ll be crowned The Fittest on Earth.
The CrossFit Games conclude July 29-31 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.