By: Emily Beers
Some athletes step onto the competition floor with fear in their eyes. Others, like Annie Thorisdottir and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, look completely in their element. Instead of making pain faces, Thorisdottir is often caught smiling during gruelling workouts, and Leblanc-Bazinet speaks about going to that “dark place” with a mischievous grin that gives you the impression she can’t wait until the next opportunity to take herself there. When they compete, these two look as if there’s nowhere else they’d rather be.
Do all CrossFit Games athletes thrive, crave, revel in the opportunity to perform in front of a crowd?
Do all Games athletes embrace the anxiety, stress and pain of competition?
Turns out the answer is no. Far from it, in fact.
Australian athlete, Amanda Allen—two-time women’s 40-44 CrossFit Games champion—said she doesn’t love competing.
“Leading into competitions, I never want to be there. I always want to withdraw. I experience doubt, fear, impending doom,” Allen said, who admitted her true happy place is training.
“I love to train. … I would prefer to train hard everyday, stay tucked away in my outlines and my simple life,” she said.
Five-time Games athlete Lucas Parker has a similar attitude toward competition.
“Honestly, I don’t really enjoy competing all that much. What I really like is training—the building, the planning, the workout—and then testing all that,” said the always-cerebral Parker. “It just so happens that a competition is the easiest way to see what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong in my continued pursuit of excellence.”
Parker also admitted that, even after five CrossFit Games appearances, he still gets anxious.
“I get all the physical symptoms: hair-trigger bladder, diarrhea, restless sleep, cold sweats,” Parker said.
Another multi-Games veteran Gretchen Kittelberger is another who lives to train.
“Competing is fun and I do enjoy it, but I like training more,” said the former college gymnast. “I really love training,” she added.
Some competition events, however, are more fun than others, Kittelberger explained.
“If it’s like a 1-rep-max type event or some sort of skill where it’s more like a one shot to show what you’ve got…then I love that kind of performing in front of people,” she said. “I thrive on that kind of one and done.”
Tia-Clair Toomey—who surprised the CrossFit world last summer when she came out of nowhere and finished on the podium in her rookie year at the CrossFit Games—is arguably one of the rare ones who does love competing. Every moment of it, she explained.
Toomey has found a way to embrace the aspects of competition others find torturous.
“I love it. I love having to control all my emotions from being nervous, having anxiety, tears, to happiness and using it…to do the best I can,” Toomey said.
More than anything, though, Toomey loves competition for a reason that really has nothing to do with competing at all: It brings her closer to her family and friends, she explained.
“The people that are there with you for the whole ride through your tough times and your good times, (competition helps you) really develop a relationship with them,” she said.
Although competing at the Games isn’t necessarily as “fun” as fans and aspiring Games athletes might expect it would be, one thing Games athletes all seem to have in common—something many other athletes aren’t always able to articulate—is the why.
Athletes like Allen, Parker and Kittelberger sincerely dislike certain aspects of competition, but they all know exactly why they continually take themselves to that place, and how it helps make their lives better.
Despite her notorious pre-competition feelings of doom, Allen chooses to keep competing year-after-year, continually putting herself in that uncomfortable place, for one reason: She knows her feelings of doubt are there to help her grow.
“(Those feelings) always show up because that is my commitment to myself,” Allen said. “I do hate competition, but I am driven by the challenge.” One of these challenges, she explained, is that competition facilitates her ability to discover whether she is made of “firm bedrock” or “fairy floss,” she said.
“I generally find I’m made of bedrock, but I never seem to loose the desire to test myself, my depth, my character,” Allen said.
And more than anything, she loves how competition makes her feel after it’s all over.
“After competing, I am on a high no drug could ever deliver,” Allen said. “I am my highest self after competing. I love that feeling.”
As for Parker, although cold sweats and diarrhea don’t sound fun at all, he has even found a way to embrace the physical discomforts that go hand-in-hand with a CrossFit competition.
“I’ve worked to perceive my physical reactions as beneficial signals. I notice a particular feeling or sensation and say to myself, ‘My body is ready for exercise,’” Parker said. “That’s what all this shitting is.”