My CrossFit Games Experience by Alec Smith
(All words by Alec Smith)
“After 8 years of sitting out and watching from the side lines, qualifying for the CrossFit Games is, without a doubt, my biggest accomplishment to date. Since the weekend has ended, it’s almost all that’s been on my mind (other than all the food I’ve been eating) so i figured I would write down a few of my thoughts and hopefully answer some of the questions that I have been getting.
I went into the CrossFit Games excited, healthy, and most importantly in the best shape I have ever been in. All of the excitement and build up literally came down to this one weekend, and as expected, it FLEW by. I have been trying to figure out a way to describe my experience without sounding completely negative and down in the dumps… but lets just say the whole weekend was a series of unfortunate events, that were all timed pretty perfectly. Before reading any further, this isn’t an excuse as to why I didn’t place well or me pin pointing it on one thing in particular. Everyone at the games is extremely fit and mentally strong. This is a reflection on my own personal journey and the roller coaster I’ve been on the past few years of my life that I wanted to share with everyone.
My whole CrossFit career I have struggled deciding whether or not the sport is something that I would physically be able to do. When I was a kid, I had a pretty bad accident that left me with two herniated discs in my back (L4-L5 and L5-S1) and required reconstructive surgery on my shoulder. I was told I could never do gymnastics again (which was pretty much all I did) and spent the next year recovering and figuring out what I wanted to do with my time. Throughout high school I played non-contact sports that didn’t involve much impact on my body and I didn’t have any problems other than a few back spasms every once and a while. I was always careful and hesitant when I started CrossFit, but surprisingly lifting weights didn’t seem to give me any problems the first year or two. In 2013 I qualified for my first Regional and decided that I really wanted to dedicate my time towards earning a trip to the CrossFit Games. Later that year and into 2014, my back would get so tight during workouts that I literally couldn’t walk. I missed out on an individual spot for regionals because of it, but was lucky enough to help qualify a team that year. The summer after regionals I went to get another MRI and learned that on top of my disc issues I have a fracture in my L4. I was forced to take 6 months off, with absolutely NO physical activity, and it was one of the hardest 6 months of my life. During that time, I put my focus into college classes, and figuring out if and how I could make CrossFit work. In 2015 and 2016 I saw 10-12 different doctors and chiropractors and learned SO much about proper movement mechanics and how to perform without aggravating my back. This meant not training certain movements together that involved a combination of flexion and extension, and doing accessory work every day to strengthen my back and glutes. It’s still a learning process and there will always be movements and workouts that I won’t be able to do without issues, but the reward and my love for the sport is too much to give up.
I’ll never forget the opening event of the Games. 3, 2, 1, and everyone SPRINTS out of the gates like we’re running a 400M for time. With all the adrenaline I’m pretty sure I PR’ed my mile and a half time before getting in the water. I was really excited with how I did on the event, knowing that long distance running isn’t one of my strengths, but this was just about the only event of the weekend that I felt like I couldn’t have physically pushed any harder. For the first time in a few months, my back got real tight on the bike from sitting in such a rounded and hunched position twisting and turning for so long. The last lap I was pretty much just trying not to let it get any worse. Unfortunately, once it tightens up and I don’t take time off, it continues to happen more often. Going straight into Amanda .45 with squat snatches didn’t help.
Friday was a new day, there were SO many points still available and I wasn’t going to let the previous events get into my head. I was so confident that I was going to do well on the obstacle course. I was super comfortable with all of the obstacles and love anything and everything that requires skill or gymnastics. Getting no repped on the first obstacle, a cargo net, was heartbreaking. We were briefed the day before that touching the black line is okay, you just can’t touch outside of the black lines. To be honest, I started in the middle of the net, but had no idea where I was coming down that net. I got called back for touching the black line when I came over the top, which I understood was ok. After the race, I went and talked to the head judge, and the response was, “it’s a big net.” Since the event was released, it was something I could not WAIT to do. I tried my best not to let it bother me, but it was hard to move on knowing I met the standard that the athletes were briefed.
The snatch was next, and I was thrilled with how it went. I hit a number that I hadn’t hit in about a year! It put me in a 3-way tie for 9th, but only the top 10 moved on for two more attempts. I lost the tiebreak and didn’t get to move on for two more attempts.
To this day the one movement in CrossFit that I physically can’t do without a sharp pain in my back are GHD’s. I learned, through practice, that putting my butt near the front of the pad and bending my knees allows me to do them pain-free because the pad supports my back on the way down. This is how I do them in the gym and this is how I did them at regionals in 2016. This year they unfortunately decided to change the standards and made everyone sit with their butts off of the pad. I tightened my belt as much as possible and sucked it up. Every rep I felt a crunch in my back, but got through them slowly. I knew right when that event ended that my back was not okay.
The assault banger was released next, and I had remembered watching the athletes complete the double banger event a few years back. I was just relieved it was something that didn’t involve extending my back or a high repetition of squats where my back is forced into flexion. I was the first heat to go, and the hammers SHREDDED my hands. I physically couldn’t swing the hammer because my fingertips felt like they were going to burst off. The idea of using gloves hadn’t crossed my mind, the remaining heats learned from our experience and many athletes went and quickly grabbed gloves. Would have been nice to know that going into it, lol. My fingers to this day are still numb.
Saturday was a new day, and there were a few workouts we still didn’t know. Strongman’s Fear was next and I was so hesitant during the whole workout I had my belt so tight that I could barely breathe. The clean ladder was a ton of fun… I ended up doing power cleans as long as possible because heavy squat cleans force me into flexion and I was already feeling unstable in my back. I gave those last two cleans everything I had, and got them done, but they definitely were not pretty and right when I got off the floor I could feel it. After that event I started to feel nervy sensations when bending left to right or twisting slightly. I got worked on, and spent the next few hours stretching out before the next event was released.
“Please don’t be high rep squatting, please don’t be high rep squatting.”
Boom, heavy 17.5. The only thing worse would have been heavy 16.5 or heavy 15.5, lol
Sunday morning was rough. Everything hurt. But everyone else hurt too. The triplet was a good break from everything we have been doing below parallel and it’s always fun working out outside. When Castro was announcing the next event, I thought there was no way we would be high rep squatting, again. I couldn’t even get out of round one without my back blowing up during the overhead squats. Without the one minute rest between rounds, I don’t know if I would have been able to continue. I never wear a belt for overhead squats or thrusters, but I felt like it was the only thing keeping me together. We ended with heavy KTB Deadlifts and HSPU for the final and by that event, I was honestly just trying not to injure myself to the point where I would have to take a ton of time off.
For anyone still reading, thanks for caring ? It was an amazing experience. I can’t say enough about the crowd, the community, the volunteers and the athletes. Everyone was friendly, everyone was smiling, everyone was happy to be there. It kept my spirits up all weekend even if on the inside I wanted to throw in the towel. Walking from our events back to the athlete area was the most enjoyable part. Watching how excited people were to see all of the athletes, taking pictures, and meeting new people made everything worth it.
If I am fortunate enough to stay healthy, I will always continue to chase my dreams. I will definitely be back next year, smarter, and more motivated than ever.”
More CrossFit Games Info:
- Alec-Smith: CrossFit Inc