Interview with CrossFit Games Rookie Athlete Steph Chung

Hey Steph Chung, can you tell us how you got into CrossFit?

While I was staying at home before my senior year of college, I needed to train for the upcoming club gymnastics season. I was really uninspired by the globo gym scene, so my mom suggested that I try the new CrossFit box in my hometown. I went to one class and was hooked! I continued training several times a week during senior year and joined a box when I moved to Doha, Qatar after graduation.

What was the first WOD you ever did and how did you find it?

I don’t remember the specific workout from my first day, but I do remember learning box jumps, barbell cleans, and several other new movements. That was my first time ever holding a barbell! It was HARD and I absolutely loved it.

How would you describe the CrossFit scene in the Middle East?

Growing quickly! The culture around fitness in the Middle East has been expanding over the past few years, so many people are hearing about CrossFit and want to learn more. Lots of our members have very little fitness experience before coming to us, so it’s very exciting to see their progress after just a few weeks of training. One of my favorite things about CrossFit in the Middle East is the diversity among expatriate coaches and members, which gives the community a unique and international identity.

Can you tell us the story from Regionals about how you qualified for The CrossFit Games?

This Regionals was all about mental strategy for me. Based on my experience in previous years, I knew that leaderboarding would be disruptive to my focus and thus decided to ignore the leaderboard during the weekend.

This turned out to be the right choice – had I known that I finished Day 1 in 27th place, I likely would have given up on earning a qualifying spot. Instead, I woke up on Saturday with the ability to focus on doing my very best at the workouts without leaderboard distraction. I placed fourth overall on Events 3 and 4, despite being in the second heat. On Sunday, I centered my thoughts on performing my best so that I could be proud of my effort that weekend, regardless of the outcome. We started with my favorite event, the chipper. I won the event, and went on to take fourth in Event 6. With zero knowledge of points or placement, I anxiously awaited the announcement for the final Games qualifier. I heard the announcer say that there was a tie for fourth place, and that my Event 5 win had earned me a trip to Madison!

Regionals started off with a rocky Day 1.

I went into the weekend knowing that Events 1 and 2 were not my strongest, but I didn’t necessarily expect to be 27th on the leaderboard going into Day 2. Because I knew that Day 1 was a weakness but Days 2 and 3 were potentially very good for me, I had decided ahead of time to ignore the leaderboard. Also knew that I had an opportunity to do very well on Days 2 and 3 and and simply perform to the best of my ability, and so I didn’t know where I was placed going into Saturday. This allowed me to control my mental narrative and believe that anything was possible! I started Day 2 ready to attack  those two workouts, and ended up with a fourth place finish in both despite being in the second heat.

I approached Sunday in the same way: ignore the leaderboard, play my own game, and focus on performing at my best. I won Event 5 and took fourth in Event 6, which resulted in a points tie with Alessia. I won the tiebreak with my event win, and earned my first ticket to the Games!

How do the Regionals Workouts differ from practicing them beforehand in your Box compared to performing them out on the competition floor?

We try to simulate the competition logistics as closely as possible, but there’s really no comparison to the Regionals atmosphere! The crowd is cheering, your nerves are a bit higher, you’re surrounded by a heat of super fit athletes, and it’s much easier to get carried away when the adrenaline kicks in. Occasionally the transitions between movements will differ from practice, and you always have to be mentally prepared to hear “no-rep” from the judge.

What does a typical day of CrossFit Games training look like for you?

Eat, train, eat, sleep, eat, train, eat, recover, sleep. Repeat 🙂

If you could program one event at The CrossFit Games that would be perfect for you, what would it be and why?

CHAOS was a nearly perfect event for me! I wasn’t thrilled to take the floor with absolutely no idea of what we would encounter, but the event happened to include a handful of my favorite movements. Unfortunately a lot of those movements weren’t ideal for a broken ankle, so I had to be more conservative than I would have liked. But healthy me would have absolutely loved that one.

How do you prepare mentally for such a big occasion?

In addition to setting goals, I like to imagine different potential scenarios and how I would react if they were to occur. This way, I’m mentally prepared for a range of situations and have plans in place ahead of time. This includes visualizing possible and likely realities of competing at the CrossFit Games – being sore, feeling tired, getting no-repped by the judge, placing disappointingly low on the leaderboard, etc. Accepting the things that I cannot control or change helps me to stay rational through a highly emotional week.

What weakness are you currently trying to eliminate when you train?

I’ve been working really hard on improving my engine and endurance. I’m also trying to get better at “out of the box” fitness, such as biking, climbing, and moving odd objects.

What book would you recommend that everyone should read?

Just one?! Impossible. For self improvement and/or inspiration: How Champions Think by Dr. Bob Rotella. My favorite novel: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. A literary necessity: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

What superpower would you love to have?

Having the gift of super-speed would be pretty cool! Then I could be hyper-productive and fit more things into my day 🙂

What 3 tips would you give to CrossFit beginners?

  1. Technique is everything. Take your time and don’t neglect the basics!
  2. Be coachable. Coaches are your best resource, so be open to their instruction and advice.
  3. Embrace the CrossFit culture! Cheer on others if you finish first, demonstrate integrity, and always strive to improve.

How was your experience of your rookie CrossFIt Games?

It was phenomenal! Competing on that stage, against forty of the fittest women in the world, was the experience of a lifetime. I can’t imagine a more inspiring group against whom to test myself. Unfortunately, I broke my ankle in training two weeks before the Games, so some of the workouts required more of a survival strategy than a competitive one. Nonetheless, I learned so much and came away with the motivation and hunger to get fitter.

What was the first day like and how hard was it to recover from the events?

I think everyone was mentally prepared for a really tough day of competition, so for me it was all about taking one event at a time. I crashed hard on the Crit to start the day, so there was some discomfort from the bruises and scrapes but I was mentally relieved to finish that event. Recovering after the muscle ups and CrossFit Total was relatively straightforward, but the row was exactly as uncomfortable as I expected it to be.

When I finished and stood up after rowing for almost three and a half hours, my legs started to shake and I was unsure if I’d be able to walk. Bending over was definitely out of the question – some very kind volunteers had to pick up my belongings and help me off the floor! Wednesday night was pretty painful, so I slept with the MarcPro on my legs all night. I was really grateful for a rest day on Thursday! We did a lot of recovery and easy movement, and I felt lots better by Friday morning.

Which event did you enjoy most at the 2018 CrossFit Games?

The double under and handstand walk event! I absolutely love handstand walk obstacle courses, given my past as a gymnast. However, I had been worried about double unders all week long because jumping was the most painful movement for my ankle. With the 4-minute time cap, I was unsure if I would even be able to finish all 50 dubs. On the floor, I was able to string multiple reps together in time to attack the rest of the obstacles. Running over the finish line under the time cap was the highlight of my Games week.

What lessons did you learn that you will take forward into the next CrossFit season?

  1. Train under as much adversity as possible.
  2. Be mentally and physically prepared for the times when nothing goes to plan.
  3. “Find your tribe and love them hard” – having a strong support system is vital to success!

Follow Steph Chung and stay up to date with all her latest news:

Instagram: @stephchung2

Fb: @stephchung51

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