Last week I had the amazing opportunity to compete in the CrossFit Games Pacific Regional in Wollongong, Australia. When I landed in Australia, reality that I was a regional athlete still hadn’t set in. I walked into a room full of women who made my muscles look minuscule. I found my seat and looked around the room, I saw some of the most famous CrossFitters in the world Tia-Claire Toomey, and arriving a little late, Kara Webb. Did I deserve to be here? Sure, I had finished 8th in Asia, but Asia is a less competitive region. Was I going to make a fool of myself on the floor? The thoughts were hushed away when the head judge grabbed a microphone and congratulated us on qualifying to regionals, then he began reviewing standards for the events that would take place on day 1.
On day 1, I arrived in the athletes area to a room filled mostly with Aussies reconnecting, massive bean bags, recovery boots, physical therapists, and TVs live streaming regionals. I set my bag in the corner and laid down on a bean bag. Thankfully, the athletes were very friendly and a couple girls came over to introduce themselves to me. Just my luck too, they were in the same heat as me.
While warming up for event 1 I hit 125lbs squat snatch easy, my 1RM just a few months before, 135lbs easy, perfect, 145lbs, not a single miss. I looked over and saw Kara Webb warming up at 165lbs like it was cake weight, nerves began to set in. My heat was called, I was about to walk out on the floor with the women everyone came to see. The head judge came over and made sure we were all in place, gave us a little talk about standards, had us roll down our knee sleeves, as I thought to myself, what do you think I have in there, a knife to stab another competitor? Apparently knee wraps are not allowed though, so that was the real reason for this. He gave us each a fist bump, wished us luck, told us to go have some fun, and sent us on our way. I jogged out, cold from standing around, and tried to get my blood flowing. I overheard my name on the speakers. This is real, I’m here. I looked up, why did I do that? The stadium was filled. I was on the floor with a few thousand people watching me try to hit a snatch at my 93%. Would I even get one? Would I be disqualified for not meeting the minimum work requirement on my very first event?
I stood on the start mat, heart beating out of my chest from nerves, “1 minute. 30 seconds. 10 seconds. Athletes ready. Beep.” The 135lbs cake weight from the back warm up area felt like 300lbs as I began the deadlift portion of the lift. I caught it and stood up, my judge gave what I thought was the good rep signal. I picked up the bar again, “no rep” it had dropped behind me. Everything felt off. The bar was brand new, so the knurling began to easily rip my hands. I looked down at the bar, there was blood on it. Is that from me? I looked at my hands, nope. Gross. I tried again, barely caught the bar and unsteadily stood it up, “no rep.” My toe had touched the boundary line. I looked at my judge and said, “I have one rep right?” She responded, “Yes.” Whew, I wasn’t disqualified. 2 minutes and the event was over for me. I walked back to the starting mat and looked around, almost every athlete was there with me, I felt better.
I relaxed in the athletes area and watched Kara Webb take the win for event 1. Just as quickly as event 1 had ended, event 2 was about to start. This time, I grabbed a sweatshirt and sweat pants to wear in the corral. I was excited for this event, strict muscle ups, strict handstand push ups, and heavy as fuck one arm kettlebell snatches (53lbs). No one seemed to know, nor care that I had placed 36th out of 40 on the previous event, I realized it didn’t matter. The audience was there in amazement, no matter what we did. I was not nervous when I walked out this time. “1 minute. 30 seconds. 10 seconds. Athletes ready. Beep.” I was finally myself, I was calm and collected. I finished in the top half of all athletes. Yes, I did deserve to be there. My coach texted me, way to bounce back in the second event, now onto day 2.
I woke up ready to attack day 2. I was in heat 1 this time, but I was one of the highest seeds in the heat. I was already not in last place. Goal achieved. We all warmed up, headed to the corrals, rolled down our knee sleeves to check for kniv…wraps, a fist bump from the head judge, and jogged out to the floor. The familiar voice from the previous day came one, “1 minute. 30 seconds. 10 seconds. Athletes ready. Beep.”
I picked up the 14lbs medicine ball and began my wall balls, hitting the 10ft target. 16reps, 10 reps. 15 reps, 11 reps. I could feel my arms getting a little tired. When I got to the last wall ball station I could feel my shoulders getting sore, my judge kept encouraging me. I heard on the loud speaker that I was in second place. Another woman had finished her wall balls when the announcer said, “Zoe has 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, done with her wall balls, but Kat is on the pull up bar.” I walked to the pull up bar and looked up, why didn’t we get a riser? I was so out of breath it took all of my might to get to the bar, I didn’t want to do that again. Kat had dropped off the bar. I began doing pull ups. I hit 20 when I heard the announcer say to the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, Zoe Pond-McPherson is not coming off the bar!” The crowed erupted in cheers, “She is now in first place for heat 1!”
I walked off the floor in pain, back tight, legs tired, and happy, I had just won a heat at regionals. The minimum work requirement for this event was all 104 wall balls and 1 pull up within the 6 minute time cap. I looked at the standings, six women in my heat didn’t get a pull up, they were all out for the remainder of the competition.
With only three of us left in my heat, the event organizers had to decide what to do, would they bump people up in heats or send three of us out there alone? 5 minutes before our scheduled heat, we were informed that they weren’t able to adjust the chip timers to accommodate changing heats and lanes in such a short time. Kat, Evelina, and I all wished each other luck and laughed it off, at the very least our families would see a lot of us on camera. The head judge apologized, gave us the fist bump, and told us to go have some fun.
This event was a huge challenge for me, the minimum work requirement was a 400m run, 40GHD sit ups, and 1 deadlift at 275lbs, 5lbs lighter than the heaviest weight I’ve ever deadlifted. Evelina and I clearly had the same game plan, pace our run and sit ups, then mentally prepared ourselves for 275lbs. Meanwhile, Kat was already done with her 7 deadlifts and onto the next round. The crowd cheered us on for each lift and cheered even louder when we managed to get all 7 deadlifts and head back to the run. Kat was starting her third round when Evelina and I got to the bar again for deadlifts. I hit one, Evelina hit one, Kat finished her third round, completing the event. Evelina hit another deadlift. I hit 2. A row of judges high fived us and told us we were fucking badass. I ran to an ice bath. Onto day 3.
Everything hurt, I had a hard time falling asleep. I walked in a little later the next morning. Warmed up, got into the corrals, jogged out, “1 minute. 30 seconds. 10 seconds. Athletes ready. Beep.” I hopped onto the devil’s tricycle and pedaled at a nice easy pace before jogging down the floor and to start my handstand walk, breaking it up more than usual in anticipation of the next part – heavy overhead squats. I began performing the slowest overhead squats of my life. My back hurt, my shoulders trembled, I had to drop it after two reps. Nothing to do but rest. I tried again, no rep. I dropped it in frustration. Finally, I stood up the 10th and final rep, the people in the stands cheered me on, but I couldn’t keep my shoulders tight enough and it fell behind me. No rep.
I sat in an ice bath for 15 minutes with the last two remaining women from Asia region before heading out for the last event. Cheers to behind the last ones left and making it through the weekend. We packed up our bags and begrudgingly warmed up for the final workout. It was all smiles and laughs in the corrals though. None of us had a shot at being in the top 5 and going to the games, we were all in pain, but happy to have come this far. The head judge came by and congratulated us on a weekend well done, our last fist bump, our last good luck, and the last “1 minute. 30 seconds. 10 seconds. Athletes ready. Beep.”
I got through my 21 thrusters and hopped onto the rope. I touched the banner, slid down and dropped. No rep. What?! One hand was not fully under the black line on the descent. Rookie mistake that will never happen again. I got 2 climbs and my forearms began to struggle. In that moment I learned how to kip a legless rope climb. I finished the third (but really forth) ascent, hit my 15 thrusters, and walked back to the rope. One rep. I jumped back up and got so close to the top, hanging there, I was unable to kip high enough to touch the banner, energy wasted. I never did get that last rep. It wasn’t the finish I had hoped for, but I had, in fact, finished. We walked off the floor and all the judges had lined up in the hallway, they were cheering for us as we walked through for the last time.
I won’t be on the Crossfit Games update show, my picture won’t be on their Facebook or Instagram, and no one will talk about my finish this year, but I will always know that I moved from 38th place to 27the place. I finished what I set out to do this year, get through the weekend. This was, after all, my second Rx competition and my first 3 day event. I will get stronger this year, I will train harder, I will be more dedicated, and I hope that next year I will be able to walk back out on the regionals floor.