Rope climbs and a few no-reps. That’s what made the difference when the Team Games qualifiers were announced at the South Regional back in May.
At least, that’s what made the difference for BackCountry CrossFit.
The team had started the weekend strong, with a third place finish on the first workout, two eighth place finishes, and a tie for sixth place on the second workout. But Event 5—20 rope climbs, 40-calorie row, and 60 snatches (95/135 pounds) per teammate—ended with BackCountry in 20th place out of 30 teams.
When they returned to the competition floor for the final event, they had one job: forget what happened in the last event and give this everything they had. 144 handstand pushups, 144-foot walking lunges with the sandbag worm over their shoulders. They took third place.
“Some teams can get hit and then not be able to get back up,” said Josh Bednorz, one of the team members and a full-time coach at BackCountry CrossFit, “but we did.”
They got back up. And the announcers took notice, one of them wondering exactly what the team’s coach had said to energize them for the last workout of the day.
The answer? Focus on what you can control. You can’t change what’s already happened so let it go.
But when final scores were announced and BackCountry saw the last slot for the 2018 CrossFit Games go to CrossFit Omnia, letting it go became harder than before.
“The following week was a constant replay of what could I have done different to gain the 12 points,” Leisa Redmon said.
“We believed so hard and we worked so hard,” Kelly Bruehl said. “We just had to take that personal responsibility of we bombed it on one workout.”
The BackCountry team didn’t start training together until four weeks before Regionals. Leisa, who just joined the gym last year after moving to Colorado, didn’t sign up for the Open until the day before it started. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to compete again, yet. Part of her still wanted to take a year off, work on enjoying CrossFit again. But she’d been spotted.
Ray Hawkins knew that he wanted to compete on a team this year and he wanted to compete with Josh. Kelly was already on board to join, but they needed another woman.
“Who else do we have?” Ray remembers Josh asking.
“We’ve got that girl in the back over there,” Ray replied. That girl in the back was Leisa.
Last fall, Josh and Leisa did the 307 Throwdown in Wyoming with two other BackCountry CrossFitters.
“Loved it,” Josh said. “Woke up, fished in the morning, went and competed and did pretty good.”
Afterward, he told Leisa that he liked to work out with friends: “Come work out with us. Be a friend.”
That was the beginning.
When the BackCountry team was decided for Regionals, they put together a spreadsheet with everyone’s schedule to figure out training times. The spreadsheet was abandoned almost right away. With conflicting work and life and family schedules, training times were determined on a day-by-day basis. Finish one session, plan the next.
The fact that they did as well as they did at Regionals—executing the plans their coach gave them for each workout, minus one—felt like a miracle.
“A lot of teams that you compete against, it was very obvious that that dynamic had been in play for months, if not years,” Leisa said.
Somehow, four weeks worked for BackCountry.
“We decided that if this is something we were going to do, we were going to go at it with everything we had,” said Josh.
And that mentality was in play for each and every event the entire weekend of Regionals.
In the last event, BackCountry was the second team to finish the handstand pushups. They sprinted across the floor, lofted the worm to their shoulders, and started lunging down the floor. Omnia followed close behind, but didn’t pass them until BackCountry was given a no-rep, forcing them to drop the worm back to the floor and pick it up again. BackCountry was given a total of two no-reps, but still finished strong in third place. Then they just breathed, waited for the other teams to finish and the final announcement to be made.
They took sixth place. They didn’t qualify for the Games or for the trip to Madison, and they didn’t get any Regionals winner T-shirts. They returned to Colorado, Josh happy with how they’d done compared to past BackCountry teams, the rest of them disappointed and trying to find the motivation to keep training.
Another four weeks. Four weeks before CrossFit Games check-in, the members of BackCountry Black found an email in their inboxes from their coach. It was a forwarded message from CrossFit HQ telling them to eat, sleep, and train as if they were going to the Games. But this is not an invitation.
By this time, Kelly and her family had moved to Wisconsin and were settling into a new life. Everyone else was training, but individually, following BackCountry’s program. Josh, Ray, and Liesa started training together again.
One week later, three weeks before the Games, another email came asking for everyone’s clothing sizes. But this is not an invitation to the Games.
Another week, two weeks before the Games, Josh and Kelly were pulled for drug testing.
“That was the moment we’re like, ‘Wait a second,’” Kelly said, “because you don’t want to be excited and then have it taken away again.”
Every morning, Leisa and Josh would be at BackCountry and ask each other if they’d gotten an email invite.
No, did you?
We’ll probably get one tomorrow.
We’ll probably get one this weekend.
Josh’s Apple watch became a torture device. Every time a new email came in that wasn’t an invitation, the suspense multiplied.
One day, Ray and Leisa had just finished a training session and sat down, sweat-soaked, to recover. All of the sudden, Leisa jumped up.
“We got an invite!”
Texts started flying between the team members here and Kelly in Wisconsin.
BackCountry took the place of Salt Lake City CF Gold, which was disqualified after Lauren Shawver failed her drug test (Shawver posted on Instagram that her use of the banned substance Ostarine was unintentional). Shortly after the official invite, Kelly flew out to Denver to train in person with the rest of the team.
“We picked up where we left off,” Josh said. “I don’t even think we skipped a beat.”
BackCountry is savoring this trip to the Games. Due to life circumstances and cross-country moves, this will probably be the only time this team—Ray, Josh, Kelly, Leisa—competes together at this level. But they’re not just there to have a good time.
Before the clock starts, they’ll be in the back, Josh pacing, Ray fiddling with things, Kelly taking multiple nervous trips to the bathroom, Leisa box breathing: four counts in, four counts out. And when the clock starts, they’re going to give it everything they’ve got.
“I want to put the experience of not making it and then making it, and all of that—that’s done,” Kelly said. “Now, we’re on the board. We’re going.”
The Colorado Guide to the 2018 CrossFit Games