Archive | September, 2013

Seeing Animals for time: Safari

Madikwe Games Reserve

When I first got invited to go to South Africa with a group of CrossFitters and then go on a four day safari, I thought, this absolutely never going to happen. I told my manager about it, figured it was a few months down the road, and that it was something that was just ‘too perfect, and too absolutely crazy’ to be real. Next thing I find out, is that it’s only in a few weeks and is very real! Before I knew it I was giving out information for my passport so that Reebok South Africa to help bring 6 CrossFit Games athletes to explore and make a connection with the growing CrossFit community.

Apparently, a ‘Safari’ is not each individual jeep ride. The entire trip is called a Safari, so saying, “we saw zebras on last night’s safari,” doesn’t make any sense. Also I learned that locals gave us entertained smiles when they’d ask us where we were going when our faces lit up! They’d ask us what ‘Games Reserve’ we were going, and for how long, despite the fact that the ‘safari’ term is so touristy. From Johannesburg, we drove four hours to the North West country border between South Africa and Botswana called Makinwe. Our playground would soon be 289 square miles of savannah, and after seven 3-hour tours we would eventually see and drive through less than half of it.

At first we had a bucket list of animals that we wanted to see, and thought it was going to be hard to hunt for each one. However, on our first ride-along we were less than a mile away from our lodge when we saw a giraffe right next to the path, eating branches! We drilled our tour-guide, Cornelius, for about 10 minutes while we sat back and made videos of our first experience. He is a young, but experienced guide that lives on the reservation and showed us immediately that there was barely anything we could ask him that he didn’t know the answer to, whether it was climate and weather questions to mating to teaching us how to track and identify the creatures by their footprints.

Later, we would find out that we saw so many of each animal in their natural habitat that it would be boring when we saw the ‘easy to find’ ones! I was surprised the wild animals weren’t afraid of our massive jeep full of humans and staring eyes… but they are so used to them that most just carried on what they were doing. Within the very first trip we crossed off ‘dazzles of zebra’ (that’s what they’re called because when all together, very difficult to pick them apart from each other), bachelor groups of giraffes, and plenty of elephants. We learned there are 900 elephants at the park, 2,000 zebras, and only 60 lions.

Each day, we were always lucky enough to find the lions! The longest we sat and watched them was about an hour, just staring in shock at the huge pride, led by the two males that lead all the females in the territory. We learned lions only live to be about 11 years old, and the males were 10, with scars all over their faces and eyes having to fight off other lions for dominance over the years. The two lionesses were sisters and had four little cubs with her that would pounce and act curious, and practice their growl and roaaaaarrrrrr with deep commanding calls! As we found the same pride in different spots over and over, they never minded us getting close enough for us to question our safety and not to mention sanity. We turned the open-top jeep off and let the headlights beam into their haven!

Each adventure involved all of us bundled in our ‘lucky’ assigned seats for where we sat when we saw our favorite animals easiest. Annie, Fredrik and Marcus in the back, Daniel Spencer and I in the middle, and the gym owners that set this whole trip up, Jillian and Lisa were in front. We cheered on Marcus at night when he would sit up front with Cornelius and shine the light beam around looking for nocturnal moving animals as we sped through the dark. We drove slowly through some of the thicker areas, and faster through what we called, ‘the kill zones’, which were flat plains that were easier to spot animals from a long distance away. Annie and I would always remind them we wanted to see a birth, and ask questions about which mated for life and were looking for African animal love stories. Of course the boys joked around about being in the bush, and really wanted to see a kill.

There are few times I’ve met a person passionate enough about their job that I think their love for it over-takes the need for financial support. I like to seek-out greatness from any aspect, whether it’s a sushi chef, pediatrician, or in this case, our ranger, that has a genuine magnetic interest that draws you in closer to see it through their eyes. He told us excitedly one night that he had a surprise for us, and that we had to hurry to get to the site before sun-down in hopes that we could catch his favorite animal in the entire park. As we raced past big groups of wildebeasts, giraffes and elephants, we knew that we weren’t messing around! Finally when we got to a mountainous corner of the site, he stopped to tell us about one of the most endangered species in Africa, the wild dogs. We crept closer, to found 7 adults and 6 two-month old puppies, all ripping away at a Kudu carcass they had killed that morning. They looked like they were splash painted different colors with big huge round ears and moved around constantly frolicking and playing with each other. From as close as 20 feet away, amazed at the energy, and listened to stories of their trials the pregnancy that brought the pups to this new territory.

Cornelius would tell us about the normal behavior for the herds, and the jobs of the alpha male and alpha female in each species, which was surprisingly all different and depended on dominance, spreading genes, and leading the group to find food. All based on research, books he showed us, and close observation of getting to know the specific packs and family history of relationships the animals had with each other. By the end, most of us were agreeing that if we weren’t CrossFit coaches, and into the fitness industry, this would be the second coolest job!

monkeybusiness

During the day we swam in the pool, watched the elephants drink from the water-hole right outside our patio of the lodge. We maintained a “Real-World” like feel as we were all strangers and barely acquaintances before we started this week long adventure and ended up being able to constantly laugh and joke around! We trained during the afternoon with body-weight exercises like partner wheel barrow workouts with pushups, sit-ups and air squats. One night we did 100 hand stand pushups for time in the dark, after making bets and dares and puffing out our chests, as we’re so good at doing. I’m sure the lodge staff thought we were crazy as we would do gymnastics poses they’d never seen for pictures and climb to the top of giant trees.

Big take-away from this trip for me was how much being outdoors is good for your soul! Growing up in Colorado I had plenty of opportunity for that, and we took advantage of the Rocky Mountains. Personally as a Cross-Fitter who’s always trying to get an edge, an upper hand, I often lock myself in a gym for days, weeks on end with little appreciation outside our concrete jungle of Los Angeles. I’m fully convinced that trying new sports and connecting with nature is crucial for our reflection and recovery, and pursuit of being the most physically and mentally prepared for the unknown.

“Every morning an impala wakes up knowing that it must outrun the fastest lion if it wants to stay alive. Every morning a lion wakes up knowing that it must outrun the slowest impala or it will starve. It makes no difference if you are a lion or an impala, when the sun comes up in Africa you must wake up running.”
-anonymous,  Zambia

“Africa is leslderness than a repository of primary and fundamental values, and less a barbaric land than an unfamiliar voice”   ~Beryl Markham, “West with the Night”

CrossFit in South Africa


From the time we entered the competition stage that was decked out in Reebok flags and banners, equipment, pull-up rigs, and barbells neatly aligned everywhere, I knew this was going to be different from what I expected. Not that I expected it to be out in the wilderness with tree branches for pull-ups or anything- but I wasn’t ready for this kind of hype in South Africa. Considering their entire continent only gets 1 representative male and female athlete, and one team, I just figured that gyms were far and few between and that the participation wasn’t high compared to the United States.

The small arena was in the back of a humongous shopping center and had waterfalls and big buildings on one side, and a pond backyard on the other. I immediately took note of the athletes warming up and how their bodies were typical of the CrossFitter type, strong shoulders, defined arms, lean torso, huge quads… and thought, ‘Man, they’re making it happen all the way out here!’ Since the teams were made up of 3 boys and 1 girl, it probably made it easier to find people that could do the recommended weights and movements, considering there are less women that feel confident competing. They had everyone in the same division doing moderate weights and even high skill movements like bar muscle-ups! I was impressed with the females that would explain to me that it was their first time competing, and I wouldn’t have even been able to tell! A big group of members from a gym were telling us that Africa doesn’t receive ESPN 1 or 2, so during Regionals and the Games, they would have entire gyms meet up and watch every single live-stream event. They were that interested, and were dying to follow along– Now that’s dedication!

What most people probably don’t know, is that this was a really random group of competitors Reebok put together and invited to compete. Even though some of us had met briefly before, we were all pretty much strangers. Spencer Hendel ended up sitting next to me on our 15 hour flight… so we got to know each other! All Games athletes, Annie Thorisdottir, 2011 and 2012 CrossFit Games Champion, was with her boyfriend Frederik Aegidius from Europe, Daniel Petro from South Atlantic, and Marcus Hendren from the North Central region.  Carla Nuna de Costa is the only female that qualified to the Games from Africa this year, and of course she welcomed us with open arms, which is apparently what everyone does here in “S’Africa” because they want to make sure you’re enjoying their country. We instantly all meshed the day before competing, training at CrossFit Platinum together. Since then, it seems like all we do is tell jokes, laugh and make fun of each other as if we’ve known each other for months, rather than days.

Over the intercom, the announcers reminded the crowd that “The International Team has competed at the highest level.” We were more of a show-case team where we had 6 athletes instead of 4, and as Annie is coming back from an injury, she was careful not to participate in the wods she thought would bother it, so sometimes we only had 5. We were training just as hard together as if we could have actually won prizes, and the athletes were trying their hardest to battle! We received sets of shirts from ReebokSA that had the competition logo with our last names. “AGER” was written down the sides and across the back, and it reminded me of a uniform, my first official CrossFit gear as an individual, pretty special. At the end of the day we handed out the check, and were shaking hands as the team members climbed up to the podium.

After that, Daniel and Spencer decided they wanted to do some public strength training. As they started warming up snatch, the crowd that was on their way out circled around them very close, as they went up. They both were hitting numbers easier than usual, and the crowd was getting so excited as they got closer and closer to maxing out their very impressive 1 rep maxes. As the crowd was calculating up the kilos and converting them back and forth into pounds, the crowd went nuts as Spencer snatched 286 lbs easily, then put it on his back and went for a snatch balance where he stayed at the bottom for a while, and then threw the bar up into the air. I think that might have been some people’s favorite part of the weekend!

Getting to know the athletes and fans from the Big 5 Showdown was the best part of the weekend. The Reebok crew was more than gracious, and we felt so taken care of. Whether I was on stage competing, signing Olympic Lifting shoes, or smiling for pictures, I think the thought entered my head every 10 minutes…. ‘Why me? Why us…? How on earth did I get this opportunity to travel to a country I probably never would have gotten to see on a whim and get invited to compete with the highly talented and accomplished athletes I’ve always wanted to meet?’

Iceland Annie and Ager

Marcus said it right as we were all admiring in disbelief that we were in actually in South Africa…. doing what we all love.

“Sooooo…. I guess that CrossFit thing paid off!”

Yea… you could say that.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain ~

 

Life Experience at Summer Crush


The workouts of the Summer Crush are always very creative and exciting for the spectators to watch. It was a fun event, but I had a big take-away from this weekend that sticks in my brain that actually had nothing to do with competing for the podium. By the end of the weekend I was touched, and reminded why… we train this hard. Even though we set out to becoming physically fit, we dig up impressive lessons by becoming mentally stronger.

Head to head
I think the driving force behind the ‘tournament style’ competition they held where we faced and battled against just one individual at a time was because they wanted to rile up the crowds. Imagine this, there’s a heat full of 8 women in the “semi-finals”, doing barbell workouts facing each other. The pressure that’s put to ‘pick up the bar’ is entirely different than just ‘doing your best.’ Out of 8 women, if the person that gets 1st, is paired up with the girl that finishes 2nd, that 2nd place athlete still gets knocked out of the competition bracket and is done for the day because they didn’t beat their match-up! There was one that sticks out to me that was extremely stressful because we were neck and neck the entire time. At the end, I only finished 1 and a half reps in front of her, after she had been slightly setting the pace the entire workout. The whole crowd was going insane, and since she was local a lot of them were standing, cheering both of us on!

As the top ranked seeds were matched up with the lowest seeds, my first two partners later told me that it was their first RX competition ever, and that they were so happy they got a chance to go as fast as they could and show what they were made of!


There were 1000 athletes competing in this one competition. Spectators filled the stands of a hockey arena and watched as the 3-person girl teams and 3-person boy teams went at the same times as the masters, amateur individuals, and professional individual divisions competed. As a pro athlete, I got to watch a lot of my friends go throughout the day. Some competed Friday, and set the bar for the scores and times to shoot for in the workouts and then got a day off Saturday. Then some competed Saturday and got a chance to beat Saturday’s times and then make it to Sunday where the top 32 of each division got seperated into brackets depending on how they stacked up.

As I continued to make it through the backets to the end of Sunday, I found myself in the semi-finals, the “final four” professional women…. against 2013 CrossFit Games’ 6th Fittest, Jenn Jones. It was a workout with rowing, deficit parallette Hand-stand Pushups, and Over-Head Squats at 115 lbs.  She beat me by a rather large margin, and went on to compete in the finals and win overall, as Summer Crush Games brought out one of my biggest weaknesses. There’s not much I could do when my body was pushed to the max after TEN workouts over the course of one weekend, and I was pushing myself near failure on every single HSPU.  I was happy to finish the long first round, do all 12 OverHead Squats unbroken, and run to the rower again as the time-cap buzzed. When I got interviewed by Fox Sports right after that, they kept asking me if it was something I was going to start implementing into my training. I laughed! I said this is no surprise, I work on these every single week for the last year, because it’s something that just deserves a lot of my training time, is hard work, and I can always improve on.  Assuming an athlete ‘wasn’t prepared’ is interesting…. I would say I over-prepared myself for knowing how they would feel in a big competition setting, but if every movement came easily– let’s face it, this sport would be pretty boring!

What Would Andrea Do?
My favorite part of the day was when these two young girls came up to me and all my friends that were sitting with our coach, and watching on Saturday. I was actually listening to see if any of the top girls would beat my score from the previous day, curiously watching as they finished. The two ‘fans’ were over-whelming with Oly shoes in their hands, and sharpies, and asking if I’d sign the tip of their Adipowers. I am always thrilled to be a little reminder for them to work hard when they look down during strength training. But they also had these matching shirts on, and one in their hands as they were handing me everything they said, “and this is for you… look at what it says!” On the front it had a cool logo of their box in a big revolving circle. Across the back it read, ‘WWAD’ and they told me excitedly that it meant, “What would Andrea Do.”

I will never get used to this platform. God deserves the biggest platform possible. Remembering the days I wore ‘WWJD’, “What would Jesus Do?” bracelets for summers on end, I realized how much of a responsibility I have to spread positivity.

I can’t imagine a day when I’ve accepted it as normal to sign autographs and take pictures and get authentically hugged by strangers that have tears in their eyes that represent… hope… confidence… and change.   I am reminded constantly that fit, strong, women can inspire so many to push through their own limitations to find they are capable of anything.  I think of myself as a spiritually advancing project who on pace grows physically stronger,  but only by my dedication to following Christ and to Glorify God. I truly rejoice  for the opportunity He gave me to touch people’s lives daily, even if it’s something as insignificant as a picture, a gesture, a conversation, a friendship, I know it goes a long way.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man.”
Colassians 3:23