One thing can be said for athletes in the South East Region this year – they are back, training smarter and more focused, having learned from previous experiences.
Whether it’s working with specialty coaches, hammering away at weaknesses that manifested themselves in 2011, or otherwise realizing that improved performance is attainable, the South East is ready for the 2012 season in a big way.
The six individual athletes who represented the region at the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games – Jared Davis, Chase Daniels, Brandon Phillips, Leah Polaski, Cheryl Nasso, and Shana Alverson – know their competition is hungry and that the depth in the South East grows as new athletes migrate south.
“JD” or "Deuce," as Davis is known to friends, won the men’s Regional and immediately started training his weaknesses after an unsatisfying 22nd place finish at the Games. “Any little weakness,” he said, “gymnastics, grip strength, raw power.”
He also is in good company this year in hiring specific coaches to help turn weaknesses into strengths. Justin Bergh, ownver of CrossFit Southside is his overall coach, Trey Southwood his Olympic lifting coach, and a friend who is currently studying to be a physical therapist is coaching him in mobility.
The region’s top qualifier in 2011, Polaski enlisted help on her attack of weaknesses after a 30th place finish in California. “What can I say, I love to met con … so (weaknesses) took a backseat when I did my own programming. That had to change.”
The former collegiate soccer player now counts on coaches Mike Giardina and Ken Gall at CrossFit Atlanta for programming and has boosted focus on strength and Olympic lifting technique, as has Cheryl Nasso. Looking to make it back to the Games and improve on her 40th-place finish, Nasso said she mainly relies on crossfit.com for her programming, but recently started working with a lifting coach.
“I think anybody can be good at CrossFit,” Nasso said. “It is just about putting in the skill work.”
After finishing 6th in the Open, third at the Regional and 31st at the Games in 2011, Brandon Phillips is going after a fourth trip to California with his same mentality. "I just look at the Open as part of training, it's just another day in the gym. What I look forward to is the Regional and the Games."
New names to watch on the men’s side will be AJ Moore, a favorite transplant from the Mid-Atlantic Region, and Chris Harris, who will compete as an individual after helping the World Camp CrossFit team to an 18th place at the Games. A noticeable exit from the region is Russell Berger formerly of CrossFit Tuscaloosa who landed at CrossFit Roots in Boulder, Colo.
New on the women’s side is Jaime Gold, who, in less than six months, went from her first CrossFit workout to a 2nd-place finish in the Central East Regional and a 26th place at the 2011 Games.
Gold, a former gymnast who now trains at CrossFit Affliction in Fort Lauderdale, FL, says she is excited to be competing with such a talented group of women. “I view my competition as everyone because you never know what is going to get pulled out of the hopper. It could be anyone’s workout!”
After finishing 4th and 5th, respectively, at the 2011 Regional, Taylana Fortunato and Sarabeth Phillips have some fierce hunger. “It felt like ‘V for Vendetta’ ever since,” said Fortunato, a former collegiate gymnast, heptathlete, and pole vaulter who trains out of CrossFit Real Fitness in Naples, Fla. “I knew I had the ability to do those things, and I’ve been training smarter and harder with an actual goal this time.”
Phillips also felt she should have done better. “I started training immediately when I got home,” she said. “I was on fire to be better and to not let that disappointment happen again. I knew I could have made it to the Games, but I let it slip through my fingers.”
The former gymnast attends nursing school and spent her summer and fall competing in competitions local to her CrossFit Tuscaloosa in preparation for this year’s Open. “Blood, sweat, tears and all. I know it is going to take all that I’ve got to make it, and I know that I have what it takes,” she said.
Also on the watch list this season: Jessa Lemoine, Ami Wight, Emily Bridgers and Fortune Santos, who at 41, hopes to give it another run at the Regional after having to drop out last year due to a hand injury.
CrossFit Hardcore, who launched from a regional win to 10th at the Games, will have to hold off Games qualifiers CrossFit Vida Brickell and World Camp CrossFit.
“We've been getting ready for this time of year since CrossFit New England threw up the final wall ball in last years Games,” said Vida Brickell’s Sergio Garcia. “We would love to have that same feeling one day.”
Stiff competition will come from CrossFit Atlanta, the team that finished 4th at Regionals, and who welcomes Jessica Denney – a member of World Camp CrossFit’s team that went to the Games last year. “Although my ultimate goal is to become a highly competitive individual athlete at the CrossFit Games, this year there is a tremendous opportunity to compete with the CrossFit Atlanta team,” she said.
Masters athletes pulled in the highest finishes for the South East at the Games. The region’s sole champion across all divisions was Steve Anderson (55-59) of CrossFit Paragon in Georgia. Despite dealing with a partially torn labrum, Anderson is intent on repeating.
“My training has been awesome,” he said. “Last year was my first experience and I was a little lost on how to train and what to expect. Being more connected with the CrossFit community has been a big help because, before, I worked out at LA Fitness.”
Ron Ortiz of The Palm Beachers and Bryan Shockley, owner of CrossFit Pulse in McDonough, Ga., want to better their third and fifth place finishes in the 45-50 age group. “Last year I was happy to be there and blessed to come in third place,” Ortiz said. “This year I am going in one year older and looking to make my weaknesses more of my strengths and my strengths a whole lot stronger.”
In the 50-54 age bracket, Charlie Clendening, 10th in 2011, and Keith McGuire, 13th, want to be top five. But they know it will only get more competitive.
“I definitely think my age bracket will be more difficult to compete in year after year,” McGuire said. “You can see the popularity in CrossFit growing exponentially ... Hopefully, one day the brackets will be big enough to compete through a Regional venue just like the younger athletes.”
Gina Galiano, who finished sixth at the Games in the 45-50 age group, also said she expects the field to be more fierce this year: “I believe we'll see more and more athletes coming out of the woodwork simply due to the increased popularity with CrossFit with its association with Reebok and visibility on ESPN.”
Also watch for Gabriele Schlicht, who was third at the Games in 50-55 age group, and Debra McMahon, who was 17th.
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