Anxious for the Open

Published on Sun, 2014-02-09 15:00
Lisa Zane

"If you can picture what an Olympic gold medalist feels like, or the Super Bowl champs when the entire crowd is cheering them on—that’s what it feels like at FirePower."

Photos by Andrea Savard

For Andrew and Janna Cooksley, CrossFit is all about family. And this family is anxiously awaiting the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Open.

About the Cooksleys

The couple, who will be celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary in October, were pulled into CrossFit reluctantly. Now they are active members of Reebok CrossFit FirePower in Milton, Ontario, Canada.

But this story isn’t just a CrossFit story. Andrew and Janna met by chance 22 years ago while they were on holiday in England. Andrew—an Aussie—and Janna—a Canadian—married and lived in Australia for eight years, then moved to Canada in 2002 to be closer to Janna’s family.

Happy in Canada, only one thing was missing. A child. They wanted one, but couldn’t have one.

“It became clear after awhile being married that (having a child) wasn’t going to happen for us the usual way,” Janna said. “So we looked into the aspects of adoption.”  

They hired an adoption broker, but soon after, the company went bankrupt. To boot, the agency ran off with their money and the money of many other couples in the middle of the adoption process.

Refusing to give up, they decided to band together with the remaining agency employees and adoptive families to restructure the business. One of those other couples was Shawn and Alicia Smith.

Enter CrossFit

The Cooksleys and Smiths grew close. Since they already lived near each other in Milton, they became a support for one another. When the Smiths joined Reebok CrossFit FirePower, Andrew had questions.

“I didn’t know anything about it, so I basically asked them what it was all about,” Andrew recalled. “We … met them for coffee and they explained it to me.”

And that was all it took.

“I started in 2011 and I fell in love with it,” he said.

For Andrew, CrossFit was not only an outlet, but also a confidence builder.

“If you can picture what an Olympic gold medalist feels like, or the Super Bowl champs when the entire crowd is cheering them on—that’s what it feels like at FirePower,” he said.

Owner of FirePower, Andrea Savard, said Andrew immediately made an impression on the coaches and community.

“He called himself the ‘old, out-of-shape bloke,’” she said. “And with a thick Australian accent, (he) earned the nickname, ‘Aussie.’ He was humble, excited and eager to learn.”

While Andrew had immediate enthusiasm for CrossFit, Janna drug her heels.

“(Andrew) always said, ‘I wish my wife would come,’ but we never saw any sight of her,” Savard said.

“I’ve never been an active person,” Janna said. “I’m not athletic at all.”

But Andrew had an idea: get Janna to the gym to see how great it was. She would see it’s an encouraging environment and maybe she’d give it a try. In February of 2012, he asked her to watch him complete an Open workout.

During the weekly “Friday Night Lights” event, where members gather to do the Open workout and cheer on competitors, Andrew proudly walked his wife into the gym.

“About three minutes before his heat started, he dragged me over to meet Janna,” Savard remembered. “She was hiding in the back of the crowd with her head down. ‘I don’t belong here,’ she told me.”

But that night, Janna changed her mind. After watching Andrew compete, she joined the foundations classes at FirePower.

“She became the most involved (CrossFit athlete) inside our walls and on Facebook,” Savard said.

“It took a lot of courage to just go in the door for the first Foundations class,” Janna said. “I’ve always been an overweight person and being someone who’s not athletic, I didn’t trust that my body could do a lot of what I saw them doing in the Open.”

After attending regularly, she noticed she was getting stronger, had more stamina and could simply do more than she could before.

“Before, I didn’t believe I could do stuff like weightlifting, push-ups and sit-ups,” she said. “Now, I can trust my body and I know what it can do.”

Looking ahead

The close-knit community at Reebok CrossFit FirePower is what keeps the Cooksleys coming back.

“They’re just great people to hang out with,” Andrew said.

“’Family’ is a word I would definitely use,” Janna added. “I’ve always been a very shy person, but when I walk into the gym, everyone is like, ‘Hey, how are you doing? It’s good to see you.’ That’s totally new for me.”

Andrew, who has participated in two Open competitions so far, remembers the support he received as he tried to get his first toes-to-bar during Open Workout 12.3. Janna said she had a similar experience when she PR’d her clean and jerk on 13.4.

And as this year’s Open approaches, both are nervous and excited. Not only for the workouts to be announced, but after waiting six years, the Cooksleys will be adopting a son. A 1-year-old boy born in Ethiopia name Yonata will be joining their family in March.

“It’s been a long, difficult road,” Janna said. “After so long, and being a couple for 22 years, to have someone else in the mix is going to be really interesting.”

The Cooksleys are set to win this Open. On the scoreboard or off.