He just missed qualifying for the 2011 Games, but this firefighter and box owner has risen to the top among the North West men, and he’s enjoying the ride.
Just four years ago, a devastating back injury caused Yurii Hanson to wonder if he’d ever be able to deadlift 300 pounds, sprint 800 meters or simply even play with his young kids. Today, Hanson sits in the top spot among the male competitors from the North West – and his success is nothing short of miraculous.
“Going to the Games is a huge deal,” says the 35-year-old firefighter from Montana, who co-owns CrossFit Billings with his wife, Kerry. “To be in a situation where you feel like you have no hope and then to go and do something like this a few years later, it’s unbelievable. It’s a miracle.”
Back to Basics
In 2008, at around the same time when he and Kerry opened their box, Hanson slipped on some ice while battling a blaze and injured his back. The trauma exacerbated an already existing workout-induced injury he was just recovering from.
“It was the middle of December, and I went around the corner of the fire truck fast, slipped on some ice and fell,” he says. “I wound up with three bulging discs.”
He went to the doctor, but the news wasn’t good. “He basically said that my back was never going to get better without surgery,” Hanson says.
He decided to forgo surgery, but the pain was so intense that for a year and a half, he maxed out on daily doses of ibuprofen. “I was taking 2,400 mg a day,” says the longtime power lifter, who also played center/middle linebacker in football and wrestled in high school. “I remember thinking, ‘Geez, this is never going to get better. Will I ever be able to play with my kids?’”
Fortunately for his two children – Elisha, 7, and Eva, 5 – some divine intervention helped to rebuild his confidence and take him down the path of healing. “My mom invited me to a healing seminar at a church and a guy prayed for me,” Hanson says. “After that, things started happening. I started progressing and progressing, getting more and more confident.”
Through it all, Hanson continued to coach and train and, thanks to CrossFit, his back strengthened and his flexibility improved. By early 2011, Hanson felt great – so great, in fact, that his wife entered him in the 2011 Open.
“When she signed me up for the Open last year, I was a little shocked. But she believed in me more than I believed in me,” he says, noting that she and their two kids – with another due on June 18th – are his greatest strength and inspiration. “One of my biggest challenges has been learning to believe in myself.”
A Strong Background
As a firefighter for the past 10 years, Hanson has made it a priority to keep himself physically fit. Powerlifting fulfilled that drive for a while, but he realized it wasn’t enough in 2007, when he was battling a particularly bad fire at a local business.
“It was a recreation and sporting goods store,” he says. “I was on my third bottle of air and completely drained, and I thought, ‘Oh my word. Something has to change.’”
Though he was physically strong, he gassed quickly. That’s when a fellow firefighter introduced him to CrossFit.
“Weightlifting makes you strong for a short duration, but when you have to work for a longer period of time, that makes it more challenging,” he says. “That’s when CrossFit became real to me – the stamina, muscular endurance, all that good stuff that CrossFit does. Without a doubt, CrossFit has made me a better firefighter.”
He has introduced several of his fire department co-workers to the sport. In fact, two of his gym employees battle blazes, too. “We’re slowly but surely infiltrating our way into the fire department,” Hanson laughs. “I worked a shift on Sunday, and there were seven of us rocking and rolling, doing a WOD. It’s fun to see the guys and gals come in and do it.”
Road to the Games
Hanson isn’t new to the CrossFit Games circuit, but he really caught fans’ attention during the 2011 Open and Regionals. He breezed through the Open, landing in 45th place, and made it to the North West Regional, placing fifth overall.
“I felt like I had been run over by a truck,” he laughs. “But I remember saying to Kerry, ‘Gosh, when I can move again, I want to give this a shot next year!’”
His goal for this year’s Open was to simply improve on last year’s performance.
“I changed my training quite a bit from last year,” Hanson says, noting that in 2011, he had focused his programming on CrossFit Football-style workouts. “This year, I did more CrossFit stuff. So I was really hoping to come in and finish better than last year.”
His strategy worked. He finished the 2012 Open in seventh place in the North West, attempting each workout except 12.1 only once.
“I was going to do all of them twice,” Hanson says. “But my training partner said, ‘What’s your stinking problem? Getting into the top 60 is all that matters, man.’ That was a real turning point for me. I decided to have more fun with it as opposed to getting all crazy about the scores. I just went out and did it, and didn’t go back and try to better it. I thought, ‘It is what it is.”
At the North West Regional in Puyallup, Wash., Hanson’s quiet consistency propelled him to the top. Though he didn’t put up the big scores like some of his competitors, he performed solidly through all six workouts, giving him 33 points overall – enough to beat out Austin Stack and Kevin Simons for the No. 1 spot.
Hanson finished Diane in 2:27. “I ended it where I wanted to be,” he says.
And he completed the row, pistol, hang clean workout in 14:04. “I was second off the rower onto the pistols, but then I was second to last to the cleans,” he says. “The pistols just melted down. I was hoping to finish higher, though I made up some ground with the cleans.”
He came in 12th in the dumbbell snatch/sprint workout, but he blazed back strong in the squat, pull-up, shoulder-to-overhead combo, finishing in first place. “I’m a better squatter than I am a puller,” says the guy with a 405-pound back squat. “I was happy to see a workout with squats, and I actually wished there had been some heavier ones.”
After a solid snatch ladder performance, successfully heaving 235 pounds overhead and adding 18 double-unders, he went into the final workout with a little trepidation. Why? In 2011’s North West Regional, he was tied for third place going into the last workout – but then he “didn’t have the salt to keep it together,” Hanson recalls. “I knew what that heartbreak felt like.”
He wasn’t going to let it happen again.
So he pushed himself through the deadlifts, muscle-ups, wall balls, toes-to-bars, farmer carry, burpee box jumps and muscle-ups, finishing in sixth place. But his 16:33 performance was enough to earn him a trip to the Games.
To prep for the Games, Hanson says he’s going to gradually increase the number of daily workouts, incorporating strength training, met-cons and endurance work during these next few weeks. His training partners – Chris Moore and Travis Norby, who are also firefighters – provide the push he needs according to Hanson.
“But everything else is gravy now,” he says. “To have made it this far is huge. Now, it’s just back to having fun.”
His goal for the 2012 Games: “I want to go and not have an ounce of energy left after each workout,” he says. “This has been a crazy ride. But I just want to have a blast!”
And there’s no doubt he will.