In a moment, it all can end.
Several years ago, Margaux Alvarez’s sister died in a car accident on an icy road.
“Losing my sister brought all of this into perspective for me,” Alvarez says. “I want to enjoy each moment to its fullest … I know I am so blessed to be here and I really want to do the best I can.”
Before her sister was taken suddenly, Alvarez was no slouch. In high school, she made all-state in volleyball and golf three times. Later, she joined the canoe paddling team in college and ran marathons.
Although she committed herself more fully than most, that intensity only grew after her sister passed away.
“The best memory I have of my sister is her passion for living,” she says.
Now, Alvarez carries that passion for her sister.
Two years ago, she did her first workout at Diablo CrossFit in Pleasant Hill, Calif. In short order, she competed in the 2011 Open, went to a Level 1 Seminar and volunteered for the 2011 NorCal Regional and the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games.
Although she had not been able to complete all five of the 2011 Open Workouts because of old injuries, the experience intrigued her.
“It was exciting and intriguing being a part of something bigger, (and) working alongside other people and cheering them on,” she says.
At the Games that summer, she decided she wanted to compete under the stadium lights. Working 12-hour days as a volunteer, she got to see the inner workings of the highest stage of CrossFit competition.
“It was amazing to look out and see the athletes at this high level of competition. It was great to be backstage and see how the whole process worked. After that, I knew that I wanted to be in that arena myself as a competitor. I had a new goal, and I knew it would be a long, hard road, but I was ready to do everything to make it,” she says.
Through the fall and winter of 2011, she learned the basics. Just before the 2012 Open, she finished her first year of CrossFit. Five Open Workouts later, she sat in 49th in NorCal and received an invitation to the Regional.
At the dusty, hot Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, she fought through events that challenged her new skills. She managed to survive the cuts of the weekend to make it to the final day, but then she reached an event that asked her to do something new: muscle-ups.
“I spent 17 minutes trying to get one muscle-up. Even though I could never press one out, I could see the Diablo CrossFit crowd (and knew) they were pulling for me. It was so emotional. I wanted to get one and even though I couldn’t get it, I know I put it all out there,” she says.
She took 17th in the event, and 17th overall at the 2012 NorCal Regional. Gymnastics movements like handstand push-ups, and technical lifts like the snatch had set her far back behind the other women. She finished Diane in 6:36 — 4:31 behind event winner Annie Sakamoto — and took 25th place. Lifting 115 lbs. on the Snatch Ladder, she dropped to 21st.
Over the next year, she directed her intense focus to the more technical movements. She got her muscle-ups and improved her skill in the Olympic lifts.
“If there was any area that we focused on this year, it was on her gymnastics and it still gives us chills when the workouts come out. She attacks these every day,” her coach Alex Cardenas says.
At the Regional, the Burpee Muscle-up Event didn’t do her any favors, but it didn’t hold her back either. Immediately after overhead squatting 180 lbs. three times (eighth), she went on to complete 18 burpee muscle-ups within the seven-minute time cap (14th).
Over the course of the 2013 NorCal Regional, Alvarez didn’t win a single event. She managed to hold off Sarah Hopping by just one point, avoiding tanking on any event, and getting better as the grueling weekend wore on. After taking seventh, eighth and 14th on Friday, she went on to take sixth and third on Saturday, and third and second on Sunday. She finished in third overall, one point behind second-ranked Ashley Carriveau and one point ahead of fourth-ranked Sarah Hopping.
Her coach attributes her success on the later events to their high-volume training.
“We believe in volume, so the more she does with variety, whether it's by met-cons, after runs, or just mixed with skills, the tally adds up by the end of the week. This is why on the third day at Regionals this year she was able to walk around with a smile on her face,” Cardenas says.
To prepare for the Games, Alvarez is working on her mental game.
“Since you don’t know what’s going to be in the Games … practicing that variety and focusing on the mental game is what transfers over. If there’s a workout with handstand push-ups and bar muscles-ups, that’s going to favor a gymnast, but I can’t focus on someone else’s plan and time — it’s directing my energy elsewhere,” she says.
In Carson, Calif., she plans to put her training to the test.
“This entire year has been work. It’s all about getting better physically, emotionally and mentally,” she says.