Talayna Fortunato, third-place finisher at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games, is once again returning to Carson, Calif., and has her eyes set on the ultimate prize: being named the Fittest on Earth. After a solid first-place finish at this year’s South East Regional, the 32-year-old former gymnast showed no weakness over the three-day competition. Second-place finisher, Anna Tunnicliffe, was 26 points behind Fortunato.
Maintaining her focus and consistency throughout each event, Fortunato says she felt expectations for a podium finish coming into this year’s Regional.
“I felt added pressure that I was expected to qualify for the Games and like it would be a large upset if I didn't,” Fortunato says. “The announcers at Regionals capitalized on my accomplishments last year, too, which added a little pressure. Thankfully, so far in my career, I do better with pressure.”
In fact, Fortunato seems to excel under pressure.
In 2011, she placed fourth at the South East Regional, missing out on a spot to the Games. This lit a fire that made her determined to make it in 2012, where she gave a solid performance staying at the top of the Leaderboard all weekend. It all came down to the final event in an intense race against Kristan Clever where the two went rep-for-rep to earn the final spot on the podium. Fortunato held onto the pull-up bar at the end of event, securing her third-place spot.
As Fortunato trains for the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games, she has made some changes which have her feeling more prepared than last year. Not only is she now a sponsored athlete, but she is also working with her own personal coach.
“I am now sponsored by WODSuperStore.com,” Fortunato says. “The owners are great people and even go to my gym. They've taken good care of a lot of my needs as an athlete.”
Fortunato also began working with Doug Katona of CrossFit Endurance this season. She wasn’t sure how much personalized programming would help her, but says it has made her a more efficient athlete.
“(Katona) is able to gauge workouts to the optimal weight for me and seems to know just what I can handle for an unbroken set and what will make me really reach to do a workout unbroken, thereby optimizing sessions,” Fortunato says.
“We are also working on a lot of posterior chain development that I need much more than the average athlete. He is very good at periodizing for individual athletes, especially once he gets to know them so that they peak at the right times and don't get overloaded too soon. He has also worked a lot on movement efficiency with me, which I felt I had in my gymnastics movements, but not in my lifting before, and it's really helped me to get through weighted workouts easier.”
In the weeks since Regionals and leading up to the Games, Fortunato says her programming has changed to involve a great deal more cardiovascular development, as well as running. In addition, she continues to do a strength progression for squatting and to work on odd skills and high-difficulty movements that might show up in California.
Fortunato has also been trying to mix her training up by finding others to train with as her schedule permits.
“Ninety-five percent of the time, I am forced to train alone, but on weekends, I try to get together with friends sometimes to train. It's hard because they have to agree to do my programming, but I really make extra effort leading into the Games to do that,” she says. “It's hard to find people who can push me, so sometimes we have to tweak things, but it's really helpful if I am chasing someone.”
When Fortunato is not at CrossFit Real Fitness training, she is working. With a career in physical therapy, she understands that mobility and recovery is just as vital to her training as anything else.
“As a PT, I'm constantly wondering about the long-term implications of all the pounding and loading I'm doing to my body. I have pretty much decided as of my first major injury, I'll call it quits, but that hasn't happened yet. I do a lot of mobility and get much more body work this year to keep my 32-year-old body going,” Fortunato says. “I feel it is harder for me now than it would have been at 23. I've pretty much conceded, though, that you can never guarantee you won't have arthritis even if you sit on the couch all day, which is what a lot of my patients have only ever done, so I'm going to enjoy what I do and go all out for my goals — within reason.”
This year’s CrossFit Games will have a lot of new faces, adding another element of the unknown to the competition. Going into the Games as a seasoned athlete might add additional pressure for some athletes, but not Fortunato.
“I'm really not concerned with any of the unknowns or with anyone's performance but my own for that matter. In the end, it's the only thing I have any control over so thinking about others is just wasted energy,” she says. “With that said, I love watching the (Regional) Leaderboard because it's just fun, but there are so many factors going into the later weeks like extra practice time, seeing what others have scored, the level of competition in your region, etc., that you can't get too caught up in it all. The slate is wiped clean after Regionals anyway. I think I was slated as like number 16 or 10 or something last year? What happens on game day is all that matters.”
Fortunato says she is expecting to see some surprises at the Games.
“It was not that heavy last year, and I'm really not sure if they'll increase the weight again or not. My best guess is we will see a strength event and an endurance event of some sort. Something different than in previous years, so I try to brainstorm what's left,” Fortunato says.
“I know there will be running. I also know there will be some traditional CrossFit as well as some surprise things like the obstacle course was. I know we'll be in the soccer stadium instead of the track, which has a lot more room so I imagine we'll be covering more ground. I also know they like to do things that are good for TV, so I doubt we'll see a 5k row unless they put us on actual water. Anything's possible. I go over this multiple times a day in my head, and it's about as rambling as what I just said was but worse!”
When all is said and done, Fortunato’s goal is simple, but clear. “My ultimate goal is to feel victorious in my efforts and leave the weekend with my head held high. Hopefully I can inspire a few people as I do that, too.”