Last weekend, Jessica Denney competed on an all-star team with the fittest woman on Earth, Annie Thorisdottir, at the UFC Fan Expo in Houston. How did this CrossFit newcomer find herself surrounded by the top CrossFit athletes at the UFC Expo?
Denney, who is only 20, has been CrossFitting for two years and distinguished herself in recent CrossFit competitions with her unbelievable strength. She has succeeded in joining the 200-pound club for every lift (except the snatch), including a 360-pound deadlift. She helped take her affiliate team, World Camp CrossFit of Albany, Ga., to the 2011 CrossFit Games where they finished in 18th place.
“I haven’t been really serious about CrossFit until this past year, so competing is still kind of new to me,” the former competitive dancer and cheerleader said. “I was asked to be Annie’s partner on the Wednesday before the competition and was iffy about going. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to compete with some of the big names in CrossFit, but I decided it would be a great opportunity to experience competition at this level.”
The duo finished in 6th, 3rd, and 11th places in the first three events on the first day. “I was disappointed with my performance in the first and third events,” Denney explained. “It was partly due to my nerves, but I also made mistakes that shouldn’t have happened to begin with, like failing to pace myself on the rowing in Event 1.”
Day 2 of the competition proved more successful as the team finished in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places in the final three events, ending the competition in 4th place overall. “I was hoping that we would end up in 2nd or 3rd place,” she said. “I was not pleased with 4th, and I felt as if I let everyone down, including Annie.”
Throughout the Expo, media described Denney as being “punished by the met con,” “(struggling) a bit with the hand-release push ups,” and having “inconsistencies.” Denney said it was difficult to hear. “I had a hard time reading those things about me. I texted my former coach, Kris Morrill, who reminded me that I was with the world’s best athletes and that the higher you go, the more mediocre you seem. I just have to shake it off. It is time for me to step up my game and prove to others, as well as to myself, that I’m not just the ‘rookie’ in this sport.”
Denney acknowledged that she has a strength bias, which has allowed her to make a name for herself in CrossFit. However, her experience at the Expo reminded her of a theme in CrossFit: “Our specialty is not specializing.” She said she recognizes the need to develop more technical skills – such as bar muscle-ups, which were featured at the Expo – and to work on pacing herself for longer met cons if she hopes to compete at the highest level. “’If better is possible, then good is not enough.’ I will live by this quote forever,” Denney said. “You can always get better in CrossFit, and there is always room and time for growing.”
Denney recently relocated to Atlanta and is working out at CrossFit Atlanta. There, she is preparing for the 2012 Open. She said she hopes to return to the Home Depot Center in July, competing as an individual this time around. She does four days on, one day off, and devotes Saturdays to lifting and longer met cons. Rudy Nielsen, owner of Outlaw CrossFit and coach of Games competitor Becky Conzelman, is doing her programming.
“Competing with such amazing athletes this past weekend was the greatest experience of my life,” Denney said. “It made me realize what I want with this sport and now has me wondering just how far I can go."