Candace Hester didn’t think she would compete as an individual this year. Sure, the CrossFit Oakland badass is a three-time Games veteran, with an 11th place finish at the 2008 CrossFit Games in Aromas, but the Games were different back then.
Most recently, she competed with the Oakland team, in 2010, the Games inaugural year at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., finishing 18th. Last year, Hester did not progress past Regionals, coming in sixth, three places out of a ticket to the Games. Before the Open even started, team competition was on her mind.
Six months later, Hester would be standing on the NorCal podium with Jenny LaBaw and Annie Sakamoto. She is on her way to the Games as an individual for the third time. The Games have changed considerably since she first stepped onto the competition field in Aromas, and even though she was a team competitor in 2010, Hester knows she will be in for a shock at the size of the big show now.
In January 2012, as the start of the Open and the CrossFit Games competition season loomed large, two events took place that set Hester’s mind on the path to the Home Depot Center. Her gym, CrossFit Oakland, hosted a seminar by the gymnastics coach and former Spanish national team member Carl Paoli. Paoli’s seminar opened Hester’s eyes to her own potential. Paoli was impressed with Hester’s strength and ability and told her so.
“When you train at one affiliate, that place starts to form how you think of yourself,” Hester says.
In her case, she did not think of herself as strong. While this may come as a shock to the rest of the CrossFit community, Hester is quick to point out that she trains with Tamara Holmes, the 2009 CrossFit Games max snatch winner, and Jo Ann Aita who has a 347-pound deadlift at 112 pounds bodyweight, so her perception of strength is very relative.
The second turning point encouraging Hester to go down the individual path was a local CrossFit throwdown in San Francisco. Hester placed fourth, but the three women ahead of her were some of NorCal’s very best. Together with Paoli’s compliments, that placing proved to Hester that she could compete at a higher level.
The NorCal Region has a deservedly tough reputation and athletes like Hester are a large part of that reputation. Hester swam competitively in high school, but transitioned to rugby in college. Rugby was her main passion in life and that, coupled with her inherent athletic ability, took her to the edge of the U.S. National Team.
Then came a fateful day in 2007. A friend of Hester’s was spending the day in Santa Cruz and she came across a surprisingly strong and fit looking woman. Hester’s friend asked what the woman did to look so strong. CrossFit was the answer, and the friend mentioned it to Hester. At the time, Hester was looking for something that might take her rugby play to the next level.
CrossFit Oakland was the first affiliate Hester went to 5 years ago and she has been a member ever since. While her initial experience with CrossFit was as a strength and conditioning program for rugby, Hester came to love it. She no longer plays rugby.
In the wake of qualifying for the Games this July, Mike Minium, owner of CrossFit Oakland, has taken charge of Hester’s training, systematically working her weaknesses and improving her strengths, implementing double days and increasing her training volume.
“It’s hard to give up control,” Hester laughs. “Mike knows me. He has taught me everything, seen 80 percent of the WODs I have done.”
Going into the NorCal Regional last month, Hester’s goals centered on her own performance, not the performance of others. Having done the Regional workouts in training, her goals were her times. She says the hardest part of Regionals is the mental strength needed to just keep going, especially on Workouts 4 and 6. “I am sure I looked sick [during those workouts],” she laughs.
For the Games, however, her strategy is different. Hester has never been an individual competitor at Carson, and not knowing the workouts ahead of time, she just wants to be in the present without burdening herself with expectations.
Hester spends much of her time at CrossFit Oakland, where she is both an athlete and a trainer.