Headed into this year’s Southern California Regional, Team CrossFit SoCal was ranked 16th from the Open. Based on this placing, one would not have been able to predict the team’s third-place outcome. “I don't think anyone was expecting us to place and it is always fun to compete as the underdog,” team member Emily Taylor says.
It all came down to Event 6. CrossFit SoCal knew if they didn’t overcome CrossFit 760 in the last workout, they would lose their chance at the Games.
“Our team really worked on visualization for the Regional. Before the last day in our hotel rooms and as we were warming up, we were all visualizing what was expected of us – how we would execute every perfect rep, controlling our breathing and pushing through the pain,” team member Tony Taddeo says. “I know that for me and the team, our mental acuity was as sharp as it could be for the weekend.”
In the end, two muscle-ups and 36 seconds divided the two teams with CrossFit SoCal managing a seventh-place finish in the event, ahead of CrossFit 760. It was just enough to take the third place on the podium and a spot at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games.
Now, just weeks away from the Games, the team trains together when they can, usually working out on an individual basis when schedules allow. They only workout as team on Saturdays.
“It can be really difficult to get everyone on the same page,” Taylor says.
Meet the Team:
-Ben Kongesor, 26, serves in the U.S. Navy. He was introduced to CrossFit in 2006 while on deployment.
-Greg Downey, 24, also serves in the U.S. Navy. He sports an epic mustache and is a former collegiate football and baseball player.
-Taddeo, 30, is a firefighter and paramedic with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. He lives by the Angry Birds motto, “seek and destroy”.
-Taylor, 26, is the smallest member of the team at 5’2” and 112 pounds. She is a former triathlete whose first CrossFit competition was the 2009 Games in Aromas, Calif., on the SoCal affiliate team.
-Jacquie Johnson, 29, is a firefighter with the Orange County Fire Department. She finished sixth in the individual women’s division at the 2011 SoCal Regional.
-Lauren Andrade, 36, is a firefighter who competed on the CrossFit SoCal team that placed 15th at the 2010 Games and placed fourth in the women’s individual division at the 2011 SoCal Regional.
“I love my team,” Kongesor says. “We are a motley crew of ‘average Joes’. We aren't all coaches and we can't live at the gym.”
Within this group of “Average Joes” intertwines a dynamic and familial camaraderie. While some have just formed their friendships this year, others have been CrossFitting side by side for years.
“I knew Jacquie from work, we went to Academy together,” Andrade says. “Emily and I have had the pleasure of competing with and working out together over the last four years. Ben and Greg, I just met them this year, but are both humble and phenomenal athletes. Tony is a fellow firefighter for San Diego City Fire and our families are quickly becoming friends.”
Her teammates have equally complimentary things to say about Andrade, as well. “Lauren and I were the only girls to make it out of Academy and probation as firefighters, and my daily focus in PT, and in Academy in general, was to keep up with Lauren. She was always the one to beat, out of all the guys and girls. Just an all-around stud,” Johnson says.
The team members of CrossFit SoCal each contain a desire for their team that goes well beyond their common love of the sport.
“There’s a saying I use all the time, before I train at the gym, before I go to work, before I start my day: ‘Be a better Husband, Father, Athlete,’ Taddeo says. “My inspiration comes from those three things. My wife, daughter, and my team are my driving force to compete. Each one of those things is directly linked to the next. If I cant be the husband I promised to be, or the father I need to be, then I cant be the athlete my team needs me to be.”
Trust in a Coach
Prior to their Regional performance and now leading up to the Games, Team CrossFit SoCal works tirelessly with their coach, Mike Kruegger, for the challenge ahead. “Coach Mike is amazing and can pick apart a movement, explain it and make it make sense,” Andrade says.
“Mike plans all the workouts for us … It starts with a warm-up drill and a specific area to focus mobility on. Then, a strength program that kicks your butt, then skills, then a WOD followed by more mobility,” Johnson says.
They are training under the watchful eye of their coach these last few weeks before the big show and preparing for anything that may come their way.
“We are focused on the basics and preparing for some of the unknowns. We would really like to see underwater basket weaving in the Games. We are pretty good at that,” Kongesor says.
The athletes of CrossFit SoCal come together to create a team filled with mutual respect, trust and sheer athleticism. They are on the brink of proving to the world they are anything but a group of Average Joes.