"I'm competing for those who are struggling with cancer. I hope that in my battle others will see the importance of fighting the fight, keeping your focus on the goals and working towards your dream."
If you thought Ashley Carriveau came out of nowhere to take second place at the 2013 NorCal Regional, you haven’t been paying attention.
Carriveau first appeared on the CrossFit Games site in 2012 when she took first in NorCal in the Open, but the woman behind the name had been around far longer.
She first entered the CrossFit competition scene in 2010 with the last name Vrieze.
Since then, she has racked up a record for being a four-time Regional qualifier, three-time Regional competitor and first-time Games qualifier.
Ever since the tire flip and log carry relay, and the overhead squat and burpee event gave her hell at the 2010 South West Regional, she has been acutely aware that qualifying for the Games requires more than an average commitment to training.
“My DNF at the 2010 South West Regional was devastating. It pushed me to take my competition training more seriously than I had before. I really wanted to make the CrossFit Games in 2011,” Carriveau says.
In the beginning, finding the work/training balance was hard for Carriveau, but she figured out what she needed to change.
“I had been working out at CrossFit San Jose, learning a lot about CrossFit in the classes here and doing some extra stuff after class. But looking around the competitive field, I knew that I needed my own coach,” she says.
Carriveau hired Sam Radetsky to coach her in September 2011.
“Having someone to program for me who knows more about programming than I do, and having a coach to watch, push me and support me through my training has been so important to meeting my training for the Games. I now have someone programming for me, throwing challenging workouts my way that I would have never thought of doing on my own. Radetsky helps me be the best and strongest person out there.”
All of this work paid off, and Carriveau finished the 2012 Open ranked first in NorCal.
But there was no Carriveau at the 2012 NorCal Regional.
“Not competing at the 2012 Regionals was extremely tough for me,” Carriveau recalls. “Everyone, except a couple of people closest to me, just thought I was injured. I was pretty secretive about the whole situation. I had been struggling for weeks, but was really hoping to be back for the Regionals. I was crushed that I wasn’t.”
Carriveau was out of the competition due to surgery for cervical cancer. Shocked at the gravity of this news, her gym and fellow athletes quickly gathered in support.
“The gym supported me and became the close family that I needed right then,” she says. “I realized that in the transition to life after college, out of the community of school life, I had found true friends and the support I so needed in my gym. Everyone in my gym just wanted the best for me.”
Cancer knocked Carriveau down much harder than she could have imagined.
“The doctor told me it’d be six months before I could really train again, but that was too long to go without training. I was sure that I was stronger than that, that I’d bounce back in no time, so I went back to the gym one week after surgery. It was stupid and dumb,” she says. “I was miserable and incredibly discouraged. All I could think was that the last two years of work had just been lost — all strength gains and new skills. I couldn’t get to the top of the rope, muscle-ups were gone, I had lost so much strength on all my lifts. Of course, my endurance was wiped out completely. As I looked around at the CrossFit Games community, I saw that everyone else was getting stronger and stronger so it was scary to think about where I was now and what I’d need to do to get back to where I had been.”
Still, she was determined to make it to the Games.
“Last year, I had a big motor, but looking at the field of women, I knew I was going to need more to get back in 2013,” Carriveau says. “I’ve had a big strength focus this year, but not just moving big weights. I’ve worked a lot on higher reps to prepare for the workouts. And I’ve worked a lot on my gymnastic work, especially gymnastic movements in the WOD. Now, I’d love to see handstand push-ups in a workout, and my muscle-ups are back.”
She took the field at the 2013 NorCal Regional wearing her “F#@K Cancer” shirt. Naturally reserved and unassuming, she was a bit embarrassed to wear the shirt at first, but ready to make a statement.
“Cancer is devastating for anyone. I decided to wear the shirt for everyone who is fighting it, for all the others who struggle more than I,” she says. “I wore the shirt for a girl at the gym who lost her mom to cancer. I wore the shirt for my own mom who is battling stage four breast cancer.”
Going to the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games means the world to Carriveau, but it is now in focus. While she is still fiercely competitive with her eyes on the podium, she sees things differently.
“I’m competing for those who are struggling with cancer,” she says. “I’ve learned to come back from what throws me to the ground, and I plan to enjoy the moment while doing everything I need to do in this competition, especially now that I have fought so hard. I hope that in my battle, others will see the importance of fighting the fight, keeping your focus on the goals and working towards your dream.”