Four years ago, something awakened in Tiffany Hendrickson.
Growing up, she was always active, competing at the collegiate level in gymnastics. But after getting married and having three children, she began to lose herself.
“When we got married she kind of lost her identity,” said her husband David Hendrickson. “She tried kickboxing and tennis, but they weren’t doing it for her.”
After living overseas for four years, the Hendricksons returned to the U.S., settling in Utah. David saw a local CrossFit gym, Wasatch CrossFit, and suggested his wife try a class.
“When she tried CrossFit, it was like she found herself again,” he said. “I saw her wake up and become the girl I dated and fell in love with.”
“I was kind of doing CrossFit without knowing it,” Tiffany recounted. “After my first class, I was hooked. I’m very competitive and I liked chasing the fastest people. It was fun and satisfying.”
Since then, she’s been chasing the top athletes. In 2013, she earned a spot to her first CrossFit Games. After qualifying for her second Games at the 2014 South West Regional, she’s leaning on the lessons she learned to improve upon her 31st-place finish.
“I’m staying focused on weak points and training those movements,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot this past training season. As you become a veteran athlete you learn to train smarter.”
Tiffany first competed as a member of the Wasatch CrossFit team in the 2011 Games, but decided to go the individual route in 2012. She made it to regionals, but dislocated two ribs while doing dumbbell thrusters in the first event.
“(My ribs) wouldn’t stay in place,” she recalled. “I could hardly breathe and it felt like someone was twisting a knife between my shoulder blades.”
Despite completing all of the workouts, she placed fifth, just out of contention.
Last year, Tiffany qualified for the Games, but struggled in the spotlight.
“I got my ass handed to me,” she said. “It’s not that I didn’t give it 100 percent. It’s just hard to compete on that big of a stage. Everything is on the line.”
At only 5-foot-3, Tiffany said some of the first events of the 2013 Games featured movements conducive to taller athletes, including a half-marathon row.
“When (CrossFit Games Director Dave) Castro announced that my heart just sunk,” she said. “I’m a shorter athlete and I have to just hang in and hope to make up the time later.”
Being so far behind after the first two events proved to be too difficult to rebound.
“It was hard to regain my confidence and composure when being so far back,” she said. “I let my ego get in the way. I came in with this, ‘I earned my spot’ mentality, but there was an ‘I’m supposed to be here’ attitude that got the best of me.”
This year Tiffany said she’s learning to pace herself, and still maintain an aggressive and assertive mentality.
“I’m working on being a smart competitor,” she said. “Sometimes you have to lay it all on the line and take the risks and test those boundaries to stay ahead.”
In order to reach the elite level, she relies on the support of her trainers and family.
“I have never trained anybody as dedicated as Tiffany,” said her coach Damon Stewart. “It doesn’t matter if she’s sick, tired, not feeling like training—she always shows up and gives 100 percent.”
Stewart said Tiffany devotes two days each week to gymnastics strength training and three days each week to Olympic weightlifting, in addition to workouts and interval training. At 130 lb., she squats more than twice her body weight and is well into the 300 club for deadlifts.
“This year she has shown quite a bit more maturity when she competes,” Stewart said. “She’s able to plan her workouts better. I think she’s strong and faster and a much better all-around athlete. This is going to be her year to shine.”
To get in all of her necessary training, Tiffany’s schedule includes two workouts each day, often lasting two hours.
At first, the level of intense workouts surprised her family.
“My parents and grandparents think I’m crazy,” she said with a laugh. “My grandmother says, ‘Aren’t you strong enough now?’ But they all love me and support me, even if they don’t understand what I do or why I do it.”
Tiffany admitted her commitment to the sport took her and David by surprise.
“My husband is very supportive,” she said. “At first I think he was shocked at my obsession, but once he realized my potential he was excited for me.”
David echoed those sentiments.
“When she started competing, I struggled a little bit,” he said. “When she began competing she started getting letters and emails from people saying, ‘I changed my life because of you.’ … It caused me to think, ‘What am I really great at?’”
Now he understands the importance of “living their passions” for their children.
“You can say it all you want, but what you do matters more,” David said. “They may not be athletes, but we want them to do what they want to do and impact the world. (Tiffany) only keeps getting faster and stronger. … We all have a path and it was wonderful to see her find that.”
As the days tick down to the Games, Tiffany said she continues to focus on her training and her family.
“I didn’t make it here by myself,” she said. “I have great coaches and an amazing family. I’m blessed with the people in my life.”