Darlene Price wants to be a world champion. She came close at the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games where she finished 2nd in the Women’s Masters 55-59 Division. This year, she’s training to go one step further.
It’s quite a change in mindset. When she started CrossFit in 2009, all she wanted was to be healthy and strong after enduring years of health problems. At 40, she battled thyroid cancer. At 50, doctors told her she was suffering from coronary arterial disease.
Now, at 55, her body tells a different story.
“I've succeeded beyond anything I imagined,” she says. “The major risks post-thyroid cancer are heart disease and osteoporosis. When I started CrossFit, I was on blood pressure and cholesterol medications and barely skating above osteopenia. I've been off those medications for almost two years, my blood pressure and EKG are completely normal, and last year I added 9 percent bone density to my lumbar spine. That's amazing.”
Price has fond memories of the 2011 Games. In particular, she remembers the last event, a chipper with the stationary bike, box jumps and a farmer’s carry with kettlebells. She stood in 4th place going in, and as she warmed up, she thought of her supporters back home: her family and her friends at CrossFit Austin.
“The hardest part of that event was controlling the pent-up energy beforehand,” Price says. “I had so much adrenaline in my system it felt as though my arms and legs were pure electricity. When they said, ‘3, 2, 1, go,’ I could feel all of that energy focus into the moment. My heart was already at the other end of the stadium, and all of my focus was on getting my body to catch up.”
Determined and in the zone, she was surprised when her judge said she was already done on the bike. When she reached the kettlebells, she was ahead of the pack and on her way to winning the event. It was a revelatory moment.
“Before that event, my CrossFit goals had always been of the ‘I'll try’ variety,” Price says. “In that event, my mind shifted from ‘I'll try’ to ‘I will.’ What a powerful experience. And I won. I'll never forget it.”
After the Games, adversity reared its ugly head in the form of a pinched cervical nerve, forcing Price into several months of physical therapy and rehab programming. In December she returned to regular classes at CrossFit Austin, where she’s been training with the competition team since January.
Coached by Wes Kimball, they train together five or six times a week and recently completed a six-week cycle of challenging workouts combined with nutrition and lifestyle changes. Price feels great after six weeks of strict paleo, and her performances in the gym have been stellar. Her Karen time dropped from 8:03 to 6:30.
If Price felt like she was in a “pipe dream” in 2011, she feels more comfortable as a CrossFit athlete in 2012. “Mainly, I'm more aware of what I'm doing,” she says. “Now I have a basic understanding of the movements and skills, and I'm gradually adding strength and technique. I'm struggling a little with upper body work, [as I’m] still recovering from last year. Rowing and running continue to be my strengths.”
There are aches and pains, of course. This comes with the territory, as any Masters athlete will tell you. Price manages those aches and pains by getting to the gym early and spending “quality time” with a foam roller, lacrosse ball and resistance band. Diet and rest are also crucial to her recovery process.
She’s well on her way to qualification for the 2012 Games. After four Open workouts, Price stood in 8th place — the top 20 finishers from each Masters division make it to Carson, Calif.
The burpees in Workout 12.1 ensured a slow start as she finished in 37th place. But since then Price has encountered “wheelhouse” workouts, and she’s been pleased with those performances.
What’s true for the younger CrossFit athletes is also true for the Masters athletes. Each year, as more people discover our sport, the competition gets stiffer. Price acknowledges that she’s played a role in this growth.
“A year ago we did a video documenting my progress to that point … a number of people in the gym have told me that they persuaded their parents to try CrossFit and even join a gym as a result of watching the video. I love that,” she says. “I really believe that when baby boomers discover CrossFit it will boom even more.”
Price is happy for the influx of new competition, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to go easy on them. Her dream is to win the CrossFit Games, and with another year of training under her belt, plus last year’s experience, she has a great shot at not just making the podium again, but winning the whole thing.
“I would love to win it all! The competition is stiffer this year so that would be even more amazing,” she says. “My main goal for this season is to approach every event the way I did Event 5 [at last year’s Games]. To throw my heart at that finish line and never question that I will get there having given it everything I've got. If I can do that, I'll be happy with wherever I land, because the final result is out of my control anyway.”
Whatever happens, Price has already won the most important battle of all. She’s gotten her life back.