A few short years ago, CrossFit survived only within affiliates and garages. In those times, if you were lucky, you found CrossFit because a friend told you about it. With a classic Ohio chill in the air, and the typical 5 a.m. sheet of darkness hovering about, Heather Welsh found CrossFit. That was more than two years ago, and at the time, Welsh wanted to lose few troublesome pounds left over from having her second child. Less than three years later, Welsh will be competing in July for the title of the Fittest on Earth.
When Welsh met CrossFit, she had the “get a good workout,” “lose a few pounds” expectations. Funny how CrossFit changes more than our expectations. CrossFit changes our lives.
Baby weight, Holmbergs, and Big shows
Most of us were not welcomed into our first CrossFit class by Graham Holmberg. Holmberg of Rogue Gahanna, and the 2010 CrossFit Games champion was the first face Welsh met upon entering the box she now calls home. Welsh’s famous last words to the champ himself: “I just want to drop the baby weight.”
In a few short months, though, Welsh’s motivation changed, and the always active multi-sport high school athlete and collegiate volleyball player from Ohio State began to show, as she started preparing with the Rouge Gahanna team for the 2010 Regional in Logan, Ohio. Welsh maintained her team status for the 2010 and 2011 CrossFit Games seasons.
“Competing on the team in 2011 was so much different than 2010,” Welsh says. “My first year was like one of those mud runs outside. But now it’s CrossFit and you can compare yourself. I like consistency.”
Apparently Welsh was doing more than just competing in that first year. She was surveying, collecting intel on what could be, if of course, she wanted it badly enough. Upon returning home after an unsuccessful 2011 team competition, Welsh had to make a choice – team or individual.
Welsh’s day job is that of an educator. Much of her time is spent outside of the gym, making her individual training requirements, and the requirements of a mother and wife, a challenge to put it mildly. “I knew getting ready would be a challenge, but you just have to manage your time,” she says. “My husband is very supportive. I go train, then he brings the kids to the gym when he trains, and we flip flop.”
Welsh’s strategy apparently paid off. Diane is an admittedly difficult workout for her. “I knew I would have to come back from that,” Welsh says. “I had been training it twice a week just to prepare. I was almost in tears when I PR’d by one minute, 20 seconds, landing me in eighth place after event number one.”
Coming back from eighth place isn’t much of a battle for someone like Welsh who emulates the consistency of her training partner, Holmberg. “I feel so lucky to train with Graham,” she says. “It’s awesome to see that even he is human … that when your struggling, so is he. When you look at his face and know he is going through the same things I am.”
For the rest of Day 1 and into the second day, Welsh seamlessly climbed up in rank from eighth place. She did not expect pistols, and maybe thought the cleans could have been a little more friendly, but she dominated the dumbbell snatch landing her breathing room when she entered Event 4 – an event that in her own words was “the worst of the weekend.”
“I was stranded on the pull-up bar, and got no-repped a few times on what seemed to be my first squat on the bar every time,” she says.
By the end of Day 2, Welsh left the venue tied for second, and realizing something she may have not truly believed until that very night. That she had what it took, and that all she had to do was prove it the very next morning at the ladder.
“I started to worry about the snatches then my husband said your going to pull a PR, and it will be great,” Welsh said fighting those mental demons that are too much for some, and motivation for others.
Welsh’s bid for the CrossFit Games hung on a 140-pound bar. A bar she pulled successfully besting the competitors clawing at her heels below. Giving her a fifth place, Event 5 finish, and the much-needed distance between herself and other athletes, ensuring her place alongside the fittest in the world. “With that one snatch I felt the entire weekend of emotions and I just started jumping up and down,” Welsh says, remembering the feeling she had knowing she was going to the Games.
Welsh took third in Event 6 sending her to California; just 10 points over Michelle Kinney, and not far behind Julie Foucher and Lindsey Smith.
Stepping it up
Welsh’s post-Regional celebration, which lasted all of one quick evening, included pizza, beer and friends. Welsh’s Games prep began the very next day.
The timeline of the CrossFit Games season meets everyone differently. For Welsh, a kindergarten teacher, Games-bound training meets her right when she gets a three-month break, giving her something very valuable – time.
Since Regionals, Holmberg and Welsh are training together as much as possible. Managing their time wisely over the course of the week, which looks something like this:
Monday/Wednesday/Friday, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Strength training, with conditioning and various skills.
Monday/Wednesday/Friday 5 to 7 p.m.
Evening sessions are geared toward the necessary variety each athlete needs to stay completive. Creativity plays a role, as does knowing what each athlete needs individually. Nothing is left out, but nothing is exaggerated. Two nights a week, this session is followed by a track-styled workout.
Most likely, Welsh will train from home focusing heavily on skills and lighter volume. Welsh also incorporates swimming into these days for the enhanced breathing and recovery.
Welsh swims if she missed it during the week and focuses more on speed. If she spent time on strength, conditioning, durability and skill earlier in the week, Saturday is dedicated to speed.
If this looks like a lot, it should. Welsh takes a proactive approach to her own training, relying heavily on those she trusts most, helping her prepare the necessary pieces she may not have overcome on her own.
Before everything else are Welsh’s kids, Sam and Jillian. “My kids never take a backseat,” Welsh says. “First, I am a mom, then a CrossFitter.”
Leaving a legacy
There is something about speaking with Welsh that makes you feel her desire to contribute to the world with her attitude – to young children, through her profession and to young women, through CrossFit.
Welsh, like many before her said, “I don’t want to be big,” when she started CrossFit. Now, her definition of “big” has changed. “CrossFit women look like athletes, elite athletes,” Welsh says. “You can point out CrossFitters when you see them.”
It’s with a certain amount of grace that Welsh, and many other female athletes take to the competition stage demonstrating efficiency in such a dominant, yet elegant way. “In college, girls were fixated about being skinny,” she recalls. “But now I can set an example that is truly healthy for others to achieve. What a gift that is, to be able to give to another.”
Heather Welsh is a mother, wife, teacher and 2012 CrossFit Games competitor … in that order.