When Kim Holway started CrossFit with some of her S.W.A.T. team in the fall of 2008, she had no idea her casual attempt to shake up her fitness routine would result in so many opportunities.
“I was just looking for something different to keep in shape,” Holway said. “I had been doing a lot of running before that and just regular lifting, more powerlifting, at my local gym. I got completely hooked on what they were doing.”
Now, Holway is preparing to take the floor at the Mid Atlantic Regional as one of the oldest female competitors since the inception of the CrossFit Games.
It didn’t take long after starting CrossFit before Holway recognized a difference in her daily life and career performance. At first using CrossFit as a way to strengthen her physical and mental fortitude on the job, Holway began to look at it from a more competitive standpoint in early 2011.
“Some of the guys I was working out with on a regular basis came up to me and said, ‘Hey, are you doing the Open?’ and I didn’t know what the Open was at that time,” she laughed. “Once they explained it to me, I was completely on board for it even though I don’t think I really understood what I was getting into.”
Holway qualified for regionals and went on to compete in the 2011 Mid Atlantic Regional, finishing 13th overall. She said she was satisfied with her first major competition and left that weekend with an increased sense of accomplishment and a new coaching connection.
Jeff Tincher, owner of CrossFit Fairfax and CrossFit Reston, was at the regional weekend serving as the Mid Atlantic Regional Director and cheering on the CrossFit Reston team as they secured a trip to the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games. Holway impressed Tincher with her performance.
“She was competing in the top heat of the day, in the hardest event of the weekend,” Tincher recalled. “She was getting no-repped for squatting depth that was actually meeting the standard, but she wasn’t complaining or arguing with her judge. She dropped the bar to take a break and regroup, we got the situation squared away, and she finished the workout strong.”
At the close of the weekend, Tincher approached Holway about joining the CrossFit Reston family. Holway accepted and started training with Tincher as her coach.
With one regional-level competition under her belt, Holway set her sights on competing with the CrossFit Reston team during the 2012 season. Unfortunately, some lingering injuries sidelined her.
“I really wanted to be a part of the team for the 2012 season,” she said, “but I started to have knee pain and the doctor informed me that I had torn my ACL. I first noticed it when I started to have trouble with box jumps and several other movements.”
As she was recovering from ACL surgery, Holway found out she had a torn bicep, as well.
“It was torn in my upper shoulder, not completely, but something around 80 percent was impacted,” she said. “So that was definitely disappointing.”
Holway spent the next year recovering and rehabilitating to prepare for the following season. Tincher believes Holway made the best decision by taking time off to heal.
“Since I have been coaching her, we are constantly communicating about what is hurting, sore, or tired,” he said. “As a masters athlete, you are always feeling a little beat up. The goal is to be smart enough to dial it back when needed so an injury doesn’t happen and slow down your progress.”
Getting back to competition shape was no easy feat, but Holway felt strong enough to compete in the 2013 Open.
That year, Holway competed for the CrossFit Reston team at the regional with hopes of securing a trip to the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games. Reston missed the podium by one spot, but Holway was excited about how far she’d come since her surgery.
“It was a great experience, but I remember there were still some things I couldn’t do,” she said. “I couldn’t do muscle-ups and I hadn’t hit a lot of my maxes yet before that weekend. So I had trouble with a lot of the events, but we almost qualified and that was a really great feeling.”
Holway had qualified as a master in the 45-49 Division, and she continued to work with her team leading up to the Games, focusing on gaining more endurance through more intentional workouts.
“We didn’t focus so much on my strength, but getting my muscular endurance back to where it had been,” Holway said. “We did a lot of workouts in a day, longer workouts, and that’s when my training took a whole new turn. I went from training an hour a day, to training three hours a day.”
In her debut at the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games, Holway knew the ultimate test would be how she compared to other athletes in her age group.
“I wasn’t nervous in my preparation because I was just happy to have qualified,” she said. “I wasn’t in the top 10 going out there, so I really didn’t feel that much pressure. My goal was to really just compete and hopefully make the top 10 at the end of the competition. Ultimately, I wanted to do the best that I could and experience California.”
Once she was in the Games setting, Holway said the pressure to perform was unlike anything she had experienced before.
“I kind of felt that anxiety before every event, like that anxiety where you feel sick,” she said. “I just wasn’t used to the cameras being around, but I eventually go through that. What got me through was how friendly every one of the athletes were—still competitive, but everyone was so welcoming.”
Holway was so excited to compete at the Games level that she paid minimal attention to the Leaderboard. It wasn’t until the second day of competition that she realized her potential for overall placement.
“Jeff came up to me and he said, ‘You know you have a shot at the podium?’” she said. “That was the first time it hit me that I could actually do really well.”
Holway exceeded her goal of placing in the top 10 and ended her first Games experience with a third-place podium finish.
“I was ecstatic,” she laughed. “I have probably no less than 60 photographs of me on the podium so just in case it doesn’t happen again, I’ve got it documented.”
Holway led her masters division after the 2014 Open with a top-five finish every week and three first-place finishes. She earned third place in the Masters Qualifier, succeeding in qualifying as an individual and a masters athlete.
Holway’s support system is extremely important to her.
“I have never been at a loss for cheerleaders or people to help me train,” she said. “I would look to see what was on my programming and then inevitably someone would join me for the workout.”
Her training partners even had a trick to get into her head and make her push harder.
“What I didn’t realize right away was that some of the guys would purposefully not complete all of the reps, so it would make it look like they finished and force me to push harder,” she explained. “Of course, they only told me this much later.”
Tincher said age is just a number and has no impact on Holway’s training or overall performance.
“Kim has been a part of the CrossFit Reston family for over two years now and still has that same great attitude. She is a tireless worker and a coach’s dream,” Tincher said. “She is always striving to improve in all fields. Training with Kim is pure fun. We feed off each other to improve on a daily basis. She has definitely reignited our desire to compete and see how much we can improve our own work capacity.”
“I’m excited and there’s really no pressure,” Holway said. “I want the three days of competition and I want the experience of getting over the anxiety and managing that many workouts in a day. We are not programming specifically for regionals right now, we are preparing for the Games. Plus I expect to have a lot of fun.”
Holway remains humble and is thankful for the multitude of competitive experiences throughout her CrossFit journey.
“My mindset has completely changed since I began CrossFit,” she said. “I love the variety of all the movements and techniques. Early on I didn’t even attempt some things, like muscle-ups for instance. I thought ‘Why would I need to learn that?’ And now my desires have completely changed. All of these movements that I thought I had no reason to learn are what I am focused on mastering.”
She added: “Now, it’s my way of life.”