While watching the 2010 CrossFit Games, Alex Nettey made a promise to himself.
“I told myself I would not come back to the Home Depot Center as a spectator. The next time I would step foot in that arena would be as a competitor,” he says.
He knew it wouldn’t be easy. He competed with CrossFit Chicago at the 2009 CrossFit Games, and finished in 10th as an individual at the 2010 North Central Regional. Sitting on the sidelines at the 2010 CrossFit Games, he noticed a shift toward more challenging events.
“You could see a shift in what would be required of Games athletes in terms of their level of competency across time and modal domains with the vicious programming they had to endure,” he remembers.
Ever since he made that promise, Nettey has either been training for or competing in the CrossFit Games season.
In 2011, he came three points shy of qualifying for the Games with a fourth-place finish at the 2011 North Central Regional. Armand McCormick had 38 points to Nettey’s 41.
That year, Nettey finished inside the top five on four of the six events. He suffered on the first event — a 1,000-meter run, 30 handstand push-ups and a 1,000-meter row — finishing in 9:30 for 16th, and on the third event, the deadlift/box jump that reappeared in 2013. Finishing in 4:54, he ate 11 points.
In 2012, he dropped to seventh. A 3:52 Diane put him behind 21 other competitors. While he managed to stay in the top 10 in the remaining five events, he wasn’t able to close a 17-point gap between himself and third-place finisher, Justin Allen.
This year, he climbed to third.
“I’m definitely not an overnight success,” he says. “Perseverance has paid off.”
Along the way, he crushed the event that crushed him in 2011. Event 5 at the 2013 Regionals was a repeat of the deadlift/box jump couplet he once struggled with. Even with the new transitions and barbell placement, he managed to cut 50 seconds off his time from 2011. Jumping onto the finish mat at 4:04, he not only set a PR, he beat the rest of the competitors — while wearing tall, red Chuck Taylors no less.
“I believe my greatest advantage is my ability to stick with my own pacing and strategy when it comes to WODs and competitions,” he says. “I don’t let what someone else is doing affect my effort level or performance.”
Throughout the Regional, he tries to avoid the Leaderboard. He prefers to compete without any sense of the scores and standings. Still, he found it nearly impossible in 2013 due to all the tweets and texts.
“It’s important to have a short-term memory and level head when there are so many events in play,” he says.
It wasn’t until the end of Event 6, that he felt he had a legitimate shot at qualifying.
“There was a sizable gap between the top three and the rest of the top 10 athletes,” he says.
Although he felt he had a shot, he didn’t relax. The final event didn’t go as some expected of him, finishing in 17th place, but it all went according to Nettey’s plan.
“In contrast to what many believe or have asked me, I did not coast on the last (event), thinking I had a spot in the bag,” he says. “I went at a pace that I had to in order to have a clean (event) and stayed within myself. Had I tried to rush through the squat cleans, I know bad things would have happened.”
Even with the extra 17 points, he remained three points ahead of fourth-place finisher Jared Stevens.
For the last year, he has been his own programmer.
“I actually didn’t have a coach scripting all my workouts throughout the year for the first time in three years,” he says.
He adds: “I exercised my own creative juices as far as what strength templates I followed, the skill work I did and conditioning I came up with. I've been doing multiple (workouts) a day for years, so I kept that same prescription and really took more ownership than ever in addressing and working on my main weaknesses.”
Taking a page out of Rich Froning and Dan Bailey’s book, he tried to find training partners who would challenge him.
“There is no replacement for having a room full of people or at least one other person working out and pushing themselves next to you, in terms of the energy it creates,” he says. “I got away from that in years past.”
While currently a full-time real estate agent and part-time CrossFit coach, he has always found time for sports. As a kid, he played basketball, football and baseball, and went on to play baseball at Notre Dame. To prepare for the Games, he’s getting out of the gym a lot.
“I have also added more longtime domain running, more biking, swimming and other activities like rowing, paddle boarding and kayaking,” he says. “I’ve increased my strongman skill work …”
He expects something unexpected at the Games, and looks forward to the challenge.
“Outside of the surprise event of torture, I would love to see more track and field related events like discus or javelin throws, high jump or long jump,” he says. “Not because I would win those events necessarily, but because I’d like to try those things and I think it would be a lot of fun.”
Juggling work and training, he’s developed another key skill.
“I am an elite power napper,“ he says.
That’s not all. He’s also jazz musician.
“I played saxophone for more than 10 years growing up and really got into jazz in high school,” he says. “When I grow up, I’ll be a touring saxophonist, playing all over the world.”
Until then, you can find the 29-year-old working his ass off, reading, bowling or cooking in his kitchen with some John Coltrane playing in the background.