“When they announced (the new Masters 40-44 Division), I knew right then I would have a legit shot,” Ryan Taylor says.
Last year, at 39, he took 103rd place in the Central East. This year, at 40, he took 56th in the Central East and sixth in the world in the 40-44 Masters Division. He’s three years into CrossFit, and he now has a stage to show what a fit 40-year-old can do.
As a former collegiate wrestler at Morehead State University, a Marine, a four-time Iron Man competitor and an 11-time marathoner, Taylor isn’t new to competition. However, he admits he has refined his approach to CrossFit competition over the last year.
“Last year, I would just do whatever I felt like doing,” he says. “I didn’t have any rhyme or reason to anything.”
He decided to change his approach after he competed with Fit Club at the 2012 Central East Regional Team Competition. Five events in, the team was cut.
“It was like, ‘That’s it ... I’ve got to get some real programming,’” he says.
To Taylor, real programming looks like the skill practice, met-cons and other work programmed by Doug Chapman of CrossFit Ann Arbor.
After 11 months working together, Taylor says he sees a difference. For one thing, kettlebell swings are no longer as taxing. Since the close of last year’s Regionals in May, he has worked with the 124-lb. Russian kettlebell an average of three times per week, and worked through 12 reps every minute on the minute.
“When we first started, it was absolutely awful and I didn’t understand why the hell we were doing it,” he says. “But now, anytime we do a met-con with a 53-lb. kettlebell, it feels like nothing. It teaches you to move heavy weight, fast, with very little break.”
Just two months before the Open, his dream of competing in Carson, Calif., started to look like a reality. At one of Chapman’s three-day training camps, he competed alongside many of the top athletes from the Central East. To his surprise, he didn’t just survive, but he beat some of the youngins.
“That flipped a switch in me,” he says. “I knew I could make top 20.”
Through his consistency, Taylor stayed within the top 10 overall from the second week of the Open until the end. He never won a workout, but he never fell far outside of the top 20. He turned in his best performance on 13.3 (eighth, 263 reps), and his worst performance on 13.5 (31st, 133 reps).
He gave it all he had on every workout.
“When there’s no Regional, one little mess-up and you’re done,” he says. “I know guys in our region who are good competitors, but they had one bad workout and it pretty much knocked them out.”
Nothing was certain until 13.5 was in the books.
“I could see how many guys weren’t getting to the next four minutes,” he says. “I knew that would be a game changer.”
He went unbroken for the first round of 100-lb. thrusters and chest-to-bar pull-ups, and divided the second round’s chest-to-bar pull-ups into sets of five with a two-second rest between each. After he hit the 90th rep within the four-minute time cap, he took a 25-second break before starting his second chest-to-bar Fran.
Taylor was sick at the time of the workout.
“It might have been the worst I’ve ever felt after a (workout),” he says. “I think I scared half my gym because I was literally on the ground hacking and throwing up after.”
With the Open behind him and only five names ahead of him worldwide, Taylor says he’s relieved to be free to focus on earning a podium finish at the Games. It will be the first time he breathes the Carson air, having refused to make the Games a spectator sport.
“I don’t want to go to the Games to watch, I want to compete,” he says. “That’s the only time I’m going.”
He adds: “You always have doubts, unless you’re Rich Froning, but (the Open) made me realize I didn’t get in by the skin of my teeth. I’m legit top 10. My goal has shifted from making it to the Games, to making it to the podium.”