"I knew I could turn on auto-pilot in gymnastics, but I wasn't sure how that would translate into a new sport where I wasn't always going to be doing the same thing over and over."
Kelley Hennigan had only been CrossFitting a few months when she found herself competing at the 2011 South Central Regional. The former college athlete was no stranger to competition, having enjoyed a gymnastics career that culminated at the University of Denver. But, she admits the world of CrossFit competition felt like a different world altogether.
“Regionals was like nothing I had ever experienced before, competition-wise,” she says. “I had no idea what to expect in respect to the structure of how it would run, the timing in between WODs … basically I didn't know what I didn't know. I was so used to gymnastics meets where things are so much more controllable — I know the routines I am doing, I know the equipment, I can visualize what I am doing, and for the most part I know exactly how I will do and how I will feel, because I did the same thing over and over again in practice.”
Hennigan fondly remembers wrecking her body for her CrossFit Hattiesburg teammates that weekend. One moment in particular stands out. She was originally slated to compete in the deadlift/box jump event, but her coach and teammate Courtney Drake switched her to the 100s Event, to give her more of a “team” experience. “I am still grateful for that,” Hennigan says.
The big take-away from the weekend was the knowledge that she could be as successful in CrossFit as she had been in gymnastics.
“I knew I could turn on auto-pilot when competing in gymnastics, but I wasn't sure how that would translate into a new sport where I wasn't always going to be doing the same thing over and over,” she says. “In the 100s workout, I blacked out, essentially (in an auto-pilot type way) and did work, and that felt great.”
The end of 2011 brought a move from Mississippi back to her home state of Texas, where she joined CrossFit Uproar, just outside Houston. She continued to train hard and improve her skills, with an eye on the Open. When Workout 12.1 was finally released, announcing the start of a new competition season, Hennigan recalls laughing as if she’d just heard a brilliant joke. “I can appreciate a good joke and even though it was so serious, doing nothing but burpees for the first workout was hilarious,” she says. “It was such a great ‘how bad do you want it’ barrier to entry.”
All jokes aside, Hennigan excelled in her second crack at the Open, with top 10 finishes in three of the five workouts. She saved her best performance for last, finishing 3rd in Workout 12.5 and earning 10th place overall in the South Central Region. So strong was her performance she finished ahead of perennial stalwarts Carey Kepler and Ingrid Kantola.
“The Open went surprisingly well,” Hennigan says. “Last year I was still learning movements, and the workouts legitimately took me out for days after. This year I felt solid with the movements and exceeded the goal I set for myself placement-wise.”
With the South Central Regional just a few weeks away, Hennigan sees no reason to dramatically alter her training. Five or six times a week, you can find her at CrossFit Uproar or her garage gym where she’s been working on efficiency of movement.
“No real adjustments. I am where I am,” she says. “The panic plan has never really been in my playbook. If I'm not prepared, it isn't because of something I didn't do in the five weeks leading up to Regionals; it’s because of things I haven't been consistently working on throughout the year.”
Hennigan likes to mix up her training to keep it fresh and force her out of her comfort zone. Toward this end, she recently hit the pool to work on her swimming skills.
She’s excited and honored to be a part of the Regionals set-up. “It feels incredible to have qualified for Regionals,” she says. “My goal honestly was to make top 60, and I surprised myself. Competing against the best in the South Central Region literally makes my armpits, palms and feet sweaty. The women in South Central are unreal and super-seasoned athletes in the sport of CrossFit. This is definitely not their first rodeo. That being said, there are so many variables in CrossFit, and it really just comes down to who can do it quickest on a given day at a given time.”
Hennigan plans on feeding off the collective energy in San Antonio, and believes that if she comes up short in the experience or ability departments, “her guts will fill the gap.”
Even so, she remains philosophical about her chances. She would love to qualify for the Games one day, but it’s not the “be-all, end-all. If I can say I wrecked myself to the point where I couldn't have done any better, I'll be happy and ready to start the next chapter,” she says.
Away from CrossFit, the 24-year-old works at a Lululemon Athletica store, takes yoga and Zumba classes, and was recently introduced to Krav Maga. Her dog, Bossanova or “Boss,” keeps her busy with visits to the local dog park.
When questioned about her long-term CrossFit goals, Hennigan lights up before sharing her plans, which have nothing to do with her own athletic aspirations. “My 10-year CrossFit goal is to own and operate a non-profit CrossFit Kids facility to make this lifestyle accessible to kids that for some reason or another can't afford the lessons or exercise that is inherent to CrossFit,” she says. “I am talking a safe place for kids to go to after school to do homework, hang out, lift some weights, feel accomplished, learn new skills and have positive role models. This goal combines everything I am passionate about: coaching kids and CrossFitting.”
If it takes a winner to build the next generation of winners, Hennigan is well on her way to coaching success.