Additional reporting by Ivory Carr, Carla Conrad and Cara Koebernik
The third and final day was nothing short of exciting at the North West Regional in Kent, Washington.
A worried murmur ran through the ShoWare Center during the last heat of Event 6. Even a rookie CrossFitter could spot the problem: Ben Stoneberg, third place in the region, was rowing with locked knees. He was last to leave his rower, while the other competitors already deep into box jump-overs.
But Stoneberg had a plan. By preserving his thighs, he could frog-hop over his box, never straightening up out of a squat. Other competitors stood straight atop their boxes, wasting precious seconds. Stoneberg’s speedy strategy helped him nearly catch up to Cody Anderson and Cole Sager in time for the deadlifts.
The deadlifts belonged to Anderson. After ripping through them, he charged at the wall-ball shots. The crowd, having taken a liking to the young gymnast, clapped and chanted, “CODY! CODY!”
But Stoneberg and Sager were close behind. The three top athletes in the North West arrived alone under the wall-ball target.
Stoneberg pushed the pace and took the lead. Sager was no-repped a few times, allowing Stoneberg to clamber first into the rings.
But Sager would not yield for long. He passed Stoneberg on the rings and tossed up five wall-ball shots before dramatically ripping off his damp red T-shirt. The crowd loudly approved before sending him back to work. After completing the wall-ball shots, he strolled to his bar and cranked out 10 deadlifts before Stoneberg grabbed his bar.
Sager’s strategy this weekend has emphasized pace. Other than tying Connor Nelson in Event 1, he had neither won an event nor had he fallen below fifth. But Sager was determined to win Event 6.
Sager built a cushion during his deadlifts. Stoneberg was only 20 deadlifts behind and his frog-leg strategy would surely gain him ground during the box jump overs.
Stoneberg slashed Sager’s lead during the second batch of box jumps. But Sager arrived to his rower first. Stoneberg soon met him at his Concept 2 and the stage was set for a sprint finish. As Sager and Stoneberg rowed alone the crowd rose.
Previous to this heat, no men had completed the workout under the 21-minute time cap, but Sager seemed to sense that he could. He ripped 36 calories off the meter, gulping for breath between strokes as the crowd roared, while Stoneberg rowed 20 calories of the required 50.
Finally, the horn sounded. Sager had hung on to his lead, topping the leaderboard for Event 5. Stoneberg finished second, followed by Joshua Rempel.
Meanwhile, Anderson had flagged. Falling to sixth place during the wall balls, he reached his deadlifts 30 reps behind Sager. He paced himself, though, and earned 5th for the event, keeping his grip firmly on the overall No. 2 spot.
Event 6 Results
1. Cole Sager (21:14)
2. Ben Stoneberg (21:30)
3. Joshua Rempel (21:39)
Men’s Event 7
After grinding through the 21-minutes of Event 6, the final event of the North West Regional would be a sprint. Regional records for both men and women were under two minutes—1:42 for both Graham Holmberg and Camille LeBlanc-Bazinet.
Several athletes in Heat 1 struggled with overhead squats. Judges waved off dozens of reps for lack of depth. Only three athletes completed the first heat under the 6-minute cap.
In Heat 2, yesterday’s young hero, 18-year-old Samuel Kwant, felt the sting of the squats. After completing seven unbroken, his bar tipped forward. His next attempt dragged him outside of his square. Finally, he completed rep 8 and sprinted to his red square. Kwant finished his heat second behind Mitch Wagner.
More athletes struggled in Heat 3. Joshua Rempel arrived early at his bar, but dropped it repeatedly before completing the last rep.
The leaders stepped into the arena for Heat 4. Before this weekend, fans at the North West Regional anticipated a grand showdown between the top men. But by the final heat the Leaderboard was settled. Cole Sager, Cody Anderson and Ben Stoneberg clustered at the top, each within five points of the other. The gap between third place and the rest of the field was an insurmountable 28 points.
Even though the podium was determined, the final heat thrilled.
Cody Anderson, nicknamed the “Comeback Kid” by the event announcers, grabbed the early lead. After burning through 64 pull-ups, he raced to his squat bar.
Compared to the thick-shouldered “Sagertooth” Sager and “Stone Cold” Stoneberg, Anderson looks slender. But his slight frame packed plenty of power. He pulled under the 205-lb. bar and ripped off eight unbroken reps before sprinted to the finish.
"I just can't believe this happened,” said Anderson after the event. “It just doesn't seem real. I can't wait to see what happens next. I don't even really know what to say, it's so unreal."
Sager finished 7 seconds behind Anderson; Stoneberg arrived third.
Event 7 underscored the distance between Sager, Anderson, Stoneberg and their competitors. The three men outdistanced the fourth finisher by 20 seconds, a near eternity in this sprint-event.
Now the three champions go to Carson, California, to represent the North West at the 2014 CrossFit Games.
Event 7 Results
1. Cody Anderson (1:56)
2. Cole Sager (2:03)
3. Ben Stoneberg (2:05)
CrossFit Games Qualifiers
1. Cole Sager (19)
2. Cody Anderson (24)
3. Ben Stoneberg (35)
It’s no secret: If you have a gymnastics background, you were probably quite pleased when this year’s regional events were announced.
Emily Carothers sure was. A former college gymnast at the University of Washington, she knew the weekend would play to her strengths. That being said, Event 6 was the one she was most worried about.
Heading into the event, Carothers had set herself up nicely with a 15-point buffer on second place.
After the first two heats, the time to beat in the biggest beat-down event of the weekend was 22:53 by Janessa Brindza in Heat 2. Meanwhile, Ashley Shaeffer won Heat 1 with a time of 23:27.
Carothers looked relaxed, calm and poised as she entered the competition floor, obviously aware that she was pretty much a lock to return to Carson, California.
As has been the case all weekend in Kent, the real fight was for second and third. Training partners Regan Huckaby and Karen McCadam sat in second and third entering the event, but Rory Zambard—six points out of third—was looking forward to doing damage on Event 6, an event she had been looking forward to all weekend.
Zambard and Kaylee Nightingale finished the row first and continued to stay ahead of the pack on the box jumps. Nightingale made up huge ground on the deadllifts and was the first athlete to the wall-ball shots.
But as other regions have shown, the first part of Event 6 is pretty much just a buy-in for the 50 ring dips.
Both Huckaby and McCadam struggled on the ring dips, while Zambard moved through her first 25 with ease. But it was Carleen Lessard who was able to maintain her pace on her second 25 ring dips. Lessard was the first to get back to the wall balls; Zambard was second.
Looking hungry, both Lessard and Zambard barely looked phased as they powered through their second set of 50 wall-ball shots. With a smile on her face, Zambard finished, threw her arms over her head and moved to the deadlifts.
Zambard explained how she managed to smile in the midst of serious pain: A friend texted her the night before saying, “You compete better when you smile.”
“So every time it hurt, I smiled,” Zambard said.
Although Zambard was impressive, Lessard easily held onto her lead through the deadlifts and the box jumps. She hit the rower with more than a minute-and-a-half on the clock, getting through 27 of her final 50 calories, just one calorie shy of Sam Briggs’ score of 21:22.
On whether she practiced Event 6 to figure out her winning pace leading up to the competition, Lessard gave an emphatic no.
"Hell no, I didn't go through this one beforehand. Absolutely not,” she said.
Zambard also made it back to the rowing machine and took second, while Brittany Chestnut was third and Emily Carothers, fourth. Huckaby and McCadam—second and third heading into Event 6—finished sixth and 12th, respectively.
And once again, the Leaderboard in the North West region shuffled: Carothers first, Huckaby second and Zambard third, but Lessard was just two points behind.
About how she felt going into the final event, Zambard said: “My mindset has changed a bit. All I can do is give it my all … . Aim high and finish well.”
“I am going to ride the wave, cross my fingers and give it my whole heart,” she added.
And like almost every other region so far, it would come down to the final event.
Event 6 Results
1. Carleen Lessard (21:23)
2. Rory Zambard (21:42)
3. Brittany Chestnut (22:02)
With her patented Zambard messy bun bouncing freely on top of her head, Zambard looked like she was having the time of her life as she ran onto the competition floor and saluted her fans for the last time of the weekend.
The best time so far was 4:12, set by Samantha Tolbert in Heat 2. Everyone at the ShoWare Center expected the final heat of women to be much faster than that. And they were.
A flurry of pull-ups suddenly overtook the competition floor, and one minute and 26 seconds later, Carothers was the first off the pull-up bar, followed closely by Karen McCadam.
But by the end of the second of four weeks of regional competitions, it has become clear this event isn’t about the pull-ups. It’s about who can hang on to that 135-lb. bar with shoulders on fire. It’s about whose overworked scapula has the stability to get through those eight squats.
The answer in the North West: Carothers and McCadam. They finished one and two, in times of 2:21 and 2:32.
Both Lessard and Zambard dropped the bar with just a rep or two left. Fighting for their lives, it was Zambard who muscled her way through her last two reps before Lessard, earning herself a second straight trip to the Games.
Meanwhile Huckaby, who entered the event comfortably in second, had to fight hard to maintain her position. She finished in a time of 4:24, good enough for 8th in the event.
Going into the Games, she said she’s going to do some serious strategizing.
“I will need to get a coach and get a little more serious to get my programming better,” Huckaby said. “I have a family, two kids and a husband, so we will have to talk about this, because family is first for me.”
And when the Leaderboard was re-calculated, the top three heading to the Games were the top three at the start of Event 7: Carothers, Huckaby and Zambard.
Carothers said she felt more confident this year. “Last year was harder, and my body recovered better this year,” she said, adding that a change in coaching staff this year helped her earn her ticket to the big show for the second straight year.
Moving forward, she’s taking a similar approach to last year. “The Games were pretty relaxed for me last year. Nobody was really watching me,” she said. “I kind of want to do the same this year. Just slide in there and do what I can do.”
Event 7 Results
1. Emily Carothers (2:21)
2. Karen McCadam (2:32)
3. Rory Zambard (3:36)
CrossFit Games Qualifiers
1. Emily Carothers (14)
2. Regan Huckaby (38)
3. Rory Zambard (40)