“Last year I came to terms, internally, that I belonged there with everyone and had earned my spot."
Jenn Jones is a natural.
The past three years, she has finished first at regional competitions—once in the Mid Atlantic (2012), while she was living in Washington, D.C., and twice in the South Central (2013, 2014) where she lives in Houston, Texas, and works as a nurse.
It’s safe to say Jones is no longer the new kid on the block in the South Central Region or at the CrossFit Games. While she has only been CrossFitting for four years, she is already looking forward to her third year competing as an individual at the Games.
In 2012, Jones finished 28th and followed that performance in 2013 with a sixth-place finish at the Games. Jones said she feels more mentally and physically prepared to make a run for the podium this year.
“The first year at the Games I was so nervous, didn't know what to expect. There were celebrities all over the place and I didn't know if I really belonged,” she remembered. “Last year I came to terms, internally, that I belonged there with everyone and had earned my spot. I feel the same this year. By now, I've shown what kind of an athlete that I am and I’m ready to fight for a top spot in 2014.”
Jones’ fight and her athletic career, however, actually began long before CrossFit.
“My competitive drive comes from being in competition practically my whole life as a gymnast since I was 3,” she said. “I have always been strong because of my gymnastics. I remember always beating the boys in the physical fitness testing in gym classes, but that's really only cool until about fourth grade. During middle and high school, I was quiet and felt like I had a hard time relating to people because I was always either training for gymnastics or studying.”
Jones, like many competitors, thrives off hard work. Unlike most gymnasts, though, Jones never aspired to become an Olympian.
“When I was young, people would always ask me if I wanted to go to the Olympics. My answer was always no,” she said. “Olympian gymnasts had to move away from their families and get homeschooled to train seven hours a day. I loved the sport of gymnastics, but I also loved being a kid and spending time with my family.”
The Michigan native stuck to her high school squad throughout the majority of her teen years and in college.
She enrolled at Western Michigan University where she competed as a Division I gymnast, while earning a degree in nursing. There she collected accolades as the 2006 MAC Conference Champion and a two-time NCAA qualifier. Upon graduation in 2010, Jones took her first nursing job in Washington, D.C.
“As a gymnast, you are done when you graduate college, so after losing my life-long sport, I went to the gym but was lost,” she admitted. “Not long after, in the spring of 2010, I finally decided to stop running aimlessly on treadmills and tried a free CrossFit class someone encouraged me to try. I was hooked.”
“I think my natural talent just came back since I had been suppressing it after gymnastics in college was over,” she added.
Her longtime coach, Andrew Killion, confirmed that she had a natural knack for CrossFit.
“She came in for a free class and when we didn’t have enough rings for ring rows, I told her I’d show her how she could do ‘real’ pull-ups with these fancy bands we have,” Killion remembered. “She told me, ‘I think I’ll be all right without the bands,’ and proceeded to do 15 strict pull-ups in a row. … It was only a few months later that I found out she was the all-time points leader in Western Michigan gymnastics.”
At the 2014 South Central Regional, Jones solidified a 10-point overall lead with a 180-lb. hang snatch and 300-foot handstand walk.
It was little known that Jones had been rehabbing a nagging shoulder injury that prevented her from going as heavy on her lifts as she liked in her training over the past year.
“I'm getting old, aches and pains are everywhere,” the 29-year-old said. “One big issue this year was my shoulder. Not an acute injury, but definitely affected my gym performance and then my everyday life, as well. I had to take it extremely slow working back from that to prevent any increased pain in the joint.”
This meant following everything Killion of District CrossFit in D.C. programmed for her to do.
“(We’re working on) top-end strength and low-end endurance,” he said. “From her gymnastics days, she’s always been very bendy and flexible, so getting her to actually create the tension she needs to move large loads has been her challenge.”
“Her ability to handle high percentages of loads repetitively has remarkably improved,” Killion added. “Last year those heavy squats at regionals would’ve been a nail biter, but this year she handled them better than I even expected. For the Games, specifically, we’ve been working a ton on her aerobic endurance. She’s a sprinter by nature so she’s really improved her ability to endure.”
With her third trip to the Games right around the corner, Jones is feeling healthy. She has been training twice per day with quality work completed each session. Sessions are constantly varied.
“All of my training is scheduled in around work and recovery. Sleep is super important,” she said. “So, the time of the workouts aren't as important as putting the work in to get it done.”
Jones is used to the volume, and compared to her training last year, not much has changed except her work now as a part-time, instead of full-time, nurse as well as a part-time coach. When not working, she’s training, resting or eating.
“I'm super fortunate with how things work out,” she said. “I am able to basically nurse one 12-hour shift a week, which I use as my rest day, and I have a full coaching day Mondays at the gym, as well. Sometimes that will also be a rest day, but typically it’s easier to be in the gym and just hit some workouts in between coaching. The best part about the two jobs that I have is they are both helping people, just on completely different ends of the spectrum.”
Both her jobs, spent helping others, remind her of a bigger picture when she finds herself a little anxious about entering the StubHub Center for her third year in a row: CrossFit is for fun.
“I think I feel more pressure to perform this year, even though I'm trying to make sure that I'm still having fun,” Jones said. “I always try to keep in mind why I started competing in the first place—to have fun and for the joy of sport—and where this whole ride is taking me. I'm constantly asking myself what is the bigger plan for me.”
Killion said Jones’ success comes from that mentality.
“Jenn’s one of the friendliest, humblest and most genuinely wonderful people I know,” he said. “I consider myself extremely lucky we crossed paths. But I think, at her core, she’s a star. … When she’s confident and having fun, I honestly believe there’s not a single thing she can’t do."