"It was so nerve-racking at first, being next to all the greats. I felt so out of place."
When U.S. Marine Christen Wagner won the Asia Regional and headed out to the CrossFit Games last year, not only was she the sole female athlete from the region to make it to the finals, but she was also making a return to competitive sports after a 12-year hiatus.
“It was so nerve-racking at first, being next to all the greats. I felt so out of place,” Wagner says. “Luckily, my wonderful husband was there to remind me to have fun and soak everything in, learn everything I could. The whole experience was invigorating.”
Wagner’s husband is also an active duty Marine, meaning he was able to get in to Camp Pendleton to watch the first two events.
“I swear my fondest memory was finishing that run, trying desperately to put one foot in front of the other,” she recalls. “I was dehydrated, hot and exhausted. I barely saw him run over with water after the event ended, beaming with pride. All I could do was smile.”
Wagner’s final event of the weekend was the Clean Ladder, in which she landed in 41st place. Coincidentally, this was the same overall position she took. Her experiences left her wiser and already thinking about the next Games season.
“The most valuable thing I learned from the Games was not to base my abilities on what I can do fresh, but rather, what I can do when my body feels like it’s been run over, my calves may explode or my shoulders might just fall off,” Wagner laughs. “It is an amazing thing to know what it feels like to be so beat down and still be able to perform such amazing feats of bodily strength and endurance. It provides a great frame of reference for the future.”
Between then and now, Wagner has suffered from several holdups in her training. An ankle injury, followed by two bouts of illness, a hurt wrist and a pulled back muscle set her back from training for several weeks over the last year. Countless athletes will no doubt be able to empathize with such situations and the subsequent frustration that goes alongside them, but Wagner is learning her lesson the hard way.
“I think my injuries could have been prevented if I wasn’t always so anxious to jump back into the same routine. It’s hard controlling the voice in your head that tells you to lift heavy things and keep on pushing until your lungs give out,” she says. “All things considered, I am just happy that I am getting through the Open Workouts with no additional injuries.”
A self-proclaimed “nutrition nerd,” Wagner enjoys experimenting to see what fuels her body best, and post-Games was all the more motivated to find winning combinations for optimum performance.
“This year, I added dairy back into the diet and I’m doing copious amounts of fermenting,” she says. “My house looks like a gigantic science experiment gone bad, but I honestly feel better in general because of it.”
In addition to her newfound love of all things probiotic, Wagner has been supplementing her training at CrossFit Asia with “some fun, active recovery days,” which include basketball, swimming and yoga.
She has also decided to go team.
“After returning from the Games last year, I really thought I wanted another bout at competing as an individual, but ultimately, I really miss the feeling of accomplishment that goes along with belonging to a team,” she explains. “That feeling when you cannot dare let your guard down because someone is relying on you. I miss that from my days in soccer and track, and I would like to reclaim that this year.”
Currently sitting in a very comfortable third place, Wagner and the team are already thinking about the Asia Regional and how to tackle it.
“The plan for Seoul is to help take my team to victory or destroy myself trying. I really want to be the go-to person on the team and be there for them no matter what,” she says. “I may not be the strongest or fastest at everything by the time the Regional weekend rolls around, but that is not going to stop me from trying to be. We’ve got a great team out here so I enjoy the drive it gives me competing for the top spot.”
Wagner’s drive and determination to excel is clearly evident. After a year of ups and downs, she is ready to face whatever the remainder of the Games season has to offer, no excuses.
“I’m sure any active duty military member, or any CrossFitter out there with a career can tell you, it’s always a challenge to balance work, school, family, nutrition and competition. Most of the time, I am just trying to keep my head above water, but I feel that makes me want it more. There is so much emotion that goes into something this big and I feel like I am finally at a point where I can use that heart to push past my barriers.”