On May 16, we can expect to see a familiar name return to the competition floor at the WIN Entertainment Centre for the 2014 Australia Regional.
Three-time regional competitor Jason Haywood has once again qualified for the second stage of the CrossFit Games season, finishing 38th in Australia at the end of this year’s Open.
After taking a year away from the sport in 2013, the 28-year-old from the Central Coast, New South Wales has made an impressive return to competition this year.
Haywood finished inside the top 100 in the region in every workout apart from 14.4, including a 17th-place finish in the deadlift/box jump couplet during Week 3 with 156 reps.
But while he’s excited about his return, and happy with his progress so far, he admitted he’s got plenty of work to do get back to his best.
“I feel that I am a much more rounded athlete than before,” he said, “but with the year off, I still don’t feel that I am back to my best. It is time to put it in the hard yards.”
After narrowly missing out on a spot at the CrossFit Games in 2012, with a sixth-place finish at the Australia Regional, Haywood immediately focused on becoming a better athlete in 2013.
Haywood knew he had to target his weaknesses heavily if he was to have any chance of competing in Carson, Calif.
But a few months after the regional, it became apparent something wasn’t quite right. Haywood's body started to exhibit strange symptoms and he was unable to train at his usual level.
"I developed alopecia areata, where patches of hair loss and bald spots appeared all over my body,” he said. “It is a disease that is triggered by severe trauma or stress."
For Haywood, it was personal tragedy in February, 2012, that triggered his stress, when his mother lost her battle with cancer.
Despite the personal setback, Haywood continued training.
“I pushed myself through the process, knowing I was beat down and broken,” he said.
Initially, Haywood thought nothing of the symptoms and tried to push through the disease, but it soon started to impact his quality of life.
“It significantly affected my hormone levels and body function,” Haywood said. “It inhibited my ability to train, sleep and recover.”
“As a CrossFit athlete, (it was) pretty much the worst thing to happen.”
Haywood made the decision to step away from competition in 2013 and allow his body to recover. This included reducing the amount of time spent coaching and training at his affiliate, CrossFit BodyM.
With the support of his members, family and coaching staff, Haywood was able to keep his affiliate going, while taking a much-needed break.
“I had a lot of support from my friends and family at CrossFit BodyM,” he said.
“There were people who were able to take on a couple of extra classes, which gave me that extra time to recover.”
As there is no set time for recovery from alopecia areata, Haywood wasn’t sure when, or if, he’d be able to make a return to high-level training.
“There was never a set date, or a timetable to get right,” he said. “I just waited for the symptoms to subside and my hair to grow back.”
Toward the end of 2013, Haywood’s symptoms started to resolve, and his physical and mental health had improved significantly. It was then when he decided he was mentally ready to make a return to competition.
“I started getting that hunger and drive again,” he said.
The extended time away has also been beneficial to Haywood’s body.
“My joint health is better than ever,” he said. “And the time off has bought me a couple of years to add to my longevity.”
Preparing for the Regional
Unlike previous years where his aim was to finish on the podium at the Australia Regional and qualify for the Games, Haywood’s goals are different in 2014.
“At this year’s regionals I have no expectations where I will place,” he said. “Hopefully, I will get through all the events and come away with a better idea of where I need to improve.”
With just more than a month until the Australia Regional, Haywood has increased his training volume and is also training regularly with fellow regional qualifier Keegan Wolfenden, who finished fifth in the Australia Region at the end of the Open.
He’s also now following a training plan from Games competitor Ben Schwartz from CrossFit Melbourne.
“My main training partner, Keegan, follows Ben’s programming, so it made sense for me to have the same training plan,” he said.
Members of Haywood’s affiliate have also made it easier for Haywood to prepare with a solid competitive atmosphere inside his box.
“There are a couple of guys who I chase at the gym,” he said. “We have had one guy qualify for the regional as well (Joshua Santhou, 42nd in Australia), and a couple of guys who ended up between 60 and 80.”
While he is still mentally preparing for the challenges that await him at the Australia Regional, Haywood is confident his body will hold up well over the three days of competition.
“The volume at regionals isn’t an issue, it is similar to what I do in training,” he said. “In that sense, it would be another day in the office. The bigger volume the better as I find that I thrive in those circumstances.”
With nothing to lose, Haywood is excited about his return to competition in 2014, and plans on soaking up the atmosphere when he steps out to compete in May.
He’s also happy to be doing so in what he said is one of the toughest regions in the world.
“There might be a bit bias in me, but I definitely think that the Australia Region is one of the toughest to qualify from,” he said.
“We are one of the biggest regions in terms of participation and the pool of quality athletes represents that,” he added. “Any of those top guys and girls can take the podium.”