"CrossFit is fun for me because I can pull from so many past experiences, put it all together and create a decently successful CrossFit package."
Kelley Hennigan’s competition goals for 2012 were modest. She’d competed on her affiliate team at the South Central Regional the year before, but this was her first year competing as an individual. She wanted to make top 60 in the Open and qualify for Regionals. After accomplishing that — she finished 10th— she readjusted her goals. At the South Central Regional, Hennigan hoped to finish top 10 in all six events.
By the end of that long weekend in San Antonio, she had become one of the surprise packages of the 2012 competition season.
A former Division 1 gymnast at the University of Denver, Hennigan is an explosive athlete who excels at short workouts that call upon strength and gymnastics. She figured the programming at Regionals was right up her alley — except for Events 4 and 6, which were longer workouts with high volume.
Just about everything went according to plan. She PR’d on the snatch in Event 5, lifting 145 pounds. “I feel like I was just completely driven by the energy here,” she says.
And in spite of her anxiety about longer workouts, she finished fourth in Event 4. Her lowest place finish was 10th on Event 2 and while she struggled with muscle-ups in Event 6, falling behind in the final heat, her consistency over the whole weekend ensured her a berth to Carson, Calif., in July.
Muscle-ups sound like a movement firmly in the wheelhouse of any elite gymnast, but Hennigan has long struggled with them, in part because she’s missing a large chunk of her left deltoid. In 2000, she had surgery to remove a sarcoma tumor on her left shoulder.
“They removed the tumor and a healthy dose of some deltoid to be safe. Since the surgery and before CrossFit, I had avoided all things dips because it caused a lot of pain, mainly because of having to compensate for that muscle just not really being all there,” she says. “I’ve really had to build the strength in my dip to get it to be where it is now, which is still not great. Beyond dips, I do push-ups pretty wonky to compensate for my shoulder to make it work.”
She’s quick to dismiss any suggestion that her shoulder holds her back. “I wish that was the reason I didn’t do well on that last WOD, but that would just be an excuse.”
It becomes obvious Hennigan is the kind of athlete who has never had time for excuses. Her arrival on the CrossFit scene may appear sudden, but it’s actually a byproduct of years of training and competition.
“It’s totally sudden in the realm of the CrossFit world, but in the grand scheme for me it’s been 18 years of gymnastics, four years of lifting experience, and being a competitive person in general,” she says. “CrossFit is fun for me because I can pull from so many past experiences, put it all together and create a decently successful CrossFit package. It’s been quite the journey and I’ve worked hard to get to where I am.”
Weeks after her most recent accomplishment, Hennigan is still coming to terms with the fact she’ll be competing at the CrossFit Games.
“Not sure that it has really sunk in yet still,” she says. “It’s a pretty surreal feeling and I still find myself thinking it isn’t real. I can’t not factor in some of the holes in the region that gave me an opportunity to end up where I ended up [several Games veterans had either moved to another region or chosen not to compete as individuals this year]; however, at the end of the weekend, when all the points were tallied, I finished in a qualifying spot, and it feels incredible.”
She may feel a bit overwhelmed right now, but don’t expect that feeling to last. Given her gymnastics background, Hennigan appreciates the psychological, as well as the physical, dimensions of competition, and she’ll apply her knowledge and experience once she gets to Carson.
“The mental aspect was something that was stressed in college gymnastics and it is something that has stayed with me since,” she says. “There are things I used to do as a gymnast before meets that I will probably try to do to make me feel more comfortable [in Carson]. I like seeing the venue and visualizing where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing. Since we will more than likely not know the events I'll be doing my best in workouts to create a competition feel and practice mental cues and pacing as much as possible.”
On the physical side of things, Hennigan schedules training around her variable work schedule — she works for Lululemon Athletica. Every week, her coach gives her six days of programming, and she does the workouts at either her affiliate, CrossFit Uproar, or in her garage gym. She also swims twice a week and does yoga at least once a week.
As far as goals go, the 24-year-old isn’t going to concern herself with placement. She wants to perform consistently, as well as strike a psychological balance and “not ride the emotional roller coaster either way – good or bad.”
Another goal is to simply enjoy the experience of competing on CrossFit’s biggest stage. “I am really good at being hard on myself, performance-wise and the biggest disappointment for me would be getting the opportunity to compete at the Games and not enjoying the experience,” she explains. “If I’m enjoying what I'm doing, I’m not worried about performing — it will happen.”