Eighty-nine miles north of Seattle and across the Deception Pass Bridge lies the small island town of Oak Harbor, Wash. Long known for its galled garry oak trees and endless drizzle, the 22,000-person town may now be better known for one of its residents.
Sam Petersen, a 23-year-old single mother from Oak Harbor, reached the pinnacle of CrossFit competition this year.
In June, Petersen won the title of “Fittest Woman in the North West” after beating 2010 CrossFit Games competitors Cheryl Brost and Ashleigh Moe. One month later, Petersen finished in 39th place at the 2011 CrossFit Games, settling into the scoreboard between 2010 CrossFit Games 4th place finisher Jessica Pamanian and Matt Chan’s better half, Cherie Chan.
Although these titles earn some serious clout in CrossFit boxes, it is not the titles but the distance she traveled and the obstacles she overcame to get to the Games that separate Petersen from the rest.
Three years ago, Petersen was standing at the lowest point in the valley. She was 20-years-old and a new mom, overweight from her pregnancy, and searching for a new path to start down.
“In October of 2008, I decided I wasn’t going to be big anymore,” Petersen says.
Petersen set her sights on the tallest peak in the distance and headed down CrossFit’s rough and winding trail. Petersen brought her 2-month-old baby to the box, got the workouts in, shed 75 pounds, and a year-and-a-half later found her first serious sport in CrossFit competition. A year-and-a-half after that, she was at the Games.
There in Carson, Calif., she’d made it to the base of the tallest peak. The only problem, as many rookies discover, was figuring out how to climb it.
“When I got to Carson it was fun and exciting, but so overwhelming. Meeting everyone and also thinking about how to go about starting each event without knowing what was coming next was an adrenaline kick and a huge mental game for me,” Petersen says.
She didn’t know which route to take or where the best holds were. She just started for it, climbing blind to what was coming next and discovering what was right or wrong as the holds supported her weight or crumbled from her grasp.
“The Games weekend was so fast paced. Going in, I really didn’t know what to expect or how to handle everything,” Petersen says.
“I learned that I can’t let my emotions get a hold of me,” Petersen says. “I had a judge that I got upset at in the heat of the moment. I want to apologize because that’s not how I roll.”
She also learned that there’s a difference between thinking through a workout and over-thinking it. “When any CrossFitter does a workout they need to think through how they’re going to accomplish it, but it’s one thing to think through it and a whole other thing to over think it,” Petersen says, “So next year no over-thinking for me.”
She suggests that next year’s rookies try to think of the Games like the rest of their training and make sure to enjoy the experience. “Just be yourself and workout like you always do at the gym. Have fun.”
If she makes it back to Carson in 2012, she’ll bring her friends. “I was so out of my element at the Games with just one family member and a coach, since I am normally surrounded by so many more people,” Petersen says.
“While all the other athletes were nice, it was still different not having my community and difficult trying to get to know everyone and make friends while also playing hard in such little time.”
Since the Games, she has been busy with life outside of CrossFit. Changing jobs, completing an amicable divorce, and dealing with the “terrible twos” have taken up most of her attention.
“I ate really unhealthy when I got back and just a couple weeks ago stared to eat ‘healthy and normal’ to an average CrossFitter again. I’m trying to get into a routine again, but I don’t know how to start, what to do, or I guess where to even begin. It’s like it’s all new to me.”
Her daughter is helping her log some new Petersen PRs. “She comes to the gym with me while I workout and I let her do the warm-ups with me. As we leave I let her climb the ropes or play on the rings and do pull-ups. She got her first one two months ago, yeah baby! No bands. I was so excited.
“As far as being a mom, most of us know it’s a full time job in itself. So if you’re a competitor and a mom, more props to you. But even more props to the kids that are helping their moms or dads through everything because I know it’s hard some days or late nights. I know that I do this for my daughter so that one day she can say, ‘Mom, I’m going to beat you! Three-two-one go!’”