She was always the strong one.
In elementary school, Val Voboril opened her friend’s Thermos bottles. In fourth grade, her classmates — impressed by her pull-up skills — goaded Voboril into challenging the vice-principal to a pull-up contest.
Everyone knew Voboril was strong, but she never found success in sports until she found CrossFit.
“I did recreational gymnastics,” she says. “I tried softball, and I was really good at practice, but I sucked at game time. I fell apart. I couldn’t handle the pressure.”
With no high-level competition experience, and a history of cracking under pressure, how did Voboril manage to become one of the most consistent female athletes in CrossFit?
It happened at the 2009 SoCal Regional. Voboril (who went by her maiden name, Valerie Mackenzie) had only been doing CrossFit for three months. Just like in high school, she found herself getting nervous before the competition. What if she didn’t do well? What if she failed?
Then a friend from her gym, an MMA fighter, gave her some advice. He told her to take a minute to reflect once on the competition floor.
“He told me to look around at the scene, take it in, take a breath,” Voboril says. “Get outside of myself and smile at everyone. Live outside of myself.”
Looking at the scene around her took Voboril outside of her own anxiety. It made her realize the whole thing was not just about her. That took the pressure off.
“I stopped worrying about everyone else,” she says. “I could be much more serene in competition.”
After that, Voboril was off.
She qualified for the 2009 CrossFit Games, which started with the notoriously steep, dusty 7.1K trail run. Voboril was 100 meters from the finish line when she began to sway and lose her balance. She fell to her knees, unable to walk or stand. That didn’t stop her. Determined to finish, Voboril somersaulted across the finish line, coming in 10th. Her fierce determination to finish ended up being one of the defining moments of the 2009 Games.
The on-site medical staff examined Voboril and diagnosed her with heat stroke brought on by allergy medication. She was forced to withdraw from competition.
This disappointment only added fuel to her fire. Voboril came back the next year even stronger, and placed third at the 2010 Games, then took fifth at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games. (She sat out 2011 after the birth of her daughter.)
Voboril made it to the Games again this year, taking third at the 2013 SoCal Regional. Despite consistent performances, Voboril is no gym rat. She doesn’t have the time.
A full-time teacher who prioritizes time with her young daughter, Voboril limits her training to one hour a day, five days a week. Now that she’s done teaching for the summer, Voboril will step it up a bit, adding some double sessions a few times a week.
“I’ll never train for more than an hour at a time,” she says.
Most Games athletes spend hours in the gym, pounding their weaknesses, refining technique. Voboril has a different focus.
“I talked to my coach today (about) how can we find the fun,” she says.
For Voboril, if it’s not fun, it’s not worth it.
She follows programming by CJ Martin and just this year hired an in-person coach, Mike Lee of DogTown CrossFit. He gives her immediate feedback and brainstorms about ways to keep things enjoyable.
“I have a rig in my backyard, but I miss the community factor,” Voboril says. “I try to get to DogTown on the weekends.”
Before the 2013 SoCal Regional kicked off, Voboril wasn’t sure how she would do. In 2012, there were no expectations. She was a new mom, and was just happy to be there. This year, things would be different.
“The athletes are younger, it’s a better field and the competition is greater and greater every year,” she says.
However, to her surprise, Voboril placed third.
“It’s always a shock,” she says about making it to the Games. “It's always a wonderful surprise.”
This year, Voboril will be joined by a number of first-time Games competitors.
“My advice to (the new athletes) would be to talk to the other athletes. Most people aren’t secretive,” she says. “Go enjoy yourself. Enjoy the fans. Enjoy the activities. Just take it in.”
Part of her serenity comes from the fact that she’s “decent at most things.” She loves pull-ups and bar muscle-ups, but there’s one thing she doesn’t want to see at the 2013 Games:
“I’m worried we’ll have some sort of craft to paddle,” she says.
Even if she finds herself in the ocean, paddling away, Voboril will stay focused on her goal.
“Same as every year,” she says. “Enjoy myself. Have fun.”