“My CrossFit goals are fairly simple: to be the best I can be at this sport."
Most fourth-grade teachers can’t say they’ve competed at the CrossFit Games. But Beth Spearman can.
Spearman, a fourth-grade social studies teacher competed with Atomic CrossFit’s team at the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games.
This teacher also has two “rambunctious” kids, ages 2 and 4, to keep her busy. In 2014, she is determined to go back to the Games for round two. This year, though, she’s shooting for an individual spot.
“My CrossFit goals are fairly simple: to be the best I can be at this sport,” Spearman said. “Regionals qualification as an individual and then, my ultimate goal, a spot at the Games, are what I am after.”
With six years of CrossFit under her belt and three top-five finishes at local competitions this past year, Spearman said she is ready to make a run, starting with the Open.
At Austin, Texas’ Fittest Games in January, Spearman competed against 22 regional athletes and four Games veterans. Going in to the last event, she was a little surprised to discover she was in first place.
“I kind of knew going into the last event that it could be a winner-take-all situation,” she said. “Our Atomic team was in the exact same situation last year, first place going into the final and finished off the podium. I competed hard all weekend, so I wasn't going to give it any less in the final. Every single competitor in that final was a top regional or Games competitor. It wasn't going to be easy. I gave it all I had and didn't come out on top. It happens and it stings a little to compete so hard all weekend and have that happen.”
In spite of her fifth-place finish, she is proud of the consistency she showed throughout the six workouts.
“I learned a lot about myself competing individually,” she said. “Honestly, I saw all of the talented ladies that would be competing and I wondered if I had the ability to hang with them. I’ve been so used to team competitions that I wasn’t sure I could handle competition alone. I was training hard and knew I could compete, but I don’t think I really expected to do as well as I did.”
The transition to individual competition has involved more of a shift in mindset than anything else. For years, Spearman was used to training with five other people. Now, she does a lot of training on her own. Her former teammates are still around and they still train together on occasion, but the feeling is different.
“I’m focused solely on what I have to do to get better, not necessarily how I can best help the team,” she said. “I communicate a lot with (coach) Jim (Kelly) on my training. We are constantly tweaking things so that I work on my weaknesses, because no one is there to pick up my slack if there's something I’m not strong in. There’s a whole lot more discomfort with an individual competition.”
Spearman said mental strength is what carries the individual athlete over a long weekend of competition. The athlete has to stay focused the entire time, while not getting too far ahead of herself. It can be disastrous to look beyond any given workout.
The Open represents the next challenge in her evolution as an individual competitor.
“I love the Open,” she said. “The workouts are always miserable but they push you to that dark place that you don’t want to go to—amongst a community that is so supportive.”
She’s had some memorable experiences. During her first Open in 2011, the former All-American pole-vaulter at Rice University discovered she was pregnant with her second child. She still managed to qualify for regionals as an individual.
The next year, Spearman was ready to compete just two months after giving birth. She was on the Atomic CrossFit team that competed at regionals. Come 2013, she succeeded again in the Open, finishing 11th in the region. The team broke through last year, earning a podium spot and advancing to the CrossFit Games in Carson, Calif.
With the 2014 competition season rapidly approaching, Spearman is working with Jim Kelly, director of programming at Atomic CrossFit. Kelly understands Spearman, as a mom and a full-time teacher, can’t spend hours at the gym. He ensures that her training sessions are short and intense.
Throughout the year, Kelly programs different cycles of training. One cycle will focus on endurance for a period of time, then they will focus on strength or lactic threshold training.
They also work in programming from CrossFit Invictus.
“I followed the Invictus Competitor’s program for a year straight and made a ton of gains,” Spearman said. “I still do some Invictus training, but I’ve had to work in some more training that’s focused on my specific weaknesses—especially running and endurance. I really don’t like running, so workouts with running always make me think twice.”
Kelly has seen his athlete improve greatly over the past year and expects her to be a contender at regionals for a podium spot. He’s also sure that given her recent performances in competitions, she won’t be taking anyone by surprise.
“Her Olympic lifts have improved and training volume has increased,” he said. “Getting into an individual competitor mindset has also been an area of improvement.”
“As far as her chance to make the Games, I know she has what it takes to go to California from the South Central Region,” Kelly continued. “She loves to compete and will definitely be ready at regionals. It all comes down to execution at her best and then seeing how the other outstanding ladies of the South Central Region do that weekend. One thing I can say: the favorites in the region definitely know who she is. After the Fittest Games in Austin, she isn’t sneaking up anyone.”
With so much on her plate, Spearman relies on her husband Ryan who describes their lifestyle of balancing work, childcare and CrossFit “the million-dollar question.” According to him, it’s all about communication and organization.
“Both of our kids go to the same school that she teaches at,” he said. “So that makes it a little easier for her to round up the kids everyday after school. They usually head straight to the gym after school. We have been blessed with two great kids who both love going to the gym. Our gym is great with accommodating children, in that they have a huge kids playroom equipped with toys, a big screen TV, tables and couches.”
The kids will watch a movie and enjoy a snack while mom is training. Lately, they have taken a more active interest in the gym. Their father sees in them the next generation of CrossFit athletes.
“Our 4-year-old daughter loves to play on the rings and swing from the ropes; she's even started the kids class two days a week,” he said. “Our 2-year-old is pretty content with just running around the gym.”
Days in advance, the couple will plan and organize the week ahead. They know each night when they get home the menu for dinner, who's cooking, and who is bathing and entertaining the kids.
“There is some sacrifice involved in this process, but we have an understanding of what Beth is trying to achieve and together as a family, we will achieve that goal,” Ryan added.
Away from home, Spearman said her mission is to inspire others. She tells her students—who like to like to talk about her “big muscles”—about her competitions, and in the middle of the day has them take “brain breaks” that involve squats and burpees.
“I ultimately hope to inspire and support others to keep working hard every day,” Spearman said. “I haven’t necessarily had the easiest journey becoming a competitive athlete. I’ve worked hard to find that balance between being a mother, wife, daughter, coach, athlete, friend, church member and teacher, but it can be done. Currently, that journey continues.”
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