A year ago, some of us had to swallow a hard truth: Chris Spealler would not compete at the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games. That was hard to wrap my head around. A CrossFit Games without Speal?
Thankfully, we won’t be going through that hell again. Spealler is back, baby.
So are Tommy Hackenbruck, James Hobart, Chyna Cho, “Iceland” Annie Thorisdottir and Julie Foucher.
It’s like the CrossFit Games retro edition up in this piece. We also saw some familiar names fall short at the regional level this year. We won’t be seeing Stacie Tovar, Wes Piatt, Samantha Briggs, Lindsey Valenzuela, Marcus Hendren, Graham Holmberg and many others—at least not until next season.
This is not the end. That hard truth is actually a lesson: you don’t get put out to pasture after a year on the sidelines or crossing over to the team competition. Hackenbruck, who competed as an individual from 2009 to 2011 went on to lead his team, Hack's Pack, to back-to-back Affiliate Cup championships in 2012 and 2013. Now, he's back in the individual competition, having finished first in the South West Region.
“I’m happy to be going and happy that Chris (Spealler) and Pat (Burke) are going with me,” said Hackenbruck, on qualifying for the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games.
North East's James Hobart is another who has been to the other side and back. Hobart competed as an individual at the 2009 and 2010 Games. He joined then dominant CFNE Team A, of CrossFit New England, won the Affiliate Cup in 2011 and took second place behind Hack’s Pack in 2013. This year, Hobart returns to the big show for the sixth consecutive year after a second-place finish as an individual at the North East Regional.
Spealler is used to teaching at CrossFit Park City and at CrossFit Level 1 Seminars. At the 2012 South West Regional, he taught a lesson about not only himself, but also the rest of the athletes in the sport of CrossFit. It’s not just Speal who doesn’t care what people think, how heavy the workout is, how small—or big—he is relative to other competitors, or even failing to qualify for several years running.
We learned that true competitors never, ever give up.
Chyna Cho made it back through the rough and tumble NorCal women’s race after a three-year absence from the CrossFit Games. Cho, a popular NorCal athlete, finished 18th at the 2010 Games. In 2011, she tied for third at the regional, missing qualification by tiebreaker to Annie Sakamoto. In 2012 and 2013, she had two more close calls, missing qualification by 5 and 3 points, respectively.
"Every year I've gotten a little more hungry. ... I finally made it back,” Cho said.
Let’s back up to the 2012 Regionals, when Spealler did everything right to get into the show. He was in a tough spot and had to turn in heroic efforts on each event—including a PR on his snatch—to get an invite to Carson, California. He did all of it and in dramatic fashion.
Everyone thought Spealler was done, except the only damn person who mattered: Spealler.
This was before all this fancy live-streaming business we have nowadays. We saw and heard an emotional, compelling story of our young sport unfold that day. Some were cheering from the South West Regional venue, while a bunch of us were listening to the event on speakerphone in the HQ office while Justin Judkins of CrossFit Radio did play-by-play commentary via cell phone. It was the only way we could experience it “live.”
“#Spealler” was trending on Twitter. The universal appeal of the underdog was never more palpable. Spealler is a likeable guy—a friendly, humble human being and a popular member of the community. It was easy to be enamored with his struggle.
What’s important here is the platform this experience gave Spealler to teach us something. The fans of CrossFit learned that our heroes are human. Sometimes they won’t make it. This is real life.
After the final event at the 2012 South West Regional, when Spealler had made it in, we all felt it with him. In 2013, reality bitch-slapped us. We felt the sting when he didn’t make the cut. It was devastating. But the lesson remained: Stars in CrossFit are stars because of their character, grit and determination—win or lose. There’s always a chance they’ll be back.
This year was the opposite for Spealler. He hit an expected—but mediocre by regional standards—220-lb. hang snatch. Then he just had to survive and not fuck it up all through the weekend. He did just that. Without pomp and circumstance, Spealler became one of only a few athletes to qualify for his seventh CrossFit Games. While not as spectacular as the come-from-behind in 2012, we got to watch the whole thing in streaming high-definition video. What a ways our sport has come.
“It’s just super special because it’s going to be my last. It feels good to end where I started,” Spealler said.
A part of me hopes he's full of shit.
The man who fears no pull-up taught us this lesson: The old guard can hang with the influx of new, young talent. We’ve also come to realize that one or even several years of missed cuts at the regional level does not relegate an athlete to the lore of Games gone by. Athletes who haven't competed at the Games as individuals since dickity-ought-ten are back. Cho, Spealler and Hackenbruck never doubted themselves, and you shouldn't have doubted them either.
We’re excited to have Spealler and Foucher back. But, we’re no longer jittery over the absence of athletes like Briggs and Hendren. They’ll be back. Spealler and others have shown us it can be done. For the fans watching at home, Speal-watch 2014 stands as such:
Weight snatched: 220 lb.
Handstand distance walked: 285 feet
CrossFit Games qualified for: seven
Finally, we have the answer to the question asked last season: “What am I going to do with all this fitness?” Go to the damn CrossFit Games. For the seventh time. #Spealler.