2013 was supposed to be Joseph Taylor Rank’s year.
Expectations were extremely high for 27-year-old Rank, nicknamed “T-Rank,” as he was expected to top the Leaderboard at the 2013 Asia Regional and book his ticket to Carson, Calif.
Making his debut as a competitive CrossFit athlete in 2011, the former NCCA Division 1 player for the University of South Carolina football team surprised everyone when he finished second at the regional, one spot shy of qualifying for the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games.
A self-trained CrossFit athlete at that time, Rank programmed his own training in the lead-up to Seoul, Korea. However, he realized he needed more variance in his training if he wanted to compete against elite CrossFit Games athletes.
“When the 2012 Regional ended, I started incorporating many different things into my training and really hammering my weaknesses,” he said.
He also decided it was time to find a coach.
“Mentally, it’s a battle to stay focused and keep training with intensity, but having a coach and others to hold me accountable have kept me on the right track,” Rank said.
The coach he turned to was CJ Martin, head coach and owner of CrossFit Invictus, in San Diego, Calif. Martin also coaches Games athletes Josh Bridges, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and Talayna Fortunato.
As Rank is based in Hong Kong and trains at CrossFit Asphodel, he communicates with Martin via Skype and email, and also sends videos of his training for feedback.
“We communicate often and work really hard to develop my weaknesses and further improve my strengths,” Rank said. “I can say that because of the programming, knowledge and guidance from Coach Martin, I am in the best shape I have ever been and enjoying CrossFit as much as I ever have.”
It came as a huge shock to everyone last year when Rank withdrew at the 2013 Asia Regional.
The question around the regional was, “What happened to T-Rank?”
Rank said injury was the main reason behind his unexpected poor showing.
It was during Event 4, the first event on Day 2, when it all went wrong for him. The workout consisted of 100 wall-ball shots, 100 chest-to-bar pull-ups, 100 alternating one-legged squats and 100 alternating one-armed dumbbell snatches.
“While doing the pistol squats, I felt a sharp pain in my knee and fell forward while attempting a rep,” he recounted. “I thought I had just tweaked something and continued to try and push through the pain.”
The sudden turn of events was a blow for Rank. Until Event 4, everything had been going according to plan.
“I was pleased with my performance after Day 1 as I was sitting in second place,” Rank recalled. “I knew going into Day 2 that it was going to be a hard day for me and was really looking to hold onto a good position going into Day 3, which was in my wheelhouse.”
Determined to not let his hard work go to waste, Rank fought on to finish the remaining events on Day 2. However, the pain in his knee got worse.
“When I woke up on the Sunday for the last day of the competition, my knee was significantly more swollen and it was difficult to straighten my leg,” he said. “It turned out that I had torn the meniscus in my right knee.”
Rank was faced with a conundrum. The competitor in him wanted to continue to compete, but his body advised against it. In the end, he chose the former, which turned out to be the wrong decision.
“I decided to continue to compete but after the double-unders during Event 6, I simply could not continue anymore and the risk of further injury forced me to withdraw from the competition,” he said.
His decision to withdraw meant Rank had gone from being on the cusp of going to Carson, Calif., to finding himself out of action with a potentially serious injury.
“Thankfully, it didn’t require surgery,” he said. “However, I had to take about three weeks off and then slowly started working on upper body strength for about a month and a half. It took me about four months before I could train normally again.”
Being unable to train was a blessing in disguise because it allowed Rank to reflect on his failure to achieve his goals.
“2012 was a great experience for me. I really didn't know what to expect because it was my first real CrossFit competition and I had only been doing CrossFit for a few months at the time,” he said. “I was fully prepared in 2013. I trained very hard and was absolutely ready to do well. However, my season ended in disappointment because of my injury. Overall, I didn’t feel that I performed at the level I had anticipated.”
Rank admitted going into the regional last year, the pressure to repeat his feat of 2012 was overwhelming.
“In 2013, I put a lot of pressure on myself, which caused me to lose a lot of the enjoyment I had experienced during 2012,” he said. “This year, I am not going to put the pressure on myself to win.”
This year, a healthier and stronger Rank is approaching the 2014 Asia Regional with a whole new mentality. He is confident his fans will get to see the full results of his training this time around.
“I want to go out, have fun, lift heavy and enjoy the experience as a whole,” Rank said. “Winning will be the product of me going out and enjoying competition and the push from all the other great athletes that are out there with me.”
T-Rank is back. You’ve been warned.