"I’m not taking it for granted, and realizing it’s an opportunity not had by many and you don’t know if you’ll get it again."
In 2012, it all came down to the 70-lb. dumbbell snatches for Michelle Kinney.
The two-time CrossFit Games competitor struggled with the heavy, awkward weights in Event 3 of the 2012 Central East Regional. While Julie Foucher and Heather Welsh sprinted through it for sub-5:30 finishes, Kinney continued to work until 9:12.
Welsh took second on the event, while Kinney plummeted to 14th.
Kinney was consistent before and after Event 3, taking two second-place finishes and three seventh-place finishes. Still, she wasn’t able to make up the 10-point gap.
At the end of the weekend, Welsh stood on the podium below Foucher and Lindsey Smith while Kinney packed her bags. With 29 points, Welsh secured third overall, while Kinney with 39 points was left in fourth.
She tried to take it in stride, and accept a relaxing summer. She had just opened her affiliate, CrossFit Chickasaw, and spent her limited free time training for the Regional. Any normal person would want the break, but soon the reality set in that she’s not a normal person.
“Once the reality hit in, I was distraught,” she remembers. “I thought, ‘Any guy can hang out and drink beer all summer. I should be training for the CrossFit Games right now.’ It was very devastating.”
For three months after the Regional, she hardly trained. She got in “just enough to feel good” but nothing near her normal volume. When the Games lit up laptops and television screens last July, she couldn’t bring herself to watch.
“I would have thought that the disappointment would have kind of lit that fire and made me super pumped about training, but it was the opposite,” she says. “It took awhile to get out of that funk.”
Her coach, CJ Martin, reminded her that the effort means more than the result.
“When I missed the Games, we had a conversation,” Kinney says. “He said, ‘You did the best you could, you messed up, but you can’t control that.’ I said that was like getting a participant ribbon. I didn’t want to hear it.”
Although she wasn’t able to hear it at first, Martin kept relaying the same message. He convinced her to join an all-star team for a competition in California. The low-stakes offseason competition got her back into training.
“We finished second and I had an absolute ball,” she says. “It brought the fun back into CrossFit, and I realized that I was missing the fun for a long time. I was way too serious about it, I needed to chill the hell out.”
After the competition, she returned to CrossFit Chickasaw and started training for 2013.
Remembering the 70-lb. dumbbell that seemed glued to the floor last year, Martin emailed Kinney programming focused on building strength with heavy squats and Olympic lifts each week.
“I was getting stronger week to week,” she says. “I could feel it, and the fun was still there.”
Eventually, she accepted her coach’s motto: full effort is full victory.
“I learned what those words mean,” she says. “As long as I approach each training session and give 100 percent, if it doesn’t go as planned, I can’t do anything about it except do the best I can. Truly understanding and implementing that thought has made a huge difference.”
New Season, New Mindset
At the 2013 Central East Regional, Kinney was a different athlete.
Last year, she was constantly watching the other competitors to see who was gaining on her. This year, she was focused on her own game.
“I wanted to make sure it was fun, and I was hell bent on keeping it that way,” she says. “It wasn’t about me versus anybody, it was more about just doing the best I can and being content with that effort.”
On the competition floor, she set a 10-second PR on Jackie (6:14.2) to finish in second place. Later that afternoon, she showed she’d gotten stronger in the offseason with three 170-lb. overhead squats. Although 10 women did better, it was a solid performance for Kinney.
The next day, she redeemed herself on the dumbbell snatch by lifting the 50-lb. dumbbell 79 times within the Event 4 time cap for third.
“The dumbbell gave me hell big time (in 2012),” she says. “The previous year, I knew if I tried to move fast, I’d definitely fail. This year it was like, ‘If you put your hand on it, you’re going to get the rep.’”
Her third-place finish on Event 4 put her in third overall. It was in the next event, however, that she caught everyone’s attention with her exceptionally fast deadlifts in the deadlift/box jump couplet.
“CJ joked (that) there’s not much he could coach, just go fast,” Kinney says. “I was like, ‘OK, Coach, I’ll go fast!’”
She did the first 21 deadlifts unbroken and appeared fresh on her set of 15s. On her second round of box jumps, Lindy Wall looked poised to catch her. Wall rebounded quickly off the ground, while Kinney paused at the bottom.
“(Three-time Games competitor) Cheryl Brost texted me after, ‘Good strategy on the box jumps,’” Kinney says. “I was like, ‘That is my fast box jump!’ I can kind of do the bouncy ones on the 20-inch (box), but not the 24.”
Wall fatigued on the last set of deadlifts while Kinney maintained her pace. Kinney finished first in 3:21.3.
The win put her in second with a 13-point cushion between her and fourth place.
Still, she remained cautious.
“There weren’t any cuts, so there were plenty of people that could put points between me and Lindy,” she says. “I felt confident, but I was not certain and definitely didn’t feel like it was in the bag.”
She wouldn’t feel safe until halfway through the final event.
A year ago, the multiple 135-lb. squat cleans would have done her in, she says. But Martin’s programming had her doing sets of four and five heavy touch-and-go cleans for months, and the preparation paid off, as she broke each set of cleans into two doubles and two singles.
“I knew that I had to royally screw it up to lose that (podium) spot, so after the first two rounds, it was like, ‘I’ve got this, just hold your place, don’t let up,’” Kinney says.
And she didn’t let up until she hit the mat at 4:34.5, just 19.1 seconds after Wall, the event winner.
With her return to Carson secured, Kinney dropped to the floor and kissed the mat.
“I was like, ‘Damn, I did it!’” she remembers.
“My goal for the Games is to give full effort (in) each event, have fun and relish each moment,” she says.
To prepare, she will complete two workouts per day, six days per week. Mornings are for Olympic lifts, squats and supplementary work, and afternoons bring long met-cons and high-skill gymnastics work.
“My first day back in the gym, I had a lot of snatch work,” she says. “I hadn’t done a barbell snatch in five weeks, and it’s not like riding a bike!”
Once a week, she’ll take an active rest day to swim or bike. Although she’s hoping for a softball toss, she’s not worried about what might show up in Carson. She’s happy to return.
“I remember in 2011, walking out of the Home Depot Center and looking at the warm-up area as they were taking it down and thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever be back,’” she says.
“You could have asked me last year how much the Games means to (me) and I could have said it means everything, but this year it’s that and even more,” she says. “Having missed it, you know how much you want it. I’m not taking it for granted, and realizing it’s an opportunity not had by many and you don’t know if you’ll get it again.”