After narrowly missing a spot to the Asia Regional last year, Nathan Jirakasemnukul has registered for the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Open, with the goal of representing Thailand in Seoul this year.
Growing up in America, he was surrounded by sports and competition.
“I grew up in a fairly athletic family with very supportive parents. Even until today, they come for the morning class at the box everyday,” he said with a grin.
Jirakasemnukul’s first love in fitness was soccer. After representing the University of New Hampshire Wildcats his freshman year, he decided to cut his collegiate soccer career short to focus on his pursuit in foreign services. Unbeknownst to the then 24-year-old, faith would bring Jirakasemnukul back to the shores of Thailand.
Five years later, in 2007, Jirakasemnukul was preaching in Burmese churches when he was given a chance to revive his soccer career. After being scouted during casual pick up games in Mae Sot, Thailand, the innately ambitious athlete jumped at the opportunity to compete with the TAK Football Club.
“I was thrilled to be playing at a competitive level again,” Jirakasemnukul said. “Even at the age of 29, I still felt fresh, playing against athletes a lot younger than me.”
After stumbling upon CrossFit through a random Google search, Jirakasemnukul began experimenting with the program to prepare him for his transition into the big leagues in Bangkok.
2013 was going to be the year Jirakasemnukul made his debut in the first division soccer circuit in Thailand, until the promise of excelling in a different sport became too difficult to resist.
“I’ve always been exposed to these (Olympic weightlifting) movements from my strength and conditioning background in soccer,” he said. “I’ve just never had to do them at this volume or speed.”
With six months of CrossFit training under his belt, he competed in the Open for the first time last March. In the end, he took 61st overall—13 spaces outside of individual qualification for the Asia Regional.
At the same time, he was in the process of opening an affiliate in the heart of Bangkok—CrossFit Ten500.
“Starting CrossFit Ten500 allowed me to do all the things that I like: coaching, motivating people and exploring fitness with the added risk of it being a business,” he said, adding that the thrill of introducing CrossFit to a market that was fairly foreign to the concept was largely enticing.
“But trying to balance running a new business with lots of new members and trying to fit my own training in whenever possible was not ideal,” he said.
Jirakasemnukul found some solace in representing CrossFit Ten500 at the Asia Regional on the team last year. This year, he returns hungry for more. Looking ahead, he speaks with an air of renewed confidence.
“I’ve definitely gained some mass and am more efficient with my lifting, so I hope this will all bear fruit once the season commences,” he said.
“I’ve been able to rest and recover more and train harder,” he added, crediting his coaches and support staff for enabling better commitment to his training program.
Setting foot into his training ground, the simplicity of CrossFit Ten500’s interior provides a much-welcomed departure from the clutter that is the Bangkok skyline. Matte black rubber flooring and cut up mattresses, substituting as foam pads on weightlifting platforms, are some of the things that hint at Jirakasemnukul’s personal training beliefs.
“It’s homemade,” he said. “It is simple and it works. There’s nothing flashy about it. We get work done, and above all, we focus on the people.”
“I want to help CrossFit flourish in Thailand,” Jirakasemnukul said. “The challenge of growing CrossFit here has been about overcoming a cultural barrier. Fitness in Thailand has always been about convenience and ease.”
Despite the intimidating impression that CrossFit leaves with the majority of Thais, Jirakasemnukul remains optimistic about the growth of CrossFit in Thailand. The recent Skills Challenge, co-hosted by CrossFit Bangkok and CrossFit Ten500, was an encouraging indicator that his efforts in building interest in the sport are slowly paying off.
“We had a very young group of CrossFitters participating,” he said, adding that the workouts were designed to build confidence amongst newer athletes. “I think it was perfectly timed because it motivated a few to consider participating in the Open.”
Armed with a steely confidence and high hopes for the competitive road ahead, Jirakasemnukul has been building a name for himself within Asia through his appearances in local competitions. At Brunei’s Battle Royale and Singapore’s Sin City Invitational in 2013, his grit and passion placed him amongst the top contenders in most of the events.
Should he qualify for this year’s regional as an individual, Jirakasemnukul hopes to use his time on the competition floor as a means to inspire many more Thai athletes in the Sport of Fitness.