It sounds like a joke, but it actually started with: two doctors walk into a CrossFit gym …
That gym was CrossFit SoCo.
The punch line comes when those two doctors end up on the podium for the Masters competition of the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games. Gene LaMonica was the 45-49 Men’s Masters Champion this year and Tracy MacEachern was the 45-49 Women’s Masters runner-up.
The commonalities are uncanny. They are both doctors with ever-changing schedules, and both have teenagers and families. Not to mention, the training involved. Logic may tell you people aren’t built to train hard enough under these circumstances.
The brain behind the operation is Coach Niki LaMonica, Gene’s wife. Perhaps a blessing, as she programs based on how each athlete is feeling on any given day. AS the wife of a doctor can attest, some days are better than others.
“Their training was more specific than others I was working with in terms of rest, food and the workload they could handle,” she says. “Gene could handle more workload some days and Tracy not as much, and vice versa, so everyday was different. I may have had a plan for them when I walked into the gym, however, based on how they looked and perhaps performed in the warm-up, I would make adjustments. Actually, sometimes I sent them home. Coming off of a busy 12-hour shift is quite apparent sometimes, and despite the drive they both have, training in that state of mind is often not possible.”
For Niki, the road to becoming a Games athlete programmer was simply due to an extreme motivation to learn more. As a newcomer to the sport, it took some convincing for her to embrace the idea, but when she did, she was all in.
Since becoming a trainer in the mid ’90s, she has helped many athletes get to the Games — including a CrossFit Albuquerque team that placed third at the 2010 CrossFit Games—and of course LaMonica and MacEachern who both reached the podium.
Coach Niki’s Influence
The LaMonicas opened CrossFit SoCo in 2006. “At the time, there wasn’t an affiliate and we were tired of working out at globo gyms, so we opened CFA,” Niki says. “Really, when you have been training for this many years, you figure out what works and what doesn’t work. If your Games athletes are not getting progressively better at every aspect of CrossFit, there are holes in your programming. It’s as simple as that.
For MacEachern, the road to the Games was riddled with peaks and valleys, but reaching goals throughout the process kept the motivation going.
“There were moments when the training was extremely fun and moments when it was tough with the volume of work you do and having to do that work alone at times … it takes strong will for sure,” she says. “Coach Niki programmed really well for us though. I mean, sometimes I’d see what I was doing for the day and I totally didn’t understand what this is about, but throughout the workout, it would eventually make sense. Not having to think about how I was going to be as prepared as possible made a world of difference in the grand scheme of things.”
With her training partner in the same line of work, they really understood each other, MacEachern says. “Gene was an excellent motivator, too. He podiumed last year and he is a pretty phenomenal CrossFitter, so keeping up with him and working with him has been fun at times and sucked at times, but it was nice to have someone to share it with,” she says.
At the Games
After the first day at the Games, MacEachern realized she had a chance of placing in the top three. Winning the Snatch Ladder with a 120-lb. lift, she was right in the mix of things and performed well enough the rest of the weekend to finish second place overall. Lisa Mikkelson from CrossFit New England narrowly edged her out.
For the first-time Games competitor, it was an amazing experience, she says. “It was a little overwhelming,” she explains. “I mean, there was so much going on, so many unbelievable participants. It was set up so nicely. They had basically anything you could need as an athlete. So, at first you’re nervous, but eventually, you get a rhythm, do your WOD, ice bath, eat, recover and have fun. It was perfect.”
Gene is an experienced CrossFitter, and has been training for nearly 10 years. When his soccer career was no longer in the cards at the age of 43, a new adventure began. A friend coaxed Gene into doing Tabata squats one day. “I couldn’t believe that doing four minutes of squats could cause me to have pain for three days. I was hooked,” Gene laughs. “I eventually found Greg Glassman in 2003. I distinctly remember him standing over me while I tried to recover after my first real WOD and saying ‘What do you think about that, Doc?’”
For Gene, training for competitions is nothing new. The difference now is having a coach and programmer. “My wife is a keen observer, and over the years has developed into a master programmer,” he says. “When I saw what she had done with the athletes on the team that took third in the 2010 Games, her ability became very clear. Ultimately, not having to do my own programming and just following a script is the reason I performed so much better the last few years.”
His better performance was rewarded with a podium placing. “It was a relief. It was many years of extremely hard work — not just working out, but studying,” he explains. “I mean, I’ve always had some national level board exam that was going on while I was training. So my accomplishment proved that my wife’s training was top-notch, and it was vetting everything we have done this year and in years past. Overall, I was just ecstatic.”
Gene says he was also overwhelmed at the level of appreciation from those around him. “In a way you really don’t know how much support you have from the CrossFit community, especially when you are in the midst of the competition,” he says. “But the outpouring of support, the pictures with random fans, the messages I receive on Facebook … it is so inspiring and complimentary. I feel quite humbled by the whole thing.”
In the several months before the Games, MacEachern, Gene and Niki spent several hours a day working toward a goal. “We can relate to one another. It’s that simple. We speak the same language and have the same goals,” Gene says. “Tracy’s husband Paul, and Niki, have lived with physicians, so they get how difficult all of this can be, and if they were not supportive and motivating this could never have happened. It’s just not possible. Having another training partner suffering through my wife’s programming with me made all the difference.”
At the Games, the two families stayed in a house near the venue allowing Niki to manage food, rest and recovery. “Having my athletes near me is truly the way to go,” she says. “Luckily, our kids get along, we all have become great friends, so the whole weekend was a blast.”
MacEachern says they also receive support from the CrossFit SoCo community. “It was also amazing to see all of the support from our gym,” she says. “To look over at the people that have watched us, and supported our training throughout the training months, and see them cheering was just a perfect motivator for us.”
The foreseeable future, although marred with snow and cold in Colorado, looks much like it did last year, but MacEachern says both she and Gene are better athletes than last year. “Coming in second gives you a very specific indication of where you missed out and how a few extra points here and there would have helped,” she says. “You learn a great deal about your weaknesses when you compete, and the goal this offseason is to really challenge those, but the formula still includes Olympic lifting three days a week, and steadily increasing capacity to arrive at the Open ready to go.”
For Gene, he says he continues to listen Niki for guidance and coaching. “We’ve started training again, I have everything to lose this time around, people will be gunning for me,” Gene jokes. “The biggest improvement for me is in my Olympic lifting. It’s always been a tough area for me and it’s really improved. And other than that, Niki has a program, so I just have to listen to what she says. It’s vetted now, and I believe in what she has in store for me, so I’m ready.”
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