Scott Panchik set the bar high by taking fourth at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games. To do better, he had to make it onto the podium the next summer.
Despite not feeling quite right, he fought his way to his second consecutive fourth-place finish in 2013.
“I knew I was hurt,” Panchik recounted. “It definitely didn’t feel right, but I didn’t tell anyone.”
“It happened a few weeks leading up to the Games,” he continued. “I was doing heavy snatches at 285 lb.—my PR—and one false move and it tore. When it first happened, it kind of scared me and I didn’t really want to get it checked out. Not right before the Games.”
The 26-year-old said he’s been playing sports for long enough to know the difference between a tweak and an injury. He’s had three reconstructive knee surgeries from his days playing football in high school and college, previously herniated his L1-S5. And now this.
He trudged ahead through his training with his eyes on the podium. He said, like most workouts in CrossFit, he was able to push through the pain in order to complete the jam-packed weekend of workouts.
“I’d often forget about it in the heat of a workout,” he recalled. “I feel pretty good about my performance. I was able to compete; although I definitely did notice it on the Naughty Nancy workout—overhead squats at 140 lb.—and during the final workout of the weekend: the 90-ft. heavy overhead barbell lunge with the 160-lb. axle bar. Gosh that hurt. I just wanted it to be over.”
“I was surprised because the pain would come and go,” he said. “At the CrossFit Tour event in Big Sky, Mont., about a month later, I even ended up hitting my old PR snatch of 285 lb. It was crazy.”
Not even a week after the Big Sky event, when he could not unplug his phone charger from the wall or shake someone’s hand without pain, he knew what he had to do. He consulted with a handful of doctors within the Mentor, Ohio, area to get several opinions and ended up in Dr. Roger Palutsis’ office—the same doctor who had done his previous knee surgeries.
“After my MRI, he told me, ‘Your labrum and your bicep tendon is frayed and slightly torn. If you continue doing what you’re doing, it’s only a matter of time before that bicep completely separates from the humerus and you have a full tear. The only thing to do is have surgery,’” Panchik said. “By this time, it was so painful to do the simplest things using that arm at all. I told him, if that was the case, then let’s do it.”
A few days later, on the last day of August, he went into surgery to repair his left shoulder and bicep with three things on his mind: Open, regionals and Games.
“The doctor told me it’d be three months—three months that I was completely out from doing anything,” he said, “but then I could get back to training and doing what I love to do.”
Those three long months turned out to be a blessing. At the exact same time as his surgery and recovery process was beginning, his entire life was changing—and reflecting back on it, Panchik said the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
“It’s funny how things work out,” he said, “because being out of training for a little while allowed me to focus on opening my new box, as well as helping my family get settled with their move to my town, Mentor, Ohio.”
Now, nearly five months into the recovery process, he said he is getting back to where he was before his injury.
“Currently, most of my lifts—particularly anything overhead—are about 10 to 20 lb. below my former PRs,” he said. “Yes, it’s very frustrating, but I just have to remind myself to have fun.”
Even with a setback, he’s still improving.
“I was pretty surprised how fast my cardio and endurance came back and I am continuing to just keep moving forward. Right now, I am just concentrating on a lot of volume for the season. Every day of training is a day to improve and come back.”
As for how he is feeling going into the Open?
“Since the Open workouts are typically lighter in weight, I am confident it will go fine,” he said. “I am planning to see the Open workouts as just another workout of the day—nothing really different. And I will continue to train hard throughout the Open.”
A typical day in the gym for Panchik begins at 6:30 a.m. at CrossFit Mentality. After eating a breakfast of eggs, granola and two-tablespoons of peanut butter, he coaches the morning classes until 9:30 a.m., then he gets to work himself.
His morning session consists of mobility and strength training or endurance work. Following his first workout of the day, he drinks a protein shake, works on some business for his box, eats chicken and a sweet potato for lunch and may sneak a nap in before hitting it hard once again—this time with his twin brothers, 17-year-olds Saxon and Spencer.
"Scott has taught me many things in life,” Spencer said. “He showed me that you can prove people wrong, and that if you bust your butt, you can make anything happen. If you set your mind to something, you will reach it.”
The Panchik brothers’ afternoon workout includes mobility, skill work and a metabolic conditioning workout or two. Afterward, he is back to coaching for the evening, before returning home for a late dinner of a big steak, sweet potato or white rice, and zucchini.
“There’s no real secret—just do CrossFit,” Panchik said. “There’s no real method to my programming. I am to be as well rounded as possible—not favor one movement or lift over another. I eat clean, get plenty of rest and put in lots of hard work.”
Last year, Scott Panchik missed the podium by one spot. This year, he’s eager to see what he can do healthy.
“I still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “My first priority is to make regionals.”
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