With two-time CrossFit Games qualifier David Levey rumored to be injured before the start of the 2014 Africa Regional, many believed the elder of the Smith brothers, Jason, would take the region’s one qualifying spot to the CrossFit Games.
It looked like that prediction would prove true when Smith led the competition from the very start, with a 10-point lead over second place after just three events.
But everything changed when Smith fatigued on the legless rope climbs the next day. In one event, the leader accumulated 36 points and dropped to third overall.
Multi-year regional competitor Andre Gadney took the top spot, and unknown rookie Quinton Van Rooyen followed 6 points behind in second.
Then Gadney fell apart on Event 6—the 50s chipper—on Sunday morning, and Van Rooyen, through his quiet consistency, moved into the region’s top spot.
Van Rooyen never finished higher than fourth on an event but never dropped below 13th.
Who is Van Rooyen?
The 28-year-old’s sporting history is as unassuming as his regional performance. He played rugby, and competed in track and field during his school years. He injured his knee while playing rugby during his college years and after that just did traditional weight training until he started CrossFit at the start of 2014.
Although he had seen the CrossFit Games on ESPN, that wasn’t what encouraged him to give CrossFit a try. Instead, a CrossFit program set up by the CrossFit PLUS 264 team at his workplace sparked his interest.
“The company I work for (Trustco Group Holdings) approached our local box and through a corporate wellness program introduced CrossFit to all staff,” Van Rooyen said. “This was a huge success and many employees signed up for classes that were coached at our head office.”
Six weeks before the start of the 2014 Open, he did his first workout: 7 minutes of burpees. At the time, he just wanted to get fit; he didn’t have any interest in competition.
“I had no idea about the Games season,” he explained. “I figured what I saw on TV and online was only for the guys in the U.S.A.”
Soon, the coaches introduced him to the Open and explained anyone could compete.
Once the Open kicked off, Van Rooyen stood out as exceptional. CrossFit PLUS 264 owners and coaches Max Meyer and PD Stoman identified in him several attributes required to be a good CrossFit athlete.
“It was clear to both of us from the start that he had the potential to be a top-level CrossFit athlete,” Stoman said. “He was a strong guy, moved well, worked hard and, most importantly, was eager to learn. He learnt the basics of kipping pull-ups, bar and ring muscle-ups, kipping handstand push-ups and snatches in about 30 minutes each. He is naturally so aware of how his body moves and he has excellent spatial awareness, so teaching him new movements is easy.”
Before the Open was over, the coaches started to tweak Van Rooyen’s training to help him excel in the Games season.
“My coaches quickly realized that with a few subtle and clever changes to my workouts we could focus on where I was lacking,” said the rookie. “We then decided to do as well as possible in the Open, and once we qualified the focus was all on regionals.”
The coaches prepared their new athlete the best they could, and headed to the regional hoping for a top-10 finish.
“He had matured quickly as an athlete and the workouts suited him better than those of the Open,” Stoman said, “but we certainly did not expect him to win.”
To avoid placing undue pressure on Van Rooyen, plans for each event were developed with the goal of a top-20 finish. Although the stands were full of rowdy spectators and the events were demanding, Van Rooyen pressed on through each event seemingly unaffected.
Looking back, he credits his success to his support crew.
“I had a big support group that traveled with me,” Van Rooyen said. “There were about 15 people from Namibia and our local box that attended the regionals. My girlfriend also joined and provided plenty of emotional support. Both my coaches were by my side the whole time keeping me calm and focused. I think few people know how much time and effort coaches, partners and friends spend on individual athletes. This was truly a group effort.”
Van Rooyen’s success on Sunday afternoon sent his coach scrambling for his smart phone.
“We had to Google the Games dates from the stands,” Stroman said.
Preparing for the Games
The support has grown in preparation for the Games. CrossFit PLUS 264 has secured several sponsorships while providing equipment, Trustco has contributed with substantial financial support, and Puma has kitted him and coaches out with clothing. His girlfriend will be traveling with to provide much-needed support. All Van Rooyen, Meyers and Stoman have to do is focus on the Games.
Van Rooyen’s Games prep is partly based on improving what he found most challenging at regionals.
“The short recovery times between events were very tough,” Van Rooyen said. “So we are focusing on shorter rest periods between (training) workouts.”
Van Rooyen’s worst events at regionals were the max-distance handstand walk and the forward-and-back chipper.
That, coupled with an understanding of the programming history of the Games, has directed the rest of the extra work he is doing to get ready.
“We have included a lot more swimming, track-and-field work, lots of running and more skills work,” Stoman said.
From a psychological perspective, Van Rooyen’s coaches also intend to develop game plans for all events so he’s focused regardless of what else is happening.
“QZ is, by nature, a very competitive guy so we are always working on developing discipline and to structure his workouts in a way that optimizes his efficiency,” Stoman explained. “However, QZ has a great natural mental fortitude. He’s always smiling, even after pulling a 100-kg sled around for 60 minutes in the Namibian sun!”
For the coach-athlete trio, gaining experience and acquiring as much knowledge as possible would mean a successful trip. However, they have set a performance-based goal too.
“If QZ could return as the best performing African representative at the Games to date, that would be amazing,” Stoman said.
And, of course, they plan to enjoy themselves, too.
“Our goal is to have fun, gain some experience and maybe give Rich (Froning) a high five,” Stoman added.
“Experiencing the sheer size of CrossFit in the U.S.A., the crazy fans and massive venues,” Van Rooyen said of his first trip to the States. “It will be a total sensory overload and I can’t wait! Working out with the big guns will be quite awesome, too.”
With coaches and girlfriend in tow, Van Rooyen is ready to represent the Africa Region at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games.
“It is a massive responsibility representing our continent,” he said, “but we will grab the opportunity with all we’ve got.”