Over the past year, Julie Foucher approached training and competition convinced she would forgo the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games. But after placing second this year — her best performance yet — she started to reconsider.
“I think all along I knew that the demands of the second year of medical school would overshadow training, but in the afterglow of the Games I a.) Didn’t want to admit it, and b.) Started to wonder if maybe there was a way,” Foucher says. “I kept wavering back and forth, hoping it would still be possible.”
“I thought about, ‘OK, maybe if I just train a lower volume a few hours a week and maintain where I’m at and squeak by and still qualify for Regionals,” Foucher starts. “It’s an awesome experience (competing at the Games). You feel like, ‘I wish I could do this every single day. It’s so much fun.’ So you start to wonder, ‘Is it still possible?’”
But when she considered her most recent performance and knowing “the pressure I put on myself to do as well as I think I can,” she knew what the choice had to be.
After months of deliberation, the 23-year-old recently opted to focus all her attention on medical school in 2013 and, likewise, not the Games.
“When I think about not competing, it’s very sad,” Foucher says. “It took me a long time to come to terms with it and accept it.”
She adds: “This is definitely the right decision.”
Doug Chapman, her coach of three years, talked to her “quite a bit” while she was deliberating.
“I think she had a hard time realizing that her school load would not let her train for the Games,” he says.
Foucher also competed in the 2010 and 2011 Games, where she finished fifth both years.
In a short time, she has “improved greatly,” says Chapman, of Hyperfit USA in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“One thing that’s really different about her than a lot of athletes (is) she puts in the work and she’s dedicated to it. There’s no question about it,” he says. “She’s a great athlete to work with.”
Between her athlete fan page and the CrossFit Games page, Foucher received nearly 3,500 likes and nearly 200 comments on Facebook related to her Saturday blog post announcing her decision.
“I’ve been really, really overwhelmed by how supportive everyone in the community has been,” she says. “CrossFit is a huge part of my life and I’m definitely planning on giving a full effort in 2014.”
Blending CrossFit and Medicine
Foucher began thinking about going into medicine when she was in high school.
“I liked problem solving, and anything that had to do with the human body and how it worked was so fascinating,” she explains.
As she prepared to graduate from the University of Michigan and pursue medical school, she also started CrossFit.
“They kind of paralleled each other along the way,” Foucher says.
Although she doesn’t yet know what type of physician she wants to be, she knows she wants to combine her interests.
“I want to bring a lot of the principles that CrossFit has into medicine, which we all know is a broken system,” Foucher says.
How she will do that is something she’s still navigating.
“I don’t know exactly what my career is going to look like,” she says.
Jason Khalipa, 2008 Games champion, says Foucher made a “great” decision in choosing to concentrate on medical school in 2013.
“She is on the cutting edge of medicine and should continue to pursue her dreams. Understanding how to prevent disease through diet and exercise is crucial,” he explains
Khalipa competed alongside Foucher as part of Team U.S.A. at the CrossFit Invitational earlier this month.
“Julie's goal is to become a doctor and change people's lives. The CrossFit Games are amazing and an important part of her life, but they do not define her. What defines Julie is a desire to help others through research and education.”
The Year Ahead
Foucher will continue to train, Chapman notes.
“What we have planned for her this year is competition-level stuff,” he says. “It’s just not full-on Games volume-type stuff.”
Leading up to this year’s competition, Foucher spent two to three hours at the gym at least six days a week.
“It takes a significant chunk out of your day,” she says.
During the 2013 Games season, she plans to spend fewer hours and fewer days at the gym. She’s mostly been training at CrossFit Distinction in Beachwood, Ohio.
“I think it will fluctuate as I adjust to the demands of school this year,” Foucher explains. “Right now I am aiming for five days, but I'll probably adjust as the year goes on.”
Her focus, she says, will be on increasing strength.
“I know I need to get a lot stronger,” Foucher says. “And perfecting movement and everything that I’m doing.”
The choice to emphasize strength is wise, says Becca Voigt, who also competed on Team U.S.A. with Foucher.
“There’s other girls who are stronger and I think that’s where the focus is going right now at the Games,” she explains.
Foucher finished this year’s Games 85 points behind first-time repeat champion Annie Thorisdottir. She started strong, with a second-place finish in the Pendleton 1 event and a first-place finish in the Pendleton 2 event. All told, she made the top 10 in 10 of the Games’ 15 events. Lower placements came in the Broad Jump, Med Ball-Handstand Push-Up, Sprint and Clean Ladder events.
Foucher went on to complete the Team U.S.A. roster — created to face Team Europe that included Thorisdottir — on Oct. 13 in London. Team U.S.A. won after 10 events.
Having Foucher on the team was “refreshing,” says Voigt, of Valley CrossFit in Van Nuys, Calif.
“She’s extremely intelligent and just wise beyond her years. You can just tell she’s got a good head on her shoulders. She’s just genuine. She’s a very sweet girl,” she says. “She is very smart in the sport, as well. She understands the sport and how it relates to other people, and it was really cool to see that.”
Voigt hadn’t spoken to Foucher much during the last three Games. At the Invitational, she was able to take time to talk to her not only about strategies for the workouts, but also about life.
“She’s a fierce competitor that is very humble with what she can do,” Voigt says. “But when she’s out on the playing field, she puts humbleness aside and is very tenacious in all of her movements and intentions.”
Voigt calls Foucher’s decision not to compete in 2013 “a big deal.”
“As an athlete and competitor, it makes me happy that she’s going to take a year off,” she jokingly says.
Throughout the year, Voigt says she often thought to herself, “What can Julie do?”
Despite her absence in 2013, Foucher shouldn’t be discounted, Voigt adds.
“In the last three years it’s been kind of a very shocking thing to see her go (to) medical school and compete at the level that she’s at. So I think taking a year off isn’t going to be the worst thing for her,” Voigt says. “I believe it when she said she’s gonna come back the following year, and she’s probably going to be up near the top again.”
It’s only one year, Chapman emphasizes.
“This is the same as any other person going through an evolution in their life,” he says. “For this year, she’s not going to compete. But 2014 is going to be a different story. She’s not out of the game altogether.”