April 6, 2012
All About Camaraderie: Cliff Lewis
By Eddie Malone

"My best memories at the Games last year were just meeting the great people in the CrossFit community and competitors. I was moved by the sportsmanship of my fellow competitors."

Heading into the 2011 CrossFit Games, Cliff Lewis felt pressure. The 47-year-old Masters competitor had finished 1st in the Open, a feat that raised his expectations.

“I was new to CrossFit, and I finished No. 1 in the Open, and I felt I had to prove myself,” he says. “This year, I don’t have that pressure and I feel like I will be able to relax and perform better. It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

Lewis may feel less pressure, but he still has an eye on the podium. After finishing 4th in the 45-49 Division at the 2011 CrossFit Games, he secured a return trip to the Home Depot Center with a top 20 finish in the 2012 Open.

He’s happy to be heading back to Southern California for a number of reasons. For one thing, he’s an improved athlete who’s worked hard on his weaknesses, including his overall strength and Olympic lifting. One of the Masters workouts at the 2011 Games required athletes to find their 1-rep max clean and jerk in 4 minutes. Before that day, Lewis had never attempted to max out on that movement.

Today, he knows his max numbers on all of the major lifts. 

The 2011 experience also taught him the virtues of strategy and composure. Lewis admits he was confident but anxious as he waited for one of the events to start – a workout with overhead squats, hand-release push ups and sprints. 

“It was the perfect WOD for me,” he says. “I was so anxious to get going [that] when they said 3-2-1, I busted out like I was shot out of a cannon. This was not good because when I got to the last round, I had a huge lead on everyone, but the lactic acid built up so much that my body said no more! I ended up limping in for a 6th place finish. I realized at that moment that this is more than just going all out. I realized that you have to keep your head and remember that your adrenaline is way up. It is mental and physical … I became a better CrossFit competitor at that moment.”

Another reason he’s excited about the 2012 Games has nothing to do with competing, and everything to do with the CrossFit community. Lewis can’t wait to share the whole experience with other CrossFitters again.  

“My best memories at the Games last year were just meeting the great people in the CrossFit community and competitors,” he says. “I was moved by the sportsmanship of my fellow competitors.”

In particular, he remembers Patrick Sprague, a fellow Masters athlete who’d never gotten a muscle-up before. The high-skill movement just so happened to appear in one of the workouts.

“The whole time before and during the workout everyone in the group was coaching and cheering him on to get his first muscle-up,” Lewis says. “I don’t know of any other sport where your competitors will help you like that during a competition.”

To prep for the Games, Lewis will continue to focus on the movements he considers weaknesses, including Olympic lifting, muscle-ups and handstand push-ups. He’s also added in mobility work, which has already made a significant difference. 

In between training sessions, he’ll also be busy running CrossFit Heath in Rockwall, Texas. He opened the gym in 2010 after spending most of his career as a homebuilder.     When the economy and housing industry took turns for the worse, Lewis decided to take a chance.

“I decided to open an affiliate when many of my neighbors were coming over to my house to have me train them in my garage,” he says. “My wife, kids and neighbors all liked it so I took a leap of faith, and said ‘Why not?’ The building business was slow, and at that point, I didn’t have much to lose. Many of my friends thought I was crazy, but I really loved CrossFit and saw the changes it had made in my life and my family, so I just jumped out there.”

CrossFit Heath now has over 100 members, and next year Lewis would love it if they qualified a team for Regionals. To get there, he plans on enlisting the help of his two teenage sons who both play baseball, and have Fran times under 3:30. 

“They are going to be pretty good when they build up their strength,” he says. “It has really helped their baseball as well.” 

The homebuilding work has picked up recently, thanks in no small part to CrossFitters.  “Many of my build jobs have come from clients at my gym,” Lewis says. “We were hoping that our gym would make it, and little did we know that it has really helped my building business as well.”

Without the various pressures that have weighed on him in the past, he and the community at CrossFit Heath are hoping that 2012 will be his year.