“Even though we joke a lot and legitimately try to beat each other in almost everything we do, it has been a blessing gaining such a great...

"We bonded over our faith, country music, donuts, outside activities like chopping wood, hiking and tanning and of course, CrossFit," Vandevoorde said.

Photo courtesy of Ariella Faitelson.

The CrossFit Games Open is a bonding experience for thousands of CrossFit athletes around the world. Many athletes have a particular coach, training partner, judge or personal cheerleader they count on to help them through each week’s grueling workout.

Who do you do the Open with?

South East athletes Niko Vandevoorde, 23, and Zachary Kramer, 25, of CrossFit RX, said they couldn’t do the Open without each other. The two have been inseparable since they met during last year’s Open and have completed every workout together throughout this year’s Open.

“Even though we joke a lot and legitimately try to beat each other in almost everything we do, it has been a blessing gaining such a great friend,” Kramer said. “At this point, I could not imagine competing without him.”

The two are jokingly known as “Arnold” and “Franco” at their gym.

“Being a huge fan of Schwarzenegger, I readily accepted the nickname when members at the gym started calling me ‘Arnold’ this past year,” Kramer said. “And it was only logical that Niko, in turn, was Franco Columbo—Arnold’s best friend and competitor.”

Kramer and Vandevoorde originally met during Open Workout 13.5 at a Friday Night Lights event at CrossFit RX.

Vandevoorde recalls it was “best friends at first sight” in a bromantic kind of way.  

“I had just moved to Atlanta that past summer to work at CrossFit RX,” Vandevoorde said. “We found out we followed the same programming and had competed on the blog for some time without knowing each other.”

“We bonded over our faith, country music, donuts, outside activities like chopping wood, hiking and tanning and of course, CrossFit,” Vandevoorde continued. “We immediately began working out together and competing in every aspect—from max lifts to playing Flappy Wings on the iPhone. I still hold the title at 95 points by the way. My hand-eye coordination is clearly superior.”

Both Vandevoorde and Kramer said they push each other to be the very best they can be, whether it is during the Open, in the gym, or most importantly in life and in their faith.

“Our skills complement each other well,” Vandevoorde said. “Zack is stronger overhead while I am slightly better with anything squatting related. He is always sneaking in some bench and curls from his true inner meathead, while I am always pushing to increase Olympic lifting.”

The duo has also developed rituals to keep their energy and motivation lively.

“We also have created habits that stick with us for every workout,” Vandevoorde said. “We only squat if we are listening to country. We try to remember to pray before each workout. And we are always one-upping each other. I’d do a max set of ring dips, and he’d do one more rep. He’d hit a max clean then I’d add a half-pound plate to each side just to keep things interesting.”

While beating each other is important, Kramer said they are mostly concerned with one thing.

“Ultimately, we are cheering for the other to succeed,” he said. “I think we have PR’d a few times just because of the way we try to one-up each other and push each other outside our comfort zones.”

“Our motto is: ‘Competition heightens the play, competition heightens the joy of the play,’” Kramer continued. “These words definitely sum up our training together. My wife has even picked up on our competitive nature. When she gets home from work and asks me how my workout was that day, often times, she also asks, half-jokingly, “Well, did you beat Niko?’”

So how has their competitive nature and strategy been working throughout the Open?

“Things haven’t changed. Every week, we have done the workout on Friday, and try to one-up each other,” Vandevoorde said. “Then, come Sunday or Monday, we do it again, and do slightly better.”

Vandevoorde did Open Workout 14.1 first and scored 350 reps. Kramer went right after and scored 356 reps. Kramer re-did it on Sunday and got 360, followed by Vandevoorde on Monday afternoon, who tied him at 360. That evening, with about 50 minutes before scores had to be submitted, Kramer went for a third time and logged 384 reps.

“Keep in mind, each time we did it, we were judging for each other, always wanting the other to succeed, but secretly wishing to win,” Vandevoorde said.

On Open Workout 14.2, Vandevoorde logged 241 reps while Kramer got 236, both reaching their goals to make it to the round of 18.

On 14.3, Kramer scored 140 reps, beating Vandevoorde by just one rep. Kramer turned it around on Open workout 14.4 by logging 215 reps, while Vandevoorde scored 191.

For anyone keeping count, the two are tied on the “Arnold and Franco Leaderboard” as they head into the final week of the Open.

Kramer and Vandevoorde said they are keeping their eyes on the prize with hopes of competing on Team CrossFit RX at the South East Regional. CrossFit RX is currently in 26th place overall in the region.

“We are team players and always do better when someone is counting on us,” Vandevoorde said.

If the team does not qualify, however, Vandevoorde and Kramer both said they are not ruling out individual competition.

“If the cards play out, we would like to squeak in both individually and go have a blast bro-ing out in Jacksonville in May,” Vandevoorde said.

After four weeks of Open competition, Kramer is in 96th place and Vandevoorde is in 157th place in the South East Region.