"My goal is to stay on top of the Leaderboard for the Open. I like to see my competition. I want to know who I am going to be up against at all times. It motivates me to perform better."
Long before Alicia McKenzie ever picked up a barbell, she spent 10 years training to become a ballerina and running to stay in shape. When she stumbled upon CrossFit in 2008, McKenzie realized she had found a replacement for her daily rendezvous with the treadmill.
“I only made it through two rounds of my very first (workout). I was surrounded by a puddle of sweat,” she recalled. “Even though I didn’t finish the workout, I knew I had found something great. I haven’t looked back since.”
In the beginning, McKenzie considered CrossFit a hobby and was drawn to the surprise element of the workouts.
“I think I really loved the fact that I never knew what to expect,” she said. “Even though I was not training as hard early on, no matter what, I could always see progress. I never felt like I was getting stagnant.”
McKenzie’s journey has been anything but stagnant. In 2010, she partnered with her mother and two other family members to open CrossFit West Springfield in Springfield, Va. She took 11th place at the 2010 Virginia Sectional and qualified for the 2011 Mid Atlantic Regional, but chose not to compete that year.
“I was just doing CrossFit for fun at that point. I usually went out for the experience and then I just went home,” McKenzie said.
She stepped away from competition during the 2012 season to prepare for the birth of her second daughter. Around that time, she made the decision to leave her current job and train full time at the family-owned box. In January 2013, about a year into full-time training, McKenzie came in first at a local competition. That experience opened her eyes to her competitive potential.
“I didn’t expect to win, but I did,” she laughed. “So I figured maybe I could make a serious run at regionals after all.”
Her serious efforts during last year’s Open paid off and she qualified for the 2013 Regional, where she ended the competition in seventh overall. Although she finished in the top 10, McKenzie wasn’t satisfied.
“I really kicked up the training after January, but it was too late. Once I got to regionals I could tell I wasn’t totally ready,” she said. “I just didn’t push it enough in time for that weekend. I was actually still nursing my daughter in between workouts,” she said. “She was back there with me the whole time.”
After last year, McKenzie wanted more. She sought advice from her husband, George, and made a plan to take her training to the next level.
“Alicia is extremely competent with a barbell and has progressed a lot over the past year with the gymnastic and anaerobic aspects of the sport,” George said. “She has the ability to really focus on a goal and has a killer instinct when it comes to going head-to-head with her competition. We have really put a lot of effort into determining the best strategy for her during each workout.”
McKenzie said clean and jerks and snatches are her greatest strengths.
“I love any workout that involves Olympic lifts. In the beginning, every single movement was new for me. I kind of came into this sport as a blank slate, so I didn’t really have any bad habits to break,” McKenzie said. “I believe this also made me more coachable.”
Shortly before the 2014 Open, McKenzie connected with Jacob Tsypkin, owner of CrossFit Monterey in Monterey, Calif., for training and competition advice.
“My coach is helping me with my strategy and day-to-day training. I need to concentrate more on my squat strength,” she said. “Squats are not my favorite movement but we realized if I am going to get better, I really needed to get stronger in that area.”
During a typical week, McKenzie spends multiple hours in the gym.
“I will usually do two or three workouts on Sunday, including a strength progression of some sort,” she said. “I work out every day of the week, except Saturday. On Wednesday, I spend my time in active recovery, but Saturday is always reserved for family.”
McKenzie does most of her workouts with her family and they share her passion for fitness.
“The decision to open a box is big enough. Taking that next step to train full time was even bigger,” she said. “But there’s no way I could have ever done any of this without my family. Although it’s a bit of a balancing act, I have a huge support system.”
Her family is always by her side when she’s competing. Her mother, Ramona Gomez, shares ownership of CrossFit West Springfield and is proud of her daughter.
“She was never into sports of any type before CrossFit, but she always had beautiful movement as a dancer,” Gomez said. “CrossFit has changed her both physically and mentally. She is stronger, more confident and is truly amazing to watch.”
“I definitely feel more comfortable in my own skin,” she said. “When I first started, I weighed about 125 lb., so, I’ve put on quite a bit of muscle over the years. Now I am more concerned about the weight of my snatch than I am about my body weight. It’s all about performance now.”
She hopes to pass along her love of CrossFit as a healthy and fun example for her two young daughters.
“They swing on the rings and they’re doing box jumps. Everything about it is natural to them,” she said. “They’re not afraid of weight. They’re not afraid of anything. I want to teach them that it’s OK to be strong and what they might see on the typical magazine cover is not what they have to grow up to be. So much of what we have to look at is an impossible standard.”
Her husband is thankful McKenzie is helping reset society’s standards for young women.
“I could not imagine a better role model for the girls. She balances being a small-business owner, a coach, an athlete, a daughter, a wife and a mother, with the grace of a dancer and the power of an Olympic lifter,” George said.
Stronger and more focused on her training, McKenzie plans to make this season the best one yet.
“My goal is to stay on top of the Leaderboard for the Open. I like to see my competition,” she said. “I want to know who I am going to be up against at all times. It motivates me to perform better.”
So far, McKenzie has taken each Open workout in stride. She posted a score of 360 in 14.1, 238 in 14.2, 172 in 14.3 and 192 in 14.4.
McKenzie said she believes being successful in the Open is all about the approach.
“I have had a specific strategy for each of the workouts,” she said. “Once the strategy is in place, I just have to put it into action. I usually don’t do the Open workouts more than once, but with 14.3 I wasn’t satisfied with my first score. So I completed that workout twice. It was worth doing it a second time.”
Her mother said determination will take McKenzie far this season.
“I can tell when Alicia is serious about something,” Gomez laughed. “She gets this look in her eye. Alicia definitely has the look this season.”
McKenzie’s ultimate goal is to compete in the Games this summer.
When 14.4 was announced, McKenzie was excited.
“This workout is brilliant. Rowing, wall balls and muscle-ups? I couldn’t ask for a better combination. It’s definitely not going to be easy, but at least it will be fun,” she said.
With 12 muscle-ups completed in round 1 of the chipper, McKenzie posted an unofficial score of 192 for 14.4. She currently sits in fourth place in the Mid Atlantic Region.