The Behemoth Turns to Weightlifting in 2014

March 12, 2014

Karen Feiner

“This year, I just decided I wanted to see what I could do if I completely dedicated myself to it, without having the interference of burpees and box jumps. I think I have more in the tank for…

“I think I have more in the tank for weightlifting. How much, I'm not sure.”

Aja Barto, a three-time CrossFit Games competitor, usually speaks through his performances. This year, it’s his absence from the South Central Leaderboard that’s making noise.

Barto has decided to forego the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games season.

His love of Olympic weightlifting played a central role in the decision. In July, he will be going up against the best of the best in a different arena, having already qualified for the USAW Nationals in Salt Lake City, Utah.  

“This year, I just decided I wanted to see what I could do if I completely dedicated myself to it, without having the interference of burpees and box jumps,” Barto said. “I think I have more in the tank for weightlifting. How much, I'm not sure.”

“I just know that I can do more and that’s what has fueled my decision,” he added. “It’s a fun process, lifting as much weight as possible and never really elevating my heart rate, but I do miss CrossFit and that’s why I still participate in the Open workouts with our classes at CrossFit Behemoth every Friday night when I have the opportunity.”

While Barto will be missed in San Antonio, Texas at the regional, this is not a retirement. He insisted burnout was not a factor and will likely miss the sport once regionals come around.

“I'm definitely not ‘burned out’ on CrossFit,” Barto said. “I love CrossFit and what it has done for me, my family and my members. I sometimes miss the slow burn of conditioning sessions, but then sometimes it’s nice to just lift something heavy and not breathe very hard. I try to live in the present and not get caught up in the ‘future.’”

“Although I have a vision, my focus is on weightlifting the remainder of the year and only weightlifting,” he continued. “When I want something, I want it bad and I put everything into attaining it. Do I still CrossFit? Yes, but certainly not as much as I’m squatting. The Open is a time of the year I definitely don't look forward to, nor do I miss, but once regionals and the Games come around, I know I'll be getting the hunger pains.”

Barto’s absence opens the door for a number of athletes. Given the parity in the region, expect a dogfight in San Antonio.

Jason Hoggan has competed against Barto for the last two years. In 2012, the two shared the podium and went on to represent the region in Carson, Calif.

“I was a bit shocked to hear (Barto would not be competing),” he said. “We'll definitely miss him this year. He's always a great competitor, and a lot of fun to be around and compete with at regionals or the Games. I wish him luck in weightlifting this year, and I hope he comes back next year for the Open.”

Hoggan isn’t the kind of athlete to celebrate such news. He said it does no good worrying about the competition. An athlete should focus on his or her own training.   

“I don't think that losing him this year affects my (or many other competitors’) training and mindset very much,” he said. “This region has been pretty wide open the past couple years, and we're seeing the talent increase across the board. Last year was an all-out fight to the finish for those three spots, and I think this year will be no different. I just try to focus on my training and performance day-to-day because, in the end, everyone has to be on their game.”

Barto said he believes a number of veterans have a great shot at making the Games in his stead. But he’s also quick to gesture toward the unknowns. With the widening of the talent pool every year, all 48 individuals will rank as contenders. However, he’ll be cheering for one competitor in particular.

“It's tough for me to name names when I think all 48 will be contenders,” he said. “To be honest, I'm really pulling for Paul Smith this year. I think he has a damn good shot as he does every year, but with this being his last hurrah, I’d love nothing more than to see him out in Carson in July. He and I have been competing against each other since 2010, which I believe was both of our first years competing. He was a monster back in the day, but he’s even better now. It will be fun to watch him from the sidelines this year.”

He added: “Mike McGoldrick, Roy Gamboa, Jason Hoggan, Bryan Diaz, Chase Ingraham—don't ever count those dudes out. They’re the real deal.”

His competition goals may be different, but Barto remains under the guidance of C.J. Martin of CrossFit Invictus.

“I work closely with him on achieving the goals I’d like to attain through weightlifting,” he said. “It’s pretty remarkable that he is able to work with such high-level (CrossFit athletes) yet also help me achieve my specific goals via weightlifting. I respect what the man is capable of. He is a 24/7 one-stop shop.”

He has added some new names to the team. Chad Vaughn and Diane Fu have helped with issues such as technique and mobility.

Once he gets to Salt Lake City, Barto will have specific numbers in mind but mostly he looks forward to enjoying the experience. He will be lifting with the country’s best and wants to “soak” it all in.

For now, Barto has an eye on Olympic weightlifting. In 2015, we’ll see if “hunger pains” lead him back to CrossFit.