February 28, 2012
The Box Is Her Dojo: Holly Arrow
By Robin Runyan

"I no longer treat the Box as a place that serves my ego.  Instead it is my dojo. The coaches are my sensei-tachi. The elite athletes are the black belts to my yellow or orange."

When Holly Arrow signed up for the CrossFit Games Open last year, she had never done a pull-up, and her toes had never come close to the bar. She had only done a few double-unders in her few months as a CrossFitter. With motivation from her fellow athletes and the coaches at Eugene CrossFit, she set numerous PRs and came within spitting distance of making the CrossFit Games in the Master’s Division. This year, she won’t settle for anything less than making it to the Games.


Arrow, 56, Associate Psychology Professor at the University of Oregon, started CrossFit in November 2010. At the time she had been taking medication for osteopenia (bone thinning) for five years and her doctor had encouraged her to do more weight-bearing exercises. She thought she was in reasonable shape from commuting by bike, but she kept injuring herself with other forms of exercise. She threw her back out while jogging, wrenched her shoulder doing Wii Fit, and pulled muscles doing everyday activities. Then she found Eugene CrossFit.

When Arrow started CrossFit, praise from the coaches served as her motivation. “I was deep in a narcissistic state,” she admits. The Open was her first experience with competitive sports and she was hooked. “Finishing 23rd lit a fire under me to do better and qualify the next year. I also want to compete to represent Eugene CrossFit,” she says. “The support I have received from the coaches and other athletes has been wonderful and I want to make them proud.”


To feed this newfound love of competition, Arrow entered local events in both CrossFit and Olympic lifting. Arrow competed in two local throwdowns hosted by CrossFit Intensify and CrossFit Revival, where she met many athletes and benefited from the mutual support. “Probably the two most important things I’ve learned is how much I love competing and that I perform better in competition than I do in everyday WODs at the Box.” Arrow achieved PRs in every competition, from max clean and jerk, to handstand push-ups, to rowing.

Competing in the weightlifting meets has taught Arrow how critical technique is and has given her confidence that she can lift a lot more weight by improving her technique.

Competing in the women’s open category in the Oregon Summer and Winter Games has also taught her that she can actually handle workouts without scaling for masters. “The stiffer the competition and the more challenging the WODs, the happier I feel when I’m able to handle the WOD,” she says. “Being the oldest woman at those competitions and still being able to outperform some women who are 20 and 30 years younger than me was very satisfying.”


Since last May, Arrow has been working one-on-one with a coach once a week. She also started taking Olympic lifting classes in June and has made lifting a bigger focus. She’s doing many more double workout days.

Arrow looks forward to the Open, both in terms of her own goals and the goals of Eugene CrossFit. She has been a big motivator for newer athletes to sign up and enjoy the competition.

In looking ahead to the Open, she hopes for two categories of movements: those where she thinks she is strong, so she has a good chance to qualify, and those she needs to work on, since the pressure of performing these moves for the Open is a big motivator to set PRs.

That first category includes a max effort snatch, max effort overhead squat, or a workout with heavy front or back squats. Push-ups are a strength, as well.

For all around improvements and PRs, she’s hoping to see moves like double-unders, toes to bar, pull-ups, handstand pushups, and dips in the Open.

Arrow is now off the bone-thinning medication and continues to set PRs in the box. Arrow’s motivations have changed since becoming more serious about CrossFit. “I no longer treat the Box as a place that serves my ego. Instead it is my dojo. The coaches are my sensei-tachi,” she says. “The elite athletes are the black belts to my yellow or orange. I no longer hanker for praise. What I care about is results: lifting more weight with better form, stringing more pull-ups together, and becoming a serious athlete.”