"Everything went so much better than I expected."
As expected, a “dottir” held the top spot at the Meridian Regional—only it wasn’t the “dottir” we’ve grown accustomed to. Sara Sigmundsdottir, a 22-year-old Icelander from CrossFit Sudurnes took gold while two-time CrossFit Games champion Annie Thorisdottir earned the bronze.
Sigmundsdottir took to social media the next day describing the weekend as the “best weekend of my life,” adding “everything went so much better than I expected.”
The Meridian Regional may have been the first anyone paid Sigmundsdottir much mind, though it was not her first regional appearance. Her victory followed a 12th-place finish in 2014—one year after a disappointing 2013 debut in which a failed third overhead squat in the second event disqualified her from the competition before the first day was over.
Though 160 lb. had gone up easily in her warm-up, she felt her shoulder pop on the third rep at her opening weight of 155 lb. in the 3-rep-max overhead squat event. Afraid, she let the bar fall.
“I was just so stressed,” Sigmundsdottir said. “I heard a click in my shoulder and I got scared.”
At the time, she was a CrossFit athlete for less than a year and had no prior athletic background—unless you count diving for rocks. Growing up in Reykjanesbær, Iceland, a quiet town with just more than 14,000 residents, Sigmundsdottir was known among the neighbor kids for her strength. While playing in the lake in the woods, children would challenge her to dive to the bottom and retrieve heavy stones. None of the boys could pick up the rocks she could.
“I was always fighting and challenging the boys,” she said.
Though she tried several sports while growing up, none held her attention for more than a few months. She didn’t have the patience to wait in line in gymnastics class, and swimming and soccer bored her. To expel her seemingly boundless energy, she ran laps around her house and did pull-ups from the balcony.
“She was always full of energy as a kid,” said Hafrun Jonsdottir, Sigmundsdottir’s mother. “She simply could not be still.”
"I didn't have anything else to do, so I started (working out at) the gym to get a boyfriend."
Music lessons didn’t stick either, so Sigmundsdottir spent her teenage summers wandering the town with her friends. When she turned 17, her best friend got a boyfriend, leaving Sigmundsdottir to her own devices.
“I didn’t have anything else to do, so I started (working out at) the gym to get a boyfriend,” she said.
Though she didn’t find a boyfriend at the gym, she found boot camp, attending classes regularly from 2010-2012, and then landing a job at the desk not long after she started. After graduating high school in the spring of 2012, she enrolled in a year-long program to become a personal trainer. Just before graduation, her boot-camp instructor suggested she compete in a local fitness competition at CrossFit Leikar.
Though the competition featured thrusters and prowler pushes—two movements she had never heard of—she finished second only to Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir, who would go on to compete at the CrossFit Games in 2012 and 2013.
That night, she went home and researched CrossFit online. Although she was attracted to the variety CrossFit afforded and was eager to try it, her job at the globo gym did not allow her to have a membership elsewhere. So for the next year, she followed CrossFit.com programming on her own in the gym where she worked.
“It was so hard, there wasn’t even a pull-up bar,” she said.
She installed a pair of gymnastics rings in her garage and practiced muscle-ups each day after work. Six months into CrossFit, she got her first one.
Though she longed to coach CrossFit classes, the closest affiliate, CrossFit Kraftur, was 40 minutes away and she couldn’t afford to leave her job. After attending a Level 1 Seminar in January of 2013, she she made an arrangement with the affiliate owner, Hallgrímur Andri Ingvarsson, to coach there once per week.
“(He) had seen me compete, so he saw how I was taking CrossFit seriously,” Sigmundsdottir said.
Though she still followed CrossFit.com programming and completed the majority of her training alone, training with equipment like a pull-up rig, ropes and rings once per week helped her take 21st place in Europe in the 2013 Open and qualified for her first regional less than a year after starting CrossFit.
But after earning a DNF in the overhead squat event, she was unable to bring herself to watch the competition, opting to spend the rest of the weekend shopping along the Danish coast. That weekend, she decided to make two changes.
“I was like, ‘OK, first of all, I’m going to get a coach,’” she recounted.
Second, she decided to get more competition experience by entering offseason competitions.
Sigmundsdottir spent the next year getting remote coaching from Jami Tikkanen, coach to two-time Games champion Annie Thorisdottir. He helped her correct bad habits she’d learned by training solo, like muscling all her lifts. Remembering the nerves that cost her the 2013 season, she also competed in every throwdown she could, traveling across Iceland, Sweden and England.
“I just gained confidence in every competition, and believed in myself more and more,” she said.
More comfortable on the competition floor, Sigmundsdottir finished in 12th at the regional last year, taking three top-10 finishes and hang snatching 165 lb. for fifth place in Event 1. Still, the regional exposed a weakness: gymnastics. Her worst finish of the weekend was a tie for 32nd in Event 2’s max handstand walk where she managed only 35 feet. Later, she struggled with the strict handstand push-ups of Event 4 and took 14th.
“I was really mad about the workouts because they were so gymnastic,” she said. “I had never done a strict handstand push-up or a legless rope climb.”
To prepare for 2015, Sigmundsdottir took weekly gymnastics lessons with a local coach in her town. After her ex-boyfriend, Andri Þór Guðjónsson, opened CrossFit Sudurnes in September of 2014, he invited Sigmundsdottir to be head coach and she quit her globo-gym gig. When she wasn’t coaching, she spent her time practicing strict handstand push-ups, ring handstand push-ups and handstand holds and walks.
“It was good to finally get to workout in a regular CrossFit box with a pull-up bar and muscle-up rings,” she said.
Her diligence paid off at the regional this year when she traversed the 250-foot handstand walk in 2:41.4 for ninth place. However, it was in Event 6—5 rounds of a 25-calorie row, 16 chest-to-bar pull-up and 9 strict deficit handstand push-ups—that Sigmundsdottir proved herself a transformed athlete. She had unbroken pull-ups and handstand push-ups in all except the final round.
For the first round, Sigmundsdottir lagged behind Davidsdottir, the leader, for just a few reps. Both women pulled strong, rhythmic strokes on the erg and cycled through elegant butterfly chest-to-bar pull-ups. On the second round, however, Davidsdottir broke her handstand push-ups into two sets while Sigmundsdottir remained on the wall and gained a 30-second lead at the start of the third round.
By Round 4, 30 seconds had grown to 60. Though Sigmundsdottir’s handstand push-ups seemed labored in the final two rounds, as she arched her head back and whipped it through her arms while she pushed her weight up the glass, she could not be caught.
Though no one chased her, she sprinted down the floor after her final rep and stopped the clock just as 13 minutes turned over, shattering Kari Pearce’s previous event record of 13:19, set at the East Regional the previous weekend. The win catapulted Sigmundsdottir into first where she would remain.
No one was more surprised than Sigmundsdottir.
“I just thought the other girls were so good and it wasn’t a possibility,” she told CrossFit media after the event. “I was just aiming for fifth place.”
She arrived home in Reykjanesbær a hero, exiting the airport to meet a crowd of family and friends brandishing bunches of flowers and chocolate-covered raisins.
“(It was) one of the best moments of my life,” she wrote on social media.
In a few days, Sigmundsdottir will take on her toughest challenge yet: facing competitors in Carson, California, with years of Games experience.
“It’s going to be a lot of pressure,” she said. “But I’m good with pressure.”