Little over a year after giving birth to her daughter, Denae Brown has returned to CrossFit competition.
After two Open workouts, Brown sits in seventh place overall in Australia.
As you may recall, Brown narrowly qualified for the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games by beating Amanda Allen in the final event of the 2012 Australia Regional.
She didn’t end up flying across the globe to compete on the world stage in Carson, Calif., because soon after the regional she found out she was pregnant with her first child. Brown withdrew from the Games, and in January of 2013 gave birth to her daughter, Sarah Taylor McDonald.
Early last year, Brown wasn’t sure whether she would ever return to elite competition again. Her life had changed dramatically with the birth of her daughter, and her training had taken a backwards step during her pregnancy and new motherhood.
In July, she saw something that changed her mind.
“It was after watching the (2013 Reebok) CrossFit Games that I got very inspired to start training again,” she said.
Seven months after giving birth, she resumed full-time training under the guidance of her new coach, Rob Downton.
So far, her progress has been remarkable.
“I'm stronger than I was before, prior to pregnancy,” she said. “My lifts are now 5 to 7 kg heavier than before.”
“I had some niggling injuries but they are all fixed now and I feel stronger,” Brown added.
Her reappearance on the CrossFit scene has been so impressive that not even a technical malfunction could shift her outside the top 10 in Australia after Week 2 of the Open.
The 34-year-old posted a score of 208 for 14.2, after experiencing a filming mishap while completing the workout.
“I’ve had a touch of difficulty with logging my score and the video,” she said. “I was filming it and I was about to commence the 18- (rep) round and the video cut out!”
Brown, however, isn’t complaining and understands that the mistake is completely hers. She claims that had technology been her friend, she would have posted a score of 272, after completing 68 more reps after the video cut out.
“The score was a good confidence booster for me because the competition is so good, and I’m so far behind some of them, but I’m coming back slowly,” she said. “The main thing is, I’m in contention to make it to regionals. I just have to play my cards and see how they fall.”
While Brown is making solid progress in her return to competition, she admits it’s been difficult trying to juggle full-time training and being a mum.
“I think having a little girl, obviously your priorities change,” she said. “I don't have as much time as I did.”
“My husband is fly in, fly out, so he's away a lot so I’m doing it on my own and I have to juggle that. I had a lot more time before,” Brown said.
So far, she has been pleased with the workouts and impressed with some of the programming.
“Ironically, 14.1 was the first Open workout I’d ever done so it was excellent for it to come up,” she said. “Being able to see how far I’ve come and see the progress throughout the years has been good.”
In 2011, Brown completed 264 reps. This year, she scored 390 for 14.1—the 15th best in the region.
“No world standard or anything, but I’ve come a long way,” she said of her score. “All you can ask for is to improve.”
In her return to competition, Brown is now un-affiliated, and spends most of her time training in a home gym set up by her sponsors, SPS Gear.
She’s also adopted a more analytical approach to the 2014 season, planning ways to tackle each Open workout.
“In the past, the strategy was to go in, do whatever and have a go,” she said.
In 14.1, her new strategy was to break up the snatches after the fourth round. While in 14.2, her plan was to have a second attempt at the workout.
“Generally I don’t like to do them twice, but I think with 14.2 a high percentage of people did it twice,” Brown said.
“The first time, I underestimated it. There was a lot more thought needed, but for the second time, I used a different set-up and changed strategy. I went faster on the overhead squats and higher reps on the chest-to-bar pull-ups to give me more time at the end, and that seemed to work well.”
For Brown, it was the last set of 16 pull-ups and the 18 overhead squats that saw her hit the wall. But still, she remains a fan of 14.2.
“It was really clever,” she said. “You didn’t really anticipate it and it caught me by surprise.”
“I think a lot of people were expecting something like 14.2 but not so early in the Open,” she added. “It would be interesting to be in the mind of Dave Castro but no one ever will be. You just can’t get into that mindset!”
For the remaining workouts of the Open, Brown is hoping for burpees and light barbell movements.
“The high-rep snatches and chest-to-bar pull-ups are out of the way so I’m happy about that,” she said. “Whatever it’ll be, it’ll be horrible.”
At the end of the day, and regardless of what Castro throws out, Brown is just happy to be competing.
“I’m happy to be moving forward and being a role model to mums in a similar situation who are time poor,” she said. “CrossFit shows how quick you can get back into being fit and it has helped me with Sarah.”
When Brown was debating whether she could get back into competing, a physiotherapist told her she wouldn’t be able to squat or skip and that it wouldn’t be good for her.
“As I’ve gotten stronger, everything’s gotten better so I guess I’ve blown that theory out of the water,” Brown said.