March 13, 2014
Competitive Spirit: Mallory Lawson
By Greg Okuhara

“She always has a big smile ... She has a bubbly personality, and it’s contagious in the gym.” ~Matt on his wife, Mallory

Photos courtesy of Jared Stevens

Around this time last year, Mallory Lawson wrestled with what she said was one of the toughest decisions of her life: attend her sister’s wedding or make her debut at the North Central Regional in Chicago.

She placed 35th in the 2013 Open, capping off months of rigorous training. But the wedding was slated for the same weekend as the competition in Chicago.

Lawson was devastated and even asked her sister to change the date.

“She thought about it for a bit,” Lawson said. “But then my parents got on the phone and said, ‘Mallory, you have got to reprioritize.’ But it was a battle for about a week.”

Anyone who knows the 28-year-old, who trains at CrossFit 417 in Joplin, Mo., isn’t surprised Lawson made the request. During the wedding reception, family members hugged her, telling her they were happy she was there but understood what kind of sacrifice it was for her.

Missing last year’s regionals made Lawson that much more determined to earn a repeat trip this year, and it seems she’s on her way. She recorded 387 reps for 14.1 and 203 reps for 14.2, which puts her tied for ninth place in the North Central Region after the first two weeks. Lawson knows she’s performing at a high level, but acknowledges she needs need to continue to work hard to secure another trip to Chicago.

“Every time I do the Open, I think I put up a good score. But then on Monday, I see what’s there and I’m amazed. It’s like, ‘How do they even do that?’” she said.

Lawson has spent the past year making a concerted effort to tackle her weaknesses and become a more well-rounded athlete, and she is stronger than last year.

What makes Lawson’s progress even more remarkable is the fact that she had to quit playing sports in 2006 after a botched knee surgery. She had three corrective surgeries, one of which involved sawing her left femur in half and using eight screws to help piece everything back together. That forced her to miss her final two years of volleyball at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.

Sitting on the sidelines didn’t sit well with the former collegiate volleyball player. She was a highly-recruited volleyball player who also played basketball and ran track in high school. Not being able to compete or be active was difficult, and so she’s not taking anything for granted when it comes to training and competing in the Open.

“I think this is more for myself,” Lawson said. “I was so sad those last two years of college when I couldn’t do what my teammates were doing.”

Her husband, Matt, isn’t surprised by her success. The two have known each other since the eighth grade, and he remembers his wife setting Olympic lifting records at their high school as a freshman.

“She has a history of competing at a high level in sports,” said Matt, who also trains at CrossFit 417 and is a minor league baseball player for the Cleveland Indians organization. “She has the motor in terms of athleticism. She has high expectations and expects the best of herself all the time. She’s very competitive. I’m not surprised at all (by her success). I don’t think anyone who knows her is surprised. We’re proud of her. She’s come a long way since her injury in college.”

Mallory's current top-10 spot in North Central is no fluke. In February, she went toe-to-toe with five-time CrossFit Games competitor Stacie Tovar during a fitness competition in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Mallory finished second overall in the women’s elite division and even won one of the events with a faster time than Tovar.

Her strong showing provided some much-needed evidence that her hard work was paying off. And true to the CrossFit spirit—even though the two were neck-and-neck throughout the competition—Mallory said Tovar still took the time chat with her between events to offer advice and tips.

“I felt good going in to the competition,” Mallory said. “And Stacie was so awesome. You have to be a pretty secure athlete to help another athlete. And she helped me a lot. I had no idea (I would be able to hang with Tovar), but at the same time, it was the first time I didn’t feel any pressure. It was a chance to prove to myself that I could compete.”

Mallory's first taste of CrossFit came in November 2012 when fellow North Central athlete Jared Stevens convinced her to try a workout. Although she is pain-free since her corrective knee surgeries, Mallory stayed away from competitive sports, but was still exercising.

“I did what we call the girly things to do: run, elliptical stuff,” she said.

So she arrived at the gym, ready to work. That day’s workout: McGhee, a 30-minute AMRAP of deadlifts, push-ups and box jumps.

“I couldn’t walk for a week afterward,” Mallory said. “But I went back because I had fallen in love with it.”

She had discovered a new outlet for the competitive spirit that had been missing since her collegiate volleyball days. In CrossFit, she had found a new source to feed her appetite for challenges.

“It was so challenging,” she said. “This was stuff I hadn’t done since I was a kid, and so different from what we did for volleyball.”

The mixture of new challenges and competition was too intoxicating to resist. Mallory, who works as a student wellness coordinator and an assistant volleyball coach at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo., said she enjoys measuring herself against others and it drives her to improve every day.

The drive she shows as a CrossFit athlete doesn’t get in the way of her good-hearted nature, Matt said. Because of her busy training schedule, she spends countless hours at CrossFit 417, and she’s just as friendly with newcomers as she is with her fellow competition teammates.

“She always has a big smile,” Matt said. “Whether they’re competitors or not, she just tries to make people’s day. She has a bubbly personality, and it’s contagious in the gym.”

As for travel plans in May, Mallory said she’s made sure there won’t be any scheduling conflicts during the weekend of the North Central Regional.

“Nope,” she said excitedly. “All my sisters and brothers are married, so we won’t have any issues there.”