South Africa's Celestie Engelbrecht took 4th at the 2013 Africa Regional just nine months after she started CrossFit. Now, the gymnast is poised...

"This time 'round with another 12 months of preparation, her strength numbers have drastically improved and her skills are far more refined. When you add a much bigger gas tank you're looking at a completely different beast."

Photos courtesy of Ruby Wolff.

Celestie Engelbrecht has a good chance at qualifying for the CrossFit Games.

One year ago, the South African competitor took fourth place at the 2013 Africa Regional despite only nine months of CrossFit experience.

The then 25-year-old athlete had a lifetime of gymnastics training behind her, which helped her then and will certainly help her this year given the strong emphasis on high-skill gymnastics movements like the max-distance handstand walk for Event 2 and strict handstand push-ups in Event 4.

Before she ever learned about CrossFit, Engelbrecht built a foundation by putting in a tremendous number of hours at the gym. In her late teens, she competed at the national level and won several gold medals at the African Gymnastics Championships.

Once her gymnastics career ended, she messed around in the globo gym and even competed in a physique competition. It was in preparation for that appearance-focused event her coach, Scott Macintosh, turned her attention to a sport that would reward her for what she could do.

“Her competitive itch still needed scratching, and I thought she would be perfect for the sport (of CrossFit),” Macintosh explained.

Fast forward a few months and Engelbrecht was just six points away from the podium in 2013.

She had finished in the top five on all but two events—the three-rep max overhead squat (140 lb., sixth), and the 21-15-9 of 205-lb. deadlifts and 24-inch box jumps (6:42, eighth)—which revealed her main weakness at the time: strength.

“My max deadlift last year before regionals was 230 lb., so the 205 lb. (deadlifts) for 21 reps totally smashed me,” she said.

Regionals have historically shown any weaknesses in an athlete’s fitness will be exposed, and with growing levels of competition that could mean the difference between finishing on the podium or not.

Having learned a lesson, Engelbrecht set about eliminating her weaknesses immediately after last year’s regional.

“This year, my coaches and I really focused on getting stronger in my lifting and perfecting the skills needed to be a better CrossFit athlete,” she said.

Her coach is proud of the results.

“This time ‘round with another 12 months of preparation, her strength numbers have drastically improved and her skills are far more refined,” he said. “When you add this to a much bigger gas tank you're looking at a completely different beast.”

Her new personal records back that up. She’s now hang snatching 167 lb., cleaning 202 lb., squatting 275 lb. and deadlifting 308 lb. by three—all at least 40-lb. improvements over her previous records from 2013. 

Unlike last year, she’s not worried about the heaviest parts of the regional. The one-rep-max hang squat snatch, 115-lb. front squats and 135-lb. overhead squats shouldn’t be a problem.

And of course, she can’t wait to get to the max-distance handstand walk (Event 2), strict handstand push-ups (Event 4) and legless rope climbs (Event 5).

“I always walked on my hands as a child so I get a chance to be a kid again,” Engelbrecht said. “And in training I have found that I prefer legless rope climbs so I was very happy when Event 5 of this year’s regional was announced.”

Her biggest weakness isn’t physical, but mental.

“I am my own worst enemy. I can get very nervous,” Engelbrecht said.

Sometimes the nerves throw her off her ideal pace, and she goes far too fast.

Also, since she trains alone most of the time, she realized soon after the regional that she could use more experience competing in CrossFit—even if it’s just a workout.

“I found that because I don’t train with other CrossFitters, my competitiveness was lacking,” she admitted. “I was very nervous competing against such inspirational athletes.”

“We remedied this by getting her to compete in local events, and more recently we arranged for her to train with the men at CrossFit Kyalami once a week,” Macintosh added.

Without the 2013 and 2011 Games qualifiers Carla Nunes da Costa and Mona Pretorious on the Africa Regional roster, the top spot is there for the taking.

Engelbrecht wants another gold medal, and a spot at the Games, and she believes she’ll have to contend with Rika Diedericks, Nicole Seymour, Lara Erland, and Janine Prinsloo in order to get it.

But even her main challenger, 2012 Games qualifier Rika Diedericks, is aware of the threat Engelbrecht poses.

“This year’s events definitely favor Celestie who has a strong gymnastics background,” Diedericks said, “and given her Olympic weightlifting training, she has a distinct advantage of making it to the podium.”