January 11, 2012
Doing Battle Together: Whitney Welsch
By CrossFit

The women’s competition at the 2011 South Central Regional was fierce. With more Games vets than berths, it was clear that at least two Games vets wouldn’t make the cut. 

At the close of the weekend, the defending South Central Regional champ Candice Ruiz (2010 CrossFit Games) and Whitney Welsch (2010 CrossFit Games – 21st) were just outside the cut—in 5th and 4th place, respectively. 

Although Whitney did not make it to the Games, the 30-year-old physical therapist from RedBlack CrossFit in Austin, Texas, was a key player in two of the main events of the weekend. When Candice fell from the bar midway through the final chipper, Whitney gave up crucial seconds to get Candice back on her feet. Shortly after, Whitney chased Lindsey Smith over the finish line, helping push Lindsey up to second overall. 

We caught up with Whitney to talk about what went down in Tomball, Texas. Our conversation ranged from her mindset going into a tough competition, to the competitive energy among the ladies of Austin and how she plans to prepare for next year. She gave us the details of what was happening in her head as she dropped from the bar to help Candice, and sprinted over the line with Lindsey. 

What was your mindset going in? How do you prepare for a competition where the odds aren’t good?

I honestly didn’t think about odds. CrossFit has nothing to do with odds. It has to do with who has a bigger heart, and who can push harder and faster. CrossFit is not about competing against odds, it is about competing against yourself. Instead of focusing on things outside of my control, I focused on what I could control: diet, sleep, and training schedule.

I was out to prove something to myself.  My coach and I adopted a very eclectic training regime that allowed me to work through two pretty serious shoulder injuries…

My mindset this year involved two things: 

1) Train smarter, not harder.  This meant more neuromuscular re-education, more skill work, and having my technique torn apart as much as possible.  

2) Train every rep, movement, skill, WOD, and every second like there was more that could be done. 

I can honestly say that I was prepared for these Games. The unfortunate thing is that I do not feel that my performance at Regionals reflected my actual abilities.  The key to getting out of Texas this year boiled down to one thing … good heat-proof grips and someone to manage your third-degree burns. Since that was a major factor in the competition, aside from holding hot coals in your hands, there really wasn’t a way to prepare for that. There’s no doubt that there are a number of skills that I need to get better at, however, everyone can say that.

You turned in solid performances throughout the weekend, finishing in the top five for all but one workout. What happened inWorkout 1

I remember nearly every second of that workout. After coming in first from the run and beginning my handstand push-ups first, I never could have imagined that I would end up in 13th. After all, handstand push-ups are typically a strength of mine. 

The truth is, my mind got the best of me. After my first series of strict handstand push-ups I started getting “no rep” calls, and unfortunately they came in a series that started to make me wonder what I was doing wrong. I tried to simply stand up, shake it off and then got back to work. However, the no counts continued. I don’t deny for a second that on four reps my foot did come off the wall.  

Once I made it past one of the most frustrating moments of the weekend, I made up a lot of ground once I was allowed to leave the wall and on the row, but the damage was done. I knew going into that workout that this would set the stage for the entire competition, however had hoped that it would not ultimately eliminate me from contention.    

Over the rest of the weekend, I battled with the blisters and burns that everyone else contended with.  I still put forth a good effort for the rest of the WODs, but couldn’t help but go back to my disappointment and frustration during the first WOD.  That one WOD, those nine no-counts, they truly defeated me in a way I could not come back from.  It is still painful to think that even 20 seconds faster, even one less no-count, and I might be packing my bags for LA. I know I still didn’t get as many “no reps” as other competitors in other regions, but it is no less defeating.

You were midway through the chipper when Candice Ruiz fell from the bar. Rather than continuing on and hoping someone else would step in to help, you dropped off the bar and helped Candice yourself. What went into your decision?

Quite honestly, there was no thought put into that decision. I guess knowing that the field was tight and it really might come down to that last point I should have thought about it, but really, that never factored in. 

We were all out there doing battle together, not against one another. Whether it is a friend or foe beside you, the workout is the “enemy.”  

Once you have experienced a CrossFit competition, you know what kind of person it takes to finish those workouts. We are all out there to prove ourselves, to gut it out until there is nothing left to give. None of us step out onto the “battlefield” to run past a fallen competitor. 

I can’t speak for Candice, but she was likely reaching that point which we all do in every WOD where you think to yourself, “Dang it, everyone else is just hanging out watching and having a cold beer, and I am standing here about to die.” 

I couldn’t even really tell you how she fell, aside from the thought I had of, “That’s odd …” I heard a smack as she hit the ground, and from there I acted without thinking. When I got to her, I asked, “Are you OK?” She gave me a small nod, and I patted her on the back and said, “Come on, girl. You and me.” A few reps later, when she looked like she was getting defeated, I patted her on the back another time. After that, Candice kicked back into gear and I knew she was OK. 

Just a little while later, you and Lindsey Smith went into a flat out sprint over the line. By being there and pushing Lindsey to give it her all, you helped her move up to second in the overall standings. 

The last three minutes of that workout was the best that I felt throughout the competition. I finally felt myself kick in and was doing what I knew I could do. 

I will admit, getting a “no rep” called on me for a lunge that had occurred 10’ prior to where I already was and being asked to move back two separate times started to bring out the same frustration that I had felt during the first workout. However, this time I wasn’t going down without a fight. 

I slammed my knee into the ground so hard that it is still bruised, but there was no mistaking my reps then. After that I was just psyched to sprint it out. I am not really sure whether Lindsey was in front when I finished the lunges and started the sprint, but I do know I just wanted to finish strong. I was thinking, “Come on, Cupcake.”

Since then, I have watched videos of those last couple strides and I must say Lindsey has some incredible drive to dive on concrete and to push for it, even though her space for going to L.A. was already secured—and, wow, she has some long arms. I think it took me two full stride lengths to match her reach.  She is a great competitor and an inspiration. I think we were all just having fun at that point. 

What was the energy like between the competitors? Since so many of the athletes train at the same box (CrossFit Central) or sister boxes, did it feel like a competition or, in Rory Mckernan’s words, a “coopetition”?  

I guess “coopetition” would be the right word. 

Like I said before, we are all like family out there. I have competed against Lindsey Smith, Carey Kepler, and Lisa Thiel for years. Each of them is such a genuine and kind person, it is hard to see them as competition. 

Now of course when you look at Lindsey and Carey’s history and this being their 4th straight Games appearances, of course you know who the athletes you have to beat are. However, to say they are competition would imply something negative.

The three of them obviously train together and have a very tight bond, but that in no way resulted in them treating me like an outsider. In fact, Carey and Lisa both went out of their way to make sure I felt included and everyone in tent city at CrossFit Central and RedBlack made the entire weekend feel like a family affair.  

Had my coach or I truly seen them as “the competition,” I doubt my coach would have patched their wounds or stretched their shoulders. As we both agreed, if you are going to beat someone, it is only admirable to do it when they are at their best. So we did what we could to help. I hope that in the coming years, the women of Austin, Texas can continue to grow in strength and friendship.

What were your favorite moments from the weekend? 

While on the drive home, my sister called. She hadn’t been to attend because my nephew was still in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Apparently the entire time my brother-in-law had been on the phone giving her play-by-play commentary. She was so excited to hear about the finish. It only got better when I was e-mailed a picture of the finish line tie and I saw my brother-in-law in the background, on the phone, lined up with the finish line. Best of all, my nephew is going home this week. 

My second favorite moment of the weekend was seeing how much fun my father had in tent city. Prior to the Regional, he’d never seen me compete. To be able to surprise him with a card on Father’s Day and perform well was just icing on the cake. I’m still getting e-mails from friends that were in tent city about all of his jokes and how much fun he was having watching.