Faster On Land and Water: Hannah Caldas

March 21, 2012

Emily Warren

This Olympics hopeful is in 16th in the South West.

"CrossFit has changed my swimming altogether. I went from dreaming of a spot on the Portugal Olympic Swim Team to believing it was actually possible."

Photos courtesy of Takashi Sato.


Cutting through the water, 2012 Olympics hopeful Hannah Caldas covers the 100-yard freestyle in just 51.7 seconds. Later that day at the 2012 Arizona Short Course State Championships, Caldas came close to the Arizona state record on the 50-yard breaststroke by covering two lengths of the pool in just 29.06 seconds.

Four years ago, Caldas was teaching neurosurgery at Wake Forrest University. Like many academics, she had given up her childhood and college sport in her mid-20s to focus on her graduate studies. As an assistant professor at 30 years old, Caldas was on track for a promising career. That is, until some unusual symptoms set her out of her clearly marked lane.

In 2008, Caldas was diagnosed with a benign pituitary adenoma brain tumor. Although not life threatening, the diagnosis set in motion an earnest reflection of her goals, what is important to her and what was missing from her life.

The tumor started her questioning, and a herniated disk in 2009 brought her the answer.

Her doctor recommended pool therapy. Returning to the water for the first time in five years, Caldas soon found herself racing against the clock. She still had the love and skill at swimming in her body, and she entered swim competitions in the Masters division, won races and out performed many seasoned competitors.

A year later, in 2010, Caldas quit her job at the university, sold her car and moved to Scottsdale, Ariz., to train at the Scottsdale Aquatic Swim Club and pursue her dream of competing on Portugal’s Olympic Swim Team.

As she started her Olympic training in earnest, Caldas got a text from her friend Cliff Davidson. The text spelled out her first CrossFit WOD. She thought she could handle it easily. She was, after all, putting in hours at the pool.

To her dismay, it took her two sessions to complete the workout. Yet she trudged through the reps and continued to ask Davidson for a new workout every day for two weeks. She wasn’t willing to give up on the challenge or let Davidson know she couldn’t handle it. By the end of the two weeks, she couldn’t stop CrossFitting.

Determined to improve, Caldas got into CrossFit the ‘old fashioned way’ (a la 2000’s). She watched CrossFit movement demos on YouTube and practiced alone in front of a mirror. She got a handle on the basics, but soon left her globo gym to train alongside other CrossFitters at Urban WarFit CrossFit in Scottsdale.

Caldas was a great swimmer before, but she found that adding CrossFit brought her to a whole new level.

"CrossFit has changed my swimming altogether. I went from dreaming of a spot on the Portugal Olympic Swim Team to believing it is actually possible,” Caldas says. “My power and strength are unlike they've ever been and it has translated into my fastest ever times in the sprint distances.”

Caldas has dedicated herself full time to swimming and CrossFit training. It has been a daring gamble for the former assistant professor, and hasn’t been without its challenges.

“Training full time has been a journey. The daily struggle (physical, psychological and financial) reminds me of why I'm doing this and why it's so important for me to keep on. It's what keeps me focused and committed, it's what reminds me why I've compromised so much to do what I do."

Two weeks ago, Caldas completed Open Workout 12.3 while competing at the 2012 Western Zone Speedo Champions Series in Federal Way, Wash. Juggling two competitions, Caldas still managed to get 8th in the South West on 12.3 (406 reps) and 2nd on the 50-meter freestyle behind Olympian Kara-Lynn Joyce (26.58 seconds). 

After four weeks of the Open, Caldas holds 16th place in the South West. And she doesn’t just have a big engine and no skill—in 12.2 she managed two 120-pound snatches and in 12.4 she got 8 muscle-ups. Watch out, South West, this swimmer is good out of the water too.

12.1 – 107 burpees
12.2 – 92 snatches (2 at 120lbs)
12.3 – 406 reps (11 rounds and 10 box jumps)
12.4 – 248 reps (150 wall balls, 90 double-unders, and 8 muscle-ups)