July 10, 2013
Fear Nothing: Deborah Cordner Carson
By Nicole Scott Smith
At the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games, an overwhelming fear of the open water kept Deborah Cordner Carson from completing the 210-meter ocean swim.
At the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games, an overwhelming fear of the open water kept Deborah Cordner Carson from completing the 210-meter ocean swim.

Determined to keep that moment from defining her in the minds of the CrossFit community, she stood anxiously on the beach at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games. Several times, she talked herself out of entering the ocean. With the promise that she would be accompanied by a paddle boarder for the entire swim, she took the plunge into the unfamiliar waters and completed the swim portion of the event, earning her the admiration of her fellow athletes, the Spirit of the Games award and 13th place overall.

Never leaving her side during that choppy ocean swim was paddle boarder, Tyson Poppler. A bond was formed between the CrossFit St. Paul athlete and Poppler, who operates a standing paddleboard company on the California coastline. In preparation for her return to the CrossFit Games, she is taking a trip to California to meet with Poppler and to demolish whatever is left of the fear she faced last July.

“California people have all this ‘water stuff’ that they do,” the Minnesotan laughed. “Tyson is going to help get me comfortable with the water — maybe even have fun with it, as crazy as that sounds. That way, the next time I’m in the ocean and facing it, I’m not having to compete in it.”

The 33-year-old has been training for her third consecutive trip to Carson, Calif., with a group of athletes from her box — a different approach than the one-on-one training with her coach in years past.

“At this point in the year, I am usually training by myself, so this is different. The workouts are more structured towards group rather than just me.”

Cordner Carson spent the first day of the North Central Regional in first place, falling to third place on Day 2.

“I have quite a bit of talent untapped,” she said after the Regional. “I know I am better than how I did in the last workout. I’m excited to go to the Games and prove that.”

She also attends regular Olympic lifting classes, but hasn’t varied her methods of training much over the year. Instead, she’s focusing on what has worked well for her in the past — consistency and “being comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

This pattern has allowed her to make gains.

“There’s a lot of maintenance. Being able to maintain what I’ve accomplished with my lifts and everything,” she said. “At this point, I’m always going to know when to turn it on and it doesn’t feel as frantic as it did in years past, like there are certain things I need to get better at right away.”

As focused as Cordner Carson is on winning the Games, she is also looking past July and forward to spending quality time with her husband, Patrick. The couple married in 2012.

“CrossFit is not all of who I am but it definitely looks like it at this point. Pat and I would like to take a honeymoon sometime. We never really had time with me deciding to train for the next year,” she said. “We would like to go to Europe someday and honestly, I don’t want to go to Europe with the thought of having to train in the back of my head or the thought of not being able to eat all the pasta I want, so I said, ‘Let’s just wait until I can have a really good time and not worry about it.’”

Along with training, she has kept her focus on health and mobility. She lives with Lymphedema, a disease she was diagnosed with during college where she was a sprinter at the University of Northern Iowa.

She reminds herself that it is a marathon, not a sprint.

“It’s not just who is the best CrossFitter, it’s who can last the entire season at this level. Am I a good CrossFitter? Yes. At this point, that is proven. But can you last from March until July? That’s the hardest thing.”

She is looking forward to competing against some new blood at the Games this year, welcoming the growth of the sport and the new names that qualified during the Regional season.

“There is so much growth. I think it’s great. Look, there’s going to be new people who come in and shake things up in this sport. They are going to be the new Annies, the new Kristans. There will be the new me and Elisabeth, and we will just be legends someday and that will be awesome,” she said.

“It’s hard to let go of the past, but it’s the past. Veterans and people in this sport like myself, at some point, you fall. At some point, it’s your turn to move on. But nobody can take away from what you’ve done in the past. I’m always going to be the 2012 Spirit of the Games winner. I am always going to be something to somebody out there, like ‘There was this one time where this girl with Lymphedema … ’ That someone will be able to find my story and be inspired from it. For the rest of my life, you can always find me and what I’ve done.”

But she isn’t ready to pass the torch just yet.

“My dream is to win the CrossFit Games and have a family someday. I think now that the sport is established, and let’s be honest, it’s an established sport, now we are at the real exciting part," she said. “We wouldn’t watch it if we knew who was going to win. We watch because we want to see who is going to step it up. If Rich Froning does it again, awesome. But if he doesn’t, that’s what makes a sport a sport. I’m ready to try.”


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