April 24, 2014
A Force to be Reckoned With
By Erin Kelly

“I’m proud to see my athletes pass me in the Open. It means I’m doing my job well.” ~Jesse Crespo

Photos courtesy of Linda Denham

Just before Open Workout 14.2 was announced, Jesse Crespo got the news no coach wants to receive.

“My top girl from last year’s Open was T-boned at a red light,” Crespo said. “My first thought was, ‘Thank God she’s OK.’ My second was finding her replacement.”

Crespo is the owner of 3-year-old CrossFit 1Force in West Deptford, N.J. His young team finished 10th in the 2013 Open and sixth at the North East Regional. Courtney Butowicz was a big part of that finish.

Butowicz walked away from the accident, but her Games season was totaled along with her car due to a nasty concussion. Butowicz joined the CrossFit 1Force team in 2013. Prior to that, she competed as an individual at the Mid Atlantic Regional, finishing 16th in 2012 and 15th 2011.

“Courtney brought experience to our team,” Crespo said. “I had two other girls with well-rounded talent, but having regional experience with a heavy barbell made a big difference.”

Losing Butowicz was a blow for the team in the 2014 Open, but Crespo was not willing to give up. At the end of the five-week test, CrossFit 1Force sat in 30th place in the North East Region, barely earning a spot at regionals and the box-wide nickname “dirty 30.” When the official invites went out and individual scores were removed, CrossFit 1Force was in 24th place.  

“I like our chances if regional programming looks like the Games last year,” Crespo said. “If there’s less focus on two-man events and more workouts where all six people have to perform, we will do well.”

Crespo writes individualized programming he calls 1-on-1Force for his competitive athletes, designed to address weaknesses. In addition to their daily programming, these 15 athletes come together every Friday night and Saturday afternoon to throw down in heavy, regional-style workouts.

“Competitors need to be average to above average at everything,” Crespo said. “I focus on gymnastics, the barbell and work capacity. Post workout, my athletes perform single leg/arm movements, scapular strength, midline stability and posterior chain work. I believe in balance.”

Balance is not a weakness for the athlete called on to replace Butowicz. Stephanie DiBartolomeo was walking on a balance beam before she turned 2. After 24 years of taking and coaching gymnastics, she found CrossFit one year ago.  

“In one of her first (workouts), Steph did freestanding handstand push-ups,” Crespo said. “She moves efficiently and is very coachable. Her skills are a new asset to our team. Steph can walk on her hands all day.”

“CrossFit is my new gymnastics,” DiBartolomeo said. “Becoming physically strong has helped me to become mentally strong. With Jesse’s programming, my engine is getting better.”

Two nights during the week when DiBartolomeo has to work late, teammate Ricky Baylor drives an hour to train with her. Baylor is a North East Region standout, finishing 34th in the in 2011 Open, 24th in 2012 and 23rd in 2013. He competed as an individual at the 2012 North East Regional, finishing 27th overall.

“With a few athletes new to the stage, I have been more vocal during training,” Baylor said. “Since I’ve been around for a while, I am trying to prepare them the best I can. My priority has always been the progression and development of my team.”

Baylor stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 220 lb. He has a 330-lb. clean and jerk and 260-lb. snatch. In addition, he boasts a 2:35 Fran, making his engine extremely notable for his size.

“(Baylor) is gifted,” Crespo said. “He excels at moving the barbell and his mental toughness cannot be matched. Most importantly, all day, everyday, (Baylor) is all about this team.”

Abby Graham is the leading lady on the CrossFit 1Force roster. Graham posted an impressive 175 reps in 14.3 and finished 52nd in the region overall. Also impressive is Graham’s 215-lb. clean and jerk, 175-lb. snatch, 270-lb. back squat and 315-lb. deadlift, as she weighs in at just 140 lb.

“Last year, I was learning the basics of Oly lifting and gymnastics,” Graham said. “Now I’m so much stronger both physically and mentally. I’m preparing myself outside of the gym by eating well and getting more sleep, which is making a big difference.”

Graham has been doing CrossFit for almost two years. Graham and Crespo led the team to a fifth-place finish in Event 5—the deadlift and box jump couplet—at 2013 North East Regional.

“Abby is a weapon,” Crespo said. “She is so explosive and very strong for her size. She will make noise in the North East for years to come.”

Completing the women’s side of the roster is Ashley Cornell who took her first trip to regionals as a spectator in 2012, vowing to help take a CrossFit 1Force team back in 2013. A gym teacher by day, Cornell energetically leads the CrossFit Kids program at the affiliate.

“These people know me better than I know myself,” Cornell said. “The bond that connects us I’ll never find anywhere else. I don’t think of us as a team, but more of a force, because a force you can’t really describe. But you can certainly feel it, and it’s powerful.”

Carlo DiMeo will make his second regional appearance for CrossFit 1Force this year, standing out last year at the North East Regional with a 5:20 time for his part of Team Jackie. DiMeo finished 168th in the region for this year’s Open. He posted an impressive 226 reps for 14.4 and a 9:58 time for 14.5.

DiMeo has a 295-lb. clean and jerk, 225-lb. snatch and can do 18 unbroken muscle-ups. Gymnastics is his strength with the ability to also do 60 consecutive pull-ups.

Butowicz isn’t the only team member not competing on the CrossFit 1Force team in 2014. Crespo will be strategizing from the sidelines as Nick Foley joins the roster. Crespo chose his team based on the top three men and women in the Open.

“I’m proud to see my athletes pass me in the Open,” Crespo said. “It means I’m doing my job well.”

The team has nicknamed Foley the “Dark Horse.” He joined CrossFit 1Force five months ago and has greatly increased his strength and skills in a very short time. He finished the Open in 164th place.

“I’m humbled to compete with regional-caliber athletes,” Foley said. “I’m so motivated by their competitive nature. I trust Jesse completely so I never question what we are doing or why we are doing it.”

Crespo created more than just long chippers and AMRAPs this year. His first son, Cruz Joseph, was born nine months ago.

“I don’t think I will miss being on my regional team,” Crespo said. “Two-a-days aren’t as doable when I know Cruz is waiting for me at home. I can be a better coach, husband and father by focusing on developing my team’s potential.”

This year’s early accident taught Crespo to keep planning the roster for tomorrow and beyond. He's even planning on his son becoming part of the team someday.  

“Cruz has the most the perfect squat,” Crespo said. “We’ve been working on his skills. Look for him in 2031.”