March 21, 2014
Four's Company
By Dustin Sollars

“All in all, we have the best bromance in the Midwest. I wish the best for my boys in the Open. They have made me better.” ~Arlen Castenada on his training partners

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Joyner

There is such a thing as friendly competition when it comes to the CrossFit Games Open.

Since August, four North Central athletes—Jacob Heppner of Iron Major CrossFit in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.; Arlen Castenada of CrossFit 636 in St. Louis, Mo.; Alan Joyner of CrossFit Believe in Warrensburg, Mo.; and Vince Bertucci of River Market CrossFit in Kansas City, Mo.—have been adjusting their schedules and meeting up for training, motivation and camaraderie every few weeks.

And they’re not afraid to say they’ve got a bit of a “bromance” going on.

So far, it’s helped. At the close of 14.3, all four men are in the top 150 in the region, with two of them in the top 20. With only two workouts remaining, each still has a shot at qualifying to compete in Chicago, Ill., at the North Central Regional.

“We always program on the fly,” Joyner said. “Sometimes it takes us longer to program the workout than to actually do it. It’s never easy, but it’s always a blast.”

They recently knocked out Fran as a warm-up and all finished in less than three minutes. They’ve also recently done a variation of the chipper from last year’s regional.

“We target weaknesses,” Heppner said. “The great part is we are all good at different things. For instance, Arlen lifts heavy things like an ogre. We are all able to learn something from each other.”

It all started when Bertucci was at a fitness competition in Missouri last summer and started a conversation with some of the best athletes there.

“That’s when I realized I needed to be working out with that caliber athlete if I wanted to be on that level,” Bertucci said.

From there, it turned into “challenging and taunting each other on social media,” Heppner said.

Taking their cue from top athletes like Dan Bailey, Rich Froning, Jason Khalipa and Garret Fisher, the men started to train together.

“We kind of put two and two together when we saw the best athletes in the world training together and figured, ‘Why can't we do that?’” Bertucci said.

The guys usually meet at Joyner’s box, CrossFit Believe, because it’s closer for Castenada who drives in from St. Louis. When they get together, it’s not always about results. Sometimes it’s just about getting together with good friends.

They’ve even got animal nicknames for each other.

“Well, I’m the lion because of my raw strength and mane of hair,” Castenada joked. “I’m like the leader of the pride.”

Bertucci said once Castenada had an animal nickname, all of the guys wanted one.  

“If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?” Bertucci said. “I originally couldn’t think of one so they told me to be a shark and I picked hammerhead. Then I retracted it. Now I’m the rhino.”

Heppner said he’s the honey badger because, “I don’t give a crap. I’m always hungry; I always wear the same old clothes and shoes to every competition. For clarification, I’ve never eaten a snake.”

Joyner added, “I’m the bald eagle, obviously.”

Bertucci clarified: “He’s going bald. That’s a joke. He’d probably say he’s rare and majestic.”

But in all seriousness, the men have one common goal: see each other on the regional stage in Chicago.

“I think true friends want to see each other succeed,” Heppner said. “I would really like to stand in the holding chutes next to Arlen Castenada, Vince Bertucci and Alan Joyner, all wearing tight, spandex pants, of course, anxiously awaiting some crazy regional workout.”

Bertucci said they all give each other that extra push, knowing they are right on each other’s heels. At the same time, they are right there to be each other’s biggest supporters.

Joyner said the group is like an extended family and “some of the best guys he knows.”

Heppner agreed.

“I would be blessed to have the ability to compete in Chicago again,” he said. “But you know what would be even better? Seeing Alan Joyner and Vince Bertucci with inked numbers on their legs and triceps competing in the North Central Regional for the first time. I’m all of these guys’ biggest fan, and seeing them accomplish goals and qualify for regionals—that gets me excited for them.”

The group embodies some of the best aspects of CrossFit: community, camaraderie, ambition and hard work.

For the next few weeks, they’ll try to meet every Sunday to push each other and tackle the Open workouts. And even if they can’t get together, they’re in constant contact, sending each other pointers.

“All in all, we have the best bromance in the Midwest,” Castenada added. “I wish the best for my boys in the Open. They have made me better.”