April 24, 2013
Hong Kong's Lone Affiliate Sends Four to Regionals
By Kelvin Ang

CrossFit Asphodel, the only affiliate in Hong Kong, has qualified four people to the Asia Regional.

Photos by: Ashley Booth

Forget posters, slogans or videos. The athletes at CrossFit Asphodel in Hong Kong have been drawing on a much more powerful source of inspiration lately.

For the past few months, 2012’s Asia Regional competitor Milla Wu has been cycling through pull-ups, handstand push-ups and other movements many would struggle with. All in a day’s work for a CrossFitter, you might say — but Wu is six months pregnant.

“Holy crap,” Tiffany Yancey, one of Asphodel’s trainers, says. “Who needs a weighted vest when you’re carrying a child?”

Wu took this year’s Open off because of her pregnancy, but Hong Kong’s only CrossFit affiliate has done just fine in the temporary absence of one of its ace athletes. Asphodel co-owner Ashley Booth, who also happens to be Wu’s fiancé, will lead the way when four of Asphodel’s athletes — one more than last year — head to Seoul next month.

Booth and Yancey will be returning as Regional competitors, and while they will miss having Wu by their side, they’ll get a boost from Chung Chong Lam and Laura Apollonio Bergen, two Regional debutantes who have joined Asphodel within the past year. All except Bergen also double as trainers at Asphodel.  

“They’re so passionate,” Wu says of the trainers. “If you sit down with them over lunch, that’s all they talk about — CrossFit, their training. They’re the kind of athletes that would sacrifice everything for CrossFit. They get in the zone and they can train for two hours, and then they’ll eat and then train again in the afternoon. They would sacrifice sleep just so they can train in the morning before they coach. It’s really inspirational.”

Spearheading the Asphodel campaign is Booth, who placed 20th in Asia in the Open this year. A former Muay Thai fighter from Derby, England, Booth qualified for Regionals as the 30th-ranked competitor in 2012 but was far from content with that showing.  

One weakness he and Asphodel co-owner Alix James immediately identified in their contingent was their Olympic weightlifting. Booth was unhappy with his performance during Open Workout 12.2 in which he completed 12 of the 30 135-lb. snatches. After meeting Singapore Weightlifting Federation head coach Wu Chuanfu, a former China national weightlifter, at a trainers summit in Singapore, they decided to bring him to Asphodel on a number of occasions to coach both their athletes and themselves.  

Fast forward a year, and Booth successfully hammered out all 30 of the 135-lb. snatches in Open Workout 13.1. He even eeked out seven of the 165-lb. snatches. Yancey’s weightlifting followed the same trajectory, as she pounded out three reps of the 100-lb. snatches in 13.1 and vaulted to 32nd in Asia, after being ranked 71st in 12.2.

“I’m really excited, especially because I feel like I’ve made a lot of improvements compared to last year,” Yancey says. “All the hard work’s really paid off over the past year. I really spent a lot of time sticking to my Oly program and just hammering away at it.”

Booth’s determination to get fitter extended beyond his workouts, and he began to scrutinize his diet, as well. He decided to cut out sugar, and after noticing a marked increase in his endurance, Booth found he no longer craved cheesecake and other sweets the way he used to. 

Booth’s holistic approach to fitness has rubbed off on his athletes. Lam, for instance, comes from a traditional Chinese family and used to eat copious quantities of rice. After moving from Belgium to join Asphodel around Christmas last year, he’s gradually transitioned to the lean meat and vegetables diet recommended by CrossFit, as a result of Booth’s influence. 

That’s partly the reason Lam made a dramatic leap from 459th place in Europe last year to 48th in Asia this year. But Lam isn’t done emulating Booth; next, he wants to develop the same steely resolve with which Booth approaches his workouts.

“He doesn’t think too much about a (workout),” Lam says. “He just goes into it and does it as hard as he can. His mental toughness is what I really want.”

With the huge strides they’ve all made in the past year, Asphodel’s Games competitors can’t help but get excited thinking about what lies ahead for them. They will be competing as individuals in this year’s Regional, but they’re already contemplating forming a team for the 2014 season.

Best of all, their team will get a boost in numbers a few months from now — not just from Wu’s return, but also from the addition of her baby girl, who is already being touted as a future elite CrossFitter.

“That’s what they all say,” Wu laughs. “She’s going to grow up to be a firebreather."