March 27, 2013
Johnny Mac is Back
By Lauryn Lax

To those in the South East, John McLaughlin is better known as "Johnny Mac," who for the past four years has served as the Regional Director of the South East, or as he proudly calls it, the "Dirty South."


Photos by: Todd Lynch

There is an athlete who managed to hide anonymously on the worldwide Leaderboard named John McLaughlin. Currently, McLaughlin is in 11th place worldwide in the Masters Men 45-49 Division.

To those in the South East, McLaughlin is better known as “Johnny Mac,” who for the past four years has served as the Regional Director of the South East, or as he proudly calls it, the “Dirty South.”

Seven years ago, McLaughlin had no idea what he was getting himself into when his friends suggested he try CrossFit.

“They said, ‘It’s something you might like, cause you’re all into fitness.’ And I asked, ‘What is CrossFit?’ and then there was no clear answer,” he recalls. “All I heard was crickets.”

The former Ironman triathlete and adventure racer decided to find out. He researched CrossFit on the Internet during his free time at the fire station where he worked to see what it was all about.

“I found the main site, and Helen was posted. Three rounds for time: run 400 meters, one-and-a-half pood kettlebell for 21 swings, or 55-lb. dumbbell swings, 12 pull-ups,” he remembers. “So I pulled in a fellow firefighter and said, ‘Lets try it!’ We did a little more digging on the Internet to figure out what exactly a kettlebell swing was, then it was 3-2-1 … Go!”

Thirty minutes later, McLaughlin and his buddy felt accomplished, having finished their first-ever CrossFit workout. Yet, they failed to realize the intensity component to the workout.

“We took it at a steady pace. Jogged the 400-meter loop, walked inside to grab our dumbbells for the swings, had a casual conversation while we looked in the wall mirror asking if the form was correct, finished our swings together, forgot if it was 21 or 12 pull-ups, so we went to check the Internet, shared a bar for pull-ups, walked back outside and repeated the process two more rounds,” McLaughlin laughs.

“Afterwards, when we started looking online to compare our scores, we saw this one guy post, ‘7:58, three seconds slower than last time.’ Then we kept reading, and really at the time, there were hundreds of posts with times like that, mostly by the same people that made up this small obscure community at the time.”

McLaughlin knew he was missing something and says he was determined more than ever to figure the whole CrossFit thing out.

Today, McLaughlin not only has it figured out, but he is setting the bar high in his Masters Division. Sitting in 11th place worldwide, McLaughlin is two workouts away from finishing in the top 20 to make it to the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games.

“The Games story will be a classic return of past heroes and emergence of new unknowns,” he says on his expectations for the Games season.

McLaughlin may very well fall into that category.

As one of the original CrossFit athletes, McLaughlin competed in the 2008 CrossFit Games in Aromas, Calif., as an individual male where he placed 129th

The following four years, McLaughlin took a backseat in competing in order to take on the role of CrossFit coach at his box, CrossFit BGI, Level I Seminar Staff and Regional Director of the South East, as well as several leadership positions at the CrossFit Games, including Masters Director. He has done all of this alongside his “day job” as a firefighter in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

“I’ve also stolen from 17 years of experience in Fire Rescue as an officer and paramedic, so I have the ability to organize large groups of people in a dynamic environment — and trust me, a CrossFit competition is a dynamic event. I guess you could say that makes an 11th skill required for CrossFit,” McLaughlin jokes.

This year, he’s putting all of his CrossFit skills to the test. At 45 years old, this is his first year of eligibility among the Masters, and he is hungry to prove that hard work pays off, despite a minor set back in his training due to a lingering shoulder injury from snowboarding.

“I finally got my old nagging left shoulder repaired this past year, which set me back some, but I’ve been working a lot around that. I have actually gotten stronger and many of my PRs are still attainable. I just haven’t stayed on the same steady increase in my work capacity from previous years. I guess that means I’m only getting older and better, I hope,” McLaughlin says.

His numbers seem to prove he is getting along just fine, with scores of 160 on 13.1, 302 on 13.2 and 250 on 13.3.

In fact, according to McLaughlin, the muscle-ups in Workout 13.3 were one of his specialties from day one when he walked into his first underground CrossFit gym, Sonzs Jupiter, seven years ago. At that time, Sonzs Jupiter was not what is now known as a CrossFit affiliate, but was a gym franchise where the trainers were beginning to incorporate CrossFit training.

“It was a classic CrossFit set up — no machines, Olympic bars, bumpers, a pull-up rig and plyo boxes. Then, we got to the rings in the back. I had never touched a pair before, but had seen them in the summer Olympics,” McLaughlin recalls. “The younger owner, Tommy Orr, showed me a muscle-up with this distinct smirk on his face, of course at the top of the rings. He made them look easy. He then asked, ‘You want to try?’ My answer? ‘Hell yes!’”

After a 10-second tutorial: “Here’s what you do, false grip, pull hard and pop your head through,” McLaughlin gave it a go.

“First pull, I kid you not, I chicken winged through on top of the rings! They yelled and I knew I was sunk,” he says. “They had just hooked another client. I asked, ‘Where do I sign up?’”

McLaughlin has since spent the past seven years writing his CrossFit story alongside many of the “originals.”

In fact, his Level One Seminar back in 2007 was led by none other than Coach Greg Glassman himself, with Dave Castro as the flowmaster and Nicole Carroll and Annie Sakamoto as the demo girls. Mike Giardina, currently a flowmaster, and TJ Cooper of CrossFit East, one of the first affiliates on the East Coast, were also there as assistant trainers.

“I was so lucky with my timing to have found CrossFit when I did. It was amazing to hear the gospel from Coach himself and meeting all of CrossFit at the time as everyone traveled together,” he says. “Each weekend, CrossFit HQ literally closed its doors on the West Coast and worked as a traveling certification crew leading seminars. Everything was still so new.”

McLaughlin is proud to continue to build into the CrossFit legacy, not only as a possible Masters competitor representing the South East at the Games this year, but also with his duties as CrossFit Regional Director for the South East.

“The 2013 South East Regional, also known as the Dirty South, is primed to be an amazing event, growing from last year’s success,” he says. “The 2013 Games will set a new standard for fitness and competition as the progression continues ... I will be a part of both!”