Since 2010, Leah Polaski, 34, has been a familiar name in the South East Region’s competition circuit. Finishing the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Open in 24th place in the region, this four-time Games veteran is proving once again she has what it takes to compete at the next level.
A soccer player since the age of 4, Polaski said she has always loved competing. She played soccer at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio before moving to Atlanta, Ga., in 2008, where she was looking for something to fill her competitive void.
“I was playing rec soccer, and doing the whole YMCA deal and running a lot, but I was bored,” she said. CrossFit Atlanta was located in Polaski’s neighborhood, and she soon became curious about it.
“I went in and signed up for the trial session,” she recalled. “That was on a Monday morning at 7 a.m., and it was a 10-minute Cindy, and I was hooked after that. I have been there ever since.” When Polaski discovered she could compete as an individual in CrossFit, she was hesitant at first, because she was used to competing in team sports.
“Competing individually wasn’t comfortable to me. I didn’t like it at all, but I caught the bug at some point,” she said. “There was this period where I was just a competition junkie. Every single one that came up, I wanted to do it. It definitely filled that void with me that I had lost with competitive soccer.”
Her first competition was the 2010 Georgia Sectional where she placed first. At the South East Regional that year, she missed qualifying for the Games by one spot. However, CrossFit Atlanta qualified as a team so Polaski made her first trip to the Games on the team.
“That was actually perfect, because I really wasn’t ready to go as an individual at the Games that year,” she said.
Polaski returned to Carson, Calif., the next year in 2011 as an individual, finishing in 30th place. Since then, she has returned every year as part of the CrossFit Atlanta team. Her plans are to go team again this year, but she admitted she misses the individual competition.
“Last year was hard for me because ... I was not competing as an individual. I was kind of sad, as brutal as those workouts looked,” Polaski said. “I love the beat down that regionals is, especially for individuals.”
“But being on the CrossFit Atlanta team … they are awesome,” she continued. “They are a whole group of my best friends. It’s been the same crew now for four of five years for the most part, so we know each other really well. We know each other’s weaknesses, of course, inside and outside of the gym.”
“Leah holds herself to a higher standard in every regard, which means she's consistently raising the bar I'm aiming for,” said teammate Bethanie Giardina.
“I think that’s what I appreciate most after training together for nearly five years—we don't have to express our belief in or support for the other,” Giardina added. “When we are out there competing, I just know Leah is confident I'll get the job done and vice versa. That's not something you can teach or train.”
After the Leaderboard shuffle—when athletes accepted individual invitations and scores were removed from teams—CrossFit Atlanta is sitting comfortably in sixth place and will be making their way to their fifth consecutive regional.
When Polaski is not training, she juggles her time between her career in real estate development, coaching and traveling as a part of CrossFit’s Level 1 Seminar staff.
“Doing the Level 1 Seminars, it doesn’t feel like work. It is so much fun. I hope that never goes away, and I don’t foresee it ever to go away,” Polaski said. “You get to meet 50 to 60 new CrossFitters, and we all know that CrossFitters are the coolest people on Earth. And I get to make all these new friends each weekend—you know, teach them and show them why we love this sport so much and why it’s so great.”
Although Polaski said finding time to train can be difficult, her schedule appears to be working out so far.
“I just try to fit (training) in when I can,” she said. “If I am exhausted, I’ll take a rest day. If I feel good, then I go work out. I pay attention to my body and how I am feeling. I mean, I want to be doing this when I am 80 years old. I try to remember that when things get tough.”
She also said keeping her nutrition dialed in is a very important part of her training, as well.
“I will fully admit to being neurotic about my nutrition,” she said. “Even the other trainers make fun of me because typically amongst the Level 1 staff, Saturday night is ‘International Cheat Night.’ Everybody gets a cheat meal, but mine may be something like almond butter or a Lärabar.”
“The main reason for me is that I feel horrible—really horrible—when I eat grains or dairy,” Polaski said. “So my ability to cheat is really limited unless I really want to feel sick afterwards, and to me, it’s just not worth it.”
With the South East Regional being the next step, Polaski said she will amp up her training in the next few weeks. Coming from a history in team sports, it is no surprise she prefers working out alongside her teammates and other members of the gym.
“The cool part about our gym is that everyone really gets along, and we are all friends, inside and outside of the gym,” she said. “We all want to work out together. I hate doing workouts on my own. If I can help it, I will find anybody and everybody to work out with me, even if we are all doing different versions of the same workout.”
Although Polaski said she likes the challenge of the unexpected events that show up at the Games, it is the traditional CrossFit workouts she enjoys most.
“I love old school, traditional CrossFit workouts,” she said. “Our whole team really likes those. I mean, we will get through the crazy ones where it has different or new equipment, but where we really excel is the tried and true CrossFit. The benchmark workouts. Classic stuff.”
Despite her success at the competitive level, Polaski keeps everything in perspective.
“You can sometimes get caught up in the competition and forget the whole reason you started,” she said. “(CrossFit) is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to make you more fit, and I just try to keep that in the back of my mind when I am not feeling like working out or when I am feeling tired.”