February 18, 2014
Lifting Big: Ray Brown
By Rebecca Marshallsay
The kiwi flanker tackles CrossFit.
The kiwi flanker tackles CrossFit.

"If I make the cut and get through the Open, from the sounds of it, regionals is only going to be easier for me than the smaller, (more) agile guys. I'm looking forward to it." 

Photos courtesy of Rebecca Marshallsay.

When Ray Brown stepped into his first CrossFit class six months ago, he had never done an Olympic lift, had no idea what his numbers were and had never heard of the CrossFit Games Open.

Now, his numbers are good enough to rival some of the biggest names in the Australia Region. He’s got a 617-lb. deadlift, 242-lb. snatch, 320-lb. clean and jerk, sub-2-minute Isabel and Grace, and a sub 3-minute Diane.

The big question is whether the 24-year-old is well rounded enough to finish in the top 48 in the Australia Region in this year’s Open.

Raised on a dairy farm in the small town of Waimana, New Zealand, Brown lived and breathed rugby union from the age of 4. He loved "the brotherhood, the competitiveness and just being focused and dedicated to something,” he said. “I grew up with it from a young age and it just became my passion.”

Playing flanker, Brown represented New Zealand's under-19 side before moving to Australia five years ago to further his rugby career. Unfortunately, his career was cut short after suffering a serious concussion injury on the field.

Working as a personal trainer, Brown had heard of CrossFit but said he wasn’t interested in it until a colleague convinced him to visit CrossFit Broadbeach. So he gave it a try.

“I came down one morning and I’ve been here every day since,” Brown said.

For Brown, the opportunity to learn new skills and the sense of community sold him on CrossFit immediately.

“It feels like a family down here,” he said. “Everyone’s very welcoming and everyone just wants to have a play you know, and it’s still competitive at the same time. Competitive within yourself and also against other people.”

Coach Drew Griffith said he believes Brown’s semi-professional experience in training and recovery has contributed to the incredible gains he has made over the past six months.

“Ray came into the box and, immediately, you could tell he was a fairly well-built and solid athlete,” Griffith said, “and as soon as he picked up the barbell it was pretty obvious he had some strength.”

“I suppose the years I've been coaching people you can identify athletes as far as their potential and he's got plenty of it,” Griffith continued. “Then it's just a process; we start where we start and then we start improving each individual skill.”

Brown and Griffith are both careful not to overstate their expectations for the 2014 Open.

“It's going to be a good test for him mentally and physically to see where he places in the Australia Region among all the other CrossFit athletes who have been doing it for quite some time,” Griffith said.

“Ray will definitely do the best he can possibly do and he's got some awesome skills,” Griffith added. “The outcome will be whatever it is and we'll be happy with that, but we're looking toward next year, next season.”

Since he’s never competed in the Open, Brown is unsure what to expect this year.

“I have heard that (the Open) favors the smaller, faster, more agile guys but I'm up for the challenge,” Brown said. “If I make the cut and get through the Open, from the sounds of it, regionals is only going to be easier for me than the smaller, (more) agile guys so ... I'm looking forward to it.”

Although Brown’s focus is set on competing as an individual, there is also a chance he may get to the Australia Regional as part of a team.

CrossFit Broadbeach’s team finished in 61st place after the 2013 Open. This year, the goal is top 30. If the affiliate succeeds, Griffith would include Brown on the team roster without hesitation.

“He’s definitely a regional-quality athlete with the numbers he’s lifting,” Griffith said. “(He would) definitely be placed in a team purely on his strength and gymnastic skills. I think he can string about 10 muscle-ups in a row, and his chest-to-bar butterfly (pull-ups) are quite good, as well.”

"The body weight movements are probably a little bit more challenging for him than the stronger barbell movements,” he added, “but you know he's developed his muscle-ups and his chest-to-bar pull-ups and all those high-end gymnastic skills.”

Brown is open to any opportunity to compete at a higher level.

“I’d still like to get down (to the regional) and see what’s going on, you know, be in the mix with everything,” he said.

Over the past few months Brown has competed against some of the best athletes in Australia and New Zealand in local competitions, which has fueled his desire to succeed.

Late last year, with only a few months of CrossFit training, he competed alongside Rob Forte, Brandon Swan, Ben Garard, Kieran Hogan, Matt Swift and Luke Starr at an event in Melbourne, Australia.

While he failed to make the cut for the final workout, struggling in the longer chipper events, he showed some promising form over the weekend, particularly in a sled-sprint workout.

“Throwing it down against all the big names in our region; that was awesome to see where the benchmark is and where the skill level is,” Brown said of the competition. “It just opened up my eyes totally, you know. Kind of set my goals higher and my standards higher because I know what I've got to aim for now.”

Regardless of whether his role at the Australia Regional is as an individual competitor, a team member or a spectator, Brown will have to tackle the Open first, and admits he’s got mixed feelings about it already.

"Excited. Scared. I'm going to give it my all … and I'm hungry."