April 16, 2014
Live Free, Die Fit
By Richard Romano

“I’m a firm believer that CrossFit should be for health and longevity. Stay healthy, be more fit and accomplish your goals ...” ~Brandon Petersen

Photos courtesy of Jason Capracotta

The 2013 North East Regional began auspiciously for the team from CrossFit Free.

After a 12th-place finish on Event 1—Jackie—they held strong in the top 20 after Event 2—a three-rep-max overhead squat.

Event 3—a seven-minute AMRAP of burpee muscle-ups, with each team member required to get at least three reps—immediately followed Event 2.

The field of competition was the outdoor arena at the Reebok Headquarters in Canton, Mass. The weather had run the gamut from bitterly cold to very warm, punctuated by wind—lots of wind.

The women of CrossFit Free completed the overhead squats, and while the men began their squats, headed over to the rings for the burpee muscle-ups. First up was Kellie Webster, a coach at the affiliate.

“I saw Kellie struggle with her muscle-ups, which had not happened during practice,” said teammate Lynn Cassotis, who was next in line. “When I saw her get a no-rep, it instantly made me nervous.”

Webster finished her three reps and it was Cassotis’ turn.

She completed two good reps and then started to fail her muscle-ups. The wind was blowing the rings around, making them difficult to grab. Stopping the rings from moving took precious time.

“Then I failed and panic started to set in,” Cassotis recalled.

She kept trying, but couldn’t get the third rep before the buzzer sounded.

“I was in complete shock,” she said.

Just like that, the Leaderboard read “DNF,” and CrossFit Free’s first appearance at the North East Regional ended unceremoniously before the end of Day 1. It was a long drive home to Salem, N.H.

“It was absolutely heartbreaking,” said Brandon Petersen, head coach and founder of CrossFit Free. “Literally for a month, no one spoke. Training sucked, everything sucked. The rollercoaster of emotions was devastating.”

He gathered everyone together and said, “Who never wants to feel that way again?”

They attacked this year with a renewed fervor, and the team is determined to not get knocked out by a single regional event again.

Salem is a sprawling suburban town on the Massachusetts border. CrossFit Free’s motto is “Live Free, Die Fit,” a play on New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” state slogan. They opened the doors in 2011 and have grown to 200 members since.

Although team members take Games season seriously, the competitive aspect of CrossFit is only one part of CrossFit Free’s mandate.

Petersen offers three levels of programming: fitness, performance and competition. Not all his members want or are able to compete in the Games. But everyone wants to get fit, stay fit and be healthy.

“I’m a firm believer that CrossFit should be for health and longevity,” Petersen said. “Stay healthy, be more fit and accomplish your goals. I also believe that CrossFit as a sport should be a totally different direction and a choice that people make.”

“CrossFit is an amazing, beautiful thing when done properly,” he added.

The gym, however, doesn’t dissuade anyone who is competitive, and the CrossFit Free team has been training hard throughout the year, making changes based on their admittedly “sucky” experience in 2013.

The training has paid off so far.

The team sits in third place in the North East, finishing in the top five in the region in three of the five Open workouts. They ended the Open on a high note by coming in third worldwide on 14.5 with a time of 1:03:22.

Now that the Open is over, they have rededicated their training to the North East Regional. They’ve been reproducing all the regional events from the past three years and even schedule training on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to closely mimic the regional weekend. They are also focusing on the unknown.

“We practice every possible thing that can go wrong,” Petersen said.

They’ve been training with moving rings, bars that are slippery and barbells that are moving. The gym doesn’t have an outdoor rig, but they are looking at working with other gyms in the area that do. The box has also adjusted and enhanced the team roster to give the team a deeper bench.

“Last year, we had no depth whatsoever,” Petersen said. “This year, we have more competitors.”

They will be tweaking the roster as the regional gets closer. A standout athlete and member of the team, 25-year-old Chase Smith finished the Open in 15th overall in the region as an individual.

“He’s just built for CrossFit,” Petersen said.

Smith entered last year’s Open after doing CrossFit for just two months—and finished in the top 70 in the region.

Cassotis also returns as a pivotal member of the team and is determined to make up for last year. She joined CrossFit Free not long after it opened without much of a sports background aside from running. She started with a 115-lb. back squat and could barely clean and jerk 95 lb. After two years, her back squat is up to 240 lb. and she can clean and jerk 180 lb. At 40 years old, weighing 118 lb., her hard work is showing.

“All of our people have to work hard, and that’s something we’ve built,” Petersen said. “Anyone who knows us knows we work really hard.”

The team is also working off a tip Petersen got from one of his mentors, Ben Bergeron of CrossFit New England: develop the team aspect of competition.

“(We work on) changing plates and transition times,” Petersen said. “Nobody thinks of that stuff.”

Improving trust and communication, especially in the middle of a workout, has also been a focus. The North East Regional is the last weekend of regional competition this year, which the team sees as an advantage because it gives them extra time to practice the events.

CrossFit Free is determined to redeem themselves in 2014, Petersen said.