"Last year's loss definitely refueled the fire for my training in preparation for this year's Regional."
As the 2012 South Central Regional approached, the past loomed large in Candice Ruiz’s mind. The athlete from CrossFit Iron Horse in Fort Worth, Texas was looking for redemption after a disappointing 2011 when she finished 5th in the region, two places shy of a ticket to Carson, Calif.
In particular, Ruiz remembered the toes-to-bars in the final event. She was wearing gloves because her hands were thrashed from the brutal 100s Workout the day before. The workout included a hundred repetitions of four different movements, including pull-ups on a bar made unbearable by the sweltering Texas heat. Consequently, her hands were burned, necessitating the gloves.
“I couldn't feel the bar well through the gloves, slipped off, and ate shit,” she says about the toes-to-bars.
Ruiz recovered to finish the workout, but the memory stuck. For the last year, she’s used it as motivation in her training.
“Last year’s loss definitely fueled the fire for my training in preparation for this year’s Regional,” she says. “I was very depressed and hard on myself for a long time following the 2011 Regional and I didn't want to feel any of that again this year. It's a really hard thing to go through.”
She focused on strength and the Olympic lifts, especially the snatch, which she’d struggled with before. A couple of months before the Regional, Ruiz started following Rudy Nielsen’s programming. She says Nielsen’s programming took her to a whole new level.
After finishing tied for 3rd in the Region in the Open, Ruiz started slowly at the Regional with a 14th-place showing on Diane. After that, she was the very portrait of excellence and consistency, never finishing outside of the top five in the remaining events. In spite of past difficulties with the snatch, she put 140 pounds overhead in Event 5, good enough for 5th place and proof the hard work paid off.
Still, she insists the competition wasn’t easy, in spite of her expectations. With stalwarts like Carey Kepler and Lisa Thiel not competing as individuals, Ruiz hoped for a clearer path to qualification for the Games.
“It opened up some doors in my mind, and I thought I could come in here and clean house. And then I got Azadeh (Boroumand) in here to whip my booty,” she says. “I came in here thinking I would tear up the first WOD, but it went exactly the opposite. I didn’t do well at all on it. I had to play chase over a full weekend for it.”
Going into Event 6, she was in 3rd place just a point ahead of Amanda Schwartz. It was a precarious place to be, and it played with her mind as she prepared for the final test.
“To be honest, I was scared to death because I knew the person behind me was very efficient with muscle-ups where I struggle a little bit, so I knew it was going to be a tough race,” she says. “I knew if I could stay ahead of her that things would be OK.”
During the workout, she suffered a mishap that, for a moment, brought back the ghosts of 2011. She threw a wall ball off-target, hit the pull-up bar, and it bounced back in her face.
“I'm really hoping that doesn’t turn up on video somewhere,” she says with a laugh.
Despite the minor setback, Ruiz excelled in the last event, finishing 2nd, which bumped her up to 2nd place overall and earned her a place on the podium. She believes playing catch-up the entire weekend actually worked to her advantage.
“It seemed to be a beneficial thing for me because I think if I was sitting in a very good spot, I would relax a bit and not have to push as hard, but I knew I had to give it everything I had in each workout,” she says. “I think it paid off in the end.”
When July comes, it won’t be Ruiz’s first time at the Games. In 2010, she finished 17th in the world after winning the South Central Regional.
“I’m stoked [about the Games]. I’m very excited … I wanted to get back so it wouldn’t be a kind of one-hit wonder thing, so I’m very proud of myself for that,” Ruiz says.
She believes she’s in a much better position than in 2010, when she suffered from pre-Games jitters.
“This year I am more calm, confident, and I know myself better as an athlete,” she says. “I also have a routine in between events that keeps me focused: ice bath, eat/hydrate, and then get a massage from my wonderful husband, Tony.”
Before the hard work begins anew, Ruiz plans on indulging a little bit. Junk food is definitely on the menu. Then she’ll get back to paleo/zone and Outlaw programming. As a Games veteran, she is banking on her years of competition experience.
“Having a few years of experience under my belt now definitely helps,” she says. “It’s an advantage Games veterans have over the rookies, and it can go a long way during any competition.”
With her blend of confidence, experience and ability, Ruiz expects to contend for the title of the World’s Fittest Woman. Given her track record in the sport, it would be foolish to count her out.