May 13, 2013
Making the Cut
By Lauryn Lax

"I'm absolutely floored that I'm going to Regionals again, and so honored."

Photos by Shawn Fennell
Landscape photo by Carport CrossFit

The anticipation is building.

In just a few short days, the Regional phase of the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games begins with the South East, North East, Europe and Southern California Regions up first.

With fewer spots available for individual athletes to enter this year’s competition — the top 48 men and women, compared to the top 60 in 2012 — this season promises to be more competitive than ever.  

After the Open, a first round of invitations went out to the top competitors in each region. Some declined to compete as individuals, opting to instead go team. A second wave of invitations to fill in the top 48 was then sent out to those athletes who had been on the cusp of making the cut.

Second-round invitees Cori Johnson, Aaron Hanna and Jenna Sperna, all from the South East, say they are ready to give it their all.

“I’m absolutely floored that I’m going to Regionals again, and so honored,” two-time Regional competitor Johnson says. “One of my weaknesses is believing that I measure up, so I still can’t believe it, to be honest.”

Johnson, 38, of Carport CrossFit, competed in both the 2010 and 2012 South East Regional events. She was busy taking care of a new baby in 2011. During this year’s Open, she finished 54th and did not expect to make it to the next stage of competition.

“I did (Open Workout) 13.5 on a Thursday and got 82 reps. I knew that I had to get the bonus four minutes to even have a possibility of making the top 48,” she says. “About two hours after I ran the (workout), I got a stomach virus. I tried to redo 13.5 again on Sunday and just couldn’t do it … I was like ‘OK, that was that. I’m not going to Regionals.’”

A few days later, Johnson came across a message regarding a “second wave of invites” on Facebook.

“I had no idea they were going to send out a second round of invitations, and I realized that I might still get a chance. My family, friends, my box and me all started checking the Leaderboard about 50 times a day to see who was declining and who was accepting. When I saw six declines, I texted my sister and said ‘Book your flight!’” Johnson recalls.

Johnson is on a mission to finish what she started at Regionals last year.

“Last year, when I got a DNF because of those damn 70-lb. dumbbell snatches, I told my training partner that I had a year to have a resentment against them,” Johnson says. “My words were, ‘2013, I’m going back to Regionals, and my goal is top 20.’ The truth is that I want to be able to complete all of the (events). That’s all.”

First-time Regional competitor, Hanna, says his mission is to simply have fun at Regionals.

“I know the usual pre-workout butterflies will be there,” he says. “I’m very excited and nervous. I try to tell myself I am just working out and having fun while doing so.”

Hanna couldn’t believe he made the cut when the second round of invites went out.

“I found out Sunday evening while watching the Rays game. I thought I had missed out by one spot so I was very surprised when the email came. I instantly jumped up and told my Dad who was sitting next to me. It was a great feeling,” Hanna says.

The 24-year-old college student and coach has only been CrossFitting for one year and boasts numbers such as a 2:43 Fran, 240-lb. snatch, 330-lb. clean and jerk, 490-lb. deadlift and 415-lb. back squat. He works closely with Kerry Smith, the owner of his box, CrossFit Pinellas, for his training.

Hanna is eager to see how his hard work compares to the other competitors at Regionals.

“There is some serious competition across every region, and while I can’t personally speak for last year, looking at past scores, it’s very obvious everyone has improved,” Hanna says.

CrossFitting for just four months, Jenna Sperna, 19, is in the same position as Hanna — qualifying for Regionals in her first year. Sperna finished 53rd among the women of the South East, only five spots away from receiving a first-round invitation.

“Coming off the Open, I feel very energetic and hungry, also a bit surprised that I made the cut with such little experience,” she says. “I know Regionals will be such a humbling experience.”

Sperna says she had no idea she made the cut for Regionals until her coach, Michael Brower Jr., and fellow members at Caged CrossFit told her the good news. She also admits she has no idea what to expect at Regionals.

“I'm not so much nervous, as I am excited at the opportunity to be challenged at another level of the sport. Both mentally and physically, I will find out a little bit more about myself,” she says.

There is no doubt the former high school varsity swimmer, track and field, volleyball, basketball and flag football player has raw athletic talent. She originally started CrossFit at the beginning of the year to prepare for the vigorous training she would have to endure when she enlisted in the Navy. Little did she know she’d be competing alongside some of the fittest women in the world just a few months later.

Since the Open, Sperna says she has had a shift in her dreams and goals.

“CrossFit has changed my life,” she says. “Although it’s only been about four months since I started, my technique for my lifts and skills has not only improved tremendously, but I have also decided to change my career path. I want to get my doctorate in physical therapy and help people improve their ways of life through CrossFit, as both a coach and competitor.”