March 13, 2014
Meat and Potatoes
By Keka Schermerhorn

“When you combine Craig’s strength with his athleticism, work ethic and mental toughness, it really separates him from other athletes.” ~AJ Alessi 

Photos courtesy of Shaun Cleary

As a three-sport athlete in high school and Division I football player at Northeastern University, Craig Kenney has always sought out ways to gain an edge over his competitors.

“My training has always involved non-traditional elements,” Kenney said. “I was introduced to weightlifting by my father around 13 or 14 years old. I believe it has really taught me the dedication needed to excel in sports as well as in life.”

John Olejarczyk attended high school with Kenney, and has been training with him ever since.

“We got into lifting heavy weight and conditioning back in high school football days,” Olejarczyk said. “From running up 400-ft. hills at a 45-degree angle, flipping tires, pushing his classic Ford Falcon uphill, to swinging an axe and splitting firewood—we tried to find countless ways to get a workout in. Craig even found a way to bring a kettlebell into our friend AJ's swimming pool.”

AJ Alessi, who also attended high school with Kenney, said there is still a kettlebell-sized dent in his parents’ pool.

“He was always known for his work ethic around town,” Alessi said. “It was not unusual to go to the high school and see him pushing his car through the parking lot or running the stairs. He even figured out how to pick the lock of our high school's weight room with a shoelace so that he could train on his open periods or after practice when everyone had gone home.”

Billy Alessi started training with Kenney in college.

“In high school, I would be pulling into the school for our basketball game two hours early and Craig would be outside on the field pushing the sled, finishing up his workout,” Billy said. “His mental strength is equal to—if not even greater than—his physical strength.”

While at Northeastern University, Kenney’s training became more focused.  

“I developed even more of an interest and love for the strength and conditioning portion of training,” Kenney said. “Our head strength coach, Joel St. Cyr, was great and really believed in the meat and potatoes of training. He focused on core lifts and working hard on being fast and strong.”

Kenney was introduced to CrossFit by Olejarczyk late in 2012 and was immediately drawn to the “constantly varied” aspect of it.

In 2013, Kenney qualified for the North East Regional. His worst finish was 23rd on Event 3. On Saturday and Sunday, he didn’t place outside of the top 10 on any of the remaining events. A second-place finish on Event 4, and a third-place finish on Event 6 were enough for a seventh-place finish for the weekend.

“When you combine Craig’s strength with his athleticism, work ethic and mental toughness, it really separates him from other athletes,” AJ said. “He excels at those workouts that are long and painful. He just keeps going when most people would stop.”

For the last year, Kenney has devoted a lot of time to training. He has also become co-owner and head coach at Branford CrossFit. In addition, he and his wife Marta welcomed their first son, David Mark Kenney.

Marta went into labor just before the 14.1 announcement.

On Friday morning, before heading back to the hospital for the birth of his son, Kenney tested 14.1 and completed a respectable 447 reps.

“My intentions for all the Open workouts this year were to do them once,” Kenney said. “That being said, 14.1 didn’t start off quite that way.”

Kenney’s double-unders had been miscounted during the workout.

“We realized after the first round that we only counted 29,” Olejarczyk said. “I began counting the double-unders with Mike Stackpole (who was filming) and noticed rounds two and three he was only getting 28. We looked at each other and couldn't decide whether to stop him or not because we could have been wrong and who was judging him was right, so we decided to let him finish. Mike, Billy and I watched the video back and noticed that they were miscounted. I told Craig about the miscount and the room was silent for a few moments, and he said in a very positive manner, ‘You know, next time we will do it right and hit 10 rounds.’”

On Monday, after coming back from the hospital with his wife and newborn son, Kenney found the time to give the workout one more try.

“He was able to get 10 rounds on 14.1,” AJ said, “after sleeping in a chair in the hospital for two days.”

His new score (450 reps) was the best in the North East, and tied him with Drew Shamblin for the second-best male performance worldwide in 2014.

Kenney is one of only four athletes to have completed 10 rounds in the workout. In addition to Shamblin, the 10 Rounds Club includes reigning Fittest Woman on Earth Samantha Briggs (472 reps) and Dan Bailey (461 reps).

After scoring 258 reps on Open Workout 14.2, Kenney sits in 11th place in the North East Region.

“Craig has been doing CrossFit for a relatively short period of time,” AJ said, “but he has been able to pick up the skills because he has worked so hard and is extremely athletic.”

Since coming home with his son, Kenney has been spending time with his family, but it doesn’t stop him from training.

“We turned his garage into his personal gym,” Billy said. “So he can still get all his lifts in.”