April 29, 2013
Meet the Men of Latin America
By Thomas Patton

Meet the top men in Latin America.

Photo by: Kimberly Testa

Photo by: Juan Vargas Leiton

Photo by: Santiago Basso

Photo by: Carolina Benavides

Landscape photo by: Fernando Carvalho

Orlando Trejo sits solidly in first place going into the 2013 Latin America Regional. With first-place finishes on every Open workout, many assume he will represent Latin America at the Games in California.

But nothing is guaranteed in CrossFit. Trejo is going to have to hold back the increasing pool of firebreathers in the region.

Let’s meet these top men in Latin America, both the modest and the fierce.

Francisco Javier finished 25th in the 2012 Open, but didn’t make it past the first workout at the Regional. He came back in 2013 to finish 11th in the Open in the region. One of his biggest motivators in CrossFit competition is personal fulfillment. He says he admires the sport, as it brings out the best in people. As a Judo instructor and children’s PE teacher in Brazil, he is eager to open his own affiliate one day.

“I get satisfaction when I’m able to help other people,” he says.

Many miles north, in Playa del Carmen, Mexico is Luis Perez. Perez is unaffiliated and in fifth place going into the Regional. He has his sights set on the highest prize.

“I found the Open fun,” he says, “but my objective now is to win Regionals.”

After years of boxing, Muay Thai, triathlons, running and football, he is content with CrossFit. He only wishes he had found it earlier in life. In 2012, he finished the Regionals in 34th, but hopes to make it to the Games this year.

“Surrender is not part of my body,” Perez says. “It simply doesn’t exist in my heart.”

Joel Bran might be considered a rookie, but his threat on the top contenders should not be taken lightly. He formally started CrossFit last June. A former Olympic lifter — like Trejo — he is no stranger to success.

In 2004, he won the 105 kg category in the Pan-American Weightlifiting Clean and Jerk Championship, finished second place at the University World Championship in Maryland, and even participated in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens where he achieved a 160 kg snatch and 215 kg clean and jerk. He’s ready to prove his fitness in June.

Giancarlo Vera Ochoa, who finished second at the Latin America Regional in 2012, is ready for 2013 — this time with a home-field advantage. The Guatemalan says he always dreads cutting out sweets, but admits he’s made significant improvements over the last year.

“I’m ready for Regional events that will require a lot from us, to lift very heavy,” Ochoa says. “Perhaps a clean-and-jerk ladder, or a long chipper like in 2009, or three back-to-back (events) like in the 2012 Games … I would like all of those possibilities. CrossFit surprises us every year and we have to be ready for whatever.”

Ochoa’s goal is to get back to the podium for a top-three finish.

Panamanian Hiram Cerezo has been living by a quote he heard in a video by CT Fletcher: “Earn it.” At 37 years old, he is hungry to compete as often as possible. While he wants to win, he says he puts greater value on the community feeling.

“In several occasions, my eyes have watered when one of our own, especially the rookies, get a PR or their first pull-up, for example,” he says.

Tied with Cerezo in 31st place is Chris Irwin, one of the owners of CrossFit St. Thomas. Irwin would like to share the podium with his friend and business partner, Conor Murphy. They tied at Regionals for third place in 2012 with Irwin winning the tiebreaker. His box is also sending a team and says they will “do some damage this year and make it to the Games next year.”

When he’s not training or coaching, you can find Conor Murphy dressed up as a pirate, taking cruise passengers snorkeling or boozing them up. Murphy had a different motivation to train this past year.

“The loss of my brother last year is part of the reason I have really focused on my training,” he says.

Alex Rey finished in a three-way tie for 25th in Latin America. He’ll have to make up some ground if he wants to meet his goal of a top-three finish at Regionals.

“I hold tight to my objectives, whatever the cost and time necessary to make it happen,” Rey says. “I am passionate in what I do and take it to the extreme.”

Andres Danelutto is expecting “a show not apt for cardiacs, since the level of the top 48 is very good.” Although he has been training hard, Danelutto says he wants to use the Regional as practice and preparation for the 2014 season. Danelutto finished the 2011 Regional in third place, but did not compete in 2012.

Tenth-place finisher out of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tarcio Santos, says he enjoys the Open competition.

“The Open gives us a chance to test both our physical and mental sides,” Santos says,” while at Regionals, I am looking to gather experience and knowledge from my fellow competitors.”

He says he plans on not only doing well in 2013, but for many years to come.

Batuque Iribarren is a familiar name in Latin America. He first made some noise in 2011 with a solid fifth-place finish at the Regional event. He says he’s enjoyed competing the last three years.

 “The Open was even better this year than last year, and I am ready for the whole lot of weight coming at Regionals,” he says. “I live CrossFit all day long. My girlfriend, Nega, is also a CrossFitter, I live two blocks from my box and I work hard every day to be able to pass this passion on to my students — to change their lives.”

CrossFit 7 Mile athlete, Chris Spigner, finished the Open in 28th place, but opted for team competition this year. The CrossFit 7 Mile team went to the Games last year and they hope to make a return trip.

“He is a great coach who has been an integral part of the success in building our CrossFit 7 Mile affiliate teams,” affiliate owner and teammate Wanta Brenton says of Spigner. “He has put a lot of hard work (into) programming for our upcoming Regional.

Mario Barone sits in 18th place after the Open. His goal is clear: win. At 20 years old, the student and amateur chef has his sights set high.

“The harder the competition and tighter the scores and difficulty, Mario just puts more effort into it and gets a better result,” friend and training partner Ivan Ribadeneira says.

Following Barone on the Leaderboard is Keith Kandetzke in 19th place. American-born, Kandetzke now resides in Puerto Rico. His focus has been on weightlifting.

“We need to be prepared for three days of intense battle … and continuously increasing weights,” he says.

His coach, Ursula Garza, a USAW Senior International Coach, says he’s prepared.

“He is driven and determined, and his accomplishments stem from these qualities,” Garza says. “The challenge is with his work and travel schedule, but his desire to do well have handily trumped these obstacles.”

Kandetzke adds: “I am as competitive about my career as I am about CrossFit. I go into each day to learn, grow, outwork everyone around me and win. If you aren’t coming to win, then you are coming to lose.”

Just three places behind Trejo is Sebastian Stange. He says he plans to give Trejo some solid competition at the Regional in June. He is confident that “passing on to the (Games) is a reachable goal.” While he knows the pressure it high, he’s been dedicated to his training the past year to make it happen.

Rodrigo Valenzuela sits right behind Trejo on the Leaderboard after the Open. Valenzuela is a weightlifting and rugby coach, a Paralympics athlete coach, college teacher and CrossFitter. His goal for the Regional: “Be better than the previous day and try to beat Trejo.”

He adds: “Trejo is the rival … but others want that, too, and I must not lose focus on my competition. Like always, worry only about my own results.”

“Rodrigo is a very versatile athlete and he has a great mindset,” his coach Claudio Poblete says. “As a training partner, I can only say one thing — he never stops.”

With all these athletes in contention, the harsh reality remains: there is only one ticket to the Games from the Latin America Region. It will all come down to the Regional June 7-9 in Guayaquil, Ecuador.