March 21, 2014
More Than an Open Athlete
By James Toland

"It's not about winning the Open. I want to be more than an Open athlete."

Photos courtesy of Christopher Nolan

Preparing for Open Workout 14.1 with a back-up jump rope never crossed Kelley Jackson’s mind.

Now, the 30-year-old affiliate manager and trainer from CrossFit Gambit in St. Louis, Mo., will always have an extra rope if an Open workout calls for double-unders. In her fourth round of 14.1, Jackson’s rope broke and she ran out of the video frame to get a new one. 

She was frustrated and wasn’t planning on repeating the workout, but she got a new rope and started over. 

“I was not prepared with an additional rope. Honestly, in the moment I only thought about getting another rope and to keep moving,” Jackson said. “It wasn't until the workout was over that I realized my errors. I ran out of frame, used ropes that were not displayed in the beginning of the video and accepted ropes from other people. All things which could potentially lead to a disqualification.”

Fortunately for her, it all worked out.

“You learn things about a (repeat) workout so my second attempt was a few reps better,” she said.

Her second attempt of 415 reps was good enough to put her in the top spot in the North Central Region and place her 16th in the world after Week 1 of the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games Open.

Jackson followed up her first performance by taking first in the region again, completing 353 reps on 14.2, and second in the world behind Camille Leblanc-Bazinet. She finished 14.3 with 158 reps, putting her in second place in the region and dropping her from fourth to 23rd in the world.

With the first three Open workouts down, Jackson, who stands at 5-foot-2, has her eyes set on making it back to Chicago to compete for her fourth time at the North Central Regional. 

After finishing in fifth place at regionals for the last two years, just two spots out of a trip to the CrossFit Games, Jackson is hopeful this year will be her year to make the podium.

And she’s doing everything she can to prove she belongs among the top athletes.

“My goal is to be very open with my performances and leave no doubt in people's minds that I deserve to be here,” she said. “So I re-tested (14.1) and put my video on the Web for people to critique.”

She did the same with her 14.2 and 14.3 videos. She also made competing her priority and is training full time this year.

Not to mention, she’s getting a lot of push and motivation from her training partner, Alex LaChance.

LaChance, a former All-American college gymnast at the University of Arkansas, met Jackson at a sponsor’s photo shoot last fall, and the two hit it off so well they became roommates in November so they could train together at CrossFit Gambit. The partnership has benefited LaChance, as well, as she is currently in eighth place in the North Central Region.

LaChance is also looking to compete as an individual this year. The 27-year-old competed last spring with her team CrossFit 540 from Springdale, Ark., even though she had only been doing CrossFit for four months at the time.

“She’s the Rich Froning to my Dan Bailey,” LaChance joked about her friendship and living situation with Jackson. “It was the best decision I have ever made in my life. Kelley is the most dedicated athlete I have ever been around. She is completely serious about her diet and training, and she makes me better every day we train.”

Andrew Essig, Jackson’s boyfriend and coach at CrossFit Gambit, rounds out Jackson’s support and training team.

Essig is confident Jackson has what it takes to win the Open this year.

“We've learned that her strength in the Olympic lifts is an obstacle, so this has been our main focus,” he said. “Her mobility has always been an issue, as well. Having better ankle flexibility is helping her move more weight and be more confident snatching and cleaning.”

Jackson is no stranger to things not always going her way. As a collegiate soccer player at Northwood University in Middland, Mich., she came back from two reconstructive surgeries on her left ankle in order to finish her soccer career. During Event 1 at last year’s regional, Jackson’s game plan backfired.

“So I knew that we had to do Jackie, and I knew I could do 30 pull-ups unbroken and I didn’t really spend too much time preparing that part of it,” Jackson said. “I was on my 26th rep when I felt my grip start to go. Instead of dropping off the bar, I tried to fight through it and I fell and landed on my tailbone.”

The injury seemed minor at the time, but it cost her dearly on the box jump and deadlift combo.

“I had done that workout before and I wasn’t worried about it because I can deadlift well. When I went to pick up the bar, that’s when I really noticed there might be something wrong. I did terrible on that workout and looking back it might have cost me,” Jackson said.

While the injury seemed like a set back at the time, it might have turned out as a blessing for Jackson’s 2014 Open run. She took several months off, rested her back, and spent hours away from the box at chiropractor appointments and yoga classes to improve her back and flexibility. Yet, she still was not convinced that she was going to compete this year.

 “I just didn’t know how my back was going to respond,” she said. “I really had to focus on learning to move properly, especially with Olympic lifts and catching the bar in a full squat. Because of that (back injury) I am much more focused on proper technique and I think that will really help if I do make it back to regionals.”

Jackson is not concerned about winning the Open or putting too much pressure on herself at Navy Pier.

“(Winning) the Open does not guarantee a trip to the Games,” Jackson said. “But it's not about winning the Open. I want to be more than an Open athlete.”