Becky Conzelman will never forget that day in June 2011 when she put up a 160-pound thruster -- a personal record -- in front of a screaming crowd at the Mid Atlantic Regional.
I love being an athlete. I am so thrilled and so floored that I can be doing this at 40.
“The energy was amazing,” Conzelman says. “I was nervous, as most athletes are. It was one of those surreal mountain-top experiences.”
It was the second year competing at Regionals for the 123-pound, 5’3” former competitive cyclist. She made it to Regionals in 2010 after just eight months of CrossFit, and was in 3rd place when she gassed on a chest-to-bar workout. “I just didn’t have enough in my system. It made me work so hard last year, I was thankful for that,” she says.
Conzelman trained with Rudy Nielsen at Outlaw CrossFit in Alexandria, Va., and was expecting to do 140 or maybe 145 pounds on the thruster at the 2011 Mid Atlantic Regional. Her previous max was 135.
But on that day, when it mattered the most, Conzelman blew by 150 and 155 pounds on the thruster ladder, until she was the only woman still in the running. Then the bar was loaded for 160.
“I was extremely focused, but so excited with the energy of the crowd,” she recalls. “Everyone was cheering. You lose more than you win as a competitor, and this was one of those times you could ride the wave and be thankful. It’s my peak athletic memory.”
She went on to win four of six regional Events, placing 1st in the Mid Atlantic Region and earning a ticket 2011 Games.
“It was extremely exciting. I had done so well at Regionals, putting up the times and numbers that I did, there was pressure, a certain level of expectation,” she says. “I knew what my body could do and I expected to do it.”
Unfortunately, Conzelman thinks she may have physically peaked at the Regionals, and was over trained by the time the Games began.
“I felt very tired, and flat,” she says. “I was thankful to be there. It’s an amazing venue, the program was awesome, but I was very disappointed personally.”
On a workout that featured rope climbs and power cleans, Conzelman’s form fell apart. Other events proved to be equally challenging.
“I’m a light person, I can do muscle-ups all day long. And I was failing at muscle ups,” Conzelman says. “My body wasn’t giving me what I knew it could, and I was stunned.”
Conzelman, 40, is not going to make that same mistake this year.
And, oh yes, she is planning a come back.
“I love being an athlete. I love competition,” she says. “Last year, in interviews, I’d almost cry. There I was, almost 40, competing at this level. I am so thrilled and so floored that I can be doing this at 40. I never would have thought that in a million years. Athletics is one of my passions.”
The former representative of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes says she feels close to God when she exercises.
“I am truly worshipping when I am competing.”
This year, she’ll be shaking up the CrossFit Games competition in the South West Region, having moved from Virginia just two days after last year’s Games. She and her husband, a commander in the Navy, and two children relocated to Denver.
Since August, Conzelman has trained with Skip Miller of Front Range CrossFit in Denver, home to at 26 athletes who have competed at the CrossFit Games since 2008.
“Becky came into Front Range CrossFit with some significant technique issues that were holding her back,” Miller says. “She came in with a truly world class engine that was honed in her years as a National Track Cycling team member. But she couldn’t always express that in CrossFit timed workouts because of inefficient form.”
As a former pro-cyclist, Conzelman says her specialty was sprints. “My events were 35 seconds or 3.5 minutes long. Anything over that, I had a tendency to go out too fast.”
At Front Range, Miller says he and other coaches “have been really working on her ability to keep her technique clean throughout the workout, instead of becoming more and more inefficient as the workout progresses.”
She has been doing five CrossFit workouts, four weightlifting sessions, and one or two gymnastics sessions per week, Miller says.
According to Miller, since Conzelman is on the smaller side for a female Games competitor, she has to be even more efficient than the bigger women when it comes to moving heavy weights.
In addition to working on Olympic lifting technique and double-unders, “her technical gymnastics skills have gone through the roof since joining the FRCF team,” Miller says. “And for her size, her strength numbers are very, very respectable.”
Conzelman says she’s also enjoyed the good-natured rivalry at Front Range. “We have three generations of very competitive women. There’s a sense of community and team at this gym, which is really fun.”
Since individual athletes have had to qualify for the CrossFit Games in 2009, four different Front Range athletes have qualified. One of the box’s Affiliate Cup Teams has been in the top 10 since 2008.
“All of that experience is a huge benefit for our entire FRCF Team,” Miller says. “And for Becky, that experience has been incredibly beneficial. On the women’s side at FRCF, there are four to six women that can ‘win’ the workout on any given day. It comes down to the programming of that particular workout and which woman wants it the most. Prior to FRCF, Becky was used to always being the fastest girl in her gym. The improved level of competition on a daily basis has sharpened her ability to properly pace her CrossFit timed workouts.”
Conzelman took three weeks off after moving to Denver, and then in her second week at Front Range, she sprained her knee.
“It’s the first major injury I’ve ever had. I came back too hard and too fast,” she says. “I shouldn’t have red lined it quite as much so soon.”
An optimist at heart, Conzelman said the injury “may have been a blessing in disguise. It’s been a big lesson in patience.”
It also gave her time to focus on other areas.
“The great thing is my upper body strength has really improved. And because Skip and Jodi Miller [also a Front Range CrossFit coach] are helping me go back to basics, to learn proper form and technique, my form has improved,” she explains.
Going into the competition, Miller says he’ll encourage Conzelman to “remember that the CrossFit Games are a three-day event, to pace her workouts properly, and not get too worried about the results of any single event.”
Conzelman says her goal is “always just to do the best I can with the talents I’ve been given.”
But she’s still hoping to learn something from the other athletes.
“I look at Annie Sakamoto, and she’s always smiling and having fun. That’s what I hope to do,” she says. ”I’m excited to give it a go again. I still have the commitment to give it everything I have, but hope to have a little more fun with it this year.”