April 1, 2013
The Natural: Daniel Petro
By Lauryn Lax

"I found out pretty quickly that I might have found something I could eventually do at the top level of the sport."  

Photos by: Mary Freeland

Not many people who do Murph as their first workout say they love CrossFit, but 24-year-old Daniel Petro says he was hooked as soon as he heard “the crazy idea of running a mile, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats and another full mile.”

Almost a year-and-a-half later, Petro is the owner of a new box, CrossFit West Cobb, and is holding his own in the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games Open. He currently sits in sixth place in the South East and 21st place among the world’s fittest men after four weeks of competition.

Petro was a natural in CrossFit from the start.

He played baseball at East Tennessee State University until a torn elbow tendon ended his career just before the start of his senior season. While he was discouraged, Petro opted not to get surgery and instead chose to keep a positive attitude and move on to the next chapter of his life — fitness and training. He threw himself into the classic globo gym doing bodybuilding and personal training.

After competing in his first natural bodybuilding competition, Petro says he had fun, but decided it was not something he wanted to do again. Always up for a challenge, he stumbled into CrossFit out of “sheer curiosity,” and ended up discovering his new sport.

“I found out pretty quickly that I might have finally found something I could eventually do at the top level of the sport and also have a future in as a career,” Petro says.

About two weeks into CrossFitting, he heard about a workout named Fran.

“I had no idea what a good time was or that it was a big deal in the CrossFit world,” he says. “I did my first Fran in 2:17 and had no idea what it meant.”

Having just started CrossFit, Petro signed up for the Open last year with no real goals in mind other than to see how he compared to other CrossFit athletes.

“I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but about halfway through the Open, I realized I might have a shot at making it to Regionals, so I made that my goal. And when the Open was complete, I had a spot at Regionals,” Petro says, who tied for 31st in the South East in the 2012 Open.

A rookie in the sport, Petro says he had no idea how to prepare for last year’s Regional, and he ended up competing with a wrist injury after a failed one-rep max squat clean during his training prep.

“The 315-lb. bar came down in my hand with nowhere to go,” he recalls. “My injury threw a huge hitch in my training, and I was unable to do any work with the barbell for the entire next six weeks leading up to Regionals.”

Two days before Regionals, Petro received a cortisone injection and says he was able to compete with almost no pain.

“The problem was my body was not conditioned for the heavy Olympic lifts, and by day two I was wrecked,” he says. “Even with my issues, competing at Regionals was the most fun athletic event I had been a part of, and I made it my goal to get back in 2013.”

Despite his injury, Petro claimed 11th place at the event, and coming off his first-ever CrossFit competition, he knew exactly what he needed to do.

“I went to work focusing on learning my own strengths and weaknesses and trying to find a balance,” Petro says.

Some of those weaknesses included the technique with many of his lifts.

“I have pretty much studied and learned everything on my own,” he says.

Today with a snatch of 265 lb. and clean and jerk of 325 lb., Petro attributes much of his progression to his eagerness to improve. He spends hours watching videos of high-level Olympic lifters, reading books for training tips and tricks, and doing video breakdowns of his own lifts.

“You don’t know what you’re doing wrong until you see it yourself on camera,” Petro says.

Following Regionals, Petro also crossed paths with Aaron Evans and has been following his programming ever since with additional weekly workouts for competitors on top of the website workouts.

A typical training day includes strength and Olympic lifting training, skill work on “whatever I hate the most,” two to four timed workouts and lots of stretching.

“I love Graham Holmberg’s quote, ‘Embrace the suck.’ I just find it to be so true. The better you get, the farther you can push yourself, and the more each workout hurts. I love it,” Petro says.

And while he has pushed himself to improve this past year, Petro had no idea exactly where he would stand in comparison to the other competitors in his region and the world.

“The cool thing about this sport is you can never really tell where you stand against your competition throughout the year,” he says. “I knew I was getting better everyday and seeing huge improvements, but so was everyone else. I really had no idea how the Open would turn out. My strategy for this year’s Open has been do the workouts once and make them count.”

There is no doubt, whatever Petro does, he wants to make it count. He says CrossFit has given him a sense of purpose in his life to do just that.

“The couple of years between baseball and CrossFit were very stressful for me and the people around me. I have always had something to work hard for and be passionate about, and it was unexpectedly pulled out from under me after 16 years of work with my elbow injury.”

After college, Petro’s friend hired him to work for a tree service company to keep him “floating,” but Petro says, “I knew I couldn’t do it for much longer.”

In December of 2011, he started coaching, and just this past January, on the eve of the Open, he took a leap of faith to open his own box where he lives, eats and breathes CrossFit everyday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. He even has a full kitchen and a bed there.

“Every time I walk into my gym I look around and say to myself, ‘I can’t believe I get to do this everyday.’ I love impacting other people’s lives, and it never feels like work.”