Drew Bignall’s first CrossFit competition was an eye-opening experience. In April 2009, he was a former college athlete with high hopes as he entered Austin’s Fittest Games. After getting lapped in one of the workouts, Bignall was forced to re-think his position.
“I thought I knew what fitness and athleticism was, but I was way off,” he says.
In his defense, he’d only been CrossFitting for five months. Before that, he was a four-year letterman at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where he starred as a pitcher on the baseball team. However, a fateful car accident with a drunk driver had recently left him with severe damage in his left knee and lower leg.
“I was in search of something that could help me more since rehab wasn’t doing much to get me back on the mound,” he says. “I went to a local affiliate where I was able to start up doing basic movements as more strength building, then CrossFit. As I got stronger I started to actually perform WODs and really enjoyed it.”
Unfortunately, the injuries to his leg began to affect his throwing shoulder and Bignall was forced to retire from baseball. But as that door closed, another one opened.
Since his introduction to CrossFit, Bignall has opened up his own gym – Mission CrossFit San Antonio – earned a lion’s share of CrossFit certificates, and competed on the biggest stages, short of the Games. In 2011, he finished 1st in the Open for the South Central Region and 50th worldwide. At the South Central Regional, he had a great showing, finishing 6th, but only the top three get that golden ticket to the CrossFit Games at the Home Depot Center.
“I had more fun competing in 2011 than I did in years prior,” Bignall says. “The Open was a blast. In San Antonio, the local affiliates came together each Saturday to host an Open competition, so we could all compete against one another. Moving from affiliate to affiliate was a blast and it was definitely enjoyable being able to work out each week with our friends.”
He is more ambivalent about his Regionals experience. “It was the best and worst competition experience of my life.”
He says it was amazing to see the talent on display and be a part of a sport that was growing astronomically, but the extreme heat in Tomball, Texas, made the experience a special challenge. When Bignall picked up the kettlebell in the Event 4, the 100s, he felt as if he were dealing with an object that had been roasting in an oven.
“But with that hurdle we dealt with, it truly showed why CrossFit is what it is,” he says. “You can never truly know what conditions you will have to deal with, all you can do is prepare as best you can.”
Seasoned competitors in CrossFit understand that the physical side is only part of the equation. The mental side of CrossFit is just as difficult to master. Bignall values his baseball experience but admits that his thinking isn’t quite the same anymore. As a pitcher, he “always wanted to be in control, know the outcome of each pitch, so that I could plan ahead with the next and I would have, lets say, an 85% belief in where a pitch was going down to an inch or two.”
In other words, he was always thinking in the course of a game. In CrossFit, the mental part of the sport is a little different, according to Bignall: “I am confident that I can make the box jump, or lift the weight or do the last pull-up, so there’s no thought about if I can or can’t. I think playing a sport where I needed to think and plan out my approach in a game prepared me well for CrossFit. You do need to plan ahead in many aspects, but there’s not too much thought put into performing another repetition of an exercise you have probably done a million times before.”
It’s hard enough to train consistently and effectively. The sport is always evolving and with a higher purse, coupled with a constant influx of new athletes (many with collegiate and professional sports backgrounds), both the stakes and the competition have been raised.
Being a head coach and box owner poses an additional challenge Bignall. He admits it’s a constant balancing act. Mission CrossFit recently moved to a new facility, with Bignall devoting much of his time the last six months toward the expansion of the gym. Luckily, he has an “amazing staff of coaches” to help him with the transition, but it’s kept him out of individual competitions.
Still, he has no misgivings about his role at Mission CrossFit. “Being an owner and coach is by far the most rewarding thing I’ve done and I love every moment of it, enough to be the first in the gym at 4 a.m. to do my training and the last to leave at 9 p.m. to make sure we’re ready for the next day.”
However, as a competitor, Bignall feels he has unfinished business. As the 2012 competition season nears, his goal is simple … qualify for the Games.
“CrossFit means a second chance to be a great athlete,” he says. “I lost one opportunity, I won’t lose another.”
Fight Gone Bad: 452
400 m run: 1:04
800 m run: 2:30
Max Clean and Jerk: 315
Max Snatch: 225
Max Back Squat: 450
Max Front Squat: 385
Max Deadlift: 545
Max Overhead Squat: 300