“I feel like a totally different athlete. My goal for the season is to finish first at Regionals, and then really go after the podium at the Games.”
Last year, Heather Welsh added her name to the long list of exceptionally fit schoolteachers. Ashleigh Moe, Lauren Plumey, Lindsey Smith and many others, have qualified for the Games while holding a place at the head of the classroom.
Welsh taught kids the A, B, Cs in the morning, and left school to teach movement and train at CrossFit in the afternoon. It was a juggling act that made sense until last summer.
When Welsh qualified for the Games, she felt lucky. When she took 22nd, she realized she was capable of more than she thought.
“It started as me just wanting to get back in shape,” the 30-year-old mother of two says about beginning CrossFit. “Now, I want to get to the podium.”
She adds: “The Games taught me a lot about where I thought I was as an athlete, and where I really was. Now that I’ve had that experience, I have a totally different mindset. I’m more confident as a CrossFit athlete.”
To achieve her potential, Welsh decided to focus on CrossFit full time. Her first step as a semi-professional athlete was to hire a coach.
Since September, Welsh has entrusted her programming to Doug Katona of CrossFit Endurance.
“After the first five minutes of talking with him, I knew we were going to be a good match,” she says. “He gets me as an athlete, he likes to have fun, yet sets high demands, holds me accountable when he knows I can do better and he is one of the most supportive people I have in my life.”
Each Sunday, Katona sends Welsh her programming for the week, and each night she emails him a video of the day’s workout. It’s coaching, with a delay. To fill the gaps left by remote coaching, Welsh explains what Katona can’t see.
“It’s picked up to where we’re communicating multiple times a day, talking about how I’m feeling, what my resting heart rate was in the morning or how I’m recovering mid-workout,” she says. “Because he’s so far away, he needs to know exactly how I respond because he doesn’t see me in person.”
Despite the challenges, Welsh sees it as an improvement over her past training. Last year, she trained with 2010 CrossFit Games champion, Graham Holmberg, and followed his programming. Having an individualized program has made all the difference, she says.
“Every week is programmed to my weaknesses,” she says. “It’s completely changed who I am as an athlete because I understand CrossFit better in general, and what I need to do and when.”
Pegging stamina as her biggest weakness, Welsh is happy to be working with an endurance coach. Once a week, she heads to the indoor track at Ohio State University. Her programming may call for running intervals of 200, 400 and 800 meters.
“He’s given me the tools to build more gears,” she says. “I’ve seen it carry over in my longer workouts. I can maintain a lot better than I did last year.”
She appreciates the extra support and accountability a coach affords.
“I can lean on my coach. Maybe I have a bad week, and when I call him and say, ‘This week is really rough,’ he’s like, ‘This is exactly what I want to hear.’ Just to have someone say, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry,’” she says.
“I have 100 percent trust in my coach. We’re a really good team and I trust the process and the journey of where we’re headed,” she adds.
A Life of Coaching and CrossFitting
As much as Welsh loves having a coach, she loves being one, too.
In January, she left CrossFit Grandview to coach and co-manage at a new affiliate, KP CrossFit in Westerville, Ohio. Taking the gig meant she had to part ways with her former box.
“It was really hard to say goodbye,” she says. “Anyone I’ve ever known in CrossFit was there and a lot of my friends were there, but sometimes, change is good. They’ve given me a lot of what I know and now I get to share it with someone else.”
The switch meant more opportunity to share that knowledge with others, and the chance to raise a CrossFit community from the beginning.
“l love coaching people that have never done CrossFit,” she says. “It’s a dream job because we’re building a gym literally from the ground up. To watch it grow and mature is an exciting thing.”
After last year’s Games, fellow competitor and friend, Lindsey Smith, offered Welsh a position as a basketball coach at the Columbus School for Girls in Columbus, Ohio. Combined with her role at KP CrossFit, it made for the perfect balance of work, play and train.
“Last year when I taught kindergarten, I was filling in for a maternity leave,” she says. “When I was offered the role at Columbus School for Girls, I knew it would open up my schedule for training as well as coaching.”
Though she misses her students, she’s happy with her decision.
“Coaching is so much like teaching in a classroom, because you’re teaching them skills they can use to improve (themselves),” she says. “I’m really lucky, I feel like I have a dream job because I’m able to train and coach and do everything I love. I feel so blessed I can do that every day and incorporate all the things I love in one day.”
Welsh coaches from 6 to 9 a.m., and then trains for two hours. She may train for two more hours in the afternoon, depending on the programming, and allows one rest day per week. Evenings are spent on the basketball court teaching layups and three-pointers.
A typical training session begins with strength, like progressively heavier overhead squats in sets of three, followed by shoulder presses. Then comes a met-con like six rounds of 250-meter rowing intervals for time, followed by skill work from Welsh’s “weakness bucket.”
“For a finisher, he might have me rep out as many power cleans at 115 lb.,” she says. “Then, a lot of the time, we’ll do core at the end. I do a ton of hollow rocks, I think because I hate them.”
Standing on the threshold of the next Games season, Welsh says the training is paying off.
“I’m just a more well-rounded athlete,” she says. “I’ve gotten stronger, quicker and more comfortable moving heavy weight, multiple times. Instead of 185-lb. cleans wearing me out, I can rep them now.”
After nearly four years of CrossFit, Welsh is no longer a casual competitor.
“I feel like a totally different athlete,” she says. “My goal for the season is to finish first at Regionals, and then really go after the podium at the Games.”