February 25, 2014
Nothing to Fear
By Ashley Nicolas

“Don’t think that you don’t possess the ability. Maybe it’s fear or maybe you just need more practice, but one day you’ll be able to do it. It’s all about getting over that hump.”

Photos courtesy of Laurie Bowler

Some people say CrossFit is intimidating.

Maybe it’s the 15-ft. ropes hanging from the ceiling, or the giant, unfamiliar Atlas stones in the corner.

For many, the CrossFit Games Open provides motivation to face the intimidation, and the opportunity to overcome obstacles in the spirit of competition and community.

As Jackie Heal prepares for her third Open, she relishes the challenge.

"There is always something to learn, some new milestone to go after," Heal said with a smile.

Gymnast Gets Back in the Game

When Heal first entered Rainier CrossFit in Sumner, Wash., four years ago, it was 6 a.m. and she didn’t know a burpee from a box jump. A former competitive athlete, Heal signed up for Rainier's on-ramp program with a friend in an effort to "get out of a slump."

In her youth, Heal enjoyed a very successful gymnastics career as a former high school All-American, and recruited athlete at Washington State University. Following her career as a gymnast, Heal spent her 30s doing “traditional bodybuilding-style weightlifting.” An injury to her collarbone, however, eventually sidelined her.

When Heal arrived at Rainier, she decided it was time for her to get back in the game. Her background as a gymnast made for a natural transition.

“Kipping pull-ups came pretty easy for me,” she said. “It was very similar to what we used to do on the parallel bars.”

She said her greatest advantage was a solid understanding of body awareness and a good sense of balance.

Heal is now a regular in the morning classes and is signed up for her third Open—her first as a masters athlete. Her history with the Open has not been a simple one, but that’s exactly what she enjoys about CrossFit.

Milestone Box Jump

In 2012, Heal registered for her first-ever Open because “everyone was doing it.” Still unsure of what she had signed up for, it didn't take long for her to be confronted by workout 12.3 and her greatest fear: box jumps. The threat of a fall was enough to make her shaky at the thought of making the leap.

“Seeing others crash and burn” was enough to cause her to hesitate.

“I’m not sure why it became such a struggle. Vaulting never phased me, but the thought of jumping on that solid object was enough.”

Concerned she wouldn't be able to complete the workout, Heal spent the evening before her performance with Rainier CrossFit owner Laurie Bowler, who steadily coached Heal until she was able to land the jump.

Bowler devised a creative solution using a blue gymnastics mat to ease Heal up to the prescribed height. She folded the mat in half and had Heal make the inches-high jump from it to the box. As soon as Heal felt comfortable, her coach unfolded the mat, increasing the height between it and the box by a few inches each time. Eventually, Heal was making the jump from the ground to the box.

"It’s my comfort mat," Heal said. Once game day came, she realized she could “either stand there staring at the box the whole time, or go for it."

She went for it.

Eighteen minutes later, Heal had completed 4 rounds with 15 box jumps in each. It was a huge victory for her and one she knows other CrossFit athletes will experience during the Open, as well.

“Don’t think that you don’t possess the ability,” she said. “Maybe it’s fear or maybe you just need more practice, but one day, you’ll be able to do it. Maybe you’ve never been able to do toes-to-bars a day in your life, but one day, you’ll do it. It’s all about getting over that hump.”

Community Cheer    

During the 2013 Open, Heal discovered that the CrossFit community often fuels an athlete’s performance.

A bar loading error caused Heal to DNF workout 13.1.

"I was devastated," she said. "I just got my car keys and left. I was so upset."

That evening, CrossFit Rainier owner Kurtis Bowler offered to come in early the next morning to allow Heal to complete the workout one more time. She agreed and showed up ready to re-attempt the workout, alone.

She was surprised to see other Rainier members arriving, one by one, steadily filling the box. 

At first, Heal assumed they were there to complete the workout, but when no one began to warm up, she felt something was amiss. Asking a fellow member what he was doing there, he informed her that they were all just there to cheer for her. Unbeknownst to Heal, Bowler invited several members to the gym to come and support her as she redid the workout.

"That's just the epitome of what CrossFit is about," she said. "It's all about community."

Nothing to Fear

Heal is excited to see what this year brings. She registered for the 2014 Open at the first opportunity.

"You can't think about it,” she said. “Just sign up.”

After four years of being a CrossFit athlete, Heal said there is nothing she fears. She has finally conquered double-unders and would love to see them in an Open workout. But really, she’s just hoping for a simple, drama-free Open.

"It’s just nice to be able to get a taste of being a competitive athlete again," Heal said.