March 20, 2012
Olympic Medalist Wrestler Starts CrossFit
By John Koenig
Look what ESPN brought in.
Look what ESPN brought in.

"In January I saw CrossFit on ESPN, came to Green Bay CrossFit, took the leap, and I've been a lost soul ever since."


In 2000, he was the youngest wrestler in U.S. history to win an Olympic medal. A dozen years later, Garrett Lowney is an enthusiastic newbie competing in the CrossFit Games Open.

Twice climbing to the top of the Greco-Roman wrestling world and earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, he spent years honing his skills in a familiar athletic arena. Garrett Lowney, 35, now finds himself happily competing in the Open while he’s learning the sport.

“In January I saw CrossFit on ESPN, came to Green Bay CrossFit, took the leap and I’ve been a lost soul ever since,” Lowney says.

After injuries forced his retirement from wrestling, the ever-competitive Lowney tried his hand at marathons, 24-hour races, orienteering and other extreme and physically challenging sports. None hit the mark for him.

“When I saw CrossFit on TV I thought, ‘Snap, it’s made for me!’ CrossFit is a natural fit,” he says. “I’m constantly pushing my body to extreme levels, competing without risk from my past injuries. I love it.”


Lowney grew up wrestling, competing in Greco-Roman, freestyle and U.S. folk style. By the summer after high school graduation he’d won a world championship at the junior level in Greco-Roman. Highly recruited by Division 1 colleges, he went to the University of Minnesota, attracted by their solid program and quality athletes.

By 2000, he was the youngest wrestler ever in U.S. Olympic history to win a medal.

Afterward, he competed successfully for the University of Minnesota, until a severe neck injury in 2003 slowed his wrestling down for months. By the next year he’d recovered from neck surgery involving screws and fused vertebrae, and qualified a second time for the Olympic team. However, his body hadn’t enough time to recover and he didn’t return to his previous competitive level.

“Afterward, with much soul searching about the risks of continuing to compete, I walked away from the sport I loved at age 25,” he says.


He spent the following eight years attaining an MBA in Finance, and putting together a solid corporate career. His training fell by the wayside while he concentrated on making a living.

Happily for Lowney, he finds training for wrestling and CrossFit to be similar. The ex-Olympic athlete is willing to put in the time to learn the many intricacies and techniques involved in CrossFit.

“The most humbling thing was not getting form and technique right away. I got frustrated with myself,” Lowney says. “I swallowed my pride, was willing to be embarrassed and work to figure things out.”

Lowney has only been training in CrossFit for three months. He finds the camaraderie and the battling together every day, welcoming. There’s a mutual level of respect, as only a small number of people understand what he’s putting his body through. In the business world he found few people know what it takes to be successful. He sees the same thing in CrossFit.

“I was a lost soul when I came to CrossFit Green Bay, I was sore for an extended period of time,” he says. “I’m happy with how far I’ve come in three months, and excited about how much farther I can go.”


At 6-feet tall and 235 pounds, Lowney is clearly strong and fit, but he’s heavier than the traditional elite CrossFit competitor. Make no mistake, the man who made the Olympic team at age 20 means to go somewhere in CrossFit. He’s changed his diet from healthy with lots of cheating, to eating with purpose. Consistency, less grain, higher protein, no processed food.

“I definitely need to get my weight down, 220 pounds would be healthy and help me with conditioning,” he admits. “I haven’t weighed that since junior high school.”

Open 12.1 hurt. Leading up to the Open he’d sacrificed conditioning to practice skills, lifts and techniques.

“Burpees were definitely not designed for a 6-foot. 235 pound guy,” Lowney says.

“I liked 12.3, had a blast doing it. I’m a little disappointed in my standings, but how can I expect to move into a new sport and after nine weeks have a tremendous level of success?” Lowney says.

After 12.4, Lowney sits in 268th place in North Central. He isn't on track for Regionals this year, but watch out for him next season--after all, he just started CrossFit this January.

Take a healthy athlete with the work ethic and drive that earns an Olympic spot right out of high school, mix in the drive and competitiveness of a wrestler, expose him to quality CrossFit coaching, and you just might get a great CrossFit competitor.