Air seemed scarce.
Brandy Digre stood over her barbell, hands on her knees.
She was more than 13 rounds and almost 20 minutes deep into the scaled version of Open Workout 17.3—a couplet of jumping pull-ups and increasingly heavy snatches, wherein the reward for completing the work before the time cap was more time to do even more work.
She shuffled her feet and gripped and ripped, catching the 95-lb. barbell a hair too far forward, dropping the weight and landing on her ass with half a smile on her face. Her coach, Stephen Hitt, stepped forward, twisting his arm to demonstrate external rotation. Someone called out the 90-second warning.
Another quick shuffle, another deep breath. This time her arms locked out overhead as she bounced neatly out of the catch to stand up. She grinned again, then logged one more snatch—plus 10 jumping pull-ups—before the clock hit 20 minutes and her workout was done.
An onlooker congratulated her on making it to the 95-lb. barbell.
“What was on my bar?” Digre asked, shocked. Ninety-five lb. was her snatch PR.
“The fact that I was lifting my PR weight and I did it four times made me feel pretty good,” she said.
Two years ago, Digre weighed 355 lb. at 5-foot-6 and could hardly move her own body weight, much less anything else. But today, a year and eight months after joining CrossFit Industrious in Lynnwood, Washington, the 36-year-old is 142 lb. lighter, three AbMats from a handstand push-up and halfway through her second CrossFit Games Open.
“It's just fun to be able to see what Dave Castro (will) throw at you and what you can do with it,” she said.
Just before the Open last year, Digre shared her story with the world. The mother of three hadn’t exercised in decades and had high cholesterol and trouble breathing at night. But in her first seven months of CrossFit—and after cutting soda and fast food from her diet—she lost more than 100 lb.
With her newfound fitness, she took hikes and played with her kids. Her confidence soared, and she competed in the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games Open, completing all five scaled workouts.
“It was my benchmark year,” she said. “And then I was gonna see how much better I could do the following year.”
But after the Open’s dust settled, the scale stopped moving. Though she trained six days per week—sometimes doing multiple workouts per day—she didn’t lose a single pound between March and October. Toward the end of the summer, 10 lb. crept back on despite her diligent work. The old Digre would have thrown it all out the window.
“But I never once thought that I would stop,” she said, “because I knew people were looking for me to be there every day ... . That accountability helped in a huge way.”
She focused on victories off the scale; for example, performing her first banded pull-ups around the time of the 2016 Open, back when she needed the gym’s thickest band.
“I remember that being the hardest thing that I could ever do,” she said.
Each month since then, she’s gone down a band. And every time she’s tried on a pair of jeans at the store, she’s gone down a size.
“While she wasn’t able to see the results on the scale, our entire staff and community could see that her body composition was better than ever,” Hitt said.
But she wanted more. Watching her fellow athletes practice handstand walks and cartwheels, she was reminded of gymnastics class as a child.
“I remember having so much fun being able to flip over and upside down,” she said. “And I knew that the lighter I got and the more strength that I was building, (then) those things would hopefully start to come easier.”
She took a hard look at herself. Was there anything she could change? At the beginning of October, it hit her. Though she hadn’t had a drop of soda since she started CrossFit, “I was adding more things back into my diet that I hadn't been eating (after starting CrossFit),” she said. “I think I lost just a little bit of the drive with the nutrition part of it.”
Digre recommitted to her nutrition. But just a couple of weeks later, her knee caved in while PRing her push press at just under 100 lb. It was a sprain, and her doctor prescribed a brace and six weeks on crutches.
“That was the worst feeling—feeling like I was gonna be set back when I was finally starting to make progress forward again,” she recalled.
Hitt taught her to work around the injury, doing sit-ups and ring rows, upper-body work and light work on the bike. Meanwhile, she modified her diet. Realizing that the extra cheat days were the result of grilled-chicken burnout, she made sure to occasionally swap the bird for steak, and she found new ways to prepare and season meals.
Less than six weeks later, she was off her crutches and back at 100 percent. Finally, the scale began to budge.
“Once I dialed all of that back in, it was like the last three months of the year were just magical,” she said. “Things just started falling into place again, which got me ready for the Open.”
Above photo and top photo courtesy of April Yentas.
Holding Nothing Back
Friday, Feb. 24—The lights were low, the music was bumpin’.
Digre stood in her lane, a 35-lb. dumbbell at her feet and a 20-inch box looming in the distance—all the tools necessary for Open Workout 17.1, as prescribed.
“I never even considered doing any of them Rx last year,” she said.
At first, she wasn’t sure if she should attempt the workout as prescribed. She’d never snatched a 35-lb. dumbbell and had only graduated from step-ups to box jumps a few weeks earlier. Her coaches and friends dismissed her concerns.
“People were like, ‘You’re stronger than you think you are, so go for it and see what you can do,’” she recalled.
The first rep felt good. The second felt great.
“OK, I can do this,” she thought to herself.
After the 20-minute time cap, she had 136 reps in the bank. Two days later, she did the workout again “because I had so much fun,” she said. This time, she added 11 reps to her total, taking 147 reps in her first Open workout as prescribed.
Hitt was beside himself with pride.
“I was literally in coach heaven,” he said. “She moved so quickly and efficiently over the box … . It was unbelievable, and one year ago she wouldn’t have been able to that.”
But 17.1 wouldn’t be the only test of Digre’s resolve in the Open. When 17.3 was announced, she found herself flashing back to 2016, remembering Open Workout 16.2, which was structured similarly: Athletes had a set amount of time to complete the designated work and earn additional time for more work.
In 2016, Digre finished 1 rep shy of advancing to the next 4-minute window.
“I remember being so frustrated with the fact that I missed the next round by 1 rep,” she said.
So after 17.3 was announced she told herself, “OK, so this year, that's gonna be my goal. I don't even care if it's 1 rep over, I want to make it past that initial time cap.”
Digre performed the workout on Saturday. The 35-lb. barbell—the first load for the scaled women’s division—posed little challenge; the jumping pull-ups were a different story.
“I wasn’t using my legs enough to help me. I think that wore me out,” she said.
She moved slowly from the rig to her barbell, struggling to catch her breath. When the first 8-minute window was closed, she had completed only 67 reps, 5 short of earning another 4 minutes.
“I know you have more in you,” her judge said.
So for the second time in this year’s Open, Digre returned to the gym on Sunday to redo the workout.
“I didn’t hold anything back,” she said. “I was like, ‘You know what? We're gonna get past that 8-minute time cap.’ Then all of the sudden it was 12 minutes, and then it was 16, and I looked at (my judge) like, ‘Are you crazy? Can I quit?’ And then it was 20 minutes.”
Photo courtesy of April Yentas.
In her second attempt, Digre more than doubled her score, increasing from 67 to 178 reps. Though doing a CrossFit Games Open workout once is an accomplishment, Digre doesn’t regret the extra effort.
“I know I'm not gonna get anywhere near the Games, but ... it came down to just doing it again for myself,” she said, “and to prove to my coaches that they weren’t wrong, that their confidence in me is justified.”
Embracing the Process
To date, Digre has lost 142 lb. In February, she went snowshoeing in the Cascades—the first time she’s been in the mountains in decades—and she can back squat 220 lb., climb halfway up a 15-foot rope and perform handstand push-ups to three stacked AbMats. Soon, she hopes to have unassisted pull-ups.
Photo courtesy of Brandy Digre.
“I am so close to getting my chin over the bar, and that’s without a band,” she said.
She’s a different person than the woman who joined his gym so many months ago, Hitt said.
“Her performance is absolutely amazing,” he said. “She is strong, she is flexible, she is agile, she is coordinated, and she can do things that most people can’t. She is an athlete now.”
After overcoming a plateau and a setback, Digre now knows that being an athlete means embracing the process, not just the results.
“You’re gonna have your good days and your bad days ... so if you have a bad day today, what are you gonna do to change that tomorrow?” she said. “I've had to mentally refocus where I don't let a bad day carry over into another bad day.
“I'm not afraid to try and do things—and I’m not afraid to fail at those things—because I've pulled a lot out of (myself) already and I know that there's more to pull out of me. And so I'm just gonna continue to keep trying.”