Overcoming Adversity: Scott Panchik

July 4, 2012

Jessica Sieff and Josh Bunch

"Saxon and Spencer truly are my inspiration. I am the older brother, but I look up to them for how strong and hardworking they are."

In just a matter of days, the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games will begin and Scott Panchik will be competing for the first time. With him will be his cheering section … his family.

Panchik’s journey to the Games all started with burpees.

Burpee inauguration

Panchik is a high school health and physical education teacher in Mentor, Ohio. He also coaches the football team at Mentor High School and runs the strength and conditioning program.

When the Open started, no one knew him outside of his small community. Panchik eagerly awaited the announcement of Open 12.1: seven minutes of burpees.

When it was over, Panchik was holding the top spot overall with 161 reps. He walked into CrossFit 440, where he would officially complete the workout. He looked at the top number recorded and made a goal to beat it. “I just kept moving and never stopped,” Panchik says.

There were critics who didn’t believe him. Because he completed the workout at an affiliate, he didn’t have a video of his accomplishment. Since he was still an unknown, his performance inspired some and garnered the speculation of others.

Fast forward to the Regional competition where he competed alongside some of the most notable athletes in the sport. At the end of the weekend, Panchik earned his ticket to the Games.

A high school athlete, Panchik was no novice to sports. About three years ago, his father introduced him to CrossFit. His father had completed the Level 1 Seminar and beat him on their first workout. “Ever since that first workout, I loved it,” Panchik says. “I loved not knowing what the workout was going to be the next day.”

CrossFit quickly became a healing regimen for the entire Panchik family. Panchik had knee surgery and his doctor limited his exercise. He was limited to bodyweight movements, which may have been beneficial to his 12.1 performance.

“Burpees were one of the first things I could do,” he says about his post surgery recovery. “It was great cardio. It didn’t put too much stress on my knees.”

Panchik, his father, brother, sister and twin brothers went down to the gym everyday to workout together, while his mother watched. “We were all doing the same workout scaled differently for all of us,” Panchik says. “We’re a very competitive family. They were able to push me and I was able to push them. It’s just something great for my family to be able to go down there everyday and feed off of each other.”

Tragedy strikes

To the Panchik family, CrossFit is a reminder of the epic challenges they have overcome.

In March 2009, Panchik’s twin brothers, Spencer and Saxon, were hiking at a county park when tragedy struck. A 10-year-old girl hiking, fell 75 feet to a small ledge below. She was knocked unconscious, clearly injured and there was no one to rescuers her for miles.

Spencer and Saxon, only 11 years old at the time, both attempted a dangerous rescue. Both boys fell and all three were left dangling nearly 200 feet above the ground.

“I was two hours away in Alliance, Ohio preparing for finals week when the incident occurred,” Panchik recalls. “As I was frantically driving home, I felt helpless not being able to help my family in a time like this. I prayed all the way to the hospital, trying my best to stay positive for my family.”

Three long hours later, it ended with a cliff-side rescue. All three children were carried to safety. But the journey had just begun. The twins suffered a skull fracture, brain bleeds, several broken bones and a tree limb protruding though one of their legs. Recovery was tedious, but the twins fought back to health, except for one thing: football. They were told they would never play again. This is how the family found CrossFit.

“We worked out as a family, and day by day, the twins gained strength and confidence as they saw results, and so did I,” Panchik recalls. “My dad went on to become a CrossFit trainer, and our family’s love of CrossFit began. We went from feeling helpless when we were unable to reach my brothers on the cliff, to feeling confident and driven to be as physically fit as we could possibly be. CrossFit became part of our everyday life.”

The dark horse runs his race

Panchik went from studying CrossFit videos and working out independently to seeking out Travis and Regina Paige at CrossFit Distinction.

Panchik delighted spectators with a dark horse turn at Regionals. He finished 19th in Diane and struggled with handstand push-ups. By the third event, he tied with Marcus Hendren for fifth place. When it was all over, Panchik completed the sixth event, a grueling chipper of movements ending with muscle-ups, in sixth place.

“When I first got down there, I was really excited just to be there,” Panchik says. “It was just a great feeling to step back into that competitive atmosphere.”

Once on the floor, Diane tested him. “You get in that competitive atmosphere and my game plan kind of went out the window,” Panchik says. “I think a lot of CrossFitters run into that, where the competitive side gets the best of you.”

As he prepares for the Games, he’s focusing on weaknesses. He admits he didn’t have a lot of opportunity to practice muscle-ups but he has rings now and he’s working on them along with handstand push-ups.

Going for the podium

Panchik is filling his summer vacation with training. He wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and runs the strength and conditioning program for the high school football players until about 11 a.m.

He’s been increasing the volume and does two workouts per day. Regina Paige manages his programming, while Travis Paige coaches and works out with him.

“She does a great job. She’s a great coach, very motivating,” Panchik says. “Both of them have really helped me become a more efficient CrossFitter.”

His goal at the Games? “It’s always been a goal and it’s always something that’s been in my head. I wanted to make it to the Games,” he says. “I think every athlete that’s going there is aiming for the podium or else I don’t think they’d be going. Each and every one of those athletes wants to be on the podium and in my mind, that’s my goal. I’m going to go out there and leave it all out in Cali and see what happens.”

Panchik looks to his family for his main source of support. “Saxon and Spencer truly are my inspiration. I am the older brother, but I look up to them for how strong and hardworking they are,” he says. “When workouts get tough, I just think about how tough it was for them to overcome life's obstacles and at that moment things just get a bit easier.”