Persistent: Deborah Cordner Carson

June 26, 2012

Nicole Scott Smith

"There are always roadblocks in life ... I'll keep overcoming them."

The seven-minute burpee workout placed Deborah Cordner Carson in 17th place in North Central during Week 1 of the Open. Driven to win, she never placed out of the top four in the remaining events, securing a first place going into Regionals. In her athletic career, Cordner Carson has experienced more than her share of obstacles. But in overcoming these obstacles, she has formed into the athlete and Games veteran she is today. 

Since her childhood, Cordner Carson from CrossFit St. Paul, has been an athlete. Training as a gymnast in her earlier years and then as a collegiate sprinter for the University of Northern Iowa, her health had always been a priority. It was at Northern Iowa that she was diagnosed with lymphedema in her left leg, a condition where fluid is retained and causes significant swelling. The cause was suspected to be from a pulled groin muscle she suffered earlier in college. While it halted her career as a sprinter, it didn’t stop her from seeking out physical challenges.

Switching to longer distance running and then to CrossFit in December 2009, Cordner Carson found ways to manage her lymphedema. Wrapping her leg for eight to 12 hours before activity helps to keep from retaining as much fluid as possible. She also wears special compression garments that help her manage the symptoms. While she admits the disease is a huge part of her life, she is an atypical lymphedema patient. She believes that diet, the right activities and preparation have helped her condition, whereas some people with lymphedema feel exercise aggravates the symptoms.

“It’s disheartening when I go for occasional lymphedema treatments and you see people who are not really living a life that is very full,” she says. “Of course, I would love people to see me and be like, ‘Listen, I’m not an exception. I’m just stubborn.’”

Walking on to the floor at the 2012 North Central Regional, spectators saw only a vibrant and confident woman. “It’s been a battle,” she said. “But, I am very proud of myself.”

Event 1 at Regionals was Diane. After a ninth place finish, Cordner Carson dug in her heels and did what she does best. She burst from the fringe of the pack and sprinted to the front. “I’m competitive, I’m driven and I’m super stubborn,” she explains.

Those self-descriptive adjectives served her well in the next five events, where she never placed outside of the top five. Entering Day 3, she hit a 140-pound snatch in Event 5, but it was Event 6 that showcased her gymnastics background. Her muscle-ups were fluid and she glided over the burpee box jumps. She tied Elisabeth Akinwale for first in the final event. She ended the day standing in the third and atop the podium. “You learn so much about yourself fighting for something you really want,” she says.

Heading to the Games for the second year, Cordner Carson has focused on not one particular skill, but on what it takes to be a well-rounded competitor. In the first event of the 2011 Games, Cordner Carson wasn’t able to complete the 210-meter ocean swim. Living in Minnesota, she had experienced swimming in a pool, but had not been in the ocean since she was a small child. But true to form, she went forward and competed in the following events, even though her scores would not count. That experience provided her the opportunity to learn what it was like to compete at the Games and hone her skills for the following year, in which she vowed to return. “You don’t always win everything,” she says. “There are always roadblocks in life … I’ll keep overcoming them.”

Incorporating swimming into her training routine, she has also been following CrossFit St. Paul’s programming. “My coach programs for the elite CrossFitter, but everything is scalable,” she says. “I try to make class. Beyond that, we have open gym time, where I work with my coach and Oly class three times a week. Everyday I am getting better.”

The past year has been full of growth and changes for Cordner Carson, including a wedding to her boyfriend of eight years, Patrick. Cordner Carson has not done a lot of soul searching with regard to her goals for the Games. Instead, she’s opting for the practical approach that has been successful for her in the past. “I have not really had that conversation with myself. Everyone there is podium material,” she says. “I want to win. All I have to do is toe up against these amazing women and try to beat them. Anyone who says anything less, is lying to themselves.”