July 12, 2013
Plenty of Heart: Kaleena Ladeairous
By Keka Schermerhorn

“She has gotten stronger and better at skilled movements, but there is something you can’t teach, and that’s how to have heart. You either have it or you don’t, and Kaleena has the most heart of anyone I know.” 

Kaleena Ladeairous has spent the last three years training for the CrossFit Games.

In 2011, the former marathon runner qualified for her first North East Regional. With each event, she improved her standing — 21st, 13th, eighth and fourth. By the fifth event of the weekend, she appeared poised for a top-three finish.

But then, everything fell apart.

She faced Amanda, a couplet of muscle-ups and 95-lb. squat snatches. For the entire 15-minute time cap, she struggled beneath the rings. She was unable to get a single muscle-up and was cut from the competition.

The next year, she got off to a strong start with a third-place finish in the Open in the North East. Recognizing she needed help to realize her potential, she reached out to Jason Leydon of CrossFit Milford and asked if he would take over her programming.

“Kaleena came in with a pure love for CrossFit and a desire to improve,” Leydon says. “She was rough around the edges, as we all were at some point, but her engine was huge and her ability to be coached is one of the best around. She adapts very well in situations and is able to apply cues given to her quickly.”

With the 2012 North East Regional happening on the last weekend of Regional competition, Leydon had a little extra time to help Ladeairous prepare.

“The 2012 Regional was more about being ready for that weight,” Leydon says. “The 2012 Regionals were a bit heavier than this year, and we were going last, so we had time to practice efficiency at that weight and the movements that were required.”  

A couple months later, the Regional was underway. She won Event 2 — a 2,000-meter row followed by 50 pistols and 30 135-lb. hang cleans. She also won Event 4.

She excelled at anything that was “high suck” and relatively low skill, but fell behind on anything that was high skill like the handstand push-ups in Diane (11th, 3:49), the 70-lb. dumbbell snatches in Event 3 (eighth, 6:51) and the Snatch Ladder (15th, 125 lbs.) Despite her two event wins, she ate too many points and fell to eighth overall.

Following the Regional, Ladeairous was ready to charge ahead, hoping to qualify in 2013.

“We knew what we had to work on and we knew the desired timeframe to progress,” Leydon says. “So the start of the training (in 2012) was really geared toward this year's performance. We knew what her weaknesses were last year and we have been putting focus on those areas over the past year. Her goal was to make the podium and get to the CrossFit Games.”

Leydon’s programming revolved around improving Ladeairous’ efficiency with the barbell movements and high volume, high-skill gymnastics movements. Although there was some emphasis on absolute strength, special attention was paid to intensity and volume.

“Over the past year, she has done a lot of work on her gymnastics,” Leydon says. “We transitioned from being able to perform the skills correctly, to adding intensity and volume. We worked on mixing in high-skill barbell movements with the high-skill gymnastics work, and progressed that up in volume over the last few months.”

This spring, Ladeairous had her best Open finish yet. At the end of the Open, she held onto first in the North East with two wins (13.1, 13.2) and no finish outside of the top 12.

Notably, she got second place on 13.3, completing 21 muscle-ups within the 12-minute time cap, proving that muscle-ups are no longer a problem.

In May, she entered the 2013 North East Regional a more refined CrossFit competitor.

The weekend started off with an event that played perfectly to her strengths. Blazing through the 1,000-meter row, 50 thrusters and 30 pull-ups in 6:04, she won the event.

Later that afternoon, she put 190 lbs. overhead and managed two overhead squats for a fourth-place Event 2 finish. Moments later, she transitioned to the rings for seven minutes of burpee muscle-ups. As the clock ticked down, she tallied 19 muscle-ups.

The next morning she won Event 4, the 100s, with a time of 23:19. She and Amanda Goodman traded the lead four times during the event, but Ladeairous eventually came out ahead by 52 seconds. She and Goodman were the only two women in the North East to finish the 100s within the 25-minute time cap.

Liz Adams, a former training partner, knew Ladeairous would stand out on Event 4.

“She has gotten stronger and better at skilled movements, but there is something you can’t teach, and that’s how to have heart. You either have it or you don’t, and Kaleena has the most heart of anyone I know. She literally won’t stop moving. She thrives and is at her best when she is past that normal pain threshold. At the end of the day, it usually comes down to who wants it more, and no one wants it more than her,” Adams says. “Also, no one eats as much ice cream as her and moves as fast.”

Through Saturday afternoon and Sunday, Ladeairous stayed near the top of the Leaderboard. By the end of the weekend, she was in third overall with a 22-point lead over former CrossFit Games competitor Stacey Kroon.

“I have spent the last year working with Jason Leydon as my coach and he has pushed me outside my comfort zone and targeted my weaknesses,” Ladeairous says. “I feel well rounded as a CrossFit athlete.”

A runner and cyclist, Ladeairous has started working with a swimming coach, in anticipation of a probable open water swim with big crowds at the Games.

“Her volume is higher right now and we are making sure we put in a good amount of triathlon training principles to coincide with her CrossFit training,” Leydon says. “We are putting in more work with strongman, as well, and continuing to progress in gymnastics to work with her strength and engine.”

Ladeairous, who co-owns CrossFit Port Chester with her partner Maria Vulcano, says she often draws inspiration from her members to get through tough training days.

“I think of my box and my members and how I motivate them with, ‘It's only 30 seconds, you can do anything for 30 seconds,’ or ‘Just three more reps, you've already done so many, what is just three more?’” Ladeairous says. “And then I think about how they get through brutal WODs and I tell myself the same things and say, ‘If they can do it, I will do it, too.’”

Leydon was highly visible at the North East Regional, standing by Ladeairous’ lane at most events, counting out her reps and helping her pace the workouts.

“The pacing at the Games will be dictated by the (events),” Leydon says. “Once they come out, we will go over them movement by movement to choose a strategy based off her strengths and weaknesses. It is going to be harder to be right there for her, but we have been training with that in mind.”

Now that her main goal of the season has been reached, and Ladeairous is headed to the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games, new objectives have been set.

“Kaleena knows what she needs to do with all the exercises to excel in the workouts. She has put in the work, and now it is time to show up and play ball,” Leydon says. “Her ability to withstand pain and push her limits without fear allows her to really excel. The primary goal is to have fun and enjoy this experience, and also get to Sunday, which I firmly believe she can.”

Ladeairous is excited to put herself to the test against the best in the field.

“My goal for the Games is to have fun competing among the best of the best and just do as well as I can,” she says. “I'm looking forward to meeting some of the top athletes in the world and actually be able to say I got to (workout) with Kris Clever, Elisabeth Akinwale, Sam Briggs, Rebecca Voigt — the list goes on.”