June 28, 2012
Poised: Jenny LaBaw
By Leah Lutz

She is making gains in strength, increasing her engine and tackling new skills.

There is no question the field of CrossFit athletes in NorCal is impressive. The region is home to numerous top Games competitors, many of who are well-known names in the CrossFit community.

When Jenny LaBaw started CrossFitting not too long before last year’s Open, no one could predict what would heppen over the coming year. LaBaw demonstrated quickly that she was a serious competitor. She finished third in the 2011 Open, second at Regionals and sixth at the Games.

LaBaw, then training on her own in Chico, Calif., has been an athlete for years. Competitive soccer, softball, track and field, recreational skiing, biking and running are all in her repertoire. Having worked as a trainer for more than eight years, she was encouraged to give CrossFit a try. LaBaw dove right in.

In 2012, LaBaw continues to make her mark on NorCal, and will soon make her second appearance at the Games. Her consistent athleticism is surrounded by her relaxed, warm friendliness and clear sense of enjoyment in each part of competition. As the Games season began, LaBaw performed well in the Open. She finished in fifth place overall.

During the Regionals, LaBaw’s skill and consistency shut down the competition.  Admittedly, Event 1 wasn’t LaBaw’s strongest workout, but her eighth place finish proved to be the only kink in her performance all weekend. LaBaw wasn’t looking forward to the workout knowing the handstand push-ups would be a challenge for her. However, she knew if she could stay in the race she would be well positioned for the rest of the weekend. 

She finished Events 2 through 5 in the top three. She won Event 2, the workout she was looking forward to the most. Having plenty of experience in the movements, the 2, 000-meter row was no trouble, leaving her ready to bust out all 50 pistols unbroken. While others slowed on the cleans, LaBaw kept going with remarkable poise.

Going into the Snatch Ladder, LaBaw lifted the 145-pound bar, but she dropped to her knees. She fought for that lift, eventually getting up to her feet. She admits it was not a pretty lift. “Olympic lifting is one area that I have very little training in,” LaBaw says.

In the final weeks of preparation for the Games, things are very different for LaBaw. Last year, things were unfamiliar. She says she went into last year’s season nervous, shy and very unsure.

Watching LaBaw on the field these days, things have changed as she cheers for her fellow competitors, many who are now close friends, and is demonstrably excited about every challenge thrown her way. “The women of NorCal made me feel very welcome, becoming friends not just competitors,” LaBaw says.

LaBaw says she loves the way other competitors all root for each other, hoping to see each person do well, often relating like teammates. 

Also new in 2012 is LaBaw’s coach, CJ Martin of CrossFit Invictus. Although she has plenty of experience coaching others, and has programmed for herself in the past, she is grateful for the input of Martin. “He hopes you do well as a person, not just an athlete,” she says. “He listens, cares, adjusts programming as needed, and clearly gets results.”

Getting to know LaBaw a bit more, you learn she has overcome much at this point in her life. At age 8, she was diagnosed with epilepsy and was told there were many things she could never do in life. With the support of her family and friends, she chose to fight, pursuing many dreams, most notably an active, athletic life. There have been many times this hasn’t been easy, with medication that leaves her seeing double, a never-ending tingling from her shoulder to fingers, knowledge that over-exertion can bring on a seizure and the hard reality for a competitive person that there are days when she simply must pull back and rest.

Opening up about the reality of her epilepsy was hard for LaBaw. In fact she was scared to openly explain what she lives with every day, but is committed to raising awareness of epilepsy, with a long-term goal to start a foundation. She receives emails regularly from people who have epilepsy and are encouraged and inspired by how she lives her life. 

Working hard and being the best you can be every day is an idea her father instilled early on. This maxim has carried her through many challenges with both epilepsy and CrossFit. In both, many have told her she can’t do it, or it will be too hard. She lives her life proving people wrong. LaBaw is a fighter.

Fighting is just what she intends to do this July in Carson, Calif. The Games are the next great challenge she will face, and she is ready and excited. She is making gains in strength, increasing her engine and tackling the newer skills of both gymnastics and Olympic lifting.

LaBaw is competing to win, and after a brief glimpse at the podium last year, she is determined to take her place up there in 2012.