June 4, 2013
Ready to Compete: Alyssa Ritchey
By Brittney Saline

“I’ve never been the one to look at something and be defeated. I’ve always been the one to say, ‘I will defeat you.’”

Photos by: Laura Cebulski

Before the season began, Alyssa Ritchey's coach told her not to get her hopes up — it was her first-ever Open. However, his perspective changed as the season progressed.

“I think that when you go into the Regional competition ranked No. 2, you have a shot, absolutely,” 8th Day CrossFit owner Joe Cebulski says.

Ritchey started the Open strong with 10th- and 14th-place finishes in the first two workouts. As the final three weeks separated the wheat from the chaff, she only got better, never falling below the top five in the Central East and even taking first in 13.4.

“I kept waiting for that other shoe to drop that would remind us she’s so new at this sport,” Cebulski says. “But we just continued to have workouts coming down the pipe that she happened to nail.”

Now, just seven months after the 24-year-old former gymnast started CrossFit, she’s headed to Regionals ranked second in the Central East and 21st in the world.

“When I realized I was going to Regionals, I thought ‘Holy crap, I walked into this gym, saw this amazing community and found out about this Open thing,’” she recalls. “It’s just nuts that I did it. It was unbelievable.”

According to Cebulski, it’s not just Ritchey’s scores that prove she has what it takes to be a Regional-level competitor, it’s also how she matured as an athlete over the course of the Open. In the beginning, she needed his help to determine pacing and strategy. Five weeks later, she was the one at the whiteboard planning her approach to the workout.

“In the first workout, it seemed like she didn’t know which way was up or how hard to go, and as a coach I had to do a lot of work,” Cebulski says. “By the last two workouts, she would come to me with the breakdowns and the splits. I love seeing athletes take ownership, because in the end, that’s the most powerful thing — to be your own captain.”

Still, a great Open performance doesn’t guarantee anything when it comes to Regionals. Though she can snatch 140 lb. at just 4-foot-11 and 115 pounds, her clean and jerk hovers around 165 lb., well below the range of taller, heavier competitors.

However, increasing her lifts is not her priority. Cebulski says there is not enough time before Regionals for her body to recover from and respond to heavy strength training.

“As a coach, you can make a really big mistake trying to grab too much going to the next level,” Cebulski says. “We can’t decide we’re going to get stronger in two months, that’s not possible. It’s tempting to fall into the idea that the harder we work, the stronger we get, but the truth is you can only push that sled so hard.”

And though Ritchey agrees building strength is a must for CrossFit success, she trusts the plan that has gotten her this far.

“People try to overload their body because Regionals is right around the corner, but now it’s (about) who’s the smartest and who can maintain, rather than who can break PRs (in the lead up to Regionals),” she says.

Over the last few weeks, Ritchey has focused on maintaining her strength while targeting those aspects of her fitness she believed she could improve during the short gap between the Open and Regionals. Her two main goals were to improve her Olympic-lifting technique, and develop her motor with long, high-volume workouts.  

Ritchey trains alongside 8th Day’s Regional team in Cebulski’s program for competitive CrossFitters. To keep her moving, Cebulski programs her least favorite movement — running.

“I can improve her endurance, (because) you’re looking at a six- to 12-hour adaptation response,” Cebulski says. “She needs to be in a constant state of motion.”

In addition to the competitive programming, Ritchey completes the regular daily workout as well as Olympic lifting technique practice. All in all, she’s in the box three hours per day, six days per week.

“We’re putting quite a bit of volume in the first month, training extremely hard with complex, lengthy workouts,” Cebulski says. “In the second month, we’ll taper off and become more power and endurance oriented.”

With an appetite for training and a schedule filled with waitressing and studying, Ritchey is taking care to prioritize her rest. After straining her quad on the first of a set of four heavy front squats the day after the Open ended, she says “it felt like it was going to rip out of its insertion,” she knew she needed to take a break.

“Your rest has to equal your training volume and intensity, or you’re gonna start seeing failure and injury,” she says. “I dropped the weight and said ‘I’m done.’ I’m not ruining Regionals because of one day of training.”

But perhaps the most challenging part of her Regional preparation is the pact she made with a fellow 8th Day CrossFitter: no more sweets.

“I have to in order to get the proper fuel for workouts,” she explains.

It meant giving up Oreos, her favorite food and former pre-workout snack.

“I’m the Oreo queen,” she says.

Although still new to competitive CrossFit, Ritchey isn’t nervous about competing as an individual in her first Regional experience.

“I trust Joe, I trust his training,” she says. “I will be as ready as I can and I will be ready to compete and lay it all down when I get there.”

Competing on such a large stage, alongside the stars of the Central East, will be a first for Ritchey. But according to Cebulski, the bigger the show, the better her performance is likely to be.

“I think she’s more of a big game player than little,” he says. “She can’t wait to sink her teeth into these top-tier athletes. She wants to pick up a bar opposite of these athletes, and stop hearing about them online.”

Ritchey is heading into the 2013 Central East Regional ready to fight.

“I’ve never been the one to look at something and be defeated. I’ve always been the one to say, ‘I will defeat you.’”