March 2, 2012
A Real Life Superhero: Ingrid Kantola
By Eddie Malone

Nearly two years ago, Kantola underwent heart surgery. A couple months before, she was standing atop the podium as the fittest woman at the 2010 Southern California Sectionals.

If last year’s competition season was a self-professed “test run” for Ingrid Kantola, it’s scary to think about her potential in 2012. 

The CrossFit Central athlete finished 6th at the 2011 South Central Regional, missing the Games by three spots. She’s a former Division One, All-American pole-vaulter at University of California, Los Angeles. But that’s only part of the story.

Nearly two years ago, in May 2010, Kantola underwent heart surgery to repair a damaged valve caused by a bacterial infection. Prior to the surgery, she was in a state of congestive heart failure, having lost 20 pounds in a couple of weeks. 

It was a roller coaster period for Kantola. A couple of months before, she was standing atop the podium as the fittest woman at the 2010 Southern California Sectionals. She was training for Regionals and a spot at the 2010 Games. She was also looking forward to graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin.

Then, in April, she started feeling sick. A couple visits to the ER followed.

“My symptoms started with body aches and chills, fevers, migraine headaches, and vomiting,” she says. “I was sent home with pain killers twice, but returned when the migraines, sweating/fevers/chills, and spotted vision continued. The doctors put me on antiviral and antibiotic medication while they tested for infection … The doctors eventually listened closely enough to [my heart to] hear that I had developed a heart murmur.”

This is the part where Kantola begins to sound like a superhero, or at least a woman with tremendous recuperative powers. Following surgery in May, she was in the ICU for six days. For the next eight weeks, doctors allowed her to walk, but nothing more. In week nine, she jogged. On July 6, Kantola returned to CrossFit with a workout of “Tabata” lunges, sit-ups, and air squats. 

On July 28, she completed “Pyramid Helen,” a punishing workout and one of the events at the CrossFit Games just two weeks prior.

Simply happy to be “vertical” again, Kantola had low expectations going into the 2011 competition season. She’d relocated to Austin for school and joined one of the country’s elite gyms – CrossFit Central, home to Games competitors Carey Kepler and Lisa Thiel. In the fall, she placed well at a trio of local competitions before hitting the Open where she finished 17th, which essentially gave her “dark horse” status going into Regionals.  

At Regionals, Kantola took a lot of people by surprise. “I wasn’t great in most of the WODs, but I was still competitive and making an impact in the points,” she says.

She was looking forward to her favorite workout, “Amanda” when she, like all of the competitors, was struck by the realities of the Texas heat. “My confidence was shattered by a [pull-up] bar that had been roasting in 115 degree heat during the 100s WOD,” she recalls. “I developed blisters on every fingertip by the end of 30 pull-ups and finished with strict singles. I sat with my coach and cried about it for a while, then decided to tape up, add gloves, and handle business.”

Kantola went on to win “Amanda” but missed out on the Games with a 6th place finish. Still, she felt good about her performance, especially in light of the adversity of the past year. “I walked away from the weekend knowing that I was beaten by five of the best women out there. I was among experienced athletes and was honored to compete with them.”

This time around, Kantola finds herself in a curious position. After being on the periphery the last year, she’s now fully in the spotlight at CrossFit Central. Lindsey Smith has moved to Columbus, Ohio and a different region. Carey Kepler, Jess Stephen and Crystal Nelson all have an eye on the affiliate team competition. And Lisa Thiel recently removed herself from competition for a very good reason: she and husband Jeremy (a Games veteran himself) are expecting their first child. 

Another athlete might feel pressured in these circumstances, but Kantola feels more driven than ever. She feels 100 percent recovered from her heart surgery and is unequivocal in her goal: qualification for the Games as an individual competitor.

Her preparation and approach have changed from last year to this year. She is focusing on strength and technique whereas the year before she focused on volume. “I am planning to push hard through the next five weeks [of the Open] in order to ramp up for Regionals, and then again for the Games,” she says. “The season has a different rhythm for the South Central Region this year with our competition being the first one at the end of April.”

Kantola trains alongside the other elite competitors at CrossFit Central where they do a variation of main site programming, with additional skill work thrown in. Kantola also trains strength with coach Travis Holley, hits the track to work on speed and endurance, and does Bikram yoga twice a week. 

Given her work ethic (she juggles graduate school, training, coaching, and event planning for CrossFit Central) and will power (she thinks of her heart surgery and recovery as just another workout), don’t be surprised to see Kantola in Carson, Calif., in July. 

If she makes it, she won’t be competing for individual glory. For Kantola, it’s all about family – her family at CrossFit Central and her family at home.

“I want to have my family watch me compete at the Home Depot Center,” she says. “My parents and sister took care of me through my illness, surgery, and recovery, [and] I want them to be able to see how far I have come and to know that their support built the foundation to my endeavors as an athlete.”

CrossFit Stats
Fran: 4:31
Jackie: 8:02
Fight Gone Bad: 331
Helen: 8:48
Grace: 3:14
Isabel: 4:32
Annie: 7:24
Diane: 5:32

400 m run: lifetime: 1:01, since CF: 1:14
800 m run: lifetime: 2:14, since CF 2:43
Max Clean and Jerk: 165
Max Snatch: 135
Max consecutive pull-ups: 21
Max Back Squat: 235
Max Front Squat: 170
Max Deadlift: 265
Max Overhead Squat: 165