February 20, 2017
Ringing the Division Bell
By Brittney Saline
New masters category stokes competitive fire for late 30-somethings.
New masters category stokes competitive fire for late 30-somethings.

For the first time in history, an Open workout began with muscle-ups.

Victor Stanley grinned before Open Workout 15.3. A CrossFit athlete of seven years, he had experience on his side and was confident he could easily kip through the 7 reps at the start of each round.

The same could not be said for Stanley’s workout partner. Though the 20-something athlete was almost a decade younger than Stanley—who was 34 at the time—he had just learned the muscle-up and lacked finesse and efficiency.

“I was happy about that one because I finally got him on one,” Stanley said after beating his younger buddy by several rounds. “The next year he had muscle-ups down and there was no catching him after that.”

This year, Stanley, now 36, will be chasing kids his own age in the 2017 Reebok CrossFit Games Open as he competes in the inaugural Masters 35-39 Division.

“I am extremely excited about the opportunity it presents,” he said. “I feel this makes the competitive aspect a little more fun because I actually feel like I am in the hunt now.”

Stanley started CrossFit in 2008 while serving as a diver in the United States Navy. At first, he piecemealed workouts from CrossFit.com on the Navy base, joining his first affiliate two years after retiring from the military in 2010. Today, he owns CrossFit Cocoa Beach in Florida.

CrossFit won him over first with its community and second with competition. A baseball player before entering the Navy, Stanley said CrossFit offered “that competition aspect that you didn’t get at a regular gym or you didn’t get working out on your own.”

For Stanley, it’s not even about winning.

“I'm not really that person where if I don't win I'm sad or upset for a week,” he said. “If I don't win, I learn from the experience, and it makes me better and I come back stronger.”

And what better place to learn than in the Open, with five weeks worth of lessons and a worldwide leaderboard?

From his first Open in 2013, Stanley knew he had little chance of advancing to the CrossFit Games. Not only was he competing against thousands of athletes from across the world but, at 33, he was also older than many of them. But for Stanley, competing in the Open was more about “seeing the steady improvement or where I’m at (compared to) the previous year,” he said. “And it helps you push into that extra gear that you didn’t know you had.”

Still, he admitted the new division has him training just a bit harder than he might have otherwise.

“It gives me a little glimpse of hope,” he said. “At least I know there's a little more chance (in) the 35-39-year-old division and the playing field's a little more even.”

Though physical differences separate a 25- and a 35-year-old—“they definitely recover a lot faster,” Stanley said of his younger workout partners—it’s not just about biology. Narrowing the field to men between 35 and 39, Stanley said, also means leveling playing field regarding lifestyle and training time.

He pointed to two members of his coaching staff, both in their mid-20s.

“They stay at the gym pretty much all day long, they don't have (spouses or children), they live at home, (and) their parents cook for them,” Stanley said. “So they really have zero responsibilities other than just doing whatever they want to do, and what they want to do is work out.”

In contrast, Stanley works full time as a hospital manager in addition to running and coaching at CrossFit Cocoa Beach, also attending to his wife and four children—aged 6 to 13—and squeezing training in when he can, be it at 5 a.m. or on his lunch break.

“The playing field's a little more even knowing I'm going up against guys that have to do the same stuff I do,” he said. “It kind of takes away from excuses for me, so when I say, ‘Oh I have a job’ or ‘I have kids’ or ‘I’m married,’ then I look and the majority of the people in that division are going through the same thing.”

Stanley knows that the addition of the 35-39 Division won’t necessarily supply him with an athlete’s pass to the CrossFit Games. But it will give him another set of parameters against which to measure his fitness.

“It's always the goal to see what I have to do to get there,” he said.  “We'll see where I stand at the end of this year with the new category. This is almost like a start to a new Open for me.”

And to all those fresh 35-year-olds who’ve avoided the Open so far, crying foul to competing against athletes 10 years their junior, Stanley has one thing to say:

“This is a new division, so why would you not do it?” he said. “You have nothing to lose. You come in the gym everyday anyways—why not sign up and get a little more out of it and see what happens?”

To learn more about training masters athletes of all ages or competing as a masters athlete, attend the new CrossFit Specialty Course: Masters. 

Top photo courtesy of Tim Desmarais