"It's always me versus the workout, instead of me versus the other girls."
CrossFit East Decatur’s Shana Alverson delivered an exciting performance at this year’s South East Regional. Though some counted her out after a 22nd place finish in the Open, Alverson, also known as the “Unicorn,” proved them wrong. She finished third overall, earning her fourth trip to the Games.
“I do think people count me out,” Alverson says. “It feels like I am a dark horse every year, although maybe I am just a dark horse to myself. Maybe there's less pressure as the underdog. High expectations mean high pressure for a lot of people, and high pressure can cause some to underperform.”
Alverson, 36, says she went into this year’s Regional feeling more relaxed thanks in part to the high volume and heavy training. Her experience competing at this level also made it more enjoyable.
“I think in past years, it’s been pretty stressful, but having experienced it before and knowing myself better, I was able to relax and enjoy it, as much as you can enjoy this strangely addictive torture,” she says.
At the end of Day 1 at the Regional, Alverson sat in sixth place overall, after a sixth place finish in Event 1 and a ninth place finish in Event 2. She returned the next day prepared to chip away at the standings. She came back strong with a tie for third place on the dumbbell snatch workout.
“Loved the dumbbell snatch,” she says. “When we opened CrossFit East Decatur, kettlebells were not in the budget, so we used dumbbells for everything. We still do. I'm a huge fan of training with dumbbells. They are extremely unforgiving if you have no technique, they are much more difficult to stabilize than a barbell, and there's no comfy spinning handle.”
Alverson continued on with a ninth place finish in Event 4. The workout left her disappointed and brought her down to fourth overall. “It was a frustrating workout for me,” she says. “My grip was almost non-existent for the pull-up portion, and I wasn't anticipating that. I felt like on the barbell movements, I was very competitive, and I didn't really understand why my grip was just completely failing. I was literally doing singles. How embarrassing.”
Despite not finishing where she wanted after Day 2, Alverson did not let it affect her mentality. “I remember at Regionals of 2010, I had a first-place finish in the second workout, which put me in first overall going into Day 2. I felt overconfident, and it ended up biting me in the ass, as I ended up having to claw my way back up to third place in the final workout on Day 3,” she says.
She has learned not to get too comfortable, no matter where she’s currently placed.
“The mental game of CrossFit is a challenge. It is more like performance art,” Doug Chapman, Alverson’s coach, says. “There is nothing that any other athlete can do to affect your performance ... I tend to try and keep the athletes focused on the task at hand. After each workout, they have about five minutes to be happy or sad depending on the performance. Then they focus on the next task. Always know what the score is and do what you have to do.”
Alverson went into the final day of Regionals excited because Event 5 called for double-unders and snatches – two movements she says are in her wheelhouse. She took fifth place after successfully snatching 140 pounds moving her into third place overall.
Alverson says she was focusing on her performance as opposed to what the other athletes were doing. “At the end of the day, all you can control is how well you do on the workout,” she says. “It's always me versus the workout, instead of me versus the other girls. Whenever my brain goes to me versus them, I always lose. These women are just so completely, unbelievably amazing. But when it's me versus the workout, I want to murder that bitch,” she says.
Alverson went into the final workout putting the rest of the competition behind her, ready to start anew. “[Coach Doug] is always saying to us, ‘What’s the score?’ The answer is ‘0-0.’ That helps us start every workout fresh and be in the moment,” Alverson says. “It's about you and what is facing you right now, not what happened an hour ago, not what will happen if I don't qualify. Right here, right now is where your power is.”
Alverson knew what needed to happen in the final event. She knew the toes-to-bars would slow her down, but that she was strong at heavy deadlifts, muscle-ups and farmer carries. “I just kept telling myself, ‘You can always do another burpee.’ You can always do one more burpee,” she says.
Alverson took third place in the workout. Once she was told she qualified, she burst into tears. “I felt so overwhelmed with gratitude and relief that all my hard work had paid off,” she says.
“I do feel proud of myself. I think everyone understands that the level of competition this year is vastly different from what it was my first go-round in 2009. It’s been almost a full-time job to continue to keep up with the natural athletes that keep emerging. I’ve been doing CrossFit for five years now and am working harder than ever to keep up with some girls who have barely been doing it for a year. It certainly has meant a tremendous amount of dedication and making some sacrifices.”
Alverson returned home and allowed herself to take it easy for two weeks, and then resumed training for the Games. “The requirement to be competitive at the Games level has a lot of volume and intensity and that is exactly what we are doing,” Chapman says. “Shana is handling the training very well. She has been able to push PRs regularly, maintain the volume. She has the potential to surprise a lot of people ... She is dedicated to a more year-round program, and it will make her harder to compete with. She has what it takes to be competitive for the foreseeable future, as long as she wants to compete.”
Alverson is excited and terrified at the same time to compete against the other female athletes who will be joining her in California. “It's going to be a hell of a show this year."