Shawn Butler still doesn’t like to talk about his little brother’s wedding.
He was happy to be there, witness the nuptials and enjoy some celebratory cocktails with the family. But truth be told, he was drinking away a lot of anger that day.
Butler, an accomplished athlete from suburban Philadelphia who dreamed of reaching the CrossFit Games since his very first workout, had earned his way into his second straight Regional competition. And he couldn’t go. The wedding fell on the first night of the 2011 Mid Atlantic Regional in Fairfax, Va., and, despite Butler’s frantic attempts at working out a compromise, he was told he had to choose one or the other.
"I’m starting to get comfortable with me as an athlete and a CrossFit athlete."
The choice was obvious, but the pain Butler felt was deep.
“It really hit hard,” says Butler, 31, who finished 20th in the region in last year’s CrossFit Games Open, after placing 27th in the 2010 Central East Regional in Ohio. “I’ve come to terms with it, and there’s no way of going back in time, obviously. But I did all of the workouts [from Regionals] and I kind of looked at where my times would have fallen, and knowing in competition you do better than you do by yourself for most of the WODs, I was just like ‘Ahhhh!’ because everything fit really well into my wheelhouse.
Butler’s non-CrossFit schedule is clear for the next few months. Thanks to a strong showing at the Tri-State Throwdown at Albany CrossFit, his confidence is back.
For much of the 2011-12 offseason, Butler fought himself and fought too hard and too long in the gym. The result was an Achilles/calf injury and negative mindset that moved Butler to pull out of the Beast of the East competition last fall.
After gradually working his way back to competitive form, finishing 2nd at the Throwdown behind Games competitor Daniel Tyminski was just what Butler needed to gear him up for the Open. He says the Albany event was kind of an “I’m back” experience.
“That was the first ray of light from behind the clouds, I guess you could say,” says Butler, who owns CrossFit Five Star in Warrington, Pa., in addition to teaching high school biology. He and his wife, Dani, have one son, 4-year-old Caiden.
“I was doubting myself for the year, for no reason other than that I was unable to go [to Regionals],” he says. “It took a little bit of mental processing to really get through my head that it wasn’t me, it was just the situation that held me back, and then I let it be me.”
Butler thinks his struggles over the past year have helped him mature as an athlete.
He was always a beast physically, standing 6-feet tall and weighing around 200 pounds, and a strong competitor, winning the Mid-Atlantic Hopper Challenge and earning a second-place finish at the Pennsylvania’s Fittest competition in 2010. Before taking up CrossFit, Butler was an all-league linebacker at Bloomsburg University.
Mentally, Butler feels he’s starting to take his game to a new level.
“I found that in the evolution of me as an athlete, even in college playing football, I was probably in my best shape two years before I graduated, but I was better my senior year because I was just a calmer, more collected person and I didn’t overstress or overthink things too much,” he explains. “I feel like that’s how I am, I go into things and jump in and give it my all and try to figure things out as I go. So when I first started CrossFitting, it was jumping in and figuring things out, and I feel like I’m at the point where I’m starting to get comfortable with me as an athlete and a CrossFit athlete. And this past competition [in Albany] kind of solidified that I don’t have to really overstress things, that it’s not me against everyone else, it’s me against myself, and I can just do my thing and don’t worry.”
Of course, Butler won’t lie and say he’s completely at ease about the task ahead. He wants the chance to prove himself at Regionals, and wants it bad. He can’t help but wonder what might have been in 2011 and now feels a little bit of pressure to make up for lost time.
“I think it’s more or less I don’t want to let people down,” he said. “I feel like I did do well and I was so close last year that to not get back to that same point would be almost disappointing for myself, but I feel like I would let down other people.”
No matter what happens in the Open and/or Regionals, Butler’s family will be there to support him – and help him unwind.
“At first, they said, ‘How about May?’ And I’m like, ‘May doesn’t work for me,’” he says with a laugh. “Then I found out they wanted to go on the 22nd, and I’m like, ‘OK, not a problem. That’ll be cool.’”
Butler's 2012 Open performance got off to a slow start with a 103rd place regional finish on 12.1. An impressive 87 reps on 12.2, however, brought him up to 14th place in the Mid Atlantic. If his performance continues on this path, he'll be present, and a threat, at the Mid Atlantic Regional this year.