March 16, 2012
A Standout: Holly Mata
By Amy Duchene

Holly Mata's adaptability and strong frame make her an all-around athlete. Her commitment to excel, however, makes her a standout.

Only weeks ago, the name Holly Cohen Mata was relatively unknown throughout the South Central Region. After week 12.3, however, she’s made her presence known. 

Briefly topping the South Central Leaderboard during week 12.2, Mata has been widely seen as a dark horse in the 2012 race to Regionals, but she isn’t exactly green. 

“I actually made it to the 2010 South Central Regional and got pretty close to qualifying for the Games. Going into the last workout, I was in 4th place and they were taking the top four to the Games,” she recalls. “When I was waiting for them to announce the last WOD I just kept thinking in my head ‘please no muscle-ups or handstand push-ups, please no muscle-ups or handstand push-ups.”

Ironically, not one, but both of her biggest concerns were announced. The final workout would be 10 muscle-ups, 15 handstand push-ups, 20 squat cleans and a routed run for time.

“I couldn’t believe the first two movements were that. In hindsight though, it all worked out for the best. My husband and I had gotten married two weeks before that and at that point I wasn’t really committed to CrossFit just yet,” she says. “I was super disappointed that I was so close and didn’t make it, but at the same time, I know that what you get out is what you put in and it wasn’t my time yet. I’m actually glad I didn’t make it to the Games that year because I didn’t have the necessary skills, yet. If I had gone I would’ve gotten smashed.”

Mata’s realism is charming, and her understanding of a strong work ethic hasn’t gone unnoticed in former years. Through her years at Arizona State University and the University of Texas at El Paso, she redeemed her five years of athletic eligibility as a striker on the soccer team, pinch runner for the softball team and, most surprisingly, as place kicker for UTEP’s men’s football team in 2003.

“That was a fun experience” Mata says. “At the time, there was a race between me and another girl from New Mexico State University who had also gotten the place kicker position. Everyone was wondering who would be the first girl to kick a field goal in Division 1 Football. She ended up beating me to the opportunity, but it was cool. ESPN ended up doing a story on us.”

Mata’s adaptability and strong frame made her an all-around athlete. Her commitment to excel, however, made her standout. Her mentors sought to instill these qualities in others, and Mata was asked to join the soccer team’s coaching staff shortly thereafter.

Her graduation from college, and transition from athlete to coach would be short lived, though. Soon, her own drive to compete and passion for athletic endeavors would be revived by the up-and-coming sport of CrossFit.

As a new member at Get Lifted CrossFit in El Paso, Texas, Holly quickly adjusted to the CrossFit ideology. “I’m kind of a brute strength type of person, so I love it. I think it’s crazy that CrossFit is unpredictable in every way,” she says. “You can’t imagine how you’re going to do. Any workout can be favorable to you, so you have to be well balanced and all around good at everything.”

This newfound athletic interest would lead to quick success for Mata. Upon advancing to the 2010 South Central Regional just months after her start, she made the decision to train aggressively. A slight change of plans was in store, though, as Mata and her husband, Joe, found out they were pregnant. 

 “I actually just had the baby seven months ago,” she says. “It was an amazing experience and I trained everyday up until the day I delivered. Actually, I worked out and got induced on the same day. After I had my son, Shepherd, I was back in the gym a week and a half later doing a deadlift WOD, and about a month later I was full go. I’m still nursing, too, and I will be all the way up to and through Regionals. My ultimate goal is to make it to the Games, and I feel like I’ve been on the fast track of trying to catch up over these last six months. I wouldn’t change it for the world though.”

Mata isn’t the first CrossFit athlete to continue competing while maintaining life as a new mom. Many remember 2011 South West Regional champion Taylor Richards-Lindsay, who competed in the 2011 Games while still nursing her then 9-month-old daughter Aleeyah. Mata says she hopes to find similar success juggling her new baby and old barbells.

While it’s only been one season since we’ve seen Mata at the Regional level, this time she’s hoping to make it all the way, along with some familiar teammates. “I don’t think I would have come as far as I have and as quickly as I have without my coach, Paul Smith. He’s a genius. I’ve gotten so much stronger over the past two years through his coaching,” she says. “Being able to train with him and Azadeh [Boroumand], who I think will be the front runner of our region, has also been amazing. She was training with all men, but now that we’re able to push each other and work together, it’s made a huge difference, especially because we both have different strengths. At the end of the day, getting to work this hard with my best friends is really what it’s all about.”

As far as her recent 1st place finish on the Leaderboard and steady ranking toward the top of the pack, Mata isn’t worrying about the numbers.

“I don’t care about the rankings. I know where I need to be and where I’m at. I’m not where I want to be just yet. I know that for as much as I push myself, my body is still recovering from the baby. So no matter what happens, this isn’t the last chance for me. No matter what, I know I can get there soon. I’m just excited for what this year has in store.”