February 17, 2014
A Surprise Success
By Wendy Wilson

“I hope that I can be an inspiration to someone out there. If I can impact one person, if I can encourage one person, if I can change one person’s life for the better ... then I’m content and I’m happy.” 

Above photo courtesy of Sheila Nielsen Photography.


In 2013, Cole Sager qualified for the North West Regional just three months after walking into his first CrossFit affiliate.

This time around, the former University of Washington football player from Seattle plans to make it all the way to the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games. And if his track record is any indicator, he’s got a good shot.

Sager can back squat 465 lb.; he can snatch 255 lb.; he can run 400 m in 56 seconds; his Fran time is 2:07; and his Grace time is 1:20. The 5-foot-10, 207-lb. loan officer has an uncanny ability to quickly master movements that vex many CrossFit athletes.

“Two weeks before the Open last year, I got my first ring muscle-ups on my first attempt,” he said. “And I was able to string five of them together. That was kind of shocking. I was like, ‘Wow, that was awesome!’”

If that’s not enough, just one week before the Open, Sager learned how to snatch from a friend and Olympic weightlifter in Everett, Wash.

“Luckily, I did that because the first workout was burpees and snatches,” Sager said with a laugh. “I did alright in that (Open workout). The snatches were hard, but I got through them ...”

This 23-year-old is a natural-born athlete. But there’s more to him than speed and strength. He also has a humble passion for helping and seeing others succeed, and that’s the motive that drives him.

From Football to CrossFit

Born and raised in Burlington, Wash., Sager played football for as long as he can remember. He moved to Seattle after high school to play running back and full back for the University of Washington Huskies. He saw action all four years, racking up returns and tackles and earning the Huskies’ Brian Stapp Special Teams Scout Squad MVP award as a freshman.

When Sager graduated in 2012, he had a choice to make.

“I had to decide whether I wanted to go to UW’s Pro Day, which was the NFL scouting combine, or sign up for the CrossFit (Games) Open,” he recalled. “I signed up for the Open.”

Scrapping football was tough, Sager said.

“I had to come to terms that I was done with football,” he said. “That’s hard for any athlete.”

But it turned out to be a good decision. Sager placed 23rd in the Open and 13th at the regional. Not bad for a new guy.

“I didn’t anticipate much—being my first time,” he said. “I was really relying on my past football history and I ended up making it to regionals.”

Football trained him to be a well-rounded athlete, but he said his greatest strength then and now is his body awareness.

“With CrossFit, there are so many technical movements,” he said. “If you have body awareness and understand your body and how to use it and move it, the cognitive thinking of motor skills, you are going to be miles ahead in the game than people who have to learn it.”

Training with Experience

Currently, Sager trains at CrossFit Deliverance in Seattle. He spends much of his time training with and being coached by CrossFit Bellevue athlete Rory Zambard, 2013 North West Regional champ who placed 13th overall at the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games. They’ve been pushing each other since they met at last year’s regionals.

“It has really been a blessed scenario to be able to train alongside Rory,” he said. “She’s a firecracker! She’s always bringing something new to the table and always learning new things. She’s been doing CrossFit for six years, and so she has good insight to the sport.”

That insight helps Sager when he gets frustrated with his lifts.  

“Because I’m so new, I expect big gains; she’s been doing it for so long she has that wisdom that it takes time to build strength in these technical movements,” he said. “You have to be technically sound to have these big gains. She has a great eye for coaching and always gives great coaching cues. Plus, she’s a lot of fun.”

Deadlifts are one weakness Sager has been working on. His kryptonite became evident at last year’s regional during the 30-in. box jump, 315-lb. deadlift couplet. He failed to complete his reps and came in 30th place.

“That was an eye opener,” he recalled. “I was trying every technique to get a rep; I was hunched over and it was ugly.”

Things have improved since then, Sager said. Now, he is able to deadlift 430 lb.

“Rory and I do a posterior chain smash, which is a whole lot of hamstring, glute and lower-back strengthening, just strengthening that whole back end of things,” he said. “That has made a world of difference. I’ve never had hamstrings as strong as I have now, which is really exciting for me to say.”

Friendly Competition, Perfect Platform

An avid outdoorsman who gets plenty of exercise mountain biking, running and hiking with his fiancé Genasee Aman, Sager said he doesn’t do CrossFit to stay in shape.

He’s hooked on the competition instead.

“I do it for the community aspect and the competitive aspect,” he said. “It’s great to be a part of people competing with each other, setting a goal and working toward something, wanting to be a Games contender and wanting that high level of competition. As I see myself grow, I want to really work hard to reach that level of competitiveness.”

Sager also sees CrossFit as an opportunity to help people. He said it’s a perfect platform for athletes to inspire one another and those who hope to emulate them.

“The Games athlete is a small 1 percent of people who sign up for the Open,” Sager said. “They have such an opportunity to use this as a platform to reach lives, touch peoples’ hearts, bring success into their lives, and encourage and motivate them. That’s what has taken my drive to really move forward with it as far as competing in the Games and trying to get there.”

He has a goal to work in the fitness industry and help people find success.

“I hope that I can be an inspiration to someone out there,” Sager said. “If I can impact one person, if I can encourage one person, if I can change one person’s life for the better and help them find their successes in life through my story or through my actions or words, then I’m content and I’m happy.”

Sager has some sage advice for CrossFit athletes who are thinking of testing their skills in the Open for the first time.

“I encourage you to do it because you will surprise yourself,” he said. “You can do more than you believe you can, and you’re going to surprise yourself.”