February 15, 2014
Swiss Record-Setting Olympic Lifter Looks to Return to Regional
By Tatum Vayavananda

"Believe in yourself. I never thought I would have made it last year, so even when you feel you are an underdog, there’s always a chance that you will surprise yourself and everyone else ..." 

Photos courtesy of Tammy St. Denis

Switzerland’s Nadine Steinger didn’t hesitate to go the distance for something she wanted.

In her case, this meant deciding to look for a job and move 90 km (56 mi) to a new town. It was home to CrossFit Basel, and therefore, became her home, too.

Steinger won’t be the first to talk about her record-setting lifts, having qualified for the 2013 Europe Regional or her strongwoman trophies. But the 26-year-old competitor isn’t shy about sharing her passion, insight and outlook on CrossFit, as well as her intent to make a return trip to the regional and go up against Europe’s best.

“I want to go back to regionals for the experience I feel that I missed last year,” said Steinger, who finished 33rd.

She said lessons learned and the desire to rise above a DNF on the final event­—precipitated by torn hands on the second day of the regional—has fueled her this season.

She is looking to return to the CrossFit arena after proving her strength in Olympic lifting, setting Swiss national records last year with a 65-kg (143-lb.) snatch and 85-kg (187-lb.) clean and jerk, and turning heads in powerlifting and at strongwoman competitions in her 75-kg (165-lb.) weight class.

“There’s one Swiss network of female Olympic lifters who always set records and keep carrying the tradition,” Steinger said. “Us girls from CrossFit Basel went in and basically reset all the records.”

Steinger credits CrossFit for providing the base for her strength. CrossFit fits her personality, providing something she said was not “normal” or “typical.”

“About three-and-a-half-years ago, I started some guided group training. It felt great for about two years, but I realized I needed more,” Steinger said. “I needed something that also includes challenging skills and I wanted competition. So I looked into CrossFit gyms nearby.”

She flourished in the CrossFit community, which celebrates beauty in strength.

“The moment I stepped into a box, I knew I found the perfect place for me,” Steinger said. “A place where great coaches believed every woman should be strong, where female athletes were proud to squat, snatch and lift big weights.”

After trying two other CrossFit gyms around her hometown of Lucerne, she finally felt at home at CrossFit Basel, a one-hour commute. Training there became more fulfilling than anywhere else and she decided she wanted a life that fit around her training.

“Changing my job was a big sacrifice for me and it took me a couple of months to come to terms with, but I can say training at CrossFit Basel is worth it,” Steinger said.

After finding a new job in Basel as a direct sales manager at Jet Aviation, she decided to move her life just six months before the 2013 Open. 

“I did surprisingly well (in the Open), and I was amazed,” she said. “I had moved to Basel for this, so it had become my life.”

“She is very dedicated and has a lot of discipline; she is an absolute role model in these areas,” said CrossFit Basel owner Ramon Gysin. “She does well competing in strongman, Olympic weightlifting, and powerlifting and holds several national titles.”

“Her biggest challenge is being able to let go and just give everything she has, and I think raising her mental game has helped her improve a lot in these areas,” said Gysin, who won the Snatch Ladder at the 2012 Europe Regional.

Speaking of mental, Steinger said her experience with Olympic lifting competitions has helped prepare her for CrossFit.

“I’m always too nervous. It’s the atmosphere, and my coach makes me do (Olympic lifting competitions) because it helps so much when you’re out there in your stupid singlet in front of old guys; there’s nothing more intimidating,” Steinger said. “So whatever comes up during a CrossFit competition, where there are usually 10 to 15 people on the floor, I never feel like anyone is watching just me. That helps me not freak out.”

Having proven herself within the Switzerland weightlifting circuit, Steinger trained all year and has her mind set on returning to the Europe Regional in 2014.

“Her biggest strength is her absolute strength. She is a very talented lifter and the Olympic lifts are her strongest skills,” Gysin said.

“Her biggest challenge is the style of the Open workouts themselves,” he added. “She is built better for regional-level workouts, where the weights are heavier and the skills are more advanced, where technique and consistency is more important.”

Steinger said she gets more than just training from CrossFit Basel’s advanced classes.

“One thing I really like about us is that there aren’t only one or two talented athletes,” she said. “There’s a bunch of them and you get to train with the group ... in a CrossFit community (versus) being alone in the gym just doing your training.”

“I work full time, go to train and go right to sleep, so I don’t have time to build a social network,” Steinger continued. “These people are my family here. I moved to Basel and changed my life from where I lived in Lucerne so knowing these people, I got attached to them.”

The unknown plays a key role in her training.

“Last year, we practiced the movements for the regional (events)—the skills, Jackie,” Steinger said. “But I’m not a big fan of doing the prescribed workout before the actual competition because knowing how the workout is going to feel usually doesn’t help.”

Gysin has been emphasizing endurance, repeating Open workouts from last year at the beginning of class.

“You go all out, lay on the ground for 10 minutes, and then you have to back squat 90 percent of your max. It’s important that we get used to pushing the limits,” Steinger said.

Beyond competing, she has other reasons to return.

“(Last year), I was so scared and intimidated. I couldn’t really enjoy the experience of being there, so I want to go back to enjoy it and have fun,” Steinger said.

“It was tough for my ego because I saw the other girls and I knew they were on another level and crazy talented, but it was good to get lessons on what I needed to work on," she added. "And to know to tape your hands.”

She left last year’s regional with a DNF in her stats for the final event.

Steinger tore her hands during Event 4—the 100s—that Saturday morning. After holding onto 205-lb. deadlifts and swinging toes-to-bars during the next two events, she started to have doubts during the competition with the last event requiring rope climbs.

“I wasn’t able to get those last 10 cm. I was up there for 15 seconds and just couldn’t move,” she recalled, “so after struggling, I just had to let go.”

“I guess that was the moment when I knew I wanted to make it back to regionals again some day—so those feelings of failure and embarrassment wouldn’t be my last memory of that great arena,” she said.

One CrossFit season behind her and a year wiser, Steinger has a refreshed outlook.

“I learned to never underestimate other athletes and to never feel that it will be easy to qualify for something. Always be challenged, meet great people who are like-minded, and have a little bit more fun doing it because I can push myself really hard,” Steinger said. “Focus everything on training, but with the pressure I put on myself, I had to be careful not to take away the fun from CrossFit, because it has to be fun.”

Steinger offered advice for everyone competing in the Open.

“Believe in yourself,” she said. “I never thought I would have made it last year, so even when you feel you are an underdog, there’s always a chance that you will surprise yourself and everyone else on how well you can do. Get excited about it. It’s amazing.”