June 1, 2012
From Triumph to Heartbreak: Emily Bridgers
By Shelby Levy

"I'm truly honored to be 4th in the South East. I just had such high expectations for myself ..."

Emily Bridgers of CrossFit Decatur made the world take notice when she finished the CrossFit Open 1st in the South East and 4th worldwide. But she fell short of making it to the final CrossFit Games after placing 4th at the South East Regional. In a candid interview shortly after Regionals, Bridgers discusses the hype from the Open, the disappointment from Regionals, and her plans for the future.

You went into Regionals 4th in the world after the CrossFit Open. You came out of Regionals 4th in the South East, four points from 3rd place. How does this feel?

Well, disappointed would be an understatement. I know I should still be proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I’m truly honored to be 4th in the South East. I just had such high expectations for myself this year and worked hard all year long to get where I needed to be.

Even so, I knew going into Regionals that there would be no guarantees, but I just never even let myself think as if I wasn’t going to make the Games this year. It may sound ridiculous, but I never even thought about life after Regionals not training for the Games. Then, when all was said and done, it suddenly hits you, and you realize everything you worked for and all the plans you had for this summer no longer seem to exist. “Until next year…” as everyone says. That’s the toughest thing for me to hear right now. Next year just seems so far away when you want something so bad right now.

Do you think you had more pressure on you entering Regionals because of how well you did in the Open? 

Yes, I guess so. As I said, I had very high expectations for myself this year, but that was before the Open even began. The Open had no bearing on my own goal, which was to be top 10 at the Games this year. But I think after the Open, everyone else (around the region/world) had the same expectation for how I would do this year. I would have put pressure on myself no matter what. In fact, I probably put the same amount of pressure on myself last year as I did this year. Only difference is, the second I walked into that Expo Center this year, everyone knew my name, and it does make you feel like you have something to prove, which adds a little more pressure. 

How did you feel about all of the hype from the Open?

The hype from the Open was good and bad. I actually had a lot of fun with the Open this year, and I thought it was cool to see how much it grew from just last year. Like most people said, I wasn’t going to let those five weeks alter my overall training, and I didn’t go into it with the goal of winning anything. All I wanted to do from the beginning was place top 10 in the South East and get to Regionals in the top heat.

The plan was to do the workouts once and be done with them, but I also wasn’t going to hold back on any workouts either. That would be like saying, “I’m only going to do 6 minutes of burpees [instead of seven minutes], just to make sure I don’t win this one.” No CrossFitter does that. So, the workouts did seem to favor my strengths and as the weeks progressed, there seemed to be more and more hype, especially after doing so well on 12.3. All the media coverage was cool, but that’s also the result in the growth of the sport. Overall, I liked the hype, but when people kept saying, “You’re 4th in the world,” I knew I hadn’t proved anything yet. 

Do you think that the Open workouts favored your strengths more than the Regional workouts?

Yes, definitely. I didn’t lift anything over 120 pounds in the Open, and the two workouts that killed me at Regionals were the heavy ones -- body-weight hang cleans and 70-pound one-arm dumbbell snatches. Completely different programming, but Regionals was a whole new level of competition so it was to be expected.

When the Regional workouts were announced, what did you think? Were you worried by the prescribed weight or anything like that?

When the workouts first came out, they were a little overwhelming, but I just kept telling myself they were going to be brutal for everyone. I was pretty shocked by the dumbbell snatch weight, as I’m pretty sure I had never even picked up a 70-pound dumbbell, but that didn’t stop me from getting after it the next day and getting through it in competition. 

Looking at the Leaderboard, (Bridgers placed 4th, 15th, 9th, 3rd, 7th, and tied for 1st in the six workouts) have you analyzed the Regional workouts and determined what you could have done differently to get those 4 points you needed?

Of course. I’m a huge numbers person so I’ve gone back and analyzed it quite a few times now. I knew going into the weekend that I could not get above 10th place in any event if I wanted to be safely in the top three (which proved to be true), and I failed to do that in day one of competition.

However, I didn’t let that stop me from giving everything I had to fight my way back to the top of the Leaderboard for the rest of the weekend. I could look at those four points from a number of different perspectives, but ultimately what cost me a trip to the Games was getting 15th in Event 2. That was definitely not part of the plan and that’s what will keep replaying in my head for a long time to come. Of course, we may never see it again, but you better believe I’ll strive for 30 unbroken hang cleans at that load by this time next year.

After the final event, you were excited by your 1st-place finish (Bridgers tied with Talayna Fortunato who finished 1st overall). Did you think you had enough to get to the 3rd-place spot?

Honestly, I had no idea. I knew I gave everything I had and that’s all I could do at that point. I knew Shana (Alverson, who finished 3rd overall) put up a great fight as well, but I wasn’t sure exactly how the points would play out. When I started getting oxygen back to my brain, and (tried) to figure it out, I knew Shana finished 3rd or 4th in our heat, which (meant) my only hope would be if Sarabeth (Phillips) or Cheryl (Nasso) performed better in the previous heat. Pretty soon, I realized I would still be a few points short of working my way into the top three and earning the trip to California.

Had you calculated in your mind what needed to happen in Event 6 to get on that podium?

I knew I was something like six points out of 3rd, which meant I had to be that many spots ahead of Shana on the final workout, but I just tried not to worry about what I had no control over and focused only on what I had to do, which was win the event. I did just that, but unfortunately, it wouldn’t be enough in the end. 

Were you pleased with your overall performance at Regionals?

Honestly, yes. Looking at numbers, I can be disappointed all day long, but I am proud of so many things that happened (that) weekend, and I gave everything I had, and that’s what matters. Ultimately, it came down to those six specific workouts and that was completely out of my control, but that’s what CrossFit is all about.

So you finish just shy of the podium- what do you do now? 

Well, I’m sure many people just shy of the podium would say, “I got right back into the gym on Monday and started training for next year!” Last year, I did just that and took basically no time off and got right back to training, even with a bunch of numbness and tingling in my back. This year, I’m going to be a little smarter about it. Yes, I’m already back in the gym training some as it’s too tempting not to when my whole day is spent inside of a gym, but I know my shoulders need some rest and most of all I need some mental recovery time. I need some time to think about what changes need to be made for next year.

Not to worry though -- I’ve already written down a list of specific goals for 2013 and I’ve set the bar high! Lots to work on, starting with a new strength program!

Do you think it will be hard to bounce back mentally from Regionals?

Well, week one was extremely difficult. Letting yourself down is one thing, but then facing all the people who believed in you is a whole new level of difficult, on top of just being completely exhausted. Week two has been better. I’m sure it will continue to get easier, but I know there will be lots of ups and downs this summer, especially as the Games get closer. This sport puts you through a lot mentally, and you make many sacrifices in order to be competitive at such a high level. And then sometimes you ask yourself, “Is this worth the sacrifice?” and the answer is always “Yes.” I will bounce back mentally, and I will come back stronger next year!

Are you already planning for your comeback next year? If so, what will you do differently this year to get ready for next year?

Oh yeah! You can definitely plan to see me next year. I’m not going away any time soon. I still feel like I’m just getting started and that there’s still plenty of room for improvement, especially on strength. 

Will you be going to California this summer, and if so, will it be hard to watch thinking you should be there? 

I think I am going to try to make the trip out to California. Yes, it will be hard to watch from the stands, but I’m just going to try to take it all in and cheer for all the awesome people that I’ve met so far throughout the process, with a confidence that I’ll be out there competing with the best of them next year!

After coming in 4th at last year’s Regional, Fortunato, said she went to the Games, and it was “V for Vendetta” ever since because she knew she should be doing what the athletes were doing out there. Do you think you will share this same attitude?

Although the overall attitude coming off Regionals was disappointment for me, one good thing is I have not lost confidence in where I stand as a contender. On any given day with a combination of any other workouts, I know I could be just as competitive with these top women and the results could go either way. So, yes, I have no doubt I will go to California and see that I belong alongside these women, which is reason enough to go out there and see for myself.