"I think this is only going to motivate her," said Laura Sweatt.
When she was warming up for the first workout of the 2015 Open, Sam Briggs couldn’t clean and jerk more than 155 lb. without serious pain. But after she completed an incredible 251 reps of the toes-to-bars, deadlifts and power snatches in the 9-minute AMRAP triplet (15.1), she found a way to lift 185 lb. in 15.1a.
The extra 30 lb. kept her in the running for the Atlantic Regional, though narrowly. With a second-place worldwide finish on 15.1 and a 1,511th-place finish on 15.1a, her name dropped far off the first page of the worldwide leaderboard and toward the edge of the 20-woman cut to regionals. For the 2013 champ, who’s battling a flare up of an old SI joint injury, it’s just another obstacle she’ll have to overcome as she makes a comeback bid for the Games.
“For a lesser mentally strong athlete it could have wrecked them for the whole workout—only warming up to 155 lb. without pain,” said Laura Phelps Sweatt, Briggs’ strength coach and owner of CrossFit Conjugate. “She just goes to this different place. She has something to prove. She decided to make a statement with the first part and she did.”
Briggs has had issues with her SI joint for two years, though it never flared up during a CrossFit competition before. It became an issue again just days before the start of the 2015 Open; while doing some light snatch work, Briggs felt something wrong in her low back.
“It was like I was standing up the heaviest weight I've ever had,” said Briggs, who was working 40 lb. below her max.
When she got the same painful feeling while clean and jerking for 15.1a, Briggs decided to get X-rays to make sure she wasn’t causing further damage. The X-rays revealed that her hips were out of alignment, which, she said, shifted her lumbar spine to the right and put pressure on her SI joint.
“It was … kind of like a time bomb ready to go,” Briggs said. “Even though it went the week of the Open, it was kind of fortunate because if it went the week of regionals, there’s no way I could go.”
“I have every confidence if I get through the Open, I will be 100 percent for regionals,” she added.
Briggs has employed five healthcare practitioners to help speed the healing, including everything from chiropractic treatment three times a week to soft tissue work.
Although the injury has taken heavy barbell work out of play, it didn’t prevent her from improving her score on 15.2, a repeat workout of 63-lb. overhead squats and chest-to-bar pull-ups that was released one year ago as 14.2. Briggs earned her way into the sixth 3-minute interval, and posted 318 reps—a 44-rep improvement over her score in 2014. A feat that’s even more impressive considering that she’s operating at 70 percent of her capacity, her coaches estimate.
“She’s very determined,” said Danny Lopez, owner of CrossFit Soul in Miami, Florida, where Briggs trains. “The approach is one thing at a time because there’s so many moving parts to CrossFit, so many different elements … we are just taking it one day at time.”
When the time came to do 15.3, she was ready to show of her world-class engine. Early Friday morning, she posted a 632-rep score on 15.3, a 14-minute AMRAP of 7 muscle-ups, 50 wall-ball shots and 100 double-unders—beating Julie Foucher’s Open announcement winning performance by 131 reps.
Injuries aren’t anything new to Briggs. After taking 19th in 2010 and fourth in 2011, Briggs had to sit out of the 2012 Games season due to a knee injury.
When she returned the next year, she was able to win, but didn’t feel like she was at 100 percent.
“That was the most annoying thing about not qualifying last year (in 2014); I felt the best physically I had in a long time,” Briggs said. “In 2013, I had (patellar) tendonitis, whereas last year I had no lingering injuries or anything, which was quite frustrating.”
“As an athlete, it’s very rare you are 100 percent with the amount of training you do,” she added. “To feel great and not be able to compete was a hard, hard thing (last year). But hopefully by the time regionals comes around this year I’ll be feeling super.”
It has been a long 10 months since the max-distance handstand walk ended her bid to the 2014 Games. The setbacks, though, have helped her put it all in perspective.
“The way that I felt in 2012, I couldn't even go watch the Games, whereas last year I went and watched,” Briggs said. “I've definitely matured more as an athlete. Even though I was disappointed last year, I've learned that you can’t place all your happiness on the Games. Obviously, it’s something we all aspire to do, it’s the ultimate goal, but there’s so much more to training.”
That training has been adjusted since her most recent injury, though her coaches are confident she has what it takes, mentally and physically, to push on through the 2015 season.
“She took (missing the Games last year) really well,” Sweatt said of Briggs. “I’m sure inside it was a different story, but she picked up and went back to training. I've seen her do a lot more handstand walking in her training now, even more so than before. When something happens that’s unfortunate like that, she doesn’t let it get in her head, she takes it and makes it the best thing that she can do. And she’ll do the same with this (SI injury).”
Sweatt added: “I think this is only going to motivate her. If she goes to regionals and there’s an event where her back is killing her, unless her legs stop working she will do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.”