April 15, 2013
When 48th Feels More Like First
By James Toland

When an athlete prepares for competition, they may not start off saying, “I hope I get 48th place.” These three went into the 2013 Open with a similar goal — take a shot at winning.

Photo by: Stephanie Tisdale
Photo by: Jackelynn Powers

Top photo by: Jessica Gallegos

It doesn’t matter whether you come in first or 48th in your region. Either way, you’ll get a ticket to Regionals and a shot at qualifying for the Games.

While the race for the top spots caught the attention of fans, the competitors on the edge were all watching the race for the cut off. At the end of the fifth week of competition, Katie McLaughlin settled into the 48th spot, and Arlen Castenada and David Helfrecht tied for 47th in North Central.

Katie McLaughlin

Although McLaughlin is new to North Central, she’s no stranger to the CrossFit Games season. In 2009, 2011 and 2012, she competed on CrossFit Invictus’ team in Southern California. She missed only one of the last four years to have a baby.

Last year, after helping CrossFit Invictus finish fourth at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games, she and her husband, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, packed up and moved from California to Peoria, Ill.

Immediately after the move, she wasn’t sure if she’d compete in the new region.

“At first, I just wanted to take some time off,” she says. “I wanted to settle in and spend time with my family. By the end of last year, I decided to start some training again, so my husband and I got some garage equipment and I started to do some home workouts.”

Soon after she returned to training she found a box. Now, she trains at CrossFit Peoria.

“I didn’t start training seriously until mid-January. I just figured I’d try it and do the Open,” she says. “I wanted to have fun with it and the people at CrossFit Peoria have been great. I train there a couple times a week.”

On Sunday, April 7, a family trip made Leaderboarding a challenge.

“I was in a hotel by the airport checking the board on and off on my cell phone for a while, but at 6:30, I had to stop because I was driving myself crazy,” she says. “Just after 7, I checked it again and my score was good enough to hold on for the last spot. I called my coach at Invictus. I was so excited.”

With a three-point lead over Leah Platz, McLaughlin sealed the last guaranteed spot to the 2013 North Central Regional.

“I’m very excited to compete as an individual after going team three times, but I just want to have fun with it,” she says.

Arlen Castenada

On April 7, Castenada spent seven hours on the Leaderboard.

As of Sunday morning, he was in 21st in the region, but he knew a lot of scores were yet to be submitted and validated. As the hours went by, his name fell lower and lower.

He finished 129 reps on 13.5, and it was becoming clear it would be his worst performance. He hovered around the top 50 or better on the other three Open workouts, but after 13.5 he plummeted to a record low of 163rd.

At 5 p.m., his name locked in at 47th, tied with David Helfrecht.

“I watched for hours and a bunch of guys put up solid scores. I never felt safe, but I thought at about 20 I had some room if my score wasn’t that good,” he says. “I knew it wasn’t a big number, so I had redone it and got four more reps the second time. Good thing I did, I think those four reps got me into that last spot.”

Over the last year, Castenada has lost 40 pounds. His goal after losing the weight was to qualify for Regionals.

“I’m a trainer and I have dedicated the past year to preparing for the Open. I feel like when we get to the Regional level, and lifts get heavy, that will be really good for me,” he says. “If I can handle the volume of the workouts and the weights, I want to be in the top 15. It’s my first Regional, I know I’m not a big name, I just want a chance to compete with the best.”

David Helfrecht

Not everyone was pulling their hair out watching the Leaderboard on the final day to submit scores. Helfrecht of CrossFit Springfield had already made the decision to go team.

For him, it was all about helping his team out.

“Honestly, the day was pretty stress free,” Helfrecht says of his Sunday afternoon. “In the morning, my score was somewhere around 20th in the North Central, so I figured there was a shot. But if I’m being honest, I just kind of watched it every hour or so throughout the day.”

Knowing prior to the Open that CrossFit Springfield has been at the North Central Regional the past few years made the decision easier and helped release the pressure.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, as an athlete and a competitor, of course I wanted to be in the top 48. Who wouldn’t? When the day started, I knew there were a lot of guys who were big names who still hadn’t put in their scores,” Helfrecht says. “I wanted to hang on and be in that top group. It’s an honor to have made it with that great group of athletes, even if I knew I was going team.”

When an athlete prepares for competition, they may not start off saying, “I hope I get 48thplace.” These three went into the 2013 Open with a similar goal — take a shot at winning.

Week after week, the scores started to indicate they might not be top 10. But now that the Open is over, it’s time to focus on Regionals.