Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Chan Tin
"I don't really believe it right now."
Few knew of Maude Charron before she won the first workout of the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games Open.
Her name appeared on the leaderboard a couple hours before score submissions closed, one rank and 4 points ahead of reigning Games champion Camille Leblanc-Bazinet.
Although Charron’s score on the triplet was 16 reps short of Leblanc-Bazinet’s (223 vs. 239), Charron’s 240-lb. clean and jerk made up for it in the standings. She lifted 13 lb. more than the champ, earning herself 13th in the world on 15.1a and the overall lead.
“I don’t really believe it right now,” the 21-year-old Québécoise athlete said on Tuesday night, speaking with a melodic French accent.
Which is fair since her ascent to the top of the leaderboard has happened so fast. Two years ago, Charron had never touched a barbell.
When she entered CrossFit Rimouski at 19 years old, the childhood gymnast was fresh off of two years of full-time training as an acrobat at the École de Cirque de Québec, a circus school.
“It’s like going to full-time class, but instead of English class or history, you have dance class or flexibility class or trampoline class for all the day,” Charron explained.
Her specialty was the Russian barre, a circus act in which two strong men hold either end of a flexible balance beam, and catapult a small woman high into the air so she can perform twists, flips and turns.
The trouble wasn’t going up, so much as coming down. After countless injuries, from shoulder dislocations to shin splints and concussions, Charron decided to leave circus school and instead study business management at the University of Quebec in Rimouski, her hometown.
“It was hard giving it up because the circus is a big family,” she said. “I had a lot of friends and it was all my life. All my days were around circus.”
A friend helped her fill the gap by suggesting that she try CrossFit. Charron took her first introductory class at the nearby affiliate, CrossFit Rimouski, two years ago in January of 2013. Her first workout was a 7-minute AMRAP of burpees and air squats.
“I fell in love,” she said. “I’ve always been a person who has to move.”
The next day, she mistakenly showed up for the regular class and joined in the 1-rep-max deadlift workout. The weight kept going up, so she added more plates. When she stood up with 295 lb., the coach was floored.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Benjamin Jean, owner of CrossFit Rimouski and Charron’s coach. “All I can say (is) she's a born athlete.”
Surprisingly, she didn’t excel at many of the gymnastics movements incorporated into CrossFit workouts at the very start. Though she had spent the last 16 years tumbling through the air and swinging from bars, a combination of overuse, injury and specialization added up to a humble max set of pull-ups: just one.
“So the gymnastic (background) doesn’t really make you a good CrossFitter,” she said. “Gymnastics make you understand your body and know what you have to do to get over that bar.”
As you may have come to expect, she was a quick study. She got her first muscle-up one month into CrossFit.
Seeing her potential, Jean suggested Charron train alone with him following specialized programming. She also caught the attention of local Olympic weightlifting coach, Serge Chrétien, who invited her to study with him once per week.
“When I started CrossFit, I did not know there were competitions in this sport,” Charron said. “I always did competitions when I was young so I said, ‘Yes, maybe I will love it.’ And I did love it.”
Just under three months into her CrossFit training, she signed up for the 2013 Open and earned 239th place overall in the Canada East Region. That year, she attended the Canada East Regional as a spectator and watched Leblanc-Bazinet and Michele Letendre fight for the two qualifying spots to the CrossFit Games.
“Seeing Camille and Michele doing what they do best, I said to myself, ‘I want to be there, I want to be with those girls,’” Charron said. “So I trained, and I imagined myself to be beside them.”
The next year, Charron entered the final event of the 2014 Canada East Regional in the same heat as Leblanc-Bazinet and Letendre. When she finished 64 pull-ups and eight 135-lb. overhead squats in 2:22, her name locked into sixth place overall on the regional leaderboard.
“It was like a big gift,” Charron said.
Her performance on the regional events revealed one big hole in her fitness: her engine. She couldn’t keep up on the long, down-and-back chipper that put athletes through 50 reps each of rowing (calories), box jump overs, deadlifts (120 lb.), wall-ball shots and ring dips (Event 6). At the 21-minute time cap, she was just beginning her second set of wall-ball shots, which put her in 24th place in the event.
So, she spent last summer supplementing her training with sprint intervals outside, and the fall and early winter inside on the erg. She has also regularly tested herself on the classic CrossFit benchmark workouts.
Even with all the work to address her weakness, she still favors weightlifting.
“I was very excited when Dave Castro announced (15.1a) … I knew I could do well at this workout,” she said.
Twenty-four hours after the announcement, she did the workout for the first time. Her first scores were 219 reps on the triplet, and a 237-lb. clean and jerk.
On Monday, she did the workout again just hours before score submissions closed. This time, she did all the barbell work unbroken and consciously split the toes-to-bars into two sets. When the clock hit nine minutes, she had beaten her previous score by four reps.
While other athletes rushed to the barbell, Charron took her time, sitting on the floor to change into her pink Olympic lifting shoes before loading the barbell to 155 lb. She power cleaned and push jerked the weight easily. With a squat clean and a split jerk, 205 lb. went up next, followed by 227 lb. just before the 14-minute mark. With less than a minute to go, she loaded 240 lb. on the bar instead of the 237 lb. she had planned to lift.
“The face of my coach when I changed the plates (was) priceless,” she said.
Adjusting her weight belt, she glanced at the clock before pulling the bar, catching a swift bounce and putting the weight overhead in a deep split jerk with 10 seconds to spare.
She knew her scores were good, but she refused to check where they put her on the leaderboard. She shut off her computer and her phone, and went about the rest of her day. At 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, she couldn’t resist any longer and loaded the leaderboard on her phone.
“I thought I was still dreaming,” she said.
A week ago, Charron set the goal of earning a top-10 position in her region. Now, she’s considering the world stage.
“I did pretty well, so it made me realize that maybe the Games could be possible this year,” she said. “But it’s not done, it’s not over yet ... it’s just the beginning of a new story.”