“My goal was just to get in the top 10, and that would have been amazing. ... There was no pressure because no one knew who I was.”
Some might say Alexandra LaChance was destined to be a CrossFit Games athlete.
The 26-year-old former All-American gymnast at the University of Arkansas literally grew up in a gym, living above the gymnastics facility her parents owned.
Training for countless hours was normal and a part of her everyday lifestyle, even as a child.
That foundation is what has pushed LaChance to be the athlete she is today, even though she still can’t believe she’s headed to Carson, California, for the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games.
North Central Regional
Heading into the 2014 North Central Regional, it was a foregone conclusion that the three women headed to the Games would contain at least one new face. Few likely penciled in LaChance—who was competing in her first regional competition as an individual—to be one of them, let alone take the top spot.
Days after standing on the first-place podium spot at Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois, LaChance said she still couldn’t believe she’s headed to the Games. Luckily, she said work and training has provided some semblance of normalcy between fielding requests to do interviews thanks to her newfound fame.
“I’ve never talked about myself so much my whole life, and it’s been strange,” said LaChance of CrossFit Gambit in St. Louis, Missouri, where she also works as coach.
Given LaChance’s quick ascension to becoming the North Central Regional champion, she might want to get used to the idea of people wanting to talk about her CrossFit accomplishments.
Under the radar
LaChance’s first taste of CrossFit happened on January 1, 2013. The former gymnast became a fitness model after she graduated. She was a regular at the gym in order to keep the necessary physique, but LaChance longed for the days when she was pushed by a gymnastics coach and the thrill of competition.
“It wasn’t enough,” she said. “It wasn’t enough to train to just look good.”
An employee at a local nutrition store kept telling her to try CrossFit. So on New Year’s Day in 2013, LaChance carried through on a resolution to find a program that could once again fuel her fire to train and compete. She walked into CrossFit 540 in Springdale, Arkansas.
“We did Fran and two other crazy workouts,” LaChance said. “I was like, ‘These people are crazy, and I love it.’”
Turns out, LaChance was a natural. Despite starting CrossFit only four months earlier, she finished the 2013 Open in 39th place in North Central. That year, she chose to compete with the team from CrossFit 540. The experience was surreal and overwhelming for the newcomer.
“I was still mixing up what a clean and snatch was. I didn’t know,” LaChance said. “It was a good experience with 540. But I was still in over my head.”
That fall, she would cross paths with fellow 2014 Games qualifier, Kelley Jackson, at a photo shoot. The two became instant friends, and LaChance made the bold decision to leave her home, move to St. Louis, and live and train with Jackson.
“It was scary,” LaChance said. “I had been in Arkansas for eight years in a small town where everyone knew who I was. In St. Louis, I was a nobody.”
It didn’t take long for her to make a name for herself. Under the tutelage of Jackson and Jackson’s coach, Andrew Essig, LaChance progressed quickly. In December 2013, LaChance took first at a local competition, edging out her training partner.
“Everyone at my old gym would talk about (this competition), so I knew how good the people would be,” LaChance said. “But Kelley and I did really good. I was surprised because those were workouts I usually don’t do well in. So I started thinking maybe I can hang with these girls. I had an old coach who said I had missed my window for CrossFit; that I needed to start a few years earlier. So I had always thought it’d be just for fun.”
Essig said LaChance’s gymnastics background provided an excellent foundation for the making of a top-tier CrossFit athlete. As a college athlete, LaChance was used to training for hours each day, so Essig found in LaChance an eager student with a tremendous work ethic.
“For a coach, she’s the perfect recipe,” Essig said. “She comes in and says, ‘Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.’ And Kelley needed some more good competition to push her a little bit, too.”
At an early age, LaChance developed the mentality of a winner.
Growing up, her parents owned a gymnastics gym in a town about 60 miles north of New York City and the family lived above the gym. While many children go play in their backyard or at a local park, LaChance would tumble and flip at her family’s business. For her and her two younger sisters, that was the essence of childhood.
“I think I just accepted it. I just thought that was normal,” she said. “I took all the classes at the gym’s school and trained all day. I never really questioned it. I’ve always had to work really hard. My sisters could try a couple of times and just get it. But if someone else could do it, I wanted to be able to do it.”
Those were the years LaChance developed the work ethic that’s allowed her to find success as a CrossFit athlete. Her determination to learn skills everyone else did led to multiple state and regional gymnastics gold medals, as well as the opportunity to train with USA Gymnastics coaches.
Once she graduated high school, she accepted a full scholarship in 2005 to the University of Arkansas and eventually would earn All-American honors. When LaChance finished college, she was ready to find another sport where she could continue to push herself.
“CrossFit has definitely filled that void,” she said. “I did gymnastics ‘til I was 21, so I was pretty burnt out when I finished college. I was ready to move on to something else.”
LaChance has the full backing of her parents as she makes CrossFit her career. She said her dad, who did body building when he was younger, is impressed his daughter knows and excels at the myriad Olympic lifts she performs.
He was in Chicago to see her stand on top of the podium after the North Central Regional wrapped up—the first competition he had ever seen. Her mom, who will travel to Carson for her first in-person taste of the sport, has a little more difficulty understanding CrossFit.
“She says, ‘This sounds all weird and crazy. Why would you want to do 100 pull-ups? Why would you want to do that?’” LaChance said.
Windy City Win
Despite an 11th-place finish in the 2014 Open, LaChance maintained she never expected to do so well at the regional. And even though she sat in first place after each of the first two days, LaChance said she only wanted to focus on the next event and not get overwhelmed by the spotlight shining on her.
When the scores after the final event were tallied, LaChance took first place with a 1-point victory over Games veteran Elisabeth Akinwale. Although LaChance didn’t win any events, she placed in the top five in all but one, showing she’s well rounded.
“People kept telling me that I was in first, and I was like, ‘Don’t say that! Don’t tell me that! I don’t want to hear that,’” she said. “My goal was just to get in the top 10, and that would have been amazing.”
Before Event 6 on the final day, LaChance appeared relaxed as she went through her warm-up routine in the athlete area, even cracking a joke or two. Her calm outward appearance belied what was really going on in her head. Thankfully, LaChance said, Jackson provided a calming influence despite the fact Jackson, who just missed the cut the previous two years, also needed her best effort to make the podium.
“She’s so experienced,” LaChance said. “She always knows what to say to calm me down. And there was more pressure for her. There was no pressure because no one knew who I was.”
Essig said the dynamic between LaChance and Jackson is mutually beneficial. They push each other during training sessions, and he’s eager to see how his athletes perform during their first trip to the Games.
“(LaChance) has a ton of potential,” he said. “Those girls who come from gymnastics, like an Akinwale, they have great flexibility and body awareness. She can be explosive. Sure, there are things we can clean up. But based on what I’ve seen (during regionals), I think she’s got a chance to do really well.”
As for LaChance’s strategy for the Games, it doesn’t differ much from regional preparation, she said. Training with Jackson and Essig will ramp up with the goal of having fun, performing her best, and trying not to be too star-struck when she finds herself warming up with the top athletes of CrossFit.
“I think I’ll probably just laugh because never in a million years did I think I’d be stretching my hamstrings next to so-and-so,” LaChance said. “But you can only focus on what you can control.”