May 21, 2014
Women of the South Central
By Lauryn Lax
Last year's CrossFit Games qualifiers are back. But they'll have some new faces to contend with.
Last year's CrossFit Games qualifiers are back. But they'll have some new faces to contend with.

Last year's CrossFit Games qualifiers are back. But they'll have some new faces to contend with.

Cassidy Lance

Holly Mata

Jessie Jo Young

Candice Ruiz

Chely Galvin

Jessica Malone

Chelsea Lewis

Carey Kepler

Main photo / Jenn Jones

Last year’s CrossFit Games qualifiers are back.

Jenn Jones, Cassidy Lance and Holly Mata have the experience and all-around game to excel in San Antonio, Texas again.

But they will be chased by a posse of talented and hungry challengers, led by 25-year-old Jessie Jo Young, winner of this year’s Open in the South Central Region.

Young, of CrossFit Abilene, emerged on the scene last year, landing in 15th place as a rookie. This dynamic athlete—who’s competed in everything from gymnastics to powerlifting to pole vaulting—said she is not the best at anything, but good enough at everything to stay consistent.

According to Young, her strongest asset is her “mental toughness” and ability to push her body to the limit. With one more year of training and experience, Young is more confident as she prepares for the regional gauntlet.

“Last year at the regional, my goal was just not to get last and have fun and then I surprised myself,” Young said. “I wasn't very tuned in or very focused because I was just there to soak in the experience.”

This year is different.

“This year I have big goals to finish in the top three. I’ve improved in every area of CrossFit,” she said. “Specifically, my snatch has gone from 130 lb. to 170 lb., my overhead squat has gone from 130 lb. to 195 lb. This time last year I was struggling to string together more than five kipping handstand push-ups, and now I can string together more than five strict handstand push-ups.”

“Last year, I struggled to do eight regular rope climbs in seven minutes and, now, I'm doing 10 legless,” Young continued. “Last year was awesome to go and experience regionals with no expectations, but this year’s prep has been very specific and purposeful.”

Young trains alongside Roy Gamboa, first place on the men’s side in the region in the Open. He also went to the Games in 2013. When not working 11-hour shifts as a Physician’s Assistant in the ER, Young is in the gym twice per day.

“I just show up for workouts and do what my coach tells me to do,” she said.

The women to watch include several returning veterans who finished in the top 20 in San Antonio last year: Candice Ruiz (fourth), Chely Galvan (11th), Jessica Malone (seventh) and Chelsea Lewis (14th).

Jones, 29, won the region in 2013 and enjoyed a fantastic run in Carson, California, finishing sixth overall. However, a shoulder injury sustained during the Games has made training—and even life in general—a challenge.

“The injury was nothing acute, but definitely affected my gym performance and then my everyday life, as well,” she said. “There was one day it even hurt to pick up a purse. I had to take it extremely slow working back from that to prevent any increased pain in the joint.”

Shoulder strength and stability have clearly been a focus in her training. But she’s also worked hard on strength in general and believes part of her game will make a difference in San Antonio.

“I’ve seen a lot of strength successes where I had struggled in past years,” Jones said. “My biggest asset as a CrossFit athlete has always been having a background in gymnastics. I was brought up with body awareness, speed and dynamic power, which I feel helps me be very well rounded with the tests that CrossFit has for the athletes. But this year, I am also, all around, just stronger than I have been.”

Her biggest strength, however, is her mental toughness.

“As the years go on, mental toughness becomes a bigger and bigger part of my training. The longer I'm in the sport the more pressure I put on myself to perform when I need to perform.”

Jones’ goal for regionals: “To feel like I executed the workouts with no room for ‘what I could have done better?’ Going out there and leaving nothing on the table and letting the rest of the pieces fall into place.”

Mata, who shared the podium with Jones last year, is ready to have fun.

“I am most looking forward to finally competing,” she said. “You train all year for this specific moment, and finally it's here and I just look forward to seeing where I am at in the workouts.”

Mata is returning to the Freeman Coliseum for the second time as an individual and hopes to get a second crack at the Games where she finished 37thin 2013. In the past year, she’s worked specifically on her engine.  

“I am constantly working on my motor,” Mata said. “I feel like it has always been a weakness compared to girls with big motors, whereas I would excel more on moving relatively heavy weight. I quit my job to dedicate more time to being with my son, but that has also allowed me to put more time into the gym, doing more volume, more workouts, more time to work on all the things that can make me better.”

She added: “I have also put more time into improving my Olympic lifting technique. I have learned that my raw strength will only get me so far. I have to improve my technique to really capitalize on my strength.”  

Lance, 26, is looking forward to seeing the fruits of her labor. After a 29th-place finish at the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games, she traveled back home to Dallas, Texas, to work on strength and technique at CrossFit BOLT, with an eye toward a second visit to California in 2014. 

“Last year at the Games in the final (event), I was barely able to lift 265 lb., and my back looked like a fishing pole that caught a shark,” Lance said. “This year, I am able to do 265 lb. multiple times with good form. All around, I have definitely built more confidence both as an athlete and as an individual.”

“When you are feeling confident and relaxed you perform confidently and relaxed,” she continued. “My goal for this regionals is to enjoy each workout and each day. At the end of the day, I am only comparing myself to where I was last year. I have told myself I will have no regrets and I will walk away Sunday evening with the satisfaction I gained knowing I left it all on the floor.”

The field also includes a name familiar to anyone who has followed the Games since its humble beginnings at the Ranch in Aromas, California. 

Carey Kepler, 39, was the third fittest in the world in 2009 and 16th in 2010. Since, she’s competed for her team, CrossFit Central. In 2014, she returns to the regional arena as an individual competitor for the last time before becoming eligible for the masters competition.

Kepler wasn’t planning to compete until she finished in the top 20 during the Open. The performance convinced her she should give it one more shot.

“(Before the Open), I was definitely not training like I was going, or even wanted to go, to regionals,” Kepler said. “I was busy focusing on coaching others and investing my time in my family and business. It’s kind of crazy—who qualifies for regionals who has really not been training to go? Once I committed to going, though, my focus has definitely been on getting stronger, doing whatever my coach says, and working on my weaknesses day by day.”

One of those weaknesses is handstand walking, a movement featured in Event 2.

“I’m a little nervous,” she admitted. “I was not very confident in my handstand walking and have been practicing most every day and continue to set new PRs for myself. Hopefully by regionals I will be walking at least 60 feet, if not more.”